Concentration Camp and Soviet Special Camp Sachsenhausen: Contemporary Archaeology and History
Archaeological finds of a garbage pit in the arear of the former concentration camp Sachsenhausen
For almost 20 years archaeological investigations have been carried out in the former concentration camp and the Soviet Special Camp Sachsenhausen. The entrepreneurship/mangement of the memorial realizes the chance to use the traces and relics in the soil for the research on the history of the camp and to use the archaeological finds for educational work. In 2006 many findings from a large garbage pit were ecovered, documented and analysed in a project with students of the Humboldt-University in Berlin.
The concentration camp Sachsenhausen, 1936/37 deliberately built near the capital of Berlin, had a guiding function within the concentration camp system. During the nine-year period of use 200,000 people were incarcerated. On 22 April 1945, the camp was liberated by the Soviet and Polish armies. A few months later it became the Soviet Special Camp No. 7 (later No. 1); the area of use was reduced by the Soviet occupation forces. Until the closing of the special camp in 1950 were 60,000 people detained.
Over the next three years, the "Station Z" (the extermination site from the concentration camp-time) was blown up, the barracks were demolished, but the foundations were left in the ground. The camp was used by the Soviet army. After that the area was used by the police and the Nationale Volksarmee of the GDR. In 1961 the Central Committee of the SED decided on the initiative of former prisoners to build a national memorial. The history of the Soviet special camp in 1945 was not mentioned.
Today, the site of the former concentration camp and the Soviet special camp Sachsenhausen belongs to the "Brandenburg Memorials Foundation”. Immediately after the formation of the foundation an extensive renovation and redesign began in 1993. Since then, all construction are to be accompanied by archaeologists.
The practical course
A pit-like structure east of the northern tip of the triangle camp of the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen and the Soviet special camp was known due to geophysical measures since 1990. Here the Museum for the Soviet special camp Nr.7/Nr.1 was planned. In March and September 2000, during the construction of the Museum of the Soviet special camp, archaeological investigations revealed a huge garbage pit. The finding extended to a length of 30 m, the width was 5.60, with a depth of 2.00 (North) - 3.00 (south) m.
It could be observed that the pit filling was relatively homogeneous. A proper archaeological excavation was not possible during construction; therefore the entire garbage pit was excavated systematically from south to north and deposited in the so-called Industriehof from south to north. Hence this provided the opportunity to document layers and concentrations of finds occurring during the recovery.
In winter 2005/06, a concept was developed to save the archaeological finds under archaeological supervision in a reasonable period of time and effort. At the four-week practical course of the Department of Prehistory and Early History of the Humboldt University in Berlin and a two-year follow-up by two student assistants the objects were saved, partly cleaned, photographed and inventoried. A thesis was written by Anne-Kathrin Müller, examining the findings from a functional point of view. An image database will be available, which the Memorial can use for the educational work.
The material of the garbage pit had been deposited over a length of about 82 m in the so-called Industriehof. Since an exact separation of truck loads could no longer be recognized, the assignment to segments 1 - 13 was made schematically. The excavated material was screened by a shaking device; the shaking device had two screen sizes: 100 mm and 50 mm. This resulted in three accumulations, one with finds more than 100 mm size, finds between 50 and 100 mm size, and a large accumulation of earth and other small finds. This soil was again sieved through a dense screen and the finds, such as buttons, coins etc. could be saved.
The finds were first sorted according to materials, where possible; than the objects were classified by their function. The following groups of materials were found:
Porcelain, glass, enamel, aluminum, ceramic / clay / brick, iron, copper alloy, etc., lead, precious metals, stone, bone, textile, leather, wood / cork / paper, plastic, rubber, building materials, fuels / slag / fire residues / graphite, electrical components.
It was not always possible to separate all the materials, as many finds of several materials (shoes: leather, rubber, metal, tires residues; electrical components: plastic, copper, textile ...) exist. In general, the classification was made after the main material for shoes such as leather. It was already evident that the traditional division by material groups often used for archaeological finds is not very helpful for a further interpretation within the deeper context.
In the four weeks finds were recovered weighing around 5.5 tons. The amount of iron finds is about 2.8 t. Another great weight put the finds of porcelain and glass with about 600 and 300 kg, about 350 kg of animal bones, 170 kg of aluminum, 120 kg of rubber and 90 kg of leather. The finds were stored in a total of about 300 boxes; approximately 900 inventory numbers were assigned.
The further analyses was carried out according to functional criteria. The following classification has been made with further subddivions:
Exemplars of findings
building- and handicraft utensils
wire, screws, seals, doorlocks
tiles, firecly tiles, roof tiles, bitumen paper
cable channel, cable, fuses, light bulbs
sink, water tap
files, crowbar, screwdriver, pliers
tin cans, ampullae, vials, bedpan, kidneywarmer, mortar, syringe, hot water bottle
combs, dental hygiene, shaving accesoires
spectacles, caps of teeth, false teeths, jawbone plaster cast
dependence causing substance
pipes, cigarette stubs, ashtray
candlesticks, vases, knick-knacks
tabelware (plates, cups, spoons, forks, knives),
iron, dustpan, weights, scissors, broom, shovel, paintbrush
poker, coal briquets
marbles, miniture cups, toy figures, plectrum, parts/models of watches, bowling balls, model aeroplanes
vehicular and belongings
mudguard, rear light lens
inkwells, pencils, fountain pen, remnants of documents, typewriter
door stopper, hings, cloakroom hooks, coathanger, furniture legs
boxes cans, lids, „sugar bowls“
prisoner identity discs, insignia
pocket wach, hairclip, broach, pocketknife, amulet, back combs, rings
belt buckels, rivets, beltclasps, safety pins, zips
safety glasses, safety shoes
shoes, boots, slippers, shoe hardware
canteens, pieces of cutlery
uniform jacket, buttons, belt buckle
satchel, gas masks, steel helmet, cartidge belt
The listing shows the very heterogeneous finds of the perpetrators and the victims of both camps. Home-made combs, small aluminum boxes, a variety of simple aluminum spoons, worn toothbrushes, clock-blanks and a black triangle textiles to identify the "asocial" prisoners belonged to the prisoners and victims; dishes, etc. with a stamp of the “Königliche Preußische Porzellanmanufaktur” or “Rosenthal”, knives and forks, the coupling locks, a steel helmet, but also the bowling ball belonged the guards and perpetrators.
It must be stressed that the recent discoveries show that the garbage pit was used until 1961. The youngest findings are GDR-Pfennige from 1961 or a cup with a “Sandmann” decoration. The garbage pit was closed probably in connection with the construction of the memorial of the GDR.
As known by previous analyses the findings come from both camps, the concentration camp and the Soviet special camp. Dating hints are stamps on the porcelain and dates on the coins, and many small finds, such as Cyrillic texts on perfume bottles or inscriptions on food cans. The large amount of medical items comes from the time of the concentration camp. About 400 so called sugar bowls belong to the time of the Soviet special camp.
Numerous engraved or incised names on a variety of findings can through written sources be connected with the written sources, with victims. But the inscriptions give also hints to the companies that delivered goods to the camps.
All Photographies: Claudia Theune
Cl. Theune, Vier Tonnen Funde geborgen. Bergung von Funden aus einer Müllgrube im ehemaligen Konzentrationslager von Sachsenhausen, Stadt Oranienburg, Landkreis Oberhavel. Arch. Berlin u. Brandenburg 2006, 131-133.
A.-K. Müller, Entsorgte Geschichte - entsorgte Geschichten. Magisterarbeit Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin 2010.
Cl. Theune, Historical archaeology in national socialist concentration camps in Central Europe. Historische Archäologie Onlinezeitschrift 2010
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