The places of the Shoah

The concentration camps situated in the territory of the former GDR (Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald) have been transformed into memorials. The transformation was a way for the Communist regime to tell its own version of the story of Nazi resistance. The victims of the camp are gathered together under the rubric “antifascists”, and emphasis os on the role of deported Communists in the underground Resistance and that of the Red Army on the liberation of the camps. Since Germany’s reunification in 1990, Western revisionist historiography has been introduced, although not without difficulty, as attested by the numerous manifestations of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in this part of the country.


Sachsenhausen concentration camp was opened in 1933 to imprison Hitler’s German opponents: Communists, Social democrats, and union leaders. Erich Honecker, the future leader of the GDR from 1971 to 1989, was detained here for ten years. Half of the 200000 detainees who passed through this camp from all over Europe died of starvation, sickness, and abuse.


Ravensbrück was the largest of the camps reserved for women. More than 130000 Resistance fighters, Jews, and Gypsies were imprisoned here, often with their children, in horrifying conditions. The minister Simone Veil was detained here before being transferred to Auschwitz. Transformed after 1945 into barracks for Soviet occupation troops, this camp was refurbished in 1992 and turned into a museum that, notably, contains commemorative prison cells where each country can honor its own prisoners.


Of the 106000 detainees in Neuengamme, 55000 perished. SS doctors performed criminal medical experiments in this camp, primarily on Jewish children. A monument in memory of the victims and an archive can be visited.


Opened in 1937, Buchenwald camp was intended for Hitler’s political opponents. After the outbreak of the war, it “welcomed” Nazi adversaries from occupied countries, among them such eminent French personalities as Léon Blum and Marcel Dassault (constituting more than a third of the 250000 prisoners). Buchenwald as liberated after a revolt organized by the clandestine Resistance within the camp itself. On its former location a monument was erected for all the victims of Nazi terror.


More than 50000 Sovier prisoners of war died in Bergen-Belsen. Beginning in 1944, Bergen-Belsen served as an overflow camp for prisoners of other camps situated further east who were brought here by SS executioners fleeing the Russian advance. As many as 50000 prisoners, among them the young Anne Frank, did not survive this forced march or died after arrival at the camp.


Dachau was the first large concentration camp opened by the Nazis upon their rise to power in 1933. Their registers record 200000 people entering the camp and 30000 deaths, a tally that far from corresponds to the true number of victims. many of whom were brought here and executed without any kind of trial. A museum, archive, two churches, and a synagogue have been erected on the land once occupied by the camp.