Living Memorials: Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp
And I know one thing more - that the Europe of the future cannot exist without commemorating all those, regardless of nationality, who were killed at that time with complete contempt and hate... Andrzej Szczypiorski, Prisoner
The above quote appears on the wall at Sachsenhausen, a
concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin whose liberation took
place seventy five years ago, on the 22nd April 1945. I visited the
camp a few months ago as part of a research trip. It was, of course, a
deeply unsettling experience - like any of these facilities, no matter
how much you read before you go, you are not prepared for the
emotions they engender.
The first thing that is difficult to comprehend about Sachsenhausen
strikes you before you get to it: this is no isolated space tucked away from prying eyes. The camp is situated in the small town of Oranienburg, 22km or less than an hour's train journey from the centre of Berlin. High-ranking officers lived in mansions around the perimeter and a large SS housing estate bordered the camp - local girls married the men who served there and families lived backing onto the walls and within earshot of the camp's brickworks and shooting gallery. Prisoners were marched through the town between the camp and forced labour details and there are accounts of the residents closing their doors and shutters at the sound of marching feet. The Camp Commandant's office was landscaped with trees and a duck pond and the barracks for the guards were surrounded by gardens. It is almost surreal how much part of the local fabric the camp was and how much of a village feel was created for the men who ran it.
Sachsenhausen was established in 1936 and was initially used to
imprison "undesirables" during the prettifying of Berlin that formed
the background to the 1936 Olympics. Between then and 1945,
over 200,000 people were interned there, including Jews, Sinti
and Roma, homosexuals, “career criminals” and “antisocials”.
By 1944, about 90 % of the internees were non-Germans,
primarily citizens of the Soviet Union and Poland. The camp
quickly became the model of what the National Socialists
believed a concentration camp should be: an expression of
absolute power. The barracks' triangular placement, fanning out
from the parade ground, means that every aspect was over
looked by a huge machine gun set on top of the gate. If the
prisoners faced the other way they were confronted by a gallows
and the roll-call area is bordered by a running track where shoes were tested on a variety of materials, including cinders and cracked stones, by men carrying heavy packs of sand on their backs. Few survived this treatment for more than a matter of days. Visitors (including the industrialists who used its forced labour) were offered tours, the SS were trained there and, in 1938, the “Inspection of the Concentration Camps”, the central administrative office for all concentration camps in the territories controlled by Germany, was moved here.
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Welcome to my website and - if you've been here before - my brand new author image which was taken by my very brave husband (I'm not an easy person to catch with a camera). I seem to have followed a rather meandering career, including marketing and teaching and politics (don't try and join the dots), to get where I have always wanted to be, which is writing historical fiction. I am a story lover as well as a story writer and nothing fascinates me more than a strong female protagonist and a quest. Hopefully those are what you will encounter when you pick up my books.
I am from the North of England but now live very happily in Glasgow with my American husband. If I'm not at my desk you'll most probably find me in the cinema, or just follow the sound of very loud music.
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CATHERINE HOKIN - HISTORICAL FICTION INSPIRED BY WORLD WAR II
Interested in writing historical fiction yourself?
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or have a listen to me and some of my fellow Bookouture authors discussing our wriring journeys here
Like all historical fiction writers, I spend a lot of time doing research and
I have written a number of articles about the background to The Fortunate Ones, What Only We Know and The Lost Mother.
Below is an extract from a piece about the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp which is one of the key locations in The Fortunate Ones.
Other pieces which might interest you can be found at Historia Magazine: Concentration Camps & the Politics of Memory, The Hidden Nazis of Argentina, An Appearance of Serenity:The French Fashion Industry in WWII, The Minister for Illusion: Goebbels & the German Film Industry.