′Remembrance has no expiration date′ at Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück | News | DW | 19.04.2015
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'Remembrance has no expiration date' at Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was among dignitaries marking 70 years since the liberation of the Sachsenhausen Nazi concentration camp, saying remembrance must endure after survivors pass on.

"The crimes of the National Socialist regime are incomparable to any others," Frank-Walter Steinmeier said at the Sachsenhausen memorial on Sunday, "they make us shiver."

At the camp north of Berlin, liberated on April 22 and 23 of 1945, Steinmeier alluded to the site itself standing "for the monstrosity of a regime which institutionalized horror." The Social Democrat foreign minister pointed out how the camp - the first to be designed by the Nazis for purpose - was planned "with the best architecture for the completion of barbaric goals."

Frank-Walter Steinmeier Gedenkfeier zur Befreiung der KZ vor 70 Jahren in Brandenburg

Steinmeier said the Tröglitz attack was not worthy of 'the multicultural country which the vast majority of Germans want'

The triangular design of the facility was supposed to ensure both that the site could be expanded without difficulty, and that the minimum number of guards could patrol the site. Its layout allowed a single machine-gunner a line of sight on the 68 prisoner barracks, arranged in a semi-circular layout in front of Watchtower A.

"Remembrance has no expiration date," Steinmeier said at the ceremony, where he also warned of the recent attacks targeting asylum seekers in eastern Germany. He stressed that the majority of Germans stood for an open, multicultural country, "but nevertheless, all of this is happening here in Germany."

The foreign minister said that, for him, taking responsibility meant standing up against any such form of discrimination or xenophobia in modern-day Germany.

"What kind of country we want to live in 70 years after the horrors of the Shoah [the Hebrew word for Holocaust] is in our own hands," Steinmeier said.

Gedenkfeier zur Befreiung der KZ vor 70 Jahren in Brandenburg

Survivors gathered at the site on Sunday, almost 70 years after the Soviet Red Army arrived

Inmates marched out of camp

An estimated 200,000 people were imprisoned at Sachsenhausen between 1936 and 1945. Tens of thousands died of starvation, illness or the consequences of forced labor. In August of 1941, more than 10,000 Red Army soldiers were shot dead by firing squads at the concentration camp.

Nazi efforts to empty the Sachsenhausen camp began in the early hours of April 21, 1945, with the Soviet Red Army and Polish fighters just a few kilometers away from the site. The vast majority of the remaining inmates were marched out of the detention center in groups of around 500 at a time. Only the first groups received modest provisions with which to trek between 20 and 40 kilometers (12.5 and 25 miles) per day. Many either died of exhaustion or were shot on the so-called "death marches." Inmates already in poor health or seriously wounded were left behind.

On April 22 and 23, 1945, Soviet soldiers took control of the camp; some 3,000 sick or invalid prisoners remained, along with doctors and nursing staff. Many of them died in the subsequent weeks as a consequence of their captivity.

Oranienburg Konzentrationslager Sachsenhausen Gedenktag Befreiung

Poland's first lady, Anna Komorowska (left in picture), joined the ceremony at Ravensbrück

By April 23, around 50 kilometers to the north in Ravensbrück, the Nazis also began clearing their largest concentration camp for women inmates. Ravensbrück was liberated one week later on April 30, less than a fortnight before Germany's May 9 capitulation.

Earlier on Sunday, some 90 former Ravensbrück inmates gathered in what survivor Annette Chalut called "probably the last time we will be together," due to their advanced age. Chalut, a former member of the French Resistance, spoke alongside Brandenburg's state premier, Dietmar Woidke, and others.

"Vigilance is our absolute duty," the 90-year-old said. "Evil can return at any time, and we are not allowed to forget what happened here."

msh/kms (AFP, dpa)

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