The exhibition 'The daily life
of the prisoners in Sachsenhausen concentration camp 1936 - 1945' is the
first to have been dedicated to the daily lives of concentration camp
prisoners faced with the total terror of the SS regime. Because the
complexity of the theme made it difficult to present adequately, the
museum opted for a multimedia presentation. The central part of the
exhibition is the presentation of 20 narratives of ex-prisoners, which
provide a good cross-section of all of the prisoners that were held in the
The exhibition is built around the (subjective) perspectives of the
ex-prisoners and prisoners' narratives are related to camp exhibits in
every section of the exhibition. Visitors can also listen to recordings
made by the prisoners, helping to bring the exhibits to life, by relating
them directly to the extreme situations of the concentration camp and
ensuring that exhibits are presented clearly and convincingly.
The small number of exhibits, in total 120, and the reserved style of
Prof. H.G. Merz's exhibition preserve the barracks, which were
reconstructed from original pieces in 1961, as the main exhibit. The 600m²
exhibition is complemented by a CD-ROM which is available for visitors to
use on two computer work-stations. The exhibition itself was designed to
present far more than just a simple continuation of prisoner biographies.
For this reason the CD-ROM is there to enable visitors to learn much more
about individual prisoners than the museum could present within this
The different paths
Between 1936 and 1945, the reasons the prisoners were
arrested and the way in which they arrived in Sachsenhausen
was often very different. In the first years, political and
ideological opponents from within Germany were sent to
Sachsenhausen but this was soon to change as the war began
and tens of thousands of people from the occupied countries
Birger Schroller, a Danish prisoner held in Sachsenhausen
swapped cigarettes for this billy can with an unknown Soviet
prisoner of war. The numerous previous owners have inscribed
their place of arrest into its sides and the names of all
the concentration camps have been arranged into the form of
The treatment of concentration camp prisoners by the SS was aligned with the
National Socialist world view. For these reasons the fact that a prisoner
was a German political prisoner or for example Jewish, Russian or
homosexual, was of fundamental importance. This part of the exhibition shows
how the SS treated the different categories of prisoners and the often
brutal hierarchies or "the most extreme class system" (Primo Levi), that
existed between the prisoners as well as their privileges and the penalties
The Dutch prisoner Albert Nicolaas provided a good example in his drawing 'Bread
In order to survive the brutal SS treatment, the prisoners developed a
system of mutual support, illustrated by the following example. A dutch
prisoner, being the oldest at his table, was given the job of splitting the
daily bread rations into five pieces. The pieces were never of equal size
and to ensure they were distributed fairly, he 'organised' aluminium and
constructed this die. From then on chance decided who would get the largest
ration and none of the prisoners could claim to have been disadvantaged.
Forced labour governed over the life and death of a concentration camp
prisoner. A prisoner working in the camp's administration had a privileged
status compared to those working in the disciplinary kommando or the
brickworks death camp and be faced with the brutal treatment of the SS
combined with heavy labour.
After 1945 the ex-prisoner Etienne van Ploeg painted this water colour, 'Work
in the foundry'. In 1942 a foundry was constructed in the brickworks to
produce grenades and prisoners were forced to produce iron grenade casings
and anti-tank weapons.
Photo: This iron grenade casing was found on the
site of the brickworks in 1998
Space and time
The two distinguishing characteristics of camp every day life were the total
lack of freedom of movement and the control of a prisoner's time. The
prisoners tried to take back these elementary necessities in every way they
could. This map of the camp, by an unknown prisoner, illustrates well the
lack of freedom of movement granted to prisoners and their limited knowledge
of the borders and layout of the camp - the drawing differs greatly from the
actual camp layout.
Photo: To fight against the control or lack of knowledge of the time,
prisoners such as Marcel Barré, from France, kept a secret calendar.
Violence and death
Every day life in the concentration camp was a perversion of what every day
life should be like. It meant a prisoner could be - at any time, in any
place - victimised, brutally mistreated, or killed.
The ubiquitous deadly brutality of camp life, was expressed in this
minimalist drawing by Albert Nicolaas, a Dutch prisoner, in 1944.
Living with the memory
The experiences made by the concentration camp prisoners has changed their
lives forever and they have had to learn to live with their memories in many
After 1945, Etienne van Ploeg, who was deported from Belgium to
Sachsenhausen in 1942, constructed this model of the camp. Sachsenhausen,
the 'ideal' concentration camp - in this miniature cigarette-case form,
reduced the memories of the concentration camp and helped locked them inside
the case, but it did not help to release them.
A German Communist, a unionist, a Social Democrat, a member
of the 'Bekennenden Kirche' and a Jehovah's witness are
included in the exhibition of political and ideological
opponents to the NS regime. The socially persecuted are
represented by a 'Befristeter Vorbeugehäftling' (BVer), an 'asocial'
and a homosexual. The racially persecuted are represented by
a Sinto and two Jews. The wide spectrum of resistance in the
occupied countries is demonstrated by a number of
ex-prisoners including a Dutch, Belgian, Norwegian, and a
French prisoner, a Czech student, a member of a Polish
minority group from Gdansk, a Polish woman, a Soviet
prisoner of war and a Ukrainian forced labourer.
Edmund Braminski (*1917) Born in Kiel as the
son of Polish parents, studied at the technical high school in
Gdansk. Arrested in Poland in September 1939, only days after the
invasion. Transported to Stuthof camp, arrived in Sachsenhausen in
1941. After the liberation returned to Gdansk and worked as an
engineer in the Lenin shipyards.
Gustav Bürhner (*1887 - 1939) Born in
Ulm/Tübingen. Became a Jehovah's witness in 1924, (illegalised
1933). Arrested many times during 1935/6. Sent to Sachsenhausen in
1939 where he died in unexplained circumstances five months later.
Lothar Erdmann (*1888 in Breslau - today
Wroclaw, Poland, died 1941 in Sachsenhausen.) Was an officer in the
first world war. Editor in chief of a union paper in Berlin from the
mid 1920s until 1933. 1.9.1939 (start of the second world war)
arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen. Died two weeks later due to
mistreatment by the SS.
Werner Koch (*1910 in Wiesbaden - died 1994 in
Ermlichheim). Theology student, member of the 'Bekennenden Kirche' -
an opposition movement inside the Evangelical church. End of 1936
arrested because of his illegal activities and sent to
Sachsenhausen. Released two years later. After 1945, pastor, active
in the West German peace movement and in German-Jewish
Janina Krawczyk (*1919 in Vilnius, died 1999
in Warsaw). Arrested during the Warsaw uprisings in 1944. Together
with his mother, brought to Germany for forced labour. Sent to
Sachsenhausen sub-camp (AEG Heningsdorf). After the liberation,
returned to Warsaw, worked as a teacher and later as an accountant.
Friedrich Lohmeyer (*1890 in Hannover, died
1945). Member of the SPD and an active unionist. Member of the
illegal SPD group 'Sozialistische Front', arrested 1936. After the
end of his prison sentence (1941) sent to Sachsenhausen by the
Gestapo. Shortly before the end of the war, transported to
Mauthausen. Nothing more is known of him.
Albert 'Ab' Nicolaas (*1917 in Leiden/Netherlands,
died 1999, in Noordwyk a. Zee). Graphic artist. Protested against
the occupation of his country. Attempted to flee to England. May
1944 he was betrayed, arrested and sent to Sachsenhausen. Remained
there until liberation in 1945. In later life became a clown.
Sergej Owraschko (*1926 near Kiev, Ukraine).
Transported to Germany in 1942 for forced labour. Arrested because
of sabotage acts in 1943. Sent to Buchenwald, later to Riga
concentration camp. Arrived in Sachsenhausen August 1943. Served in
the red army after the end of the war. Later worked as an
electromechanic in Kiev.
Richard Przystawik (*1906 in Hannover, died
1978 in Hannover). Casual labourer, previously convicted for theft.
1938 transported as an 'asocial' to Sachsenhausen. Status later
changed to 'professional criminal'. Sent by the SS, a few months
before the liberation to Mauthausen. Very little is known about his
life after the liberation.
Walter Schwarze (*1914 in Leipzig, died 1999
in Leipzig). Barber. Arrested in 1940 because of his homosexuality.
Sent to Sachsenhausen. Soon afterwards sent to Groß Rosen. 1944
released to serve in the armed forces. Held for 5 years in the
Soviet Union as a prisoner of war. Kept his time as a concentration
camp prisoner secret and only received compensation in 1994.
Willem Sel (*1921 in Mechelen/Belgium, died
1999 in Mechelen). Gymnast. Arrested 1941 as a member of the
Monarchist Resistance Movement and brought to Germany. A 'night and
fog' prisoner, sent to Sachsenhausen in 1943. 1944 arrived in
Dachau. After the war, served with the Belgian foreign legion. Later
worked in a school's administration.
Evzen Seycek (*1917 in Znajm/Mähren).
Autumn 1939 took part in student protests against the German
occupation of Prague. Arrested on 17 August 1939, together with
1200 other Czech students and transported to Sachsenhausen.
Released April 1942. After the end of the war, completed his law
studies and worked as a caricaturist and an editor.
Nikolai Subarew (*1922 in Moscow).
Lieutenant in red army. May 1942 taken prisoner and forced to
work in the Belgian coal mines. Escaped to the partisans.
Re-arrested in 1944 and sent to Sachsenhausen. After the war,
worked as an engineer for a car manufacturer in Moscow.
Per Svor (*1915 in Hornindal/Norway, died
in 1985 in Oslo). Police officer in Oslo. Arrested beginning of
1942. Sent to the Grini prisoner camp after distributing
anti-German flyers. Transported one year later to Sachsenhausen.
After the end of the war, returned to Oslo and continued his
work with the police.
Georges Tempier (*1921 in
Caudec-les-Elbeuf/Normandy). Electrician for town council in
Elbeuf. Active in resistance against German occupation. Arrested
September 1942, sent to Sachsenhausen a few months later.
Transported to Dachau. After the liberation, went back to Elbeuf
and took up his old position.
Jakov Tsur (*1925 in Ostrava/Mähren as
Kurt Cierer). Transported in 1944 together with 1000 further
Czech Jews from Auschwitz-Birkenau to Schwarzheide, a sub-camp
of Sachsenhausen. After the liberation, emigration to Palestine.
Active during the war of independence. Worked as a teacher in a
Kibbutz in Israel.
Heinz Wollmann (*1920 in Frankfurt/Oder).
Arrested together with his father during the November pogrom on
9 November 1938 and sent to Sachsenhausen. Released February
1939. Family emigrated to Palestine. Worked for the Bayrischen
Rundfunk in Israel.
Walter Winter (*1919 in Wittmund). German
Sinto. Deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in March 1943. In July
1944 transported to Ravensbrück. Sent to Sachsenhausen in March
1945. Became a performer after the war.
Rudolf 'Rudi' Wunderlich (*1912 in
Leipzig, died 1988 in East Berlin). Typesetter for the workers
movement. Arrested because of work in the resistance. Imprisoned
for four years. 1939 sent to Sachsenhausen. Escaped from
sub-camp Lichtenberg in 1944. Active in the work on memorial and
sites of remembrance in the GDR.
Erich Ziebart (*1910 in Landsberg/Warthe,
died in 1974 in West Berlin). Imprisoned for various reasons
until 1937. 1940 sent as a 'professional criminal' to
Sachsenhausen. After the liberation from Mauthausen moved to
West Berlin. Started a family. Worked as a painter.