Before you visit the Memorial
It is only possible for young people to come to terms in a long-lasting way with the challenging and multi-layered history of the place that is the Memorial if they have already acquired a basic knowledge of the history of National Socialism and its policies of exclusion and extermination, and if they are visiting the Memorial voluntarily. Young people should be involved in the decision to make a group visit the Memorial. Existing knowledge provides a basis that helps in sorting and dealing with new information and emotional impressions and in developing their own questions in approaching that history.
We recommend that the Memorial should not be visited before the topic area of National Socialism has been introduced in class in school year 9 or 10 or expanded in depth in Sekundarstufe II (in Germany, roughly equivalent to Sixth Form).
A good thematic approach to the history of Sachsenhausen concentration camp is provided, for instance, by the CD-ROM “Against Forgetting – Day-to-Day Life of Inmates in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp”, which you can order here. It provides an overview of the main aspects of the camp’s history and features numerous testimonies, interviews and biographies of former inmates. You can find a list of publications on the history of the concentration camp and of the Soviet Special Camp as well as memoirs of survivors here.
People often approach a visit to the Memorial with certain expectations, which are not always fulfilled. Talking in class about the present-day character and mission of the Memorial can help to keep the traces of the historical concentration camp separate from the transformations the site underwent over time due to its subsequent uses. The Memorial is a place of remembrance and a cemetery. But it is also a place for learning. So no excessive expectations should be placed on the emotions and conduct of young people. We recommend that they should be allowed to consider for themselves in class about what kind of conduct they think appropriate for the historic site.
After visiting the Memorial
After visiting the Memorial it helps to discuss the visit together in the group, to talk about and sort out their personal impressions. A good way to open the discussion is by showing photos and work results from the visit. If thoughts and feelings can be expressed without pressure and the need to gain marks, space is created for asking further questions that can then be gone into in class.
Good ways of thinking about the visit can be setting these thoughts down in diary entries, articles for the school magazine or the school’s homepage or wall newspapers. To go into the topics in greater depth and link them to where they live, students could research the history of where they live or of their school in the Nazi era. Perhaps there was even a concentration camp satellite camp or a Nazi camp for forced labourers nearby.