Squirk's Overseas Experience

The tales of one Kiwi returning to Mother Britain and exploring the Big Wide World... without being eaten by a shark.

Monday, February 26, 2007


There's a concentration camp, called Sachsenhausen, an hour or two's train ride from Berlin. It was a "forced labour" camp so the stories (and facilities) weren't as horrific those you'd expect from an "extermination" camp like Auschwitz. More inmates died from exhaustion and malnutrition than from systematic killing, but the kinds of abuse that went on are nothing short of evil.

We saw the yard where men were punished with a "pole hanging": hung from a pole by their wrists, so that they not only dislocated their shoulders but had to support their whole body's weight with only ligaments and sinew. This is the same courtyard in which prisoners were ordered to stand at attention for the entire day without pause, often in rain and freezing cold.

The medical unit was used for supremely unethical medical experiments and the pathology staff were only allowed to use one of seven "approved" causes of death for the medical records.

We saw the toilets that men were drowned in, and the unventilated storage room in which groups of men suffocated, but we also saw videos of how the SS (those who ran the camp, and also used it for training) presented themselves to the people in the local town. It seems that the townsfolk were quite happy to have the garrison there, and the SS seemed just like any other military unit; their football team played in the local leagues, their brass band played concerts in the town hall and they even held open days with balloons and sweets for the children.

My Italian friend asked me, as a New Zealand boy, what I learnt in school of WW2 and the Nazis. Despite several of my school friends' extensive knowledge on the topic, I came through with only a passing familiarity.

I'm slowly remedying that.

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  • At 3:52 pm AEDT, Blogger Abby said…

    this might sound like a stupid question, but how open are people where you are living about talking about what went on in world war two? is it sort 'not discussed' or are people ok with talking about it?

    sounds like you're having an interesting time there!

  • At 5:15 pm AEDT, Blogger Jungle Rhino said…

    Don't mention ze Var!!

    Good on you Squirk, I've learnt a lot about WW2 these recent years and I think I'm better for it. You learn a lot about humanity when looking at it within that context.

    Try and learn about what happened in Russia during the war - nobody hears about that at school.

  • At 7:29 pm AEDT, Blogger Squirk said…

    This might sound like a stupid answer, but I haven't actually talked to many locals yet. I don't know how they feel!

    You're right, nobody seems to go into much detail about Russia. The camp that I visited was actually used by the Russians after the war, but I was rushed through that part of the museum so I still don't really know what they did with it.


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