On This Day | 22 April 1945: Liberation of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp

22 April 1945: On this day in Berlin history, KZ Sachsenhausen– recognized as the nearest concentration camp to the city of Berlin- was liberated by the Soviet Army. There, Soviet and Polish troops found approximately 3,400 prisoners, most of them seriously ill.

Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp gate, bearing the words "Arbeit macht frei"
Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp gate, bearing the words “Work sets you free”

On the day prior to liberation – in order to avoid being surrounded by the oncoming Soviet army – the remaining concentration camp guards left Sachsenhausen taking approximately 33,000 prisoners on a death march in the direction of the Ostsee.

Despite the best efforts of military doctors and other former prisoners, at least 300 of the prisoners liberated by the Soviet Army at Sachsenhausen died in the months following their liberation due to the effects of extreme malnutrition and other medical conditions related to their incarceration.

Almost immediately, the Soviet Army began investigating the crimes that had been committed at Sachsenhausen. One of the most significant figures brought to justice as a result of their investigation was the last commandant of Sachsenhausen, Anton Kaindl who was sentenced at the Soviet military tribunals in Berlin-Pankow in November 1947.

Sachsenhausen Camp Commandant Anton Kaindl
Camp Commandant Anton Kaindl

Kaindl was responsible, not only for organizing the 1945 death march from Sachsenhausen, but also for the death of an estimated 30-35,000 of prisoners from Sachsenhausen. These people were either executed in and around the main camp of Sachsenhausen, at sub-camps or transported to other camps specifically to be murdered during the “camp clearances” from February to April of 1945.

Kaindl died during his imprisonment in a labour camp in the Soviet Union in 1948.

The process of bringing the perpetrators of Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp to justice is a process which continues into 2021. On February 8th of this year, an unnamed former guard was charged with 3518 counts of accessory to murder during his time as a guard there from 1942-1945.

Learn more on the official Sachsenhausen Museum and Memorial website or join one of our guides on a tour of the site.

Lizzy Mason
This edition of On This Day in Berlin History was contributed by Berlin Guides Association member, Elizabeth Mason. It’s one of four events she has chosen to remember this month. Keep an eye on our blog to see what else makes the cut.