Bergen-Belsen: 75 years since liberation

Three quarters of a century after the camp was liberated, are lessons still being learned from Bergen-Belsen?

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Seventy-five years ago almost to day, the British army walked through the gates of one of the most notorious concentration camps of the Nazi regime. Nothing could prepare them for the horrors which lay ahead at the death camp in the heart of Germany, and what they did see can never be forgotten about.

Belsen was the first of the Nazi death camps to be liberated by the British. Auschwitz had been liberated by the Soviets in January 1945 and within weeks of Belsen falling into Allied hands, Dachau was to follow.

The camp was opened in 1940 with the first prisoners being French and Belgian soldiers. As the war intensified on the eastern front as well as in the west, waves of Russian prisoners were brought to Belsen. The horrors of the holocaust were installed into Belsen in 1943 when the camp was handed over to the SS.

Over the course of its existence, the Bergen-Belsen camp complex held Jews, prisoners of war, political prisoners, Roma (Gypsies), asocials, criminals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and homosexuals.

50,000 people died at the camp during the five years it operated. Amongst the dead, was diarist Anne Frank.

As the allies closed in on both sides of the retreating German forces, prisoners from camps which had been evacuated ended up in Belsen, overwhelming the already inadequate facilities of the camp. By early 1945, those in the camp would sometimes go days without food and rarely had clean water.

Tens of thousands of prisoners died in the early months of 1945 of diseases spread by the horrific conditions. Typhus, tuberculosis and typhoid spread throughout the camp with thousands of dead remaining unburied until the British came.

The image described by many of the British soldiers who liberated Belsen is of ‘skeletons with skin on’. The footage captured by correspondents reflects this. It makes for harrowing viewing, but like so many survivors of the holocaust say, they are images which must be shown.

It’s hard to comprehend the scale of the murder of the holocaust, but pictures of thousands of corpses strewn across campgrounds and the harrowing accounts of survivors and the soldiers who first entered Belsen.

It has been 75 years since one of the most horrific examples of mans inhumanity to man was finally ended. The holocaust didn’t start as soon as the Nazis gained power in Germany.

It started as racial hatred being fed to the people in propaganda and oppressing any opposition through state police crackdowns.

The Nazis blamed groups in society for Germany losing the Great War and plunging the country into economic turmoil.

Their authoritarian grip on Germany enabled them to fulfil their crimes, which culminated in sending millions of people to death camps such as Bergen-Belsen.

Racial hatred is far from being dissolved from society in 2020, but the death camps of the holocaust are reminders of what can happen when the hatred gets into power

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