Murder and Mass Murder in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp 1936–1945
The document-based exhibition titled “Murder and Mass Murder in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp 1936–1945” forms part of the central place of remembrance at “Station Z”. This was the name given by the SS to a building that contained a crematorium and killing facilities, built in 1942. The use of the last letter of the alphabet was a cynical reference to the last station in the life of a prisoner. “Station Z” contained four cremation ovens, a gas chamber and a firing squad area. The building, still wholly intact, was blown up by the KVP (Militarised People’s Police) of the GDR in 1952/53. In the course of constructing the National Memorial in 1961, architects consolidated the foundations and the remains of the ovens, over which they erected a huge monumental roof.
This had to be demolished in 2004, not least because the structure had deteriorated irreparably. The area was given a completely new treatment in order to create a central place of remembrance; this was inaugurated in April 2005 to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the liberation of the camp. So as to protect the historical remains and provide a suitably dignified atmosphere and space for remembrance, Prof. HG Merz designed a translucent, rectangular structure that appears to float above the foundations of “Station Z”. His design has received several international architectural awards.
Within this new structure there is an exhibition that informs visitors about the history of the site between 1941 and 1989. The other exhibition, on murder and mass murder, is in the open air, mounted on vertical slabs of glass-fibrereinforced concrete that mark the line of the long-demolished camp wall near “Station Z”. Death and killing were ever-present in Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp. Thousands died from undernourishment and illness, from brutal and arbitrary maltreatment, or from forced labour in callously inhumane conditions. From the beginning, Sachsenhausen was the scene of murders, both of individuals and of groups, on orders given at the highest levels of the Nazi regime: by the Reichsfuhrer SS, the Reich Security Head Office, or the Inspectorate of Concentration Camps. The camp commandant and his SS men also planned and carried out such murders.
As well as describing the technical equipment and means of killing people, the exhibition presents cases of murder and mass murder. For one thing there are the crimes committed against prisoners in Sachsenhausen. Then there are the people who were brought here, because it was the concentration camp closest to the national capital, for execution, mostly by the Reich Security Head Office, which was based in Berlin, or the Berlin branch of the Gestapo, based at Alexanderplatz. The exhibition endeavours to show the different causes of persecution and the plurality of victimized groups as representatively as possible, in part by focusing on the life stories of those who were murdered.
The case studied span from that of Friedrich Weissler, the head of legal affairs for the Confessing Church, who because of his Jewish origins was viciously murdered by SS men in the cell block in February 1937, to the organized mass murder of ill and weakened prisoners shortly before the evacuation of the camp in 1945. There is a detailed examination of the largest mass murder operation, that of more than 13,000 Soviet prisoners of war in the late summer of 1941.
Attention is also paid to the perpetrators. Many of the murderers, especially those who took part from behind their desks, went unpunished, or else got off with relatively light prison sentences. Others, above all the SS men who had been directly involved in carrying out the killings, were sentenced to long terms of imprisonment by Allied or German courts.