Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Remembering Bergen-Belsen

The spring brings with it annual anniversaries that mark the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, death camps and a day of renewed life for tens of thousands of survivors of the Shoah. The Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the U.S. Army freed the inmates at Buchenwald, and the British Army freed the Bergen-Belsen camp on the 2nd of Iyar, 1945, corresponding to April 15th, 1945.

In Bergen-Belsen, British troops found 60,000 starving and mortally ill inmates who were living without food, water and basic sanitation. The inmates were found to be suffering with typhus, dysentery and starvation. Approximately thirteen thousand corpses lay around the camp unburied.

Bergen-Belsen was established as a prisoner of war camp in 1940 in lower Saxony, part of Northern Germany. As potential leverage for swaps for cash or to be exchanged for German civilians in Allied countries, Jewish non-combatants holding foreign passports, beginning in 1943, were imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, which, at that time, began serving as a concentration camp. From 1943 until liberation, between 36,400 and 37,600 prisoners died in Bergen-Belsen, including Anne Frank, who died of Typhus in March, 1945, a month prior to liberation. Her body and that of her sister Margot, were found unburied when the British liberated the camp.

Those who survived the “Death Marches” at the end of the war, were concentrated at Bergen-Belsen. After liberation, Bergen-Belsen was used as a displaced persons (DP) camp.

In early April of 1945, the Germans understood that the British would arrive shortly, and feared that a typhus epidemic would spread throughout the country if the inmates would escape. On April 11, German representatives approached the 11th Armored Division of the British army to negotiate a truce and terms of surrendering the camp. When the British army arrived, they tried to contain the disease by organizing a relief effort, burying the dead, providing potable water and providing light food for the starving inmates that would not worsen their malnutrition. They brought in medical personnel to deal with the inmates who needed critical attention.

Despite these efforts, tragically, 14,000 prisoners died after liberation.

Copyright © 2019 NJOP. All rights reserved.

No comments: