On this day: Bergen-Belsen liberated

April 15 1945: Horrors laid bare in Germany


When Bergen Belsen, the concentration in which Anne Frank and around 50,000 others perished, was liberated by British troops, they found a place of disease, starvation and death.

The soldiers who first entered the camps later recalled witnessing piles of naked bodies left to rot all around. There were 60,000 people still inside, most barely clinging on to life.

At a point near Hanover in Germany it was originally planned as a transit camp for prisoners of war but from April 1943 the Nazis soon began using it as a place to carry out the Final Solution.

A killing site for Jews – many who had been transferred from other camps – and also for political prisoners, Roma and homosexuals, death came from the brutality of the guards and in the gas chambers

After liberation, more than 13,000 prisoners died from illness. Two weeks after it was liberated, Belsen was burnt to the ground by the British forces, in an effort to prevent the spread of typhus.

What Reverend Levy, chaplain to the British Army, told the JC after he visited soon after liberation: The stench reaches to high heaven, Death stalks abroad and no human power can stop the hand of the Angel of Death from claiming his victims…People walk around the camp looking like human skeletons. They have no flesh on their harried bones…they lie on the filthy floors clothed in rags and tatters. Lice and vermin are everywhere. When the liberating forces arrived they found corpses lying around the camp still unburied. The living lay in close proximity with the dead. Corpses were used as mattresses. There was no means of removing the dead; the living had no strength to drag the bodies out of the huts.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 10:54am, April 15 2011