Berlin’s forgotten concentration camp

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Columbia-Haus: Berlin’s forgotten concentration camp

In Berlin, at former airport Tempelhof, there used to be a concentration camp. To be exact: Berlin’s forgotten concentration camp Columbia-Haus. Everybody knows about how the Allied Forces organized an airlift to fly and drop supplies to the people of West Berlin via Tempelhof. But very few people know Berlin’s one and only concentration camp was at Tempelhof too.

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If people think of a concentration camp near Berlin, they always come up with concentration camp Sachsenhausen. In 1933, when the Nazis and Hitler came into power, they first created a Gestapo jail at airport Tempelhof and a year later, a concentration camp. The concentration camp was in Columbia-Haus, named after the first airplane that landed at Tempelhof after a transatlantic flight. Despite it’s heroic name, only horrors happened here. When the Nazis grabbed power the Gestapo prisons soon became too full with political opponents. So the Nazis were looking for new spots to put their enemies and found it in the old military prison Columbia-Haus. The first prisoner was Kurt Hiller, a Jewish writer and socialist. He referred to his stay there as the ‘hell’. That must not have been an exaggeration.  Prisoners were treated very badly. The sanitary was old and hadn’t been used since its closing in 1920. In 1934 there were about 450 prisoners staying at the Columbia-Haus, which only had 156 prison cells, meant for one person.

But the prison being overcrowded wasn’t the worst part. The people that were captured were badly hurt, foltered and killed. The word justice didn’t mean anything in this place. The horrors were so bad at this prison that these ‘harassments’ and ‘tortures’ were officially forbidden. Berlin had many of these horrific places where people were interrogated when the Nazis came into power. Most of these prisons didn’t last long.

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Memorial for the victims of concentrations camp Columbia-Haus at Columbiadamm/Golssener strasse (c) beek100

But Columbia-Haus remained and turned into something even more horrific. In 1934 it became a concentration camp. About 8000 men stayed here. Prisoners who would later on become prominent politicians like Erich Honecker. And Robert W.M. Kempner who was later the USA prosecutor during the Nuremberg Trials was captured at this concentration camp. The camp also had a lot of homosexuals and Jews as prisoners . All of them had to make  bombs for the airplanes of Tempelhof. One of ten bombs produced in Germany were made by prison hands in Columbia Camp.

At Columbia Camp SS’ers were trained for other concentration camps. Here, they learned how to be mean, torture and kill.  Karl Otto Koch, the later commander of concentration camp Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Lublin Majdanek was trained here. How many people were killed exactly at Columbia camp is not clear. In November 1936 the camp slowly ceased to exist. Sachsenhausen came into existence and the prisoners were transported there, where the horrors continued.

After the war the barracks were dismantled and very little remains of this forgotten Berlin concentration camp. The offenders were never prosecuted. On the corner of Golssener Strasse a memorial from Georg Seibert reminds us of the concentration camp and the victims of Columbia-Haus.

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