When I heard a book by Terry Pratchett for the first time I that it was silly. When you can, read the book and I hope you will laugh. There are these little men that say crivens and one time they said cock-a-doodle-crivens. I hope whoever reads them or listens to them will laugh at what they say.
Wednesday was a cold, wet, gray day. It was a fitting backdrop to the tour that I took with Gordie’s parents. It was only by sheer luck that I found a brochure for this tour while looking for a pencil in a desk drawer at the flat two hours before the tour started. We decided to take a tour of the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial. We had already made plans to go to Sachsenhausen, but were going to go on our own. We assumed that €14 per person would be worth it to have somebody explain the significance of the memorial. So, Sarah and Robin stayed home with Gordie while Marnie, Harold and I took the U Bahn to the Brandenburg Gate and found the Starbucks that was the starting point of the tour.
The three of us were traveling on a small group ticket for the U/S Bahn. This is a wonderful deal that Kokou, the caretaker of our flat, told me about. Five people can travel together on this card to an unlimited number of destinations in a day. For the complete ABC zones it only cost €15.90. This turns out to be cheaper than three individual tickets. During the tour, we picked up two Aussie’s, Josh and Reese, who traveled on our ticket with us. They were lots of fun and really appreciated not having to buy their own tickets.
Our tour began with a train ride to Oranienburg and then a 2 km walk to the memorial. The walk was very cold and gray and I think our quick pace was indicative of how cold we were and not how anxious we were to arrive at the camp. Our tour guide, Stephanie, mentioned how fitting it was that we were walking from the train station to the prison camp because we were following exactly the same route that the prisoners would have taken when they arrived at the camp. Though we were cold and, at times wet, unlike the prisoners, we were not being pelted with garbage, rotten fruits and vegetables, or having insults shouted at us. I found it a very sobering walk, as I thought about the number of people who would have made that walk under very different circumstances.
When we arrived at the camp, we were brought in through Guard Tower A, which is the main gate into the camp. The ironic slogan on the gate is “Arbeit Macht Frei” or, in English, “work will set you free”. Unfortunately, the only release from the work at this camp came to those who were worked to death or murdered outright. It is impossible to know exactly how many people died at Sachsenhausen but according to the trial testimony of Anton Kaindl, one former commandant of Sachsenhausen Death Camp, over 42,000 people were exterminated or died at the camp under his command alone.
Even though, tens of thousands did not survive Sachsenhausen, the camp was not designed as a death camp. It was constructed to be a model concentration camp and was a work camp mostly for political prisoners. It did include other prisoners including some homosexual and Jewish prisoners. In addition, the camp was used to train SS soldiers so that they could work at other camps throughout the Riech (Germany word for Empire).
Part of the initiation of both the SS and the prisoners was acts to dehumanize the prisoners. Upon entry into the camp, the prisoners were stripped naked and their heads were shaved. A series of beatings were laid upon some of the new prisoners, often resulting in death or subsequent death. Prisoners were each given a number and were classified by type. From thenceforth, each person was only referred to by their prison number and the colour-coded triangle on their striped prison uniforms which designated their classification. Some of the triangles were as follows: red triangles were for political prisoners; yellow, often two triangles to form the star of David, for Jewish prisoners; green for habitual criminals such as murders; pink for “sexual offenders” such as homosexuals, paedophiles, and rapists; purple for Protestants, Evangelicals, Jehovah’s Witnesses (Bible Students); and black for “asocial elements” such as the Roma, mentally retarded, mentally ill, prostitutes, beggars, alcoholics, etc. We were told that in the twisted logic of the camp, the people with green badges were treated the best. I found it so difficult to believe that habitual murders could have been treated better than those imprisoned based on race, religion, or disability.
Once through the main gate, we saw that the main camp was laid out as an equilateral triangle with the guard house across one side and barracks radiating in semicircles from the guardhouse. The middle of the triangle, directly in front of the guardhouse, was a semi-circular area used for morning and evening roll call. Each and every prisoner had to be accounted for before roll call would end. That meant that anyone who died during the night or on a work detail had to be present as well. The prisoners were responsible for bringing the bodies of anyone who had died with them to each roll call so that the dead could be counted. If a person died and the body was not at the roll call, a siren sounded and roll call continued until the body was brought to the roll call area. While this might sound like a good strategy to delay the start of work, please remember that the prisoners were only clothed in light pyjamas and the temperatures could be well below freezing.
The guards would often invent additional reasons for extending the roll call period. Some reasons were public executions and punishments such as hangings and lashings. One winter’s day the roll call went on for, I believe, over 8 hours. Imagine, if you will, being out in a Berlin winter (similar to those at home) for over 8 hours in just a pair of pyjamas. Many died on the spot, many others died from the elements over the following days and weeks. Our tour group stood in the roll call area for about ten minutes while Stephanie explained the roll call procedure. Our little group felt the cold enough that after the ten minutes we hurried inside one of the remaining barracks to warm ourselves. We were clothed in polar fleece, Gortex, boots, gloves and hats, not pyjamas and bare feet!
Surrounding the camp was a three metre high stone fence. Inside of this fence was a deadly electric fence and just inside the electric fence was a gravel area called the “death strip”. Any prisoner that entered the gravel area was shot. If the guards thought that a prisoner was trying to escape, he was killed. If the guards thought the prisoner was trying to commit suicide, he was still shot, but not fatally. Being wounded in a concentration camp often led to being moved to the infirmary where one was subjected to cruel medical experimentation and eventual death.
Our guide told us a number of different stories of cruelty at the camp including the story of a man who worked in the kitchen. The kitchen was a very desirable work detail as you were inside and out of the harsh elements. You also had the slim possibility of sneaking extra food. This extra food was very important as the inmates were performing hard physical labor from sunrise to sunset on an estimated 500 – 800 calories per day. One kitchen worker, took a teaspoon of margarine; but, unfortunately, a guard saw him. As punishment, he was made to eat an entire bucket of margarine at roll call, which, given his emaciated state, probably would have killed him. Once he had eaten the margarine, the guards forced five men to jump up and down on his stomach. After this, he was hung by his feet until he passed out; he was then hung by his arms until he came to; and then hung by his feet until he passed out again. These reversed hangings continued a number of times until eventually he was left over night hanging by his feet. He died sometime during the night.
Though I heard many more stories, I don’t think that I can recount any more right now. I had to take a break from writing this post this afternoon and go for a walk because I am still very disturbed at what I learned and I have not been able to shake the cold feeling that I felt on the tour. It is one thing to learn about the second world war and the Holocaust in school and by reading. It is quite another to hear stories of individuals and walk for a little while in the place where such atrocities took place.
The batteries in my camera ran out not long after we entered the gates of Guard Tower A. It felt that this was fitting because it allowed me concentrate on the stories and on my surroundings. In the beginning I believe that I was buffered from the reality of the camp because I was trying to photograph it, rather than really see it for what it was. Once I put the camera away and really looked at the camp and listened to the stories Stephanie was telling us, I saw a very different place. I truly believe that the coldness I was feeling was coming more from my heart than from the weather itself. I found it very difficult to read the displays in the various buildings and I would like to go back again another day to read and think some more. For me it was not like looking at a monument, but rather encountering a place where I felt an intense feeling of sadness and loss. It is impossible to fathom what it was like to be an inmate or even a guard, for that matter, at Sachsenhausen and I do not choose to try.
This is my wish list or maybe its a list of things I want to do. You tell me.
This is my list;
1.See Emma Csernik
2.Make A Snow Fort
3.Use The Zippys
4.Decorate A Tree
5.See Will And Avery (cousins)
6.See Brody And Logan (cousins)
7.See Mattie And Anna (cousins)
8.Sleep Over With Emma
10.Use the Yellow Banana (a stand up sled)
What do you think?
Today I went shopping with mom and Robin in Berlin. When we were in the store we heard German because that is what most of the people speak. There is a store that is only two blocks from our apartment. I can’t wait to see what else there is near here. We are near our first apartment in Berlin.
Some day this week we are going to the zoo again. I want to see the giraffes and big cats, such as lions, tigers, and pumas (if they have pumas), that we did not see last time. I want to see more bears and penguins too. I can’t wait to see the monkeys and apes again. I’m not too excited that it will be cold. We have had a lot of snow lately, and I don’t think that it will get too warm. I don’t think I want to go back to the aquarium. It did not strike me as great, like the zoo did.
I cant wait to go back to the zoo, but I could leave the aquarium.
It look like a new city here. Here is a picture of my mittens. This is a city that is covered with white. And it still has a lot of trees.
So far on this trip I have lost two teeth, both in Berlin. Last night I lost a twelve-year molar and last time I lost a top left tooth. It is funny because it has happened in Berlin twice not just once, which is unusual. I got four Euros from the tooth fairy (five dollars). It was neat losing this tooth it was after everybody was in bed and I could not sleep and I released my tooth hurt I pulled it and it came out. My mom was the only other person that knew until Sarah woke up, and then it took her a while to realize that I lost a tooth.
It was nice losing a tooth but it hurts when I eat now.
Yesterday I went on a subway. They call it the Underground and the trains are called U and then a number, for example U7. Sometimes, when the door is open, you can hear an announcement in the station. It was a lot of fun going on the Underground again.
Yesterday we went back to Ritter Sport. It was exactly the same as before see Ritter Sport Museum for more details. The drink we got last time was much, much better then the one we had this time. This one was just a milkshake. It did not have whipped cream, chocolate mousse, or a cookie. This time we had good luck as well. We got to make a bag full of chocolate. They are going to presents for people when we return.
We went back to the museum. It was just as good as last time, maybe even better. Ritter Sport changed the video and now they have an English version in the movie bit.
It was great to go back but I wish they would put back the old drink.
Today I got to go back to Ritter Sport. I was so exicited to be back at the chocolate shop. I got to have a chocolate drink. I got to choose out some chocolate from the store that they had. It was a great day at the chocolate shop.