Nearly 6 million people were murdered under the command of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich in a mass extermination the Nazis called "The Final Solution" during World War II. Jews, ethnic minorities, prisoners of war and German citizens deemed "asocial" were taken to concentration camps as enemies of the state. Some camps opened as work facilities, but all became death camps. Visitors take tours through select sites today to learn about our world history and honor those who were victims of the Holocaust.
Bergen-Belsen operated in Europe from 1943 until 1945, and young diarist Anne Frank was one of its prisoners. The Shoah Education Foundation notes that 10,000 non-interred corpses were discovered in 1945 when liberators reached the camp. An additional 40,000 prisoners were found ill at the time of the camp liberation, and nearly 70 percent of these did not survive. Other prisoners from the camp were sent on a forced march to keep them from being liberated by the approaching British forces. The camp was used as a processing location, a prisoner of war facility and a mass execution site.
The four-hour tour begins with an orientation, a guided program that includes the permanent exhibitions at the memorial museum, and a walk through the concentration camp. A guided walk through the Soviet prisoner of war cemetery is also included. The last tour segment takes visitors to the railway ramp that was used to deliver prisoners to the camp. The memorial and film presentation, as well as walking tours, are free of charge, but the museum encourages a contribution for monument maintenance. Visitors may also select individual tour elements, rather than the entire series, but the presentation of historical background information is highly recommended.
Located just outside Munich, Dachau was the first concentration camp of the Nazi regime, having been opened in 1933 and in operation until the end of WWII and liberation in 1945. The U.S. National Holocaust Memorial Center estimates that between 28,000 and 35,000 people died there. The Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site offers a detailed history of National Socialism in Germany and the rise of the concentration system, as well as specific information about the camp itself.
The walking portion of the tour includes a review of the restored early dormitory, an introduction to some of the early camp prisoners and a guided tour through the museum; the tour also features individual buildings and grounds. Several of the displays, including the gas chamber and execution yard, present graphic information of death practices in Nazi Germany and may not be suitable for some visitors. The tour, which requires no reservations for individuals or small groups, begins at the main train station, where viewers can by tickets. Food is not available, and guides recommend packing a meal and bringing a supply of water. The organization conducts guided tours year-round, regardless of weather, and charges nominal fee for admission to the museum. Audio guides are available for a fee.
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp Memorial Tour
Sachsenhausen was constructed by prisoners as a labor camp in 1936 and was liberated by the Soviets in 1945. Nearly 50,000 people died there. Located outside the city of Berlin. The camp was used by both Germany and the Soviet Union to house prisoners and political enemies. It was also a main training center for German SS officers. The main gate still reads "Arbeit Macht Frei," or work makes you free.
The walking tour, which is can be given by German and English speaking tour guides, includes the parade grounds (called the Appellplatz), punishment cells, the camp hospital including the pathology laboratory where experiments were performed on prisoners and their remains, as well as the barracks where Jewish prisoners were held. Station Z, a formal execution area designed for performances, and a crematorium are also part in the guided walk. Tours are available year-round, but the initial meeting point shifts in November and again in April. Total time for the tour is six hours, including the transportation to the memorial. Additional fees are collected for the public transportation used on the tour. Guides recommend packing a lunch, as the tour does not provide food. Tickets are available online.
While not in Germany, many are familiar with the Auschwitz-Birkenau former Nazi concentration camp and extermination camp located in Poland. For more information on this memorial and museum, visit https://www.auschwitz.org/en/.