Germany // Berlin and Brandenburg //

The camp

At the entrance to the camp, its largest structure, the impossibly detailed New Museum, charts the camp’s origins from defunct brewery to a Nazi political prison; the local Nazis filled it with many of their classmates, colleagues and neighbours.

The camp proper begins under the main watchtower and beyond a gate adorned with the ominous sign Arbeit macht frei (“Work frees”) and within the perimeter walls and former high-voltage fence – site of frequent inmate suicides. Within the camp many parts have been chillingly well preserved or reconstructed: a number of prison blocks which now house a museum telling the stories of selected inmates; the camp prison, from which internees seldom returned; the former kitchen and laundry where harrowing films show the camp on liberation. Just outside the perimeter lie pits where summary executions took place and bodies were incinerated.

Finally, at the northern tip of the camp, an exhibition in a guard tower investigates what the local populace knew and thought of the place, via video interviews, while the jumbled hall next door examines the postwar Soviet Special Camp (1945–50), when the Russians imprisoned 60,000 people with suspected Nazi links – though most were innocent – of whom at least 12,000 died.

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