Craig Whitlock: Two Hours in a Nazi Death Camp ( Sachsenhausen)

Roundup: Talking About History

At the end of the peaceful neighborhood street, past the tidy prewar cottages and just beyond the snack bar offering ice cream on a cool spring day, looms what's left of the Nazi concentration camp.

It's 10:07 a.m. and birds are trilling in the treetops, the voices of happy schoolchildren echo from a nearby playground at recess. But that's outside the gates of the Sachsenhausen camp. Inside, except for the sound of the rushing wind, it's as quiet as a tomb.

The Nazis built Sachsenhausen in 1936 as a prototype for their rapidly expanding network of concentration camps. With nine watchtowers and a topographical layout designed for optimal surveillance of prisoners, it was hailed by Heinrich Himmler, the SS leader and chief of the German police, as a "modern, up-to-date, ideal and easily expandable concentration camp."

Unlike many of the Nazi death camps, Sachsenhausen was located in a populated area, at the edge of Oranienburg, a small city about 20 miles due north of central Berlin. The SS officers and guards who brutalized the more than 200,000 people who passed through the camp over the course of nine years-- and murdered an estimated 50,000 of them -- lived with their families in newly built suburban homes outside the gates.

Not much of the original camp infrastructure remains today. But enough has been restored or rebuilt over the years to offer an eerie and unforgettable reminder of the evil that took root here....

An estimated 350,000 people visit Sachsenhausen each year. This weekend, about 40 survivors were expected to return for the 62nd anniversary of the camp's liberation from the Nazis....

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