The SS established the Sachsenhausen concentration camp as the principal concentration camp for the Berlin area. Located near Oranienburg, north of Berlin, theSachsenhausen camp opened on July 12, 1936, when the SS transferred 50 prisoners from the Esterwegen concentration camp to begin construction of the camp.
Jews arrested during Kristallnacht stand under guard before being deported to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. Zeven, Germany, November 10, 1938.
— Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz
Karl-Heinz Kusserow, a Jehovah's witness who was imprisoned by the Nazis because of his beliefs. He was a prisoner in the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany.
PRISONERS IN THE CAMP
In the early stage of the camp's existence the SS and police incarcerated mainly political opponents and real or perceived criminal offenders in Sachsenhausen. By the end of 1936, the camp held 1,600 prisoners. Between 1936 and 1945, however, Sachsenhausen also held Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, "asocials" (among these prisoners were Roma and Sinti), and, later, Soviet civilians. Prominent figures interned in Sachsenhausen included Pastor Martin Niemöller, former Austrian chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, Georg Elser, Herschel Grynszpan, and Joseph Stalin's son, Iakov Dzhugashvili.
An official order incarcerating the accused in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp for committing homosexual acts.
The number of Jewish prisoners in Sachsenhausen varied over the course of the camp's existence, but ranged from 21 at the beginning of 1937 to 11,100 at the beginning of 1945. During the nationwide Kristallnacht ("Night of Broken Glass") pogrom of November 1938, Reichsführer SS (SS chief) and Chief of German Police Heinrich Himmler ordered the arrest of up to 30,000 Jews. The SS transported those arrested to Sachsenhausen, Dachau, and Buchenwald concentration camps. Almost 6,000 Jews arrived in Sachsenhausen in the days following the Kristallnacht riots.
In the following months, the number of Jews at Sachsenhausen steadily decreased, as SS authorities released Jewish prisoners, often in exchange for a stated intent to emigrate. By the end of 1938, Sachsenhausen held 1,345 Jews.
There was another marked increase in the number of Jewish prisoners when, in mid-September 1939, shortly after World War II began, German authorities arrested Jews holding Polish citizenship and stateless Jews, most of whom were living in the greater Berlin area, and incarcerated them in Sachsenhausen. Thereafter, the number of Jewish prisoners decreased again, as SS authorities deported them from Sachsenhausen to other concentration camps in occupied Poland, most often Auschwitz, in an effort to make the so-called German Reich "free of Jews" (judenfrei).
By autumn of 1942 there were few Jewish prisoners still in Sachsenhausen, and their numbers remained low until 1944. In the spring of 1944, SS authorities began to bring thousands of Hungarian and Polish Jews from ghettos and other concentration camps to Sachsenhausen as the need for forced laborers in Sachsenhausen and its subcamps increased. Many of these new Jewish prisoners were women. By the beginning of 1945 the number of Jewish prisoners had risen to 11,100.
Following anti-German demonstrations in Prague in November 1939, German authorities incarcerated some 1,200 Czech university students in Sachsenhausen. In total, German authorities deported over 6,000 people from the annexed Czech provinces to Sachsenhausen.
German forces in Poland shot or deported to concentration camps thousands of Poles, especially teachers, priests, government officials, and other national and community leaders, in an attempt to eliminate the Polish educated elite and thereby prevent organized resistance to German rule in Poland. The German authorities sent some of these Poles to Sachsenhausen. On May 3, 1940, for example, 1,200 Polish prisoners arrived in Sachsenhausen from the Pawiak prison in Warsaw. The prisoners included many juveniles, Catholic priests, army officers, professors, teachers, doctors, and minor government officials.
The first group of Soviet prisoners of war arrived in Sachsenhausen at the end of August 1941. By the end of October 1941, the SS had deported about 12,000 Soviet prisoners of war to Sachsenhausen. Camp authorities shot thousands of the Soviet POWs shortly after they arrived in the camp. Estimates of Soviet POWs killed at Sachsenhausen range from 11,000-18,000.
In retaliation for the August 1944 Polish Home Army uprising in Warsaw, the German authorities expelled most of the Polish population from the city. The Germans deported 60,000-80,000 Polish civilians to concentration camps. By early October 1944, the Germans had deported about 6,000 Poles to Sachsenhausen.
In November 1936, the camp headquarter's staff of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp consisted of 70 SS personnel; by 1944 this number had reached 277. SS guard personnel at Sachsenhausen numbered around 1,400 in 1941, and by January 1945, this number had risen to 3,356. In mid-1936, SS Lieutenant Colonel Michael Johann Lippert oversaw the construction of the camp. SS Major Karl Otto Koch replaced Lippert as camp commandant in October, and held the post until the summer of 1937.
During the years 1938-1939 Sachsenhausen experienced frequent changes in camp leadership. At the beginning of 1940,SS-Oberführer [an SS rank between colonel and brigadier general, for which there is no English equivalent] Hans Loritz took over as camp commandant. SS Lieutenant Colonel Anton Kaindl replaced Loritz in 1942 and held the position of camp commandant until 1945. The guards of Sachsenhausen in the early years of the camp were men from the SS Death's Head units (SS-Totenkopfverbände); later, members of the Waffen-SS were transferred to the SS Death's Head Battalion and deployed as guards.
The main camp at Sachsenhausen consisted of a roll-call area, around 50 barracks for prisoners, as well as barracks that served as a washroom, kitchen, infirmary, multiple warehouses, offices, and workshops. Other buildings in the compound included a prison, crematorium, gas chamber (built in 1943), and morgues. The main camp was surrounded by a stone wall over eight feet high, inside of which ran an electrified wire fence. Around the perimeter were nine guard towers.
In the early years of the camp, food rations were meager, but sufficient for most prisoners to survive except perhaps those in the punishment detail, to whom the camp personnel allotted smaller rations. This changed in 1938 as the authorities brought increasing numbers of prisoners to Sachsenhausen, and the amount and quality of the food allotted to each prisoner decreased. By the winter of 1939-1940, prisoners began to starve from insufficient nourishment.
Sanitary conditions in the camp had been primitive from the outset, but worsened still following the outbreak of war. In the last months before the end of the war the death rate increased at an incredible rate. Many prisoners would die in Sachsenhausen due to exhaustion, starvation, exposure, abuse, and lack of medical care.
In April 1941, a commission of SS doctors conducted a "selection" among the prisoners at Sachsenhausen. Over the next three months the commission ordered prisoners too ill or weak to work, as well as prisoners with disabilities, to be killed as part of Operation 14f13, which expanded the so-called euthanasia program into the concentration camps.
In June 1941, camp authorities transported 269 prisoners selected under 14f13 to Sonnenstein, a sanitarium equipped with a gas chamber that served as a killing center for people with disabilities living in institutions. German medical professionals gassed these prisoners at Sonnenstein. Camp authorities conducted further selections in October 1942, selecting prisoners they deemed unfit to work and transporting them to the Dachau concentration camp. In 1944 the camp authorities sent "unfit" prisoners to the Bergen-Belsenconcentration camp.
German scientists and medical researchers conducted medical experiments on prisoners in Sachsenhausen. SS doctors conducted around 40 different types of experiments, including sterilizations, castrations, experimenting with hepatitis, inserting infectious material into incisions of the muscle, and testing the effects of potassium cyanide, phosphorous and other toxins on the human body. Many prisoners died as a result of such experimentation. Of those who survived, many would have serious health problems or deformities for the rest of their lives. It is unknown how many prisoners SS doctors subjected to such experiments, but as of May 1941, SS doctors had already castrated or sterilized 107 prisoners in Sachsenhausen.
Camp authorities also directly killed prisoners in Sachsenhausen. Shooting was the preferred method of the camp authorities, but the camp also had a gallows in the roll-call area for hanging and was equipped with a gas chamber used for killing small groups of prisoners. All types of prisoners, including Jews, were among those singled out for killings at various times during the camp's operation.
The SS authorities forced the prisoners to perform hard labor. Before the outbreak of the war, camp authorities assigned prisoner work detachments largely to construction and industrial sites in the vicinity of the camp. In the summer of 1938 the SS founded a brickworks company, the German Earth and Stone Works, Ltd. (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke (DESt), and forced prisoners to begin construction at a site called Klinkerwerk (brickworks) in the nearby town of Lehnitz. Camp personnel marched 1,500 prisoners to and from the Klinkerwerk each day until the camp authorities decided in 1941 to turn Klinkerwerk into a subcamp of Sachsenhausen and house the prisoners on site. During the war, forced labor utilizing concentration camp prisoners became increasingly important in German armaments production.
As a result, the Sachsenhausen camp system expanded to include more than 40 subcamps concentrated mainly around armaments industries in the greater Berlin area in northern Germany. As of mid-January 1945 there were more than 65,000 prisoners in the Sachsenhausen camp complex, including more than 13,000 women.