Managers at the former Nazi concentration camp of Sachsenhausen have outraged Germany’s Jewish community following revelations that they have started charging visitors for guided tours of the camp’s memorial site where tens of thousands were murdered during the Third Reich.
Sachsenhausen, which lies only a few kilometres north of Berlin, was one of the first concentration camps set up by the Nazis in 1936. More than 200,000 of the regime’s opponents were incarcerated there and tens of thousands of them were, beaten, starved, tortured or worked to death.
Like nearly all of the Nazi’s former concentration camps in Germany, Sachsenhausen now functions as a memorial museum which attracts some 400,000 visitors annually. The vast majority of the memorial camps are state run and until yesterday it had been widely assumed that entry at all of them was free.
However Germany’s Suddeutsche Zeitung newspaper today disclosed in an article headlined “Remembrance: one Euro”, that Sachsenhausen had become the first former concentration camp in the country to start charging visitors for the privilege of learning about Nazi war crimes.
The state-funded Brandenburg Memorial Site Foundation, which runs Sachsenhausen was found to have introduced a new admissions system from the beginning of June under which private tour guide companies were being charged one Euro per head, for each visitor who went on an organised tour of the site.
In an apparent attempt to avoid any embarrassment that might be caused by directly asking individual tourists for the fee, the foundation passed on the business of collecting the money to the tour operators, the Suddeutsche said.
John O’Leary, the founder of the company Insidertour which takes tourists round of Sachsenhausen said today that he was outraged by the charge. He said his company had reluctantly agreed to pay the fee directly rather than ask its tour guides to take the cash off tourists themselves.
“Just imagine what would happen if our guides started asking for the money and one of the visitors then turned round and said that his father was murdered in Sachsenhausen,” Mr O’Leary said.
Dieter Graumann, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews said he was also outraged by the museum’s policy. He said charging an entry fee at a former Nazi concentration camp was “fundamentally wrong.”
Gunter Morsch, the historian who runs the Brandenburg Foundation said the decision to start charging visitors to the camp museum was motivated purely by lack of funding: “All our attempts to get funding increased have been turned down. How long is one supposed to go on begging?” he asked. “We had to think of something,” Dr Morsch insisted.
However directors of other Nazi concentration camp memorial sites in Germany were unanimous in their condemnation of the Sachsenhausen scheme. “Charging an entry fee is completely wrong, It is our job to educate people,” said Stephanie Bill, spokeswoman for the Bergen-Belsen memorial museum.
There were the first indications today that Sachsenhausen’s new entry fee policy might backfire and deter visitors. Insidertours said that one of its major customers, the Spanish tour company, Panavision, had removed tours of Sachsenhausen from its programme because the new charges would have saddled the company with €4,000 in extra costs. Panavision was said to have chosen two free Holocaust exhibits in Berlin for its customers instead.