The quaint Oranienburg, just an hours drive north of Berlin has a long history dating back to the 13th century when it was still known as Bötzow. Sadly the period between the early 1930s and late 1940s has tainted its history for time to come. Oranienburg was home to not only one but two concentration camps, hosting multiple war related industries, as well as military facilities – such as the SS Schießstand in Sachsenhausen.
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Oranienburg and the SS
When the Nazis rose to power in 1933, they were quick to establish their monopoly on power and violence. The SA established one the first concentration camps in Germany in Oranienburg – the KZ Oranienburg in March of 1933, which until is dissolution in July 1934 had held over 3000 mainly political prisoners. The KZ Sachsenhausen wasn’t established until 1936, and by this time the SS had taken over from the SA (after the Röhm Putsch, better known as the Night of the long knives) when it came to controlling the concentration camps.
After the Röhm Putsch, the SS were now firmly in (out of) control. The SS Sonderkommando “Oranienburg / Sachsenhausen” was formed in 1934, and as the name implies was in control of Sachsenhausen. By 1935, the Sonderkommando merged with the Sonderkommando “Columbia” and formed the SS Wachgruppe V “Brandenburg”. Not quite content with the name changes, the Wachgruppe was renamed SS-Totenkopf-Sturmbann V „Brandenburg” in 1936, and then again into SS-Totenkopf-Standarte 2 „Brandenburg” in 1937.
The SS Schießstand
As the SS regiment grew, they needed larger training facilities, specifically a Schießstand – a shooting range. The SS leased a piece of land from the city directly opposite of the Lehnitzschleuse (a canal lock deemed of major importance to the Nazis for the construction of the proposed world capital Germania) and began the planning for a shooting range for infantry weapons. What the Nazis came up with was a Schießstand with four 300-meter-long lanes, that were protected on the sides with large earth walls, and a bullet stops at the end of each lane. On the western end of the SS Schießstand would be a brick barracks for the Range Commander and the Guards.
With such a substantial presence in Oranienburg and Sachsenhausen, the SS would go on and establish a very strong foothold in the area and it surroundings including the SS Barracks next to the KZ Sachsenhausen, a Communication Bunker, a Bath House and a Dog School amongst other things.
Construction of the SS Shooting Range only took 8 months, from March 1938 to October 1938 – as there was no shortage of labor units. The SS forcibly recruited inmates from the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp – primarily Jews, homosexuals, and Jehovahs witnesses. Many of the prisoners did not survive the construction of the SS Schießplatz, primarily dying from exhaustion, accidents or murder through the SS Guards. The guards, being bored with their sentry duty, set up flagged areas which the prisoners were not allowed to leave. Some of the guards would then indiscriminately drive inmates over the line, just so they could shoot them.
By 1941, a sub camp of Sachsenhausen opened up next to the SS Schießstand called the Klinkerwerk, were prisoners were forced to produce construction materials for Hitlers Germania, as well as (from 1944) producing aircraft parts for the Heinkel Werke in Oranienburg. The SS Schießstand was used up until 1945 by the Nazis, when the Camp and the area was liberated by the Soviets.
The Soviets move in
The Klinkerwerk was dismantled by the Soviets, and all surviving machines and materials were shipped back to the Soviet Union, while the rest of the Klinkerwerk was blown up. As the Soviets usually did, they took over the Shooting Range and used it for themselves. By 1951, the Soviet Military administration handed the formerly restricted area back over to the city of Oranienburg.
In 1956, the east German Ministry of National Defense took over the area as a training ground for the “newly-formed” NVA and by 1963, NVA recruits were now being trained where 20 years earlier concentration camp inmates had been murdered (a similar approach was taken with the former SS Barracks next to the Sachsenhausen Camp).
After German reunification, the SS-Schießstand in Sachsenhausen was then put into use by the Brandenburg Police and the Oranienburger Schützengilde (marksmen’s club) – both being equally blind and ignorant as the Soviets and East Germans before them. Only after massive protest by the Nazi victims’ associations (along with protests that the Klinkerwerk was being rented out as an industrial space) did the usage of the Schießstand cease in 1994.
The SS Schießstand Sachsenhausen today
After the shooting range was closed off in 1994, not much really happened. It wasn’t until 2011 when an open-air exhibit was unveiled in front of the now overgrown SS Schießstand informing passerby’s of the horrors that happened here. The trees grew back quickly and quite dense around the extremely steep earth walls, but the shooting lanes are still remarkably “free”.
Hidden in one of the earth walls is the covered entrance to a small munitions bunker, that looks like it was constructed by the Soviets. The strange concrete constructions – for those who are not familiar with them – are bullet stops. If someone was aiming slightly higher than they should, these incrementally placed concrete constructions would catch the bullet before it would leave the range.
The SS Schießstand isn’t publicly accessible, but as mentioned above, there is a small info display which explains the history of the nearby Klinkerwerk, the SS Brotfabrik and the SS Schießstand. There isn’t much to see from the outside aside from a lonely barrack, a chain-link fence and lots of trees.
The SS Schießstand Sachsenhausen Address
An der Lehnitzschleuse
16515 Oranienburg, Brandenburg