The 15 of April 2019 sees the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp was established by the Nazi regime near Celle, Lower Saxony, Northern Germany.

Clock retrieved from Bergen-Belsen administration block; in the collection.


Bergen - Belsen

Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp was established by the Nazi regime near Celle, Lower Saxony, Northern Germany.

From 1940 until 1943 Bergen-Belsen operated as a Prisoner of War (POW) camp. The first POWs held there were French and Belgian, following the invasion of the Soviet Union the camp held tens of thousands of Soviet prisoners of war.

From April 1943 Bergen-Belsen functioned as a concentration camp complex and expanded as multiple sub-camps were constructed. During the course of its operation Bergen-Belsen held Jewish people, political prisoners, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, criminals, homosexuals and others considered undesirable by the Nazi regime, as well as POWs.

Nazi officials initially intended to use some Jewish people held in Bergen-Belsen in prisoner exchanges for money or German nationals held by Allied forces, however few people were actually exchanged.

From March 1944 people held in other camps who were considered too sick to work began arriving, though they did not receive medical care. In August 1944 a ‘Women’s Camp’ was established within Bergen-Belsen for women and girls. As allied forces began to advance Bergen-Belsen was used as a holding camp for thousands of people who had been forced by the SS to evacuate other camps to prevent their liberation. Many of the forced evacuations were made on foot in ‘death marches’ of thousands of people. The rapid influx of people caused massive overcrowding which severely deteriorated conditions. Many people were close to death after surviving horrific conditions in other camps. The poor sanitation system could not cope, there were not enough toilet or wash facilities and there was extremely limited access to water and food. These conditions led to outbreaks of typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid and dysentery.

Conditions in Bergen-Belsen were horrific; during its period of operation around 52,000 people were murdered through starvation, disease, and brutal treatment.
Following negotiations resulting in agreement that the camp would be surrendered peacefully, soldiers from the British 11th Armoured Division entered and liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp without a fight on 15, April 1945.

The British forces were wholly unprepared to deal with what they found. Liberating troops found thousands of dead bodies and around 60,000 people, most of whom were in a critical medical condition due to starvation and disease epidemics.

In the weeks following liberation thousands more people died after being unable to recover. To prevent the spread of typhus and other contagious diseases British forces burnt down each camp hut as it was evacuated.

Bergen-Belsen displaced person’s camp was established by British forces in a former Military School Barracks near the site of the concentration camp, and became the largest displaced persons camp in Europe, the last people left in 1951. Many people migrated from Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp to Israel, Canada, and the United States.

British forces held a military tribunal in 1945 at Lüneburg which tried male and female members of the SS, and former prisoners who had assisted the SS running the camp. 14 of those tried were acquitted, 11 were sentenced to death including; Josef Kramer, Camp Commandant at the time of liberation; Elisabeth Volkenrath, head female guard; and Nazi doctor Fritz Klein. The others were found guilty and given prison sentences.

For more information on Bergen-Belsen and to view the collections, please click here.