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Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

Bergen-Belsen (or Belsen) was a Nazi concentration camp in Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany, southwest of the town of Bergen near Celle. Originally established as the prisoner of war camp Stalag XI-C, in 1943 it became a concentration camp on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas. Later still the name was applied to the displaced persons campestablished nearby, but it is most commonly associated with the concentration camp it became as conditions deteriorated between 1943-1945. During this time an estimated 50,000 Russian prisoners of war and a further 50,000 inmates died there, up to 35,000 of them dying of typhus in the first few months of 1945.

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division.60,000 prisoners were found inside, most of them seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lay around the camp unburied. The scenes that greeted British troops were described by the BBC's Richard Dimbleby, who accompanied them:

“ ...Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which... The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them ... Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live ... A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days.

"This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.

"I could not believe the horror of these camps," said one liberator. "We found piles of bodies in train cars that had been dead for days."

For public opinion in Western countries in the immediate post-1945 period, the name "Belsen" became emblematic of Nazi horrors in general. The even greater horrors of Auschwitz, a camp which was liberated by the Soviets and of which Western soldiers and journalists had no direct experience, became widely known only later.

Operation A barrack block at Belsen

In September 1939 a prisoner of war camp was established at Fallingbostel, and the nearby Bergen-Belsen site became a Häftlingslager, or "prison camp", initially housing around 500 prisoners who were used as construction workers for the Fallingbostel project. In June 1940 it became a prisoner of war camp for around 600 French and Belgian soldiers, under the authority of the Wehrmacht, and in May 1941 it was designated prisoner of war camp Stalag XI-C, (Stalag XI-C/311 for the Belgian and French POW's). Conditions in the camp were very basic, with inadequate food and little shelter. Around 20,000 Soviet prisoners of war were sent to the camp between July 1941 and the spring of 1942, of whom about 18,000 died of hunger, cold and disease.

In 1942, Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp, and part of it was placed under SScommand in April 1943. Having initially been designated Zivilinterniertenlager ("civilian internment camp"), in June 1943 it was redesignated Aufenthaltslager ("holding camp"), since the Geneva Conventions stipulated that the former type of facility must be open to inspection by international committees. This was the "Star Camp" (so called because the inmates were made to wear the yellow star badge that designated them Jews). The Star Camp held several thousand Jews, mainly Dutch Jews, who were intended to be exchanged for German civilians interned in other countries. Star Camp inmates were made to work, many of them in the "shoe commando" which salvaged usable pieces of leather from shoes collected and brought to the camp from all over Germany and Occupied Europe. Families were permitted to meet during the day, and in general the Star Camp prisoners were treated less harshly than some other classes of Bergen-Belsen prisoner until fairly late in the war, due to their perceived potential exchange value. From September 1943 Italian military internees were also held at Bergen-Belsen. In March 1944, part of the camp was redesignated as an Erholungslager ("recovery camp"), where prisoners too sick to work were brought from other camps. In August 1944, a shipment of approximately 8,000 female prisoners of various nationalities arrived from Auschwitz, most of whom were sent to Arbeitskommandos to work in factories, and from October 1944 captured Polish Home Army soldiers also began arriving at the camp.[6] In all there were eight separate sections to the camp with different groups, treated differently according to their status.

December 1944 saw the completion of the change-over of Bergen-Belsen into a concentration camp when SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer, previously at Auschwitz-Birkenau, became the new camp commander. The number of inmates in the camp on December 1, 1944, was 15,257.[citation needed] In 1945, large numbers of prisoners were moved to Belsen from the eastern camps as the Soviet forces advanced. The resulting overcrowding led to a vast increase in deaths from disease (particularly typhus) and malnutrition in a camp originally designed to hold about 10,000 inmates. The number of inmates increased from 22,000 on February 1, 1945, to 41,520 on March 1, 43,042 on April 1 and ultimately to about 60,000 on April 15. The number of deaths increased from 7,000 in February to 18,168 during March and 9,000 during the first half of April. The bodies of these prisoners were buried in mass graves.

There were no gas chambers in Bergen-Belsen, since the mass executions took place in the camps further east. Nevertheless, an estimated 50,000 JewsCzechsPoles, anti-Nazi Christianshomosexuals, and Roma and Sinti (Gypsies) died in the camp. Among them were Czech painter and writer Josef ?apek (est. April 1945), as well as famous Amsterdam residents Anne Frank (who died of typhus) and her sister Margot, who died there in March 1945. The average life expectancy of an inmate was nine months.

After the war, there were allegations that the camp (or possibly a section of it), was "of a privileged nature", compared to others. A lawsuit filed by the Jewish community in Thessaloniki against 55 alleged collaborators claims that 53 of them were sent to Bergen-Belsen "as a special favor" granted by the Germans.

Liberation Former guards are made to load the bodies of dead prisoners onto a truck for burial, 17–18 April 1945 Some of the 60 tables, each staffed by two German doctors and two German nurses, at which the sick were washed and deloused, 1–4 May 1945 Dr. Fritz Klein stands amongst corpses in Mass Grave 3 The entrance to Bergen-Belsen A memorial stone erected near the ramps where prisoners for Belsen were unloaded from goods trains

When the British and Canadians advanced on Bergen-Belsen in 1945, the German army negotiated a truce and exclusion zone around the camp to prevent the spread of typhus. Under the agreement, Hungarian and regular German troops guarding the camp returned to German lines when Allied troops liberated the camp on April 15, 1945. Although many SS guards had fled the camp, a small number remained, wearing white armbands as a sign of surrender. The retreating Germans sabotaged the water supply to the barracks, making it difficult for the Allied troops to treat the ill prisoners.

When British and Canadian troops finally entered they found thousands of bodies unburied and approximately 55,000 inmates, most acutely sick and starving. Over the next days the surviving prisoners were deloused and moved to a nearby German Panzer army camp, which became theBergen-Belsen DP camp. The remaining SS personnel were then forced by armed Allied troops to bury the bodies in pits.

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was then burned to the ground by flamethrowing "Bren gun" carriers and Churchill Crocodile tanks because of the typhus epidemic and louse infestation.The name Belsen after this time refer to events at the Bergen-Belsen DP camp.

In spite of massive efforts to help the survivors, about another 9,000 died in April, and by the end of June 1945 another 4,000 had died (after liberation a total of 13,994 people died). On the 13th day after liberation, the Luftwaffe bombed one of the hospitals in the DP camp, injuring and killing several patients and Red Cross workers. The total number of deaths at Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to June 1945 was about 50,000.

The British troops and medical staff tried these diets to feed the prisoners, in this order:

  • Bully beef from Army rations. Most of the prisoners' digestive systems were in too weak a state from long-term starvation to handle such food.
  • Skimmed milk. The result was a bit better, but still far from acceptable.
  • Bengal Famine Mixture. This is a rice-and-sugar-based mixture which had achieved good results after the Bengal famine of 1943, but it proved less suitable to Europeans than to Bengalis because of the differences in the food to which they were accustomed. Adding the common ingredient paprika to the mixture made it more palatable to these Europeans and recovery started.

Many of the former SS staff that survived the typhus epidemic were tried by the British at theBelsen Trial. At the trial, the world got its first view of Irma GreseElisabeth VolkenrathJuana BormannFritz KleinJosef Kramer, and the rest of the SS men and women who before served atMittelbau DoraRavensbrückAuschwitz I, II, III, and Neuengamme. Many of the female guards had served at small Gross Rosen subcamps at NeusalzLangenleuba, and the Mittelbau-Dorasubcamp at Gross Werther. Dozens of the personnel of Bergen-Belsen were found guilty of murder and of crimes against humanity, and most of those were hanged.

Bergen-Belsen fell into neglect after the burning of the buildings and the closure of the nearby displaced persons' camp. The area reverted to heath, with few traces of the camp remaining.Ronald Reagan's visit to West Germany in 1985 (see Bitburg) included a hastily arranged stop at Bergen-Belsen, which prompted the West Germans to put together a small documentation center. It soon became inadequate for the accumulating archives, for the general liberalizing process of German identity building after the Berlin Wall fell,[clarification needed] and for the growing public appetite abroad for Holocaust museums, along with the tourist economy they generated. On April 15, 2005 there was a commemorative ceremony, and many ex-prisoners and ex-liberating troops attended.

In October 2007 the redesigned memorial site was opened, including a large new Documentation Centre and permanent exhibition on the edge of the newly redefined camp, whose structure and layout can now be traced. The site is open to the public and includes a monument to the dead, some individual memorial stones and a "House of Silence" for reflection.

Personal accounts We were headed for an airstrip outside Celle, a small town, just of Hanover. We had barely cranked to a halt and started to set up the ‘ops’ tent, when the Typhoons thundered into the circuit and broke formation for their approach. As they landed on the hastily repaired strip – a ‘Jock’ [Scottish] doctor raced up to us in his jeep.‘Got any medical orderlies?’ he shouted above the roar of the aircraft engines. ‘Any K rations or vitaminised chocolate?’‘What’s up?’ I asked for I could see his face was grey with shock.‘Concentration camp up the road,’ he said shakily, lighting a cigarette. ‘It’s dreadful – just dreadful.’ He threw the cigarette away untouched. ‘I’ve never seen anything so awful in my life. You just won’t believe it 'til you see it – for God’s sake come and help them!’‘What’s it called?’ I asked, reaching for the operations map to mark the concentration camp safely out of the danger area near the bomb line.‘Belsen,’ he said, simply.Millions of words have been written about these horror camps, many of them by inmates of those unbelievable places. I’ve tried, without success, to describe it from my own point of view, but the words won’t come. To me Belsen was the ultimate blasphemy.After VE. Day I flew up to Denmark with Kelly, a West Indian pilot who was a close friend. As we climbed over Belsen, we saw the flame-throwing Bren carriers trundling through the camp – burning it to the ground. Our light Bf 108 rocked in the superheated air, as we sped above the curling smoke, and Kelly had the last words on it.‘Thank Christ for that,’ he said, fervently.And his words sounded like a benediction.[citation needed]
  • Banksy's internet-based manifesto contained an account by Mervin Willett Gonin DSO of the immediate aftermath to the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, including an extract from Gonin's diary sourced by the Imperial War Museum.[citation needed]
  • Leonard Webb, British veteran from the liberation of the camp.[citation needed]
  • Leslie HardmanBritish Army Jewish Chaplain and Rabbi, was the first Jewish Chaplain to enter the camp, two days after its liberation, and published his account in the collective book "Belsen in history and memory
  • Memories of Anne Frank, a book by Hannah Goslan
  • In his book From Belsen to Buckingham Palace Paul Oppenheimer tells of the events leading up to the internment of his whole family at the camp and their incarceration there between February 1944 and April 1945, when he was aged 14 – 15. Following publication of the book, Oppenheimer personally talked to many groups and schools about the events he witnessed. This work is now continued by his brother Rudi, who shared the experiences.
  • Anita Lasker-Wallfisch describes life in Belsen, its liberation and her period in the displaced persons camp in her autobiography Inherit the Truth

The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen, 15 April 1945



Commandant Josef Kramer was immediately arrested by the British liberators


The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was voluntarily turned over to the Allied 21st Army Group, a combined British-Canadian unit, on April 15, 1945 by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, the man who was in charge of all the concentration camps. Bergen-Belsen was in the middle of the war zone where British and German troops were fighting in the last days of World War II and there was a danger that the typhus epidemic in the camp would spread to the troops on both sides.

Before negotiations with the British began, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, the head of the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA), had sent an order on April 7, 1945, directly to the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen, Josef Kramer, that all the prisoners in the camp should be killed, rather than let them fall into the hands of the enemy, according to Gerald Fleming, author of "Hitler and the Final Solution," who wrote that this order had come from Hitler himself. When this news reached representatives of the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm, they contacted Felix Kersten, a Swedish chiropractor who had treated Himmler. According to Fleming, Kersten succeeded in persuading Himmler to reverse the order. When Hitler heard this, he flew into a rage, according to Fleming.

Eva Olsson was a 20-year-old Hungarian Jewess who was sent to Auschwitz in May 1944 and later transferred to Bergen-Belsen where she was liberated on April 15, 1945. After Olsson gave a talk to students at the Canadian WC Eaket Secondary School in Blind River, "The Standard" reported the following from her presentation:

"Six days before we were liberated the Gestapo (Germany's secret police) had given orders that on April 15, at 3 o'clock in the afternoon all prisoners were to be shot."

The shootings continued even after the camp was seized, done out of sight of Allied forces.

Olsson explains after the camp was taken a British officer made a declaration. The man said for every prisoner killed now that the camp was taken a German official or guard would be executed immediately.

Hungarian soldiers in the Germany Army, who had been sent to keep order while the camp was transferred to the British, were in fact shot by the British, according to British soldiers who participated in the liberation.

Negotiations for the transfer of the Bergen-Belsen camp to the British took several days. Then on the night of April 12, 1945, a cease-fire agreement was signed between the local German Military Commander and the British Chief of Staff, Brigadier General Taylor-Balfour, according to Eberhard Kolb in his book, "Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945."

An area of 48 square kilometers around Bergen-Belsen was declared a neutral zone. The neutral zone was 8 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide. Until British troops could take over, the agreement specified that the camp would be guarded by a unit of Hungarian soldiers and soldiers from the German Wehrmacht (the regular army as opposed to the SS). They were assured that they would be allowed free return passage to the German lines within six days after the British arrived. The SS soldiers who made up the staff of the camp were to remain at their posts and carry on their duties until the British arrived to take over. There was no specific stipulation in the agreement about what their fate would be, according to Eberhard Kolb.

On the afternoon of Sunday, April 15th, British soldiers arrived at the German Army training garrison, next door to the concentration camp, and the transfer of the neutral territory of the Bergen-Belsen camp was made. A short time later, a group of British officers entered the concentration camp, which was right next to the garrison, although the distance by road was about 1.5 kilometers.

The first British units to enter the camp, in a van with a loudspeaker, were from the 14 Amplifier Unit, Intelligence Corps and 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment, Royal Artillery. Three of the soldiers on the tanks were Jewish. Chaim Herzog was a young Jewish officer with the Intelligence Corps; he later became Israel's Ambassador to the UN and then President of Israel. In honor of the part he played in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, an honorary tombstone has been placed near the Jewish Monument at the Memorial Site which is now on the grounds of the former camp.




Child survivors at Bergen-Belsen


According to Michael Berenbaum in his book "The World Must Know," Commandant Josef Kramer greeted British officer Derrick Sington at the entrance to the camp, wearing a fresh uniform. Berenbaum wrote that Kramer expressed his desire for an orderly transition and his hopes of collaborating with British. He dealt with them as equals, one officer to another, even offering advice as to how to deal with the "unpleasant situation." That same day, Commandant Kramer was arrested by the British; five months later he was brought before a British Military Tribunal as a war criminal.

On April 8, 1945, around 25,000 to 30,000 prisoners had arrived at Bergen-Belsen from other concentration camps in the Neuengamme area. On that date, there were over 60,000 prisoners in the camp and some had to be housed in the barracks of the adjacent Army Training Center. The Geneva Convention specified that civilian prisoners were to be evacuated from a war zone, and up until this time, the Nazi concentration camps had been either evacuated or abandoned as the war progressed. But because of the typhus epidemic, it was impossible to evacuate all the prisoners from Bergen-Belsen. The camp could not be abandoned for fear that the epidemic would spread to the soldiers of both sides.

Between April 6 and April 11, 1945, three transports of Jews were evacuated from the Neutrals camp, the Star Camp and the Hungarian Camp on the orders of Heinrich Himmler. These were prisoners who held foreign passports and were considered "exchange Jews."

Brigadier Llewelyn Glyn-Hughes, a medical officer, was in command of the relief operation. The British had known that there were terrible epidemics in the camp, and that this was the main reason the camp had been surrendered, but they were unprepared for the gruesome sight of the dead bodies, and it came as an enormous shock to them.

In a book entitled "The Belsen Trial" by Raymond Phillips, published in 1949, Brigadier Glyn-Hughes is quoted in this description of the terrible scene that the British found at Bergen-Belsen:

"The conditions in the camp were really indescribable; no description nor photograph could really bring home the horrors that were there outside the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse. There were various sizes of piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some in between the huts. The compounds themselves had bodies lying about in them. The gutters were full and within the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the same bunks as the living. Near the crematorium were signs of filled-in mass graves, and outside to the left of the bottom compound was an open pit half-full of corpses. It had just begun to be filled. Some of the huts had bunks but not many, and they were filled absolutely to overflowing with prisoners in every state of emaciation and disease. There was not room for them to lie down at full length in each hut. In the most crowded there were anything from 600 to 1000 people in accommodation which should only have taken 100. [...]

There were no bunks in a hut in the women's compound which contained the typhus patients. They were lying on the floor and were so weak they could hardly move. There was practically no bedding. In some cases there was a thin mattress, but some had none. Some had draped themselves in blankets, and some had German hospital type of clothing. That was the general picture."




Typhus barracks at Bergen-Belsen had no bunks


One of the survivors who was liberated that day was Adam Koenig, a German Jew, born in 1923. A week after the war began in 1939, Koenig was sent to Sachsenhausen, a camp near Berlin. In October 1942, he was transferred to Auschwitz. Koenig's parents and four of the eight children in his family died in the Holocaust; his father died at Auschwitz. Koenig survived the death march out of Auschwitz in January 1945, and ended up at Bergen-Belsen where he was among those who had survived after six years of imprisonment by the Nazis. In 2005, on the 60ieth anniversary of the liberation of the camps, 82-year-old Adam Koenig and his wife Maria, also an Auschwitz survivor, were still active in giving lectures to students to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive.

Reverend Leslie H. Hardman was the 32-year-old Senior Jewish Chaplain to the British Forces, attached to 8 Corp of the British 2nd Army when Bergen-Belsen was liberated. Hardman was born in Wales; his father was from Poland and his mother was from Russia. After the war, he wrote a book entitled "The Survivors - the story of the Belsen remnant" (Vallentine, Mitchell & Co. Ltd) in which he described what he saw at Bergen-Belsen.

He wrote that when he first approached the camp, he saw posters which warned "Danger - Typhus." Once inside the camp he was horrified at what he saw. He wrote that Belsen consisted of several wooden barracks, fifty metres long, poorly constructed and possessing window openings and doorways devoid of windows or doors so that the huts became effective wind tunnels for the freezing winter climate to do its worst. The roofs leaked so that straw scattered on the floor quickly became sodden. The beds were mere planks of wood. Each barrack housed seven thousand, according to Hardman's account.

Chaplain Hardman wrote that illness was endemic and medical treatment was unknown. Each day the outdoor roll call in freezing conditions lasted for four hours or more and those who fell down were dead. He described the camp as so lice-ridden that the clothes appeared to move on their own. Victims scratched themselves on the struts, which held the hut together and developed open sores and boils, which became infected. And then came typhus with such ferocity that a quarter of all the men and women in the camp died.

Lt. Lawrence Aslen was one of the British soldiers who was there on the day of the liberation of the camp. According to his son, Niall Alsen, his father "arrived some hours after the first troops, but his first impression was that bodies were everywhere, certainly hundreds if not several thousands." Lt. Alsen told his son that "the scale of the problem just overwhelmed them. There were so many more in the huts as well that it became a priority to get them disposed of to lessen the attrition from disease. Many British soldiers were not vaccinated, but the SMO (Senior medical Officer) of the field hospital ordered emergency inoculations for everybody. Even so, several British soldiers contracted typhus and a severe form of dysentery. Happily none of them died."

In an e-mail to me, Niall Alsen wrote that as far as his father was concerned, the SS guards at Bergen-Belsen "were utterly evil and depraved murderers who should all have been hanged." Alsen said that his father described the inmates as lethargic, listless and lost. To them, the British were just another lot of troops sent to guard them and it took several days before many of them believed they were actually free. This transition came when nurses from the field hospital began taking the sick away to a converted barracks nearby, and it was the sight of these women that told them they were liberated. When they began to feed the inmates with high calorie food, it actually killed some of them, who were so unused to real food. Alsen said that his father only really spoke to him about Bergen-Belsen a couple of times. He was too badly traumatized by the experience to talk about it. 

Niall Alsen said that his father told him that the photograph of the woman guard, who looks very angry in the phtotograph below, was taken just after the guards had been paraded past the survivors and told that they were to start burying the bodies. Niall wrote in an e-mail to me:

Many of them demurred and protested; possibly this is the moment it was captured on film. A Sergeant told them in German "You bastards created this F***ing mess so you can F***ing well clear it up!"




Women guards at Bergen-Belsen


In answer to my question about whether the British liberators had killed any of the Hungarian soldiers, who were sent to the camp to help with the transition and were promised that they could return to their lines after six days, Alsen wrote the following, based on what his father Lt. Lawrence Alsen had told him:

Yes, some of them were shot out of hand for mutiny. A burial detail of Hungarians refused to handle the dead bodies. One officer refused to obey the order saying it was contrary to the Geneva Convention. The captain in charge immediately told them they were under martial law and any refusal was mutiny. The officer still refused and so did four of his men. The captain drew his revolver and cocked it, pointing it at the officer's forehead. The officer still refused and the captain shot him dead. The other four attempted to rush the captain, a somewhat foolish attempt against 8 loaded sten guns in the hands of men itching to use them. All five ended up in one of the grave pits. The officer then reported what he had done to the Colonel who told him not to worry: "You've just saved the hangman a job."

In response to my question about whether any of the SS guards had died from typhus after being forced to handle the dead bodies with their bare hands, Niall Alsen answered as follows, based on what his father Lt. Lawrence Alsen had told him:

That report is true. They were also made to live in one of the huts in the same filthy conditions as the Inmates and fed the same basic rations; that could also be the reason so many contracted Typhus. However, there are suspicions that two of the more sadistic guards were thrown into one of the huts by British troops for a lark; they were kicked and punched to death. (Death by natural causes?) My father said it was very difficult to control the men from meting out summary justice; perhaps it would have been better if that had happened.


Bergen-Belsen survivors line up for food





Sign put up by the British after Bergen-Belsen was liberated


One of the prisoners who had arrived in Bergen-Belsen in early February 1945 on a transport from Sachsenhausen was Rudolf Küstermeier, who wrote the following, which was quoted in Derrick Singleton's book "Belsen Uncovered," published in 1946.

In the night before April 15 I lay awake and only fell asleep in the small hours. Suddenly I was woken up by one of the Russian workers in our block. "Come, come, quick! There are tanks on the street." I heard the unmistakable clanking, rumbling noise...From far I heard the tanks pass through the camp entrance and a voice call from a loud speaker van. I knew we were free. I lay there musing. Incessantly I had to fend off fleas and bugs who did not stop torturing me for a minute. I was feverish and my head was heavy and stupefied, but I was aware of the fact that we were free. More than eleven years of imprisonment were over. I lived. I would have a chance to recover. I would be able to participate in the tasks of reconstruction. I did not think of revenge but I knew that the most devilish tyranny the modern world had seen had lost its last footing, and that there would be a chance now for new men and a new life. I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude.

Küstermeier was a Social Democrat who was arrested on November 19, 1933 on a charge of doing illegal activities against the Nazi regime. He was tried and convicted by the Volksgerichtshof (the People's High Court) and sentenced to ten years in prison. After he had served his time, he was sent to a concentration camp to be placed under protective custody as an enemy of the state. In August 1945, he wrote a report which was included in the book, "Belsen Uncovered" by Derrick Sington. An excerpt from his report is quoted below:

Then the last phase began. The SS provided civilian clothes and rucksacks for themselves to prepare for their disappearance. They barely entered the huts anymore, and the dreadful roll-calls stopped. Here and there in the camp small groups of prisoners assembled in order to take over the administration if necessary.

But the SS did not intend to leave without an escort. They published an appeal, especially to the Germans and Poles, to fight voluntarily on the side of the SS against the Allied forces. A few days later all the Germans, except for a few who went their own ways, were assembled in a hut, and the majority, above all most of the Block Elders and Kapos, left with the SS on April 14.

It had become known shortly beforehand that an agreement had been made between British and German officers declaring the camp neutral territory. This was not announced officially, but the changes which occurred seemed to corroborate the rumors. Most of the SS men disappeared and in their stead Hungarian troops and soldiers of the German Wehrmacht appeared. The remaining SS had the special task of repairing the camp and especially of taking the dead to the mass graves.




Bergen-Belsen inmates drag diseased body using a blanket


Thousands of bodies in various stages of decomposition were lying in heaps all over the camp. As their last task before turning the camp over to the British, the SS began repairing the camp and trying to bury the bodies in mass graves which were dug in a remote spot about one kilometer from the barracks. Between April 11 and April 14, all prisoners in the camp who were still able to work were recruited to help with burial of the corpses. While two prisoner's orchestras played dancing music, 2000 inmates dragged the corpses using strips of cloth or leather straps tied to the wrists or ankles. This monstrous spectacle went on for four days, from six in the morning until dark. Still, there were 10,000 rotting corpses remaining in the camp.




Corpses are gathered at the site of one of the mass graves


Sick prisoners were moved to the hospital at the German Army base right next to the camp. The photo below shows prisoners who are recovering from typhus and other diseases.




Bergen-Belsen survivors in hospital at German Army base

  • 15 April 1945

Continue The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen



British soldier drives a bulldozer to push bodies into mass grave at Belsen


Mike Lewis, a Jewish soldier in the British Army, filmed the bulldozers, driven by British soldiers, as they shoved the emaciated bodies towards the mass graves. This documentary film is still shown today at the Memorial Site. In the film, Mike Lewis said that he took a turn driving the bulldozer himself, while another soldier held the camera. The SS men and women were forced, at gunpoint, to carry the bodies with their bare hands to the mass graves.




British liberators deliberately exposed SS women to contagious diseases


One of the witnesses to the liberation of Bergen-Belsen by British soldiers on April 15, 1945 was Iolo Lewis, a 20-year-old soldier from Wales. He recalled that, as he arrived at Belsen, Commandant Kramer and his assistant, Irma Grese, were standing at the gates to greet them. Most of the SS men, who were the guards in the camp, had escaped before the British arrived. Commandant Josef Kramer and 80 of the SS men and women had volunteered to remain in the camp to carry out their duties. He said that he counted 13,000 unburied corpses at the time of the liberation, and that the haunting memory never left him, particularly the pearly colour of the piled-up bodies, small, like the bodies of children.

Lewis said that his comrades pushed cigarettes and sweets through the wire to the inmates who fell on them so ferociously that some were left dead on the ground, torn to pieces in the sordid scramble. The Hungarian Wehrmacht soldiers, who had been assigned to guard the camp during the transition, shot into the mob and killed numerous people. Lt. Lawrence Alsen, a British soldiers who was at the camp on the day of the liberation, told his son Niall after the war that "In some respects, the Hungarians were worse than the Germans."

According to Eberhard Kolb, who wrote a book about Bergen-Belsen, there were "ferocious scenes" on the day of the liberation and the following night. Kolb wrote that "A succession of detested Kapos were also lynched in this period."

Some of the prisoners who had arrived on the 8th of April 1945 had taken the opportunity to plunder the kitchen and food stocks. The British reported later that there was no food in the camp when they arrived.

On April 17, 1945, two days after the first British soldiers arrived, British Medical units were at the scene. The first thing they did was to set up a hospital area in the barracks of the German Army training camp nearby. Also on that date, the British arrested the entire personnel of the SS Commandant's office, the 50 men and 30 women who had voluntarily stayed behind to help the British manage the catastrophe. A Jewish Camp Committee was organized by the survivors, under the leadership of Josef Rosensaft.

On April 18, 1945, the burial of the dead began. The staff members, who were now prisoners of the British, were ordered to do the work of burying the bodies. The British deliberately forced the SS staff to use only their bare hands to handle the corpses of prisoners who had died of contagious diseases. In the documentary film which was shown in the newsreels in theaters around the world, a British officer said that the Germans were being punished by not allowing them to use gloves to handle the bodies. According to Eberhard Kolb, 20 out of the 80 guards, who were forced to handle diseased bodies without wearing protective gear, died later and the majority of the deaths were from typhus.

On April 21, 1945, the evacuation of the camp began. The prisoners were first deloused and then moved into the barracks of the German Army Training Center next to the camp. Two days later, 6 detachments of the Red Cross arrived to help. The epidemics had yet to be brought under control and 400 to 500 prisoners were still dying each day, but by April 28, the German guards had caught up with the burial of the bodies and the mass graves were completed.

German civilians from the towns of Bergen and Belsen were brought to the camp on April 25, 1945. Below is an excerpt from the speech of the British officer to the elderly Germans before taking them on a tour of the camp. (Quoted from "The World Must Know" by Michael Berenbaum)

What you will see here is the final and utter condemnation of the Nazi party. It justifies every measure the United Nations will take to exterminate that party. What you will see here is such a disgrace to the German people that their names must be erased from the list of civilized nations [...] It is your lot to begin the hard task of restoring the name of the German people [...] But this cannot be done until you have reared a new generation amongst whom it is impossible to find people prepared to commit such crimes; until you have reared a new generation possessing the instinctive good will to prevent a repetition of such horrible cruelties. We will now begin our tour.

Prisoners continued to die, in spite of the medical treatment provided by the Red Cross and the British Army. Nine thousand died in the first two weeks after the British arrived, and another 4000 died in May. The bodies were thrown into unmarked mass graves, even though the identities of these prisoners were known. Today none of the mass graves at Bergen-Belsen has a stone with the names of those who are buried there.




Prisoner who died after liberation is added to mass grave, 1 May 1945





Bodies of prisoners who died after the liberation


A British documentary film shows healthy Jewish liberated prisoners lined up, screaming at the top of their lungs at the SS men and women as they go about their macabre task. On the day that the German civilians were brought to the camp, the Jewish women in the camp screamed at them as the Germans were forced to watch the loading of the corpses. Later the Bergen residents were forced to evacuate their homes and former Jewish prisoners moved in; the Germans were ordered to leave all their silverware, china and linens for the use of the former prisoners.


British soldiers guard SS men as they load bodies on trucks


On April 29, the day after the German guards completed their gruesome task of 10 days of burying the 10,000 decomposed bodies with their bare hands, they were taken to the prison in the city of Celle, which is 16 kilometers northwest of the camp. Also on that day, April 29, 1945, American soldiers entered the Dachau concentration camp and discovered bodies of prisoners who had died of typhus. The next day, 97 medical students arrived in Bergen-Belsen to help with the sick prisoners, and on May 4th, more British medical units arrived. On that same day, May 4, 1945, part of the German Army surrendered to the British in the area near the camp.

By May 19, 1945, all the former prisoners had been evacuated to the nearby Army barracks and on May 21, 1945, the last hut at the Bergen-Belsen camp was burned to the ground. The horror that was Bergen-Belsen had been completely wiped off the face of the earth. Today the former camp is a landscaped park with heather, which blooms in August, covering the mass graves. Most of the visitors to the Memorial Site are German students who come on tour buses.


Bergen-Belsen barracks were burned 21 May 1945


In July 1945, 6,000 survivors were taken to Sweden to recover from their ordeal at Bergen-Belsen. Some of them stayed there as long as three years to recover from typhus.

The former prisoners at Bergen-Belsen who were willing to return to their home countries were released from the camp and had to find their way home by themselves. Along the way, they helped themselves to whatever they wanted, looting and stealing.

Clara L. was a Hungarian Jew who was sent on a transport to Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944, but was then evacuated to Bergen-Belsen in January 1945 after the Nazis were forced to abandon the Auschwitz concentration camp to the Soviet Army. She told the following story to the editors of a book called "Witness, Voices from the Holocaust":

You see, when Bergen-Belsen was liberated these people were let loose. So we were wandering. We were wandering from one place to another. And there were warehouses. We came to a building, and we walked in, and I still see rows and rows and shelves of handbags, ladies' handbags. As we were walking over there to reach those shelves, I sort of stepped on something. And I said to my friend, "Look! There's a body!" You see, somebody, one of these inmates who wandered to these warehouses and dropped dead from exhaustion or something. And she says, "What do you want me to do about it?" I said, "Let's carry it out." She said, "Are you crazy? You can't carry that out." and she took a few packages of these linens and dropped it on (the body). And then we went to the shelves, and she wanted a handbag. And I wasn't in the mood anymore for the handbag. She pulled out one handbag. It was an alligator handbag. She says, "Take this one." I took it, and she took another one, and we walked out. And I remember, as we left the place, I just threw back the bag. I said, "I don't want it." - and walked away. And this only came back. I never thought about it.

The Zionists at Bergen-Belsen, who wanted to go to Palestine, were housed at the Germany Army Training Center to wait for permission from the British who were in control of Palestine at that time. The DP camp at the Army Base was the largest one in Europe. It remained open until 1950, after the last Jews had emigrated to Palestine or some other country.


The Belsen Trial

"Whilst at Birkenau I have seen Grese making selections with Dr. Mengele of people to be sent to the gas chamber. On these parades Grese herself chose the people to be killed in this way. In one selection about August, 1944, there were between 2000 and 3000 selected. At this selection Grese and Mengele were responsible for selecting those for the gas chamber. People chosen would sometimes sneak away from the line and hide themselves under their beds. Grese would go and find them, beat them until they collapsed and then drag them back into line again. I have seen everything I describe. It was general knowledge in this camp that persons selected in this way went to the gas chamber." Deposition of Ilona Stein regarding Irma Grese who was on trial in before a British military tribunal at Lüneburg, Germany for war crimes


Bergen-Belsen camp personnel in the dock at Lüneburg, Germany


Josef Kramer, the Commandant of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and 44 other staff members were brought before a British Military Tribunal on September 17, 1945 at Lüneburg, a city that is a few miles north of the former concentration camp. The charges against three of the staff members (Nikolas Jenner, Paul Steinmetz and Walter Melcher) were dropped before the trial. One of the 44 staff members, Ladislaw Gura, fell ill and was not tried by this court, leaving only Kramer and 43 others in the dock at Lüneburg. They had been charged with war crimes by a British Military Court under a Royal Warrant of June 14, 1945.

Bergen-Belsen was the only camp which came under the control of the British Army, so the British Occupation did not have jurisdiction over any of the war criminals who worked in the other camps. All the defendants at The Belsen Trial were provided with defense counsel. Eleven of the defense attorneys were British and one was Polish.

Commandant Josef Kramer had been arrested on April 15, 1945, the same day that British Army troops entered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the adjacent German Army Training Center, after a cease-fire agreement was voluntarily negotiated by the German Army in order to allow the British to take control of the camp. Although most of the camp personnel had escaped the day before, 80 of the staff members remained at their posts in order to help the British, including Commandant Kramer.


On April 17th, 1945, 47 other staff members at Bergen-Belsen were arrested, including 12 of the Kapos who were trusted prisoners appointed by the guards as camp supervisors. The next day, the staff members, who were now prisoners themselves, were forced to bury the dead bodies, that were lying around in the camp.

Twenty of these 80 guards died after the British took control, according to Eberhard Kolb, the Chairman of the Academic Advisory Council for the Extension and Redevelopment of the Memorial Bergen-Belsen. Kolb says that most of them died of typhus, but others died of ptomaine poisoning from eating food provided by the British.

There were two counts listed in the charge sheet: Count One for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen and Count Two for crimes committed while the guards were previously working at Auschwitz Birkenau. Commandant Kramer, who was the commandant at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II camp, prior to being transferred to Bergen-Belsen, was charged with both counts, as were 11 others who had worked under him at Birkenau. Out of the 12 defendants who were charged under Count Two, there was only one defendant, Stanislawa Staroska, who was not also charged with Count One, which was crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen. He was found guilty of Count Two and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The 12 defendants who were charged with both counts were Josef Kramer, Dr. Fritz Klein, Peter Weingartner, George Kraft, Franz Hoessler, Juana Bormann, Elisabeth Volkenrath, Herta Ehlert, Irma Grese, Ilse Lothe, Hilde Lohbauer and Heinrich Schreirer.

Two of these 12 defendants who were charged under both counts were acquitted of all charges: George Kraft and Ilse Lothe.

Thirty-two of the 44 defendants were charged only under Count One or crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen. Out of this group of 32, who were charged only under Count One, 12 were acquitted. The total number of defendants who were acquitted of all charges was 14. Thirty of the 44 defendants were found guilty.

The 12 who were charged only with Count One and were acquitted were Josef Klippel, Oscar Schmedidzt, Fritz Mathes, Karl Egersdorf, Walter Otto, Eric Barsch, Ignatz Schlomoivicz, Ida Forster, Klara Opitz, Charlotte Klein, Hildegard Halmel and Anton Polanski.

Of the 30 who were found guilty, 6 were found guilty on both Counts One and Two. Five of them were hanged: Josef Kramer, Dr. Fritz Klein, Peter Weingartner, Elizabeth Volkenrath and Irma Grese. Hilde Lohbauer, the sixth defendant who was found guilty on both counts, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Twenty-four of the 30 guilty defendants were found guilty of only one count. Of this group, four were found guilty of only Count Two, which was crimes committed at Birkenau: Franz Hoessler, Juana Bormann, Heinrich Schreirer, and Stanislawa Staroska. Schreirer was sentenced to 15 years in prison and Staroska was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Hoessler and Bormann were both hanged.

The twenty others who were found guilty only of Count One, which was crimes at Bergen-Belsen, were Herta Ehlert, Karl Flrazich, Otto Calesson, Anchor Pinchen, Franz Stofel, Wilhelm Dorr, Erich Zoddel, Ilse Forster, Herta Bothe, Frieda Walter, Irene Haschke, Gertrud Fiest, Gertrud Sauer, Hilde Lisiewitz, Johanne Roth, Anna Hempel, Helena Kopper, Vladislav Ostrowoski, Medislaw Burgraf, and Antoni Aurdzeig.

Out of the 20 who were convicted only on Count One, or crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen, four were hanged: Karl Flrazich, Franz Stofel, Anchor Pinchen, and Wilhelm Dorr.

Only one prisoner, Erich Zoddel, was sentenced to Life in Prison; he was convicted only under Count One, crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen. The shortest sentence was given to Hilde Lisiewitz for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen; she was sentenced to one year in prison. Three of the defendants were sentenced to 15 years for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen: Herta Ehlert, Otto Calesson, and Helena Kopper. For crimes committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, Heinrich Schreirer was also sentenced to 15 years.

Eight defendants were sentenced to 10 years in prison: Hilde Lohbauer, Ilse Forster, Herta Bothe, Irene Haschke, Gertrud Sauer, Johanne Roth, Anna Hempel, and Antoni Aurdzeig. Of those who received 10 years, only Hilde Lohbauer was convicted of both Counts One and Two. The other 7 were convicted only of Count One, crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen.

Frieda Walter was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment for crimes at Bergen-Belsen and Gertrud Fiest was sentenced to 5 years, also for crimes committed at Bergen-Belsen.


Lüneburg courthouse at No. 30 Lindenstrasse


According to Robert E. Conot, author of "Justice at Nuremberg," the idea of bringing the Nazi war criminals to justice was first voiced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on October 7, 1942, when he declared: "It is our intention that just and sure punishment shall be meted out to the ringleaders responsible for the organized murder of thousands of innocent persons in the commission of atrocities which have violated every tenet of the Christian faith." On December 17, 1942, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden told the House of Commons: "The German authorities are now carrying into effect Hitler's oft repeated intention to exterminate the Jewish people of Europe."

On October 26, 1943, the United Nations War Crimes Commission, composed of 15 Allied nations, met in London to discuss the trials of the German war criminals which were inevitable. That same year, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin issued a joint statement, called the Moscow Declaration, in which they agreed to bring the German war criminals to justice.

The charges brought by the British against the defendants at The Belsen Trial differed from the charges brought by the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, against the camp personnel of Dachau, Buchenwald and other camps, in that the Belsen defendants were charged with murdering specific individuals who were listed by name in the charge sheet. At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal and at the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, the war criminals were charged with participating in a "common plan" and there were also specific charges, but none of the defendants were charged with the murder of a specific individual. The British accused the defendants in The Belsen Trial of being "together concerned as parties to" specific crimes, but they also brought specific charges for the murder of inmates who were named, as well as others who were unnamed. The charges at The Belsen Trial were as follows:

Count One:

At Bergen-Belsen, Germany, between 1 October 1942 and 30 April 1945, when members of the staff of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the persons interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Keith Meyer (a British national), Anna Kis, Sara Kohn (both Hungarian nationals), Heinrich Glinovjechy and Maria Konatkevicz (both Polish nationals) and Marcel Freson de Montigny (a French national), Maurice Van Eijnsbergen (a Dutch national), Maurice Van Mevlenaar (a Belgian national), Jan Markowski and Georgej Ferenz (both Polish nationals), Salvatore Verdura (an Italian national) and Therese Klee (a British national of Honduras), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering of other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to Harold Osmund le Druillenec (a British national), Benec Zuchermann, a female internee named Korperova, a female internee named Hoffmann, Luba Rormann, Isa Frydmann (all Polish nationals) and Alexandra Siwdowa, a Russian national and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.

Count Two:

At Auschwitz, Poland, between 1 October 1942 and 30 April 1945, when members of the staff at Auschwitz Concentration Camp responsible for the well-being of the persons interned there, in violation of the law and usages of war, were together concerned as parties to the ill-treatment of certain of such persons, causing the deaths of Rachella Silberstein (a Polish national), Allied nationals, and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown, and physical suffering to other persons interned there, Allied nationals, and particularly to Eva Gryka and Hanka Rosenwayg (both Polish nationals) and other Allied nationals whose names are unknown.


Commandant Josef Kramer was hanged 13 December 1945





Dr. Fritz Klein, on the right, was hanged 13 December 1945


The two most important defendants in The Belsen Trial were Commandant Josef Kramer and Dr. Fritz Klein, each of whom was charged under Counts One and Two. Both had worked at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II death camp in what is now Poland, before being transferred to Bergen-Belsen in December 1944. The most serious charges against Kramer and Dr. Klein were that each of them had selected prisoners to be sent to the gas chamber. Neither of them denied that prisoners had been gassed at Birkenau, but they both denied being responsible for selecting the victims.

The following was excerpted and edited from the documentation of The Belsen Trial regarding the closing argument of Major Winwood in defense of Commandant Josef Kramer and Dr. Klein:

Major Winwood did not dispute the fact that Kramer, Klein and Weingartner were for certain periods members of the staff at both camps and therefore, to a certain degree, responsible for their administration. The degree of their responsibility should be considered according to the period during which they were at the camps and the positions which they held.

He drew a distinction between Auschwitz and Belsen. At Auschwitz thousands of people were killed in the gas chamber; at Belsen thousands of people died.

Counsel submitted that orders regarding the gassing of victims at Auschwitz came, not from Kramer as Kommandant of Birkenau but from the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1. There was a political department at Auschwitz No. 1 which was responsible for the incoming transports and there was evidence that a member of this department used always to be present at the selections of the incoming transports. The political department was the organization responsible within the camp Auschwitz, under the Camp Kommandant of Auschwitz, for bringing internees into the camp and for their ultimate disposal. Over this disposal, Kramer had no authority, and his real position should be compared with that of a Commanding Officer of a transit camp, whose responsibility was confined to the administration of the people inside the camp until a posting order was received. Reference was made to the evidence of Kramer, Dr. Klein, Dr. Bendel and Hoessler in this connection.

On behalf of Klein, Counsel pleaded superior orders. The accused had admitted that, acting on orders by his superior officer, he made the selections of the incoming transports. He further said that he never protested against people being sent to the gas chamber, although he had never agreed with it. One could not protest when in the Army. The order which he was given and which he carried out, was in itself lawful, namely to divide prisoners into those fit for work and those unfit for work. If he had refused to make the selections himself other doctors would have done it. A British soldier could refuse to obey an order and he would face a Court Martial when he had an opportunity of contesting the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the order which he had been given. Dr. Klein had no such protection.

The names of many doctors had been mentioned in connection with experiments but nowhere had the name of Dr. Klein been mentioned, and he himself had said that he had no direct knowledge of such experiments. Klein had said that the actual selecting was done exclusively by the doctors. Kramer admitted that he often, in the course of duty, stopped and watched the selections, and he denied categorically that he himself made the selections, and he also denied that on behalf of his S.S. staff.

As to the extent of Kramer's responsibility, Counsel said the quarter-master side of the administration of Birkenau was carried out by Auschwitz I. The issue of food, clothing and everything else was the responsibility of the Kommandant of Auschwitz No. 1. What could be laid at the door of Kramer was what actually happened inside Birkenau from the point of view of the administration of that camp. The evidence of Grese, Bormann and Weingartner showed that beating was done without his authority and without his knowledge. Counsel invited the Court to consider the many difficulties that arose in the course of roll-calls and the people who had to cope with them, and to accept Kramer's word against the uncorroborated allegations contained in Rosenthal's affidavit

As to Kramer's responsibility for conditions at Belsen, Counsel maintained that the Court had had placed before it sufficient evidence to have a picture of Belsen during the period of December, 1944, until the liberation, when the order which Kramer established changed into disorder, and when disorder changed into chaos. Belsen, in itself, was an example of what was happening to Germany as a whole country. More and more people were sent to the camp and Kramer was inadequately provided with medical facilities. Even when he closed the camp in order to avoid further sick people from contracting typhus, which existed in the camp, he was ordered to keep it open. On the 1st of March, he realised that nothing was going to be done, and so he wrote a dispatch to his superior officer, Glücks, telling him what the present position was at that date and prophesying a catastrophe. Volkenrath's evidence supported Kramer's claim to have written this letter. Counsel submitted that if blame could be attached to anybody in these chaotic months before V.E. day, it should be laid at the feet of the men at Oranienburg who left Kramer in the lurch.

If the evidence regarding food shortage was analyzed it would be clear that the witnesses were nearly all speaking about the period from about the last week in March to the date of the liberation. At the beginning of April, food was scarce in Germany as a whole; transport had broken down and chaos had started. The numbers entering Belsen were meanwhile ever increasing; Müller issued the food to the cooks who cooked it and issued it to the internees, and once it left the cookhouse it became the responsibility of people other than the S.S. to distribute it, as Francioh, Bialek and Szafran had shown.The Court had heard that when Kramer came to Belsen the roll-calls began. Roll-calls were a part of concentration camp life and it was the only way of being able to make out a strength return for rations, and the return which had to go to Oranienburg, especially when transports were coming in at the rate at which they were coming in. Counsel pointed out the evidence of Grese, Ehlert, Synger, Kopper and Polanski which showed that roll-calls were not unreasonably frequent or oppressively administeredRegarding beatings, Counsel claimed that certain force was necessary to restrain the internees, particularly when the shortage of food came.He suggested that the story of Bimko and Hammermasch with regard to the kicking of the four Russians and the possible death of one was a pure invention thought out by these two witnesses for the sole purpose of exercising revenge on Kramer, their former Kommandant. It was also for this reason that these two witnesses accused him of taking an active part in the selections at Auschwitz.Klein was a locum at Belsen for ten days in January and when he returned he was under Horstmann's orders. He was not the senior doctor. He had said that Dr. Horstmann specifically allocated to him the task of looking after the S.S. troops and S.S. personnel and that it was only three days before the British came that Dr. Klein did become the chief medical officer and the only medical officer at Belsen concentration camp.

Both Kramer and Dr. Klein were convicted on Courts One and Two. Both were sentenced to death by hanging. They were both hanged at Hamelin Prison on December 13, 1945.


Franz Hoessler was hanged for crimes committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau


The military tribunal took only 53 days to hear both the prosecution and the defense cases and then to make a decision on all 44 cases. Each defendant wore a number in the court room for easy identification in such a whirlwind trial. Josef Kramer was Defendant No. 1 and Dr. Fritz Klein was No. 2. On the 54th day of the proceedings, which was November 17, 1945, the sentences were handed down. The sentences were then reviewed by Field-Marshall Montgomery, the commanding officer of the British Occupation, and clemency was denied to all those who had been found guilty. There was no appeal process.

The trial was eagerly followed by the press and the defendant who attracted the most attention was the notorious 21-year-old Irma Grese, who was accused of participating in selections for the gas chamber at Birkenau, the Auschwitz II death camp. Despite her young age, Irma had achieved the rank of Oberaufseherin or Senior SS Overseer by the fall of 1943. In this role, she was in charge of supervising around 30,000 women prisoners, mostly Polish and Hungarian Jews, at Birkenau. She was transferred to Bergen-Belsen in March 1945, only a month before the liberation, yet she was also charged with beating prisoners in that camp. Some of the inmates at Bergen-Belsen had been transferred from Auschwitz-Birkenau, so they were able testify against the defendants with regard to both Counts One and Two. Grese was the highest ranking woman among the defendants at The Belsen Trial, but also the youngest, and she was, by far, the most hated by the former prisoners who testified against her.

Quoted below is Irma Grese's testimony, under direct examination, about her background:

I was born on 7th October, 1923. In 1938 I left the elementary school and worked for six months on agricultural jobs at a farm, after which I worked in a shop in Luchen for six months. When I was 15 I went to a hospital in Hohenluchen, where I stayed for two years. I tried to become a nurse but the Labour Exchange would not allow that and sent me to work in a dairy in Fürstenburg. In July, 1942, I tried again to become a nurse, but the Labour Exchange sent me to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, although I protested against it. I stayed there until March, 1943, when I went to Birkenau Camp in Auschwitz. I remained in Auschwitz until January, 1945. 


Irma Grese at Bergen-Belsen 17 April 1945


The Auschwitz-Birkenau survivors testified that Grese habitually wore jack boots, carried a plaited cellophane whip and a pistol and that she was always accompanied by a vicious dog. The prisoners claimed that Irma was sadistic and that she derived sexual pleasure from beating the women prisoners with her cellophane riding crop. Witnesses claimed that she had beaten women prisoners to death and shot others in cold blood. The accusations of murder were made in affidavits, and none of them was corroborated. It was even claimed that there were lamp shades, made out of the skins of three women prisoners, found in her room at Birkenau. The most serious charge against her was that she had been present when inmates at Birkenau were selected for the gas chamber and that she had participated by forcing the women to line up for inspection by Dr. Mengele.

Grese denied having a dog, beating prisoners to death or shooting anyone, although she did admit to hitting prisoners with her cellophane whip even though it was forbidden for the Overseers to beat the prisoners. She stated that she continued to use her whip even after being ordered not to by Commandant Kramer. She also admitted to being aware that prisoners were gassed at Birkenau; she stated that this was common knowledge in the camp and that she had been told by the prisoners about the gassing. She admitted that she was present when selections were made and that she had helped to line up the prisoners, but she denied making the selections herself.

Quoted below is her testimony regarding the gas chamber selections, under direct examination, by her defense lawyer, Major Cranfield (page. 249 in the trial transcript):

Cranfield: Where did the order come from for what we call "selection parades"? 
Grese: That came by telephone from a RapportFührerin or from Oberaufseherin Dreschel. 
Cranfield: When the order came were you told what the parade was for? 
Grese: No. 
Cranfield: What were the prisoners supposed to do when the whistle went? 
Grese: Fall in fives, and it was my duty to see that they did so. Dr. Mengele then came and made the selection. As I was responsible for the camp my duties were to know how many people were leaving and I had to count them, and I kept the figures in a strength book. After the selection took place they were sent into "B" Camp, and Dreschel telephoned and told me that they had gone to another camp in Germany for working purposes or for special treatment, which I thought was the gas chamber. I then put in my strength book either so many for transfer to Germany to another camp, or so many for S.B. (Sonder Behandlung). It was well known to the whole camp that S. B. meant the gas chamber. 
Cranfield: Were you told anything about the gas chamber by your senior officers? 
Grese: No, the prisoners told me about it. 
Cranfield: You have been accused of choosing prisoners on these parades and sending them to the gas chamber. Have you done that? 
Grese: No; I knew that prisoners were gassed. 
Cranfield: Was it not quite simple to know whether or not the selection was for the gas chamber, because only Jews had to attend such selections?

Grese: I myself had only Jews in Camp "C." 
Cranfield: Then they would all have to attend the selection for the gas chamber, would they not? 
Grese: Yes. 
Cranfield: As you were told to wait for the doctors you would know perfectly well what it was for?
Grese: No. 
Cranfield: When these people were parading they were very often paraded naked and inspected like cattle to see whether they were fit to work or fit to die, were they not? 
Grese: Not like cattle. 
Cranfield: You were there keeping order, were you not, and if one ran away you brought her back and gave her a beating? 
Grese: Yes.

The following was excerpted and edited from the documentation of The Belsen Trial regarding the closing argument of Major Cranfield on behalf of Irma Grese and others:

Major Cranfield's Closing Address on Behalf of Klippel, Grese, Lohbauer and Lothe

Directing the Court's attention to the parts of the Charge Sheet which alleged the killing of Allied Nationals, Major Cranfield asked why there were included in this charge the names of specific Allied Nationals, and why it was not sufficient to charge the accused with causing the death of Allied Nationals whose names were unknown. He suggested that the answer was that, unless the killing of a specifically named person was included, the charge would be a bad one on grounds of vagueness and generality. Counsel proceeded to examine the names of the persons alleged in the Belsen charge to have died in that camp, reminding the Court that his accused were charged with being together concerned in causing their deaths.

He submitted that the evidence proved that Meyer was shot by a man not before the Court. The evidence proved that Anna Kis was killed deliberately by a man not before the Court. She was a Hungarian and, in his submission, if she was a Hungarian she could not be an Allied National. It was a matter of which the Court must take judicial notice that a state of war existed between the United Kingdom and Hungary, which had not been terminated by a peace treaty. Some reference had been made to an armistice. Counsel argued however that there was an armistice with Italy, but it could not be suggested that an Italian was an Allied National. It was, he thought, agreed that the names of Kohn, Glinovjechy and Konatkevicz had been wrongly included in the Belsen charge.

Referring to the death certificates relating to the remaining seven victims Counsel said that in each case the cause of death was stated to be death from natural causes. The dates of death were given, and the dates when these persons were alleged to have died were in a number of cases dates before his accused came to Belsen. One of the seven, Klee, was said by the Prosecution to be a British subject from Honduras, but Counsel for the Defense called for further proof of her nationality since the death certificate stated that she was born at Schwerin in Germany. The evidence that these seven persons were ever in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was extremely flimsy. It seemed that he had now struck out of the Belsen charge all the specific persons whose deaths his accused were alleged to have caused, and the charge now read: "Allied Nationals unknown," which was, as he had already submitted, insufficient.

The affidavit of Anna Jakubowice said of Klippel: "I have seen him frequently beat women". She arrived at Belsen on the 1st January, and the British arrived on the 15th April. Counsel's submission was that the allegation of frequent beating must relate to the whole period from 1st January to the 15th April. Again, the alleged shootings were said to have taken place during March, 1945. A number of witnesses supported Klippel when he said that from the 1st January to the 5th April, so far from being at Bergen-Belsen, he was over one hundred miles away in Mittelbau. Counsel denied that Klippel was part of Hoessler's unit, or of Kramer's staff.

The evidence of Diament against Grese regarding the latter's responsibility for selecting victims for the gas chamber was vague. Regarding Lobowitz's allegation against Grese, Counsel asked whether, however conscientious the accused was, it was not absolute nonsense to suggest that roll-calls went on from six to eight hours each day? He also threw doubt on the credibility of Neiger's words.

Apart from the question of the truth of Trieger's evidence Counsel pointed out that the victim of the alleged shooting by Grese was a Hungarian and not an Allied National.

As against Triszinska's allegation concerning Grese's dog, the Court had heard the accused deny that she ever had a dog, and that has been corroborated by others of the accused and by other witnesses from Auschwitz.

Regarding Kopper's story of the punishment Kommando, Counsel referred to Grese's evidence that she was in charge of the punishment Kommando for two days only, and in charge of the Strassenbaukommando, which was a type of punishment Kommando, for two weeks. The allegation of Kopper in her affidavit was that she was in charge of the punishment Kommando in Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944, but in the box she said that the accused was in charge of the punishment company working outside the camp for seven months. In the box she failed to reconcile those two statements. Was it probable that Grese would be in charge, the only Overseer, of a Kommando 800 strong, with an S.S. man, Herschel, to assist her? If 30 prisoners were killed each day, should there not have been some corroboration of this story?

Counsel asked the Court to disbelieve Szafran's story about the shooting of the two girls, in view of Hoessler's statement that the windows of the block in question were fixed windows. The story was told neither in Szafran's affidavit nor even during her examination; she produced it on re-examination.

Commenting on the allegation of Ilona Stein, Counsel asked whether the Court believed, in view of the evidence, that an Overseer had any power to give an order to an S.S. guard? He pointed out that the witness, in her affidavit, said: "I did not hear the order". He doubted also whether Grese could have beaten anyone with a belt as flimsy as that worn by an Overseer at Auschwitz, one of which was produced as an exhibit.

Eleven witnesses had recognized Grese in Court. Of these eleven five made no allegation of any kind against her. This fact threw doubt on the evidence of those witnesses who said that she was notorious, a ferocious savage and the worst S.S. woman.

Even though Major Cranfield did a good job of defending Grese, she was nevertheless convicted under both Counts One and Two and was sentenced to death by hanging. After the trial, the 11 who had been sentenced to death, 8 men and 3 women, were taken to Hamelin jail in Wesfalia to await execution. (Hamelin is the town famous for the story of the Pied Piper.) An execution chamber was constructed right in the prison by the Royal Engineers of the British Army. It was located at the end of the corridor where the condemned prisoners were being held in a row of tiny cells. Since the prisoners could hear the sound of the trap falling as each of the condemned was hanged, it was decided that Irma Grese, as the youngest, should go first to spare her the trauma of hearing the others being executed. The three women were hanged separately, first Grese, then Volkenrath, then Bormann. The 8 men were hanged in pairs to save time. The hanging was all finished just in time for the mid-day meal.

In recent years, Irma Grese has become a cult figure among the neo-Nazis. She is considered by them to be a heroine because of her stoicism at her trial and the perception that she showed great courage in going bravely to her death. She is regarded by the neo-Nazis as a martyr, who died for her country, since they don't believe that she was the sadistic, sexually-depraved killer that she was portrayed to be by her accusers.

Albert Pierrepoint, an experienced professional hangman, was flown over from Great Britain to hang the 11 condemned prisoners. On December 12, 1945, the condemned were weighed and measured so that the hangman could calculate how to adjust the gallows for each one. Pierrepoint wrote an autobiography in which he described the circumstances surrounding the execution of Irma Grese.

Two paragraphs from Pierrepoint's autobiography are quoted below:

"At last we finished noting the details of the men, and RSM O'Neil ordered 'bring out Irma Grese. She walked out of her cell and came towards us laughing. She seemed as bonny a girl as one could ever wish to meet. She answered O'Neil's questions, but when he asked her age she paused and smiled. I found that we were both smiling with her, as if we realised the conventional embarrassment of a woman revealing her age. Eventually she said 'twenty-one,' which we knew to be correct. O'Neil asked her to step on to the scales. 'Schnell!' she said - the German for quick."

"The following morning we climbed the stairs to the cells where the condemned were waiting. A German officer at the door leading to the corridor flung open the door and we filed past the row of faces and into the execution chamber. The officers stood at attention. Brigadier Paton-Walsh stood with his wrist-watch raised. He gave me the signal, and a sigh of released breath was audible in the chamber. I walked into the corridor. 'Irma Grese,' I called. The German guards quickly closed all grills on twelve of the inspection holes and opened one door. Irma Grese stepped out. The cell was far too small for me to go inside, and I had to pinion her in the corridor. 'Follow me,' I said in English, and O'Neil repeated the order in German. At 9.34 a.m. she walked into the execution chamber, gazed for a moment at the officials standing round it, then walked on to the centre of the trap, where I had made a chalk mark. She stood on this mark very firmly, and as I placed the white cap over her hand she said in her languid voice 'Schnell'. The drop crashed down, and the doctor followed me into the pit and pronounced her dead. After twenty minutes the body was taken down and placed in a coffin ready for burial."


26-year old Elizabeth Volkenrath was hanged


According to the trial transcripts, Elizabeth Volkenrath testified under direct examination that she arrived at Auschwitz No. 1 in March, 1942, and was transferred to Birkenau in December, 1942 where she worked in the parcel office and bread store till September 1944. From then until the 18th of January, she was in charge of a working party in Auschwitz No. 1.

Gertrude Diament, a Jewess from Czechoslovakia, testified that during 1942 she had seen Volkenrath make selections. She would give orders that prisoners be loaded onto lorries and transported to the gas chamber

In her testimony, Volkenrath denied having herself made gas chamber selections. She said she attended selections during August 1942 because she had to be present as she was in charge of the women's camp, but she had merely to see that the prisoners kept quiet and orderly. Volkenrath said she had seen lorries on the road, but whether they went to the gas chamber she did not know. Her answer to the allegations of beatings made against her was that she only slapped faces.

On direct examination by her attorney, Volkenrath testified that she arrived at Belsen on the 5th February, 1945. She had only been there a few days when she had to go to the hospital, returning to work on the 23rd of March 1945. At Belsen she was an Oberaufseherin and had to detail the Overseers to their various duties. She testified that at Belsen, she never did more than slap prisoners' faces. Her explanation of the events referred to by the witness, Hammermasch, was that a prisoner was brought back from an attempt to escape and was beaten by Kramer. She was present but did not beat the girl.

Volkenrath was found guilty of war crimes in both camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. She was the second person to be hanged on 13 December 1945, following the execution of Irma Grese.


42-year-old Juana Bormann was hanged


In her testimony at the trial, Juana Bormann denied that she was ever present at any gas chamber selections. She admitted that she had a dog at Auschwitz, but she said that she never made this dog attack anyone. She claimed that she might have been mistaken for another Overseer named Kuck who also had a dog. She said that she would have been severely punished if she had set her dog on the prisoners and that the beating of prisoners by an Overseer was strictly forbidden.

After working at Birkenau from 15 May 1943 to the end of December 1943, Bormann testified that she came to Belsen in the middle of February 1945, and was engaged in looking after a pigsty. At Belsen she did not come in contact with prisoners beyond her own party of prisoners. When prisoners disobeyed orders she boxed their ears or slapped their faces but never violently, she claimed.

On December 12, 1945 when the hangman made his calculations, Bormann was measured at 5 feet tall and she weighed in at 101 pounds. She was acquitted on the charges of beating prisoners at Bergen-Belsen but was convicted of war crimes at Auschwitz-Birkenau and was the last of the women to be hanged, right after the execution of Elisabeth Volkenrath.


Field-Marshall Montgomery denied clemency to the guilty

"It was horrible what was done to the people. Remember it. Peace is the only thing what I wish."

"It was horrible what was done to the people. Remember it. Peace is the only thing what I wish." Author unknown







Note left by a visitor at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site

18,000 Have Died in Belsen Camp Since Liberation

50 Perish Daily; Jews Worst Off Bergen-Belsen, Germany, Jun. 5 (JTA) –More than 18,000 people have died in this camp since its liberation by British forces several weeks ago, and about 50 are still dying daily, despite the fact that the camp's administrators and British soldiers are working as hard as possible to aid the inmates.

The camp seethes with disillusionment, and the greatest number of complaints come from the Jews.About 18,000 people remain here - housed in former Wehrmacht barracks to which they were moved when their former vermin-infested quarters were destroyed last week. Of the survivors, two-thirds are hospitalized, suffering, mainly from tuberculosis, malnutrition and other ailments. Efforts are being made to repatriate those who are healthy enough to travel, and, as a result, a good number, especially from western European countries, have already left,

This has left a large percentage of Jews among those remaining. It is estimated that there are 12,000 Jews here, while 3,000 have been transferred to the Lingen Camp.Indicative of the disorganized condition of the Jewish survivors is the fact that up till now, no proper census has been taken. Jews from Buchenwald and other camps arrive here seeking relatives and bringing complete lists of their camps to exchange. Those here avidly seize these lists, looking for the names of relatives, but they have not listed themselves. One mother here did not know that here child was in the camp for several weeks.


The confusion among the Jewish survivors is due to the excitement resulting from liberation and from the habits and suspicions developed during their imprisonment. These feelings are aggravated by the belief that their own people are not thinking of them, which is very unfortunate, since welfare teams of the Joint Diatribution Committee have been in Paris for weeks seeking permission to come to such camps as Belsen.Those men who are most distressed are the Jews from Poland, who do not want to return there, but do not wish to be classified as stateless. The camp administretion desired to send all persons who did not wish to return to Poland to the stateless camp at lingen, but thousands refused to declare themselves stateless fearing that they would be doomed to endless world wandering. In preference to that, they indicated they would be willing to return to Poland temporarily. Eventually, 3,000 were persuaded to go to Langen, with the understanding that the question of their status would be left unsettled.

SICK JEWS ASK FOR BREAD; COMPLAIN OF INADEQUATE RATIONSJoseph Rosensaft, chairman of the camp's Jewish Committee, which was formed only this week, refused to make public a list of the Polish Jews, fearing that they would be declared stateless. Rosensaft also voiced the constant camp complaint that the food rations are inadequate. "When I walk through the hospitals," he told a correspondent of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, "from every side weak voices whisper 'bread, bread.' I have to go outside and round-up some bread for them," He exhibited two thin slices of bread, comprising the hospital ration. Yet, this ration has been ordered by the medical officers of the camp and the camp commander Major F. T. Hill.Major Hill a few days ago increased by half the non-hospital bread ration, explaining that he realized that plentiful amounts of bread seem the only real symbol of food to the internees, although their regular diet, he added, already comprises the full 2,000-calory normal diet, and is superior to the average diet of an English civilian in the last five years. The daily diet includes eight ounces of bread, plus six of hiscuit, ten of meat, nine of fresh vegetables, nineteen of potatoes, one-half cunce of cheese, one quart of milk, fruit, vitamin tablets and other items. The pota-to ration is also being raised by one-half.

JEWISH CHAPLAIN SAYS THERE ARE "NEEDLESS DEATHS" SINCE LIBERATIONTwo Jewish chaplains of the British Army provide the only link between the Jewish inmates and world Jewry. They have worked incessantly to reunite families and reestablish communications, but they are unable to cope with the tremendous needs here. Capt, Elisha Hardmann arived here within a few days after the camp was liberated and helped bury 20,000 in mass graves. He complains of needless deaths since the liberation, deelaring "either we save them or we don't. I can't understand why if oranges are needed, planes couldn't bring them. I can't understand why the doctors here are so shers-staffed, overworked, and are still unable to cope with the need.

Why not bring in more doctors?"Capt, Michael Etern, the other chaplain, stressed the need for some sort of Jewish liaison group between here and Dachau, Buchenwald and the other camps for interchanging of lists. He also suggests that reunions be arranged in the camps for those finding relatives alive in other camps.Until this week, the persons who died here were still being buried naked in mass graves. Now, shrouds and grave markers are being arranged. Among those who recently died was Hirsch Liebman, a well-known Zionist from Sosnowitz. Among the survivor are Rabbi Klein from Budapest, Rabbi Helfgot from Yugoslavia and 500 children, of whom 140 are orphans under 15.The orphans are now being well cared for in a separate nursery.

A school has also been started by a Sgt. Deelaren, with the assistance of teachers found in the camps. Using five Languages, the school will conduct classes in writing, drawing, arithmetic, handicrafts and singing.Rosensaft, who is a survivor of Oswiecim, said that 600,000 were shot while he was there. Among them was Isaac Bornstein, a JDC representative in Poland, and M. Edelstoin, who was a leader of the ghetto community.

  • JUNE 6, 1945

Bergen-Belsen Camp: The Suppressed Story

By Mark Weber

Fifty years ago, on April 15, 1945, British troops liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The anniversary was widely remembered in official ceremonies and in newspaper articles that, as the following essay shows, distort the camp’s true history.

Largely because of the circumstances of its liberation, the relatively unimportant German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen has become – along with Dachau and Buchenwald – an international symbol of German barbarism.

The British troops who liberated the Belsen camp three weeks before the end of the war were shocked and disgusted by the many unburied corpses and dying inmates they found there. Horrific photos and films of the camp’s emaciated corpses and mortally sick inmates were quickly circulated around the globe. Within weeks the British military occupation newspaper proclaimed: “The story of that greatest of all exhibitions of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ which was Belsen Concentration Camp is known throughout the world.”

Ghastly images recorded by Allied photographers at Belsen in mid-April 1945 and widely reproduced ever since have greatly contributed to the camp’s reputation as a notorious extermination center. In fact, the dead of Bergen-Belsen were, above all, unfortunate victims of war and its turmoil, not deliberate policy. It can even be argued that they were as much victims of Allied as of German measures.

The Bergen-Belsen camp was located near Hannover in northwestern Germany on the site of a former army camp for wounded prisoners of war. In 1943 it was established as an internment camp (Aufenthaltslager) for European Jews who were to be exchanged for German citizens held by the Allies.

More than 9,000 Jews with citizenship papers or passports from Latin American countries, entry visas for Palestine, or other documents making them eligible for emigration, arrived in late 1943 and 1944 from Poland, France, Holland and other parts of Europe. During the final months of the war, several groups of these “exchange Jews” were transported from Axis-occupied Europe. German authorities transferred several hundred to neutral Switzerland, and at least one group of 222 Jewish detainees was transferred from Belsen (by way of neutral Turkey) to British-controlled Palestine.

Until late 1944 conditions were generally better than in other concentration camps. Marika Frank Abrams, a Jewish woman from Hungary, was transferred from Auschwitz in 1944. Years later she recalled her arrival at Belsen: “... We were each given two blankets and a dish. There was running water and latrines. We were given food that was edible and didn’t have to stand for hours to be counted. The conditions were so superior to Auschwitz we felt we were practically in a sanitarium.”

Inmates normally received three meals a day. Coffee and bread were served in the morning and evening, with cheese and sausage as available. The main mid-day meal consisted of one liter of vegetable stew. Families lived together. Otherwise, men and women were housed in separate barracks.

Children were also held there. There were some 500 Jewish children in Belsen’s “No. 1 Women’s Camp” section when British forces arrived.

During the final months of the war, tens of thousands of Jews were evacuated to Belsen from Auschwitz and other eastern camps threatened by the advancing Soviets. Belsen became severely overcrowded as the number of inmates increased from 15,000 in December 1944 to 42,000 at the beginning of March 1945, and more than 50,000 a month later.

Many of these Jewish prisoners had chosen to be evacuated westwards with their German captors rather than remain in eastern camps to await liberation by Soviet forces.

So catastrophic had conditions become during the final months of the war that about a third of the prisoners evacuated to Belsen in February and March 1945 perished during the journey and were dead on arrival.

As order broke down across Europe during those chaotic final months, regular deliveries of food and medicine to the camp stopped. Foraging trucks were sent to scrounge up whatever supplies of bread, potatoes and turnips were available in nearby towns.


Disease was kept under control by routinely disinfecting all new arrivals. But in early February 1945 a large transport of Hungarian Jews was admitted while the disinfection facility was out of order. As a result, typhus broke out and quickly spread beyond control.

Commandant Josef Kramer quarantined the camp in an effort to save lives, but SS camp administration headquarters in Berlin insisted that Belsen be kept open to receive still more Jewish evacuees arriving from the East. The death rate soon rose to 400 a day.

The worst killer was typhus, but typhoid fever and dysentery also claimed many lives. Aggravating the situation was a policy during the final months of transferring already sick inmates from other camps to Belsen, which was then officially designated a sick or convalescence camp (Krankenlager). The sick women of Auschwitz, for example, were transferred to Belsen in three groups in November–December 1944.

When SS chief Heinrich Himmler learned of the typhus outbreak at Bergen-Belsen, he immediately issued an order to all appropriate officials requiring that “all medical means necessary to combat the epidemic should be employed ... There can be no question of skimping either with doctors or medical supplies.” However, the general breakdown of order that prevailed on Germany by this time made it impossible to implement the command.

‘Belsen Worst’

Violette Fintz, a Jewish woman who had been deported from the island of Rhodes to Auschwitz in mid-1944, and then to Dachau and, finally, in early 1945, to Belsen, later compared conditions in the different camps:

Belsen was in the beginning bearable and we had bunks to sleep on, and a small ration of soup and bread. But as the camp got fuller, our group and many others were given a barracks to hold about seven hundred lying on the floor without blankets and without food or anything. It was a pitiful scene as the camp was attacked by lice and most of the people had typhus and cholera ... Many people talk about Auschwitz – it was a horrible camp. But Belsen, no words can describe it ... From my experience and suffering, Belsen was the worst.

Belsen’s most famous inmate was doubtless Anne Frank, who had been evacuated from Auschwitz in late October 1944. She succumbed to typhus in March 1945, three or four weeks before liberation.

Kramer Reports a ‘Catastrophe’

In a March 1, 1945, letter to Gruppenführer (General) Richard Glücks, head of the SS camp administration agency, Commandant Kramer reported in detail on the catastrophic situation in the Bergen-Belsen, and pleaded for help:

If I had sufficient sleeping accommodation at my disposal, then the accommodation of the detainees who have already arrived and of those still to come would appear more possible. In addition to this question a spotted fever and typhus epidemic has now begun, which increases in extent every day. The daily mortality rate, which was still in the region of 60–70 at the beginning of February, has in the meantime attained a daily average of 250–300 and will increase still further in view of the conditions which at present prevail.

Supply. When I took over the camp, winter supplies for 1500 internees had been indented for; some had been received, but the greater part had not been delivered. This failure was due not only to difficulties of transport, but also to the fact that practically nothing is available in this area and all must be brought from outside the area ...

For the last four days there has been no delivery [of food] from Hannover owing to interrupted communications, and I shall be compelled, if this state of affairs prevails till the end of the week, to fetch bread also by means of truck from Hannover. The trucks allotted to the local unit are in no way adequate for this work, and I am compelled to ask for at least three to four trucks and five to six trailers. When I once have here a means of towing then I can send out the trailers into the surrounding area ... The supply question must, without fail, be cleared up in the next few days. I ask you, Gruppenführer, for an allocation of transport ...

State of Health. The incidence of disease is very high here in proportion to the number of detainees. When you interviewed me on Dec. 1, 1944, at Oranienburg, you told me that Bergen-Belsen was to serve as a sick camp for all concentration camps in north Germany. The number of sick has greatly increased, particularly on account of the transports of detainees that have arrived from the East in recent times – these transports have sometimes spent eight or fourteen days in open trucks ...

The fight against spotted fever is made extremely difficult by the lack of means of disinfection. Due to constant use, the hot-air delousing machine is now in bad working order and sometimes fails for several days ...

A catastrophe is taking place for which no one wishes to assume responsibility ... Gruppenführer, I can assure you that from this end everything will be done to overcome the present crisis ...

I am now asking you for your assistance as it lies in your power. In addition to the above-mentioned points I need here, before everything, accommodation facilities, beds, blankets, eating utensils – all for about 20,000 internees ... I implore your help in overcoming this situation.

Under such terrible conditions, Kramer did everything in his power to reduce suffering and prevent death among the inmates, even appealing to the hard-pressed German army. “I don’t know what else to do,” he told high-ranking army officers. “I have reached the limit. Masses of people are dying. The drinking water supply has broken down. A trainload of food was destroyed by low-flying [Allied] war planes. Something must be done immediately.”

Working together with both Commandant Kramer and chief inmate representative Kuestermeier, Colonel Hanns Schmidt responded by arranging for the local volunteer fire department to provide water. He also saw to it that food supplies were brought to the camp from abandoned rail cars. Schmidt later recalled that Kramer “did not at all impress one as a criminal type. He acted like an upright and rather honorable man. Neither did he strike me as someone with a guilty conscience. He worked with great dedication to improve conditions in the camp. For example, he rounded up horse drawn vehicles to bring food to the camp from rail cars that had been shot up.”

“I was swamped,” Kramer later explained to incredulous British military interrogators:

The camp was not really inefficient before you [British and American forces] crossed the Rhine. There was running water, regular meals of a kind – I had to accept what food I was given for the camp and distribute it the best way I could. But then they suddenly began to send me trainloads of new prisoners from all over Germany. It was impossible to cope with them. I appealed for more staff, more food. I was told that this was impossible. I had to carry on with what I had.

Then as a last straw the Allies bombed the electric plant that pumped our water. Loads of food were unable to reach the camp because of the Allied fighters. Then things really got out of hand. During the last six weeks I have been helpless. I did not even have sufficient staff to bury the dead, let alone segregate the sick ... I tried to get medicines and food for the prisoners and I failed. I was swamped. I may have been hated, but I was doing my duty.

Kramer’s clear conscience is also suggested by the fact that he made no effort to save his life by fleeing, but instead calmly awaited the approaching British forces, naively confident of decent treatment. “When Belsen Camp was eventually taken over by the Allies,” he later stated, “I was quite satisfied that I had done all I possibly could under the circumstances to remedy the conditions in the camp.”

Negotiated Transfer

As British forces approached Bergen-Belsen, German authorities sought to turn over the camp to the British so that it would not become a combat zone. After some negotiation, it was peacefully transferred, with an agreement that “both British and German troops will make every effort to avoid battle in the area.”

A revealing account of the circumstances under which the British took control appeared in a 1945 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association:

By negotiations between British and German officers, British troops took over from the SS and the Wehrmacht the task of guarding the vast concentration camp at Belsen, a few miles northwest of Celle, which contains 60,000 prisoners, many of them political. This has been done because typhus is rampant in the camp and it is vital that no prisoners be released until the infection is checked. The advancing British agreed to refrain from bombing or shelling the area of the camp, and the Germans agreed to leave behind an armed guard which would be allowed to return to their own lines a week after the British arrival.

The story of the negotiations is curious. Two German officers presented themselves before the British outposts and explained that there were 9,000 sick in the camp and that all sanitation had failed. They proposed that the British should occupy the camp at once, as the responsibility was international in the interests of health. In return for the delay caused by the truce the Germans offered to surrender intact the bridges over the river Aller. After brief consideration the British senior officer rejected the German proposals, saying it was necessary that the British should occupy an area of ten kilometers round the camp in order to be sure of keeping their troops and lines of communication away from the disease. The British eventually took over the camp.

Brutal Mistreatment

On April 15, 1945, Belsen’s commanders turned over the camp to British troops, who lost no time mistreating the SS camp personnel. The Germans were beaten with rifle butts, kicked, and stabbed with bayonets. Most were shot or worked to death.

British journalist Alan Moorehead described the treatment of some of the camp personnel shortly after the takeover:

As we approached the cells of the SS guards, the [British] sergeant’s language become ferocious. “We had had an interrogation this morning,” the captain said. ‘I’m afraid they are not a pretty sight.’ ... The sergeant unbolted the first door and ... strode into the cell, jabbing a metal spike in front of him. “Get up,” he shouted. “Get up. Get up, you dirty bastards.” There were half a dozen men lying or half lying on the floor. One or two were able to pull themselves erect at once. The man nearest me, his shirt and face spattered with blood, made two attempts before he got on to his knees and then gradually on to his feet. He stood with his arms stretched out in front of him, trembling violently.

“Come on. Get up,” the sergeant shouted [in the next cell]. The man was lying in his blood on the floor, a massive figure with a heavy head and bedraggled beard ... “Why don’t you kill me?” he whispered. “Why don’t you kill me? I can’t stand it any more.” The same phrases dribbled out of his lips over and over again. “He’s been saying that all morning, the dirty bastard,” the sergeant said.

Commandant Kramer, who was vilified in the British and American press as “The Beast of Belsen” and “The Monster of Belsen,” was put on trial and then executed, along with chief physician Dr. Fritz Klein and other camp officials. At his trial, Kramer’s defense attorney, Major T.C.M. Winwood, predicted: “When the curtain finally rings down on this stage Josef Kramer will, in my submission, stand forth not as ‘The Beast of Belsen’ but as ‘The Scapegoat of Belsen’.”

In an “act of revenge,” the British liberators expelled the residents of the nearby town of Bergen, and then permitted camp inmates to loot the houses and buildings. Much of the town was also set on fire.

Postwar Deaths

There were some 55,000 to 60,000 prisoners in Bergen-Belsen when the British took control of the camp. The new administrators proved no more capable of mastering the chaos than the Germans had been, and some 14,000 Jewish inmates died at Belsen in the months following the British takeover.

Although still occasionally referred to as an “extermination camp” or “mass murder” center, the truth about Bergen-Belsen has been quietly acknowledged by scholars. In his 1978 survey of German history, University of Erlangen professor Helmut Diwald wrote of

... The notorious Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where 50,000 inmates were supposedly murdered. Actually, about 7,000 inmates died during the period when the camp existed, from 1943 to 1945. Most of them died in the final months of the war as a result of disease and malnutrition – consequences of the bombings that had completely disrupted normal deliveries of medical supplies and food. The British commander who took control of the camp after the capitulation testified that crimes on a large scale had not taken place at Bergen-Belsen.

Martin Broszat, Director of the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich, wrote in 1976:

... In Bergen-Belsen, for example, thousands of corpses of Jewish prisoners were found by British soldiers on the day of liberation, which gave the impression that this was one of the notorious extermination camps. Actually, many Jews in Bergen-Belsen as well as in the satellite camps of Dachau died in the last weeks before the end of the war as a result of the quickly improvised retransfers and evacuations of Jewish workers from the still existing ghettos, work camps and concentration camps in the East (Auschwitz) ...

Dr. Russell Barton, an English physician who spent a month in Bergen-Belsen after the war with the British Army, has also explained the reasons for the catastrophic conditions found there:

Most people attributed the conditions of the inmates to deliberate intention on the part of the Germans in general and the camp administrators in particular. Inmates were eager to cite examples of brutality and neglect, and visiting journalists from different countries interpreted the situation according to the needs of propaganda at home.

For example, one newspaper emphasized the wickedness of the “German masters” by remarking that some of the 10,000 unburied dead were naked. In fact, when the dead were taken from a hut and left in the open for burial, other prisoners would take their clothing from them ...

German medical officers told me that it had been increasingly difficult to transport food to the camp for some months. Anything that moved on the autobahns was likely to be bombed ...

I was surprised to find records, going back for two or three years, of large quantities of food cooked daily for distribution. I became convinced, contrary to popular opinion, that there had never been a policy of deliberate starvation. This was confirmed by the large numbers of well-fed inmates. Why then were so many people suffering from malnutrition?... The major reasons for the state of Belsen were disease, gross overcrowding by central authority, lack of law and order within the huts, and inadequate supplies of food, water and drugs.

In trying to assess the causes of the conditions found in Belsen one must be alerted to the tremendous visual display, ripe for purposes of propaganda, that masses of starved corpses presented.

Gas Chamber Myths

Some former inmates and a few historians have claimed that Jews were put to death in gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen. For example, an “authoritative” work published shortly after the end of the war, A History of World War II, informed readers: “In Belsen, [Commandant] Kramer kept an orchestra to play him Viennese music while he watched children torn from their mothers to be burned alive. Gas chambers disposed of thousands of persons daily.”

In Jews, God and History, Jewish historian Max Dimont wrote of gassings at Bergen-Belsen. A semi-official work published in Poland in 1981 claimed that women and babies were “put to death in gas chambers” at Belsen.

In 1945 the Associated Press news agency reported:

In Lueneburg, Germany, a Jewish physician, testifying at the trial of 45 men and women for war crimes at the Belsen and Oswiecim [Auschwitz] concentration camps, said that 80,000 Jews, representing the entire ghetto of Lodz, Poland, had been gassed or burned to death in one night at the Belsen camp.

Five decades after the camp’s liberation, British army Captain Robert Daniell recalled seeing “the gas chambers” there.

Years after the war, Robert Spitz, a Hungarian Jew, remembered taking a shower at Belsen in February 1945: “... It was delightful. What I didn’t know then was that there were other showers in the same building where gas came out instead of water.”

Another former inmate, Moshe Peer, recalled a miraculous escape from death as an eleven-year-old in the camp. In a 1993 interview with a Canadian newspaper, the French-born Peer claimed that he “was sent to the [Belsen] camp gas chamber at least six times.” The newspaper account went on to relate: “Each time he survived, watching with horror as many of the women and children gassed with him collapsed and died. To this day, Peer doesn’t know how he was able to survive.” In an effort to explain the miracle, Peer mused: “Maybe children resist better, I don’t know.” (Although Peer claimed that “Bergen-Belsen was worse than Auschwitz,” he acknowledged that he and his younger brother and sister, who were deported to the camp in 1944, all somehow survived internment there.)

Such gas chamber tales are entirely fanciful. As early as 1960, historian Martin Broszat had publicly repudiated the Belsen gassing story. These days no reputable scholar supports it.

Exaggerated Death Estimates

Estimates of the number of people who died in Bergen-Belsen have ranged widely over the years. Many have been irresponsible exaggerations. Typical is a 1985 York Daily News report, which told readers that “probably 100,000 died at Bergen-Belsen.” An official German government publication issued in 1990 declared that “more than 50,000 people had been murdered” in the Belsen camp under German control, and “an additional 13,000 died in the first weeks after liberation.”

Closer to the truth is the Encyclopaedia Judaica, which maintains that 37,000 perished in the camp before the British takeover, and another 14,000 afterwards.

Whatever the actual number of dead, Belsen’s victims were not “murdered,” and the camp was not an “extermination” center.

Black Market Center

From 1945 until 1950, when it was finally shut down, the British maintained Belsen as a camp for displaced European Jews. During this period it achieved new notoriety as a major European black market center. The “uncrowned king” of Belsen’s 10,000 Jews was Yossl (Josef) Rosensaft, who amassed tremendous profits from the illegal trading. Rosensaft had been interned in various camps, including Auschwitz, before arriving in Belsen in early April 1945.

British Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Morgan, chief of “displaced persons” operations in postwar Germany for the United Nations relief organization UNRRA recalled in his memoir that

under Zionist auspices there had been organized at Belsen a vast illegitimate trading organization with worldwide ramifications and dealing in a wide range of goods, principally precious metals and stones. A money market dealt with a wide range of currencies. Goods were being imported in cryptically marked containers consigned in UNRRA shipments to Jewish voluntary agencies ...


A kind of memorial center now draws many tourists annually to the camp site. Not surprisingly, Bergen’s 13,000 residents are not very pleased with their town’s infamous reputation. Citizens report being called “murderers” during visits to foreign countries.

In striking contrast to the widely-accepted image of Belsen, which is essentially a product of hateful wartime propaganda, is the suppressed, albeit grim, historical reality. In truth, the Bergen-Belsen story may be regarded as the Holocaust story in miniature.


A personal account

By Leonard Berney, Lt-Col R.A. T.D.(Rtd)

At the beginning of April 1945 I was a Staff Officer (Anti-Aircraft Artillery), rank of Major, attached to the HQ of VIII Corps, of the British 2nd. Army.

On 12th. April our Corps HQ was at the town of Winsen, about 50Km North-East of Hannover; we had just crossed the Aller river. The front line was rapidly moving East. A Colonel Schmidt of the German Army was escorted through our front line to our Corp HQ; he was in a motorcycle and side car and was waving a white flag. He met with our Brigadier Chief of Staff. Schmidt said that we were approaching a camp called Bergen-Belsen which contained civilian political prisoners and that typhus had broken out there. He had been sent by his general to propose that the area around the camp should not be fought over for fear that the prisoners might escape and spread the disease to both armies.

It was agreed that, as soon as our front line reached a certain point, a truce zone would be established around the camp. The units of the German army were to march out, with their weapons, but the SS camp guards were to stay behind and hand over the camp to an advance party from our side. The camp guards would then be allowed to leave.

Our advanced units reached that line on 15th. April. I was told by our Chief of Staff to take a jeep and a driver and rendezvous with Lt-Col. Taylor, the CO of 63rd Anti-Tank Regt, who had been given the job of entering the truce zone and taking charge of Belsen camp. I was to report back as soon as possible to the Chief of Staff and the Corps Commander and give them an eye witness report of the situation in the camp.

I arrived at the camp entrance just as the 63rd. arrived. About 30 SS guards (some were women, all were armed), with Captain Joseph Kramer at their head, had lined up as a reception committee. As I recall, Kramer had some document ready for Col. Taylor to sign. At that point we heard shooting coming from the camp (we could not see into from where we were). Kramer explained that some of the prisoners were rioting and trying to raid the food stores and that the guards in the camp were having to open fire on them.

Taylor ordered the SS to lay down their weapons and for our soldiers to stand guard over the them. Lt. Col Taylor took one of the tracked vehicles and a Lt. Sington who had arrived with his loud-speaker truck, into the camp. I went with Taylor and we toured around part of the camp. Sington made announcements in German that the British army had arrived to take over the camp and for the prisoners to stay where they were.

I remember being completely shattered. The dead bodies laying beside the road, the starving emaciated prisoners still mostly behind barbed wire, the open mass graves containing hundreds of corpses, the stench, the sheer horror of the place, were indescribable. None of us who entered the camp that had any warning of what we were about to see or had ever experienced anything remotely like it before. After this brief tour we returned to the entrance and Taylor ordered all the SS to be arrested and put under guard in their nearby barrack huts. He then wrote a report which I took back to Corp HQ; it was night-time before I got there. I gave Taylor's written report and my own verbal report to the General and other staff officers. The Corp Commander and his staff set about rounding up all the food stores, water trucks and ambulance/hospital services they could get hold of - the great liberation effort had started.

The next day I was ordered to go back to the camp and attach myself to the 224 Military Government Detachment (the CO was a Major Miles) which had been sent into the camp to take overall charge. The water supply to the camp had apparently broken down some time before. I was given the job of taking charge of the deployment of the water trucks which arrived from many units around, and also to get stand pipes rigged up from material we found in the camp stores. We made use of the German Fire Brigade men and equipment who had been rounded up to help.

Soon after we got the water organized, I was given the job of scouting the district, and in particular a German Army Panzer (Tank) barracks which was reportedly nearby, to find and requisition food supplies for the camp. I took a jeep and one or two soldiers and soon located the barracks. It contained vary large quantities of food. I also located a well stocked dairy in the village near the camp.

The Panzer Barracks at Hohne, a short distance from the Belsen camp, was quickly converted into a vast hospital and a transit camp. I was given the job of supervising the sending off those who were not desperately ill from the old camp to this new camp. The process was for the prisoners to discard all their clothes, to go under the showers (which we had rigged up), be thoroughly de-loused with DDT sprayed with pressure air hoses (which we had also rigged up), get dressed in clothes commandeered from the German civilian population, and then be loaded onto lorries to be ferried up to the new camp in the Panzer barracks. I and some of our soldiers and a group of conscripted German civilian nurses worked 12 to 14 hours a day, 'processing' several thousand weak and sick people every day. Even at this rate, it took two or three weeks to empty the camp. This meant that thousands of prisoners had to wait in the old disease ridden camp until we could shift them out to safety. As soon as the last prisoner had left, Belsen Concentration Camp was burned down.

In this period, those of us who worked in the camp were liberally sprayed with DDT every morning (typhus is spread by lice). The medics inoculated us against various diseases. Fortunately, few if any soldiers contracted typhus or any other disease other than dysentery, which almost all of us had - but we kept on working.

Just before the camp was finally cleared, I was given the job of being in charge of the 'fit' people in the new camp in the Panzer barracks. They consisted of some 20,000 people in various stages of malnutrition and emaciation, but not bad enough to be hospitalised. The prisoners from Belgium, Holland, France and other allied countries were swiftly repatriated. That left the great majority, later known as Displaced Persons ("DPs"), who had originated from Russian and Russian occupied countries such as Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, Yugoslavia etc. and who were afraid to go back 'home'. At its peak, there were some 20,000 people in this 'Belsen DP Camp'. I did this job, 'The DP Camp Commandant', for some two months. With the enormous effort put in by our soldiers and the less ill of the ex-prisoners themselves, life was made at least tolerable for those poor people. One newspaper even told its readers that Belsen had been turned into a holiday camp!

In all, I was involved with the liberation of Belsen camp for over 3 months. Eventually, I handed over the camp to UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency) and I was posted to the State of Schleswig as British Army Military Governor. In September 1945 I was called to L´┐Żneberg to give evidence at the War Crimes trial of Kramer and the other 43 SS guards. The court sentenced Kramer and 9 others of the guards to death.

People asked me, "What was it like?" No words of mine could adequately describe the sights, the sounds, the stench, and the sheer horror of that camp, and I will not attempt to do so here. Within two or three days of the camp's liberation, many journalist, broadcasters, film crews and politicians came to Belsen. Much has been written about the conditions we found. There are many web sites describing the scene - look up "Belsen Concentration Camp".

At the time, some politicians and religious leaders criticized the British Army for not having done enough to relieve the suffering of the prisoners. As one who was there, the task before us was the like of which nobody had any knowledge or experience. Neither had we the slightest idea of what we were to discover. All of us were in a state of utter shock - young soldiers (most were in their 'teens or early twenties) as well as senior officers. I, myself, had turned 25 only a few days before.

What SHOULD you do when faced by 60,000 dead, sick and dying people? We were in the army to fight a war and to beat the enemy. What we were suddenly thrust into was beyond anyone's comprehension, let alone a situation which could have been organized and effectively planned for. For example, one terrible fact: many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of starving people died BECAUSE we fed them the only food we had, our army rations - who in the circumstances could be level-headed enough to think that out in advance?.

It was said that after a few days, Gen. Montgomery, the British Army C-in-C, told Gen. Eisenhower, the Allies Supreme Commander, "...either we deal with Belsen camp, or we get on with the war - we can't do both!"

The Lethal Liberation of Bergen-Belsen

Joseph Bellinger

"…men fell sick by thousands, and lacking care and aid, almost all died. In the morning their bodies were found at the doors of the houses where they had expired during the night. It reached the point where no further account was taken of a dying man than is today taken of the merest cattle." - Boccaccio on the Black Plague

"I've just seen a terrible sight—there's a camp down the road, with thousands of people dying!"1 [1]

The commandant of Belsen, Josef Kramer, was a bull of a man, with thick wrists, a stout neck, and massive hands. Kramer cut such an imposing figure that the British executioner, hangman Henry Pierpoint, was a bit wary of him when he was first brought out from his cell in order to measure him for the death trap.2 [1] And yet his looks belied his basically conflicted and morose nature. After his capture and incarceration, Kramer, understandably depressed and despondent, spoke with a British correspondent. In an effusion of self-pity and genuine sentimentality, he kept remarking on how much he missed his wife and children, "with whom he used to romp in the garden of his Belsen home." (He loved flowers, especially roses). "Mused Kramer, "I love my wife and children. I love all children. I believe in God."3 [1]

However, in April 1945, God was nowhere to be found in Belsen, which gave every appearance of being the anteroom to hell, with Kramer playing the unwanted and unenviable role of Cerberus.

In fact, it appears to have been merely a bad stroke of luck which placed Kramer at Belsen in the closing months of 1944.4 [1]

A report on the conditions found at Belsen upon liberation was recorded by a correspondent writing for the London Illustrated News:

"Nothing that Dante could conceive of the Inferno we term Hell can exceed in agony the ghastly scenes at Belsen concentration camp, near Bremen, which was taken over on April 17 by General Dempsey's Second Army. This huge camp, which had contained some 60,000 civilians, was little more than a mass of dead and dying, mainly from starvation, typhus, and typhoid. The camp was declared a neutral area before we arrived and the Allied military authorities stood by to reach it at the earliest possible moment, for it was known that the living had been without food or water for over six days. It was found to be littered with dead and dying, and huts capable of housing only thirty persons were in many cases crowded with as many as 500. It was impossible to estimate the number of dead among them; while frequently being too weak to move, they had been suffocated, while those still living were also too feeble to remove them."5 [1]

An article published in the London Illustrated News noted:

"There was a pile between 60 and 80 yards long, 30 yards wide and 4 ft. high, of the naked bodies of women in full view of the living, including some 500 children, whose crime, like most of the others, was that they were Jewish-born. There were bunk accommodations for only 474 women out of 1704 acute typhus, dysentery and tuberculosis cases, and 18,600 women who should have been in hospital were lying on hard, bare, bug-ridden boards. The men's situation was little better. Women in the so-called hospital, lying on bare boards, were so feeble that they could hardly raise themselves on their arms to cheer their rescuers. Mostly they died directly or indirectly of starvation. Food was distributed by block leaders who were supposed to organize matters and get food from the cook-house to the compounds. Those too weak to move died of starvation. So terrible was the situation that the prison doctors told General Dempsey's senior medical officer that cannibalism was going on. The commandant, said the doctor, "was a typical German brute—a sadistical, heavy-featured Nazi. He was quite unashamed." He was subsequently arrested. Food sent by the Red Cross to Jewish inmates had not been distributed. The revelations of Belsen and other camps have horrified the entire civilized world."6 [1]

This report, however, was not entirely accurate. Belsen actually consisted of five different camps, all established at different times.

Camp 1 was known as the "Star Camp," where the original contingent of prisoners was housed. Entire families were housed in this section of the camp. Most of these inmates were in relatively good health when they were liberated. The Star Camp consisted of some 18 large wooden huts, and housed some 4,400 so-called "exchange Jews," of which the Dutch were the most prominent, numbering some 3,600 souls. The inmates housed in this area were not required to wear the usual striped concentration camp uniform with which the world is by now so familiar. The occupants were obliged to wear a large Jewish Star on their clothing, thus the appellation, "Star Camp." This camp was ostensibly administered by a council of Jewish elders. The men and women were housed separately, but families were allowed to visit together during daylight hours. The inmates had also received permission from the camp authorities to write letters to friends and relatives, although all correspondence was strictly censored. All inmates were obliged to work in the so-called "Schuh-kommando," where they were expected to either repair or take apart old shoes, which were subsequently recycled for later use by the Germans. Out of the 18 huts, two were reserved as a sick bay.

Camp 2 was known as the "Häftlinge," or general prisoner, compound and upon the day of liberation was the largest of all the camp compounds. All atrocity reports concerning conditions in Belsen are descriptions of this section of the camp, which is where tens of thousands of seriously ill inmates were dumped during the closing months of the war. Prior to February 1944, prisoners in this camp were required to wear the striped concentration camp uniform, and were treated rather harshly, in accordance with provisions established by the concentration camp administrative offices.

Camp 3 was the so-called "neutrals camp," where several hundred Jews from neutral states, such as Spain, Turkey, and Argentina, and Portugal were housed. Due to their special status, these inmates were relatively well taken care of by the SS administration. Prior to March 1944, the occupants had been provided with plentiful amounts of food and also received the added bonus of an exemption from work detail. This area also was in more or less deplorable condition on the day of liberation.

Camp 4 was designated the "tent camp," which was located directly behind the "Star Camp." Accommodations for these unfortunate people consisted of twelve large tents which had been erected in August 1944, when the Reich began moving thousands of female prisoners westward from camps in the East. The first large transport of female prisoners that arrived at Belsen had been transferred from Auschwitz and Warsaw sometime between August and November 1944, and were interned in this section of the camp. Eventually these tents were completely destroyed during a furious wind storm which occurred on November 7 and 8, after which the women were either transferred to the Star Camp or sent on to work camps in northern Germany.

Camp 5, the "Hungarian Camp," was established in July 1944 and consisted of two large huts. Conditions in this section of the camp were good, relatively speaking. As in the "Star Camp" the inmates housed here were allowed to wear their own clothing, to which a Star of David was attached. These people were also exempt from work requirements and were spared the dreaded roll call, which was obligatory in other sections of the camp. It was from this camp that Himmler arranged for an exchange of Hungarian Jews in 1944.7 [1]

Josef Kramer, Belsen camp commandant, photographed in leg-irons 17 April 1945. Source: Imperial War Museum (BU 3749). Photo is in the public domain.

In all of these camp sections, SS staff members were rarely, if ever, to be seen. This was not unusual, for camp directives required that the SS keep a "safe distance" between themselves and the inmates, for security and health reasons. The actual day-to-day administration of the camps was left to the tender mercies of the so-called "Kapos," who were charged by the SS with keeping "order" amongst the inmates.

Prior to the catastrophic conditions resulting from the carnage of war in March 1945, conditions within the camp had been at least minimally tolerable. Sometime in 1944 the name of the camp had been changed from "Detention Camp" to "Recuperation Camp," but, rather amazingly, daily life in the "Detention Camp" was preferential compared to the horrific conditions prevalent throughout the camp in March-April 1945. According to an extremely detailed article published in After the Battle magazine:

"Daily life in the "Detention Camp" was harsh, but tolerable. The average daily ration consisted of coffee in the morning, 1.5 litres of soup at noon and, if available, 200-300 grammes of bread in the afternoon. Sometimes there would be a little jam or butter, or a small slice of sausage or cheese. A roll call was held every day at 3 p.m. which could last from one to five hours. In spite of a lapse of social and moral values—marked by petty quarrels, egoism, theft—many tried to uphold some sort of standard by engaging in cultural, educational and religious activities. Meanwhile, everyone lived in the hope that they might be released abroad and regain freedom."8 [1]

Nevertheless, other testimonials were soon to emerge regarding the all-too-real bestial conditions uncovered in the camp shortly after liberation. One observer wrote:

"When I was there the Germans were still in command, because we only had a handful of fellows—I mean, we couldn't have run the thing. They had been feeding them by boiling up potatoes still in their hessian sacks, not washed, or anything. Then they would trundle barrows around, and heave a sack through the window of each hut, and the inmates would scramble for them. Some of them were so weak that when we went in there we had a job to tell the living from the dead. Skeletons, they were….The inmates nearly all had typhus, so the main job was to get enough medics in there, and DDT, and things like that. On the first occasion I went in like a lamb to the slaughter, the next time I went in I was stopped at the gate, and a fellow with a great big puffer of DDT put it down my neck and up my trouser legs, because the whole place was swarming with lice. The smell was the worst; you couldn't get it out of your nostrils for days."9 [1]

Another eyewitness, John Pine, described only as a "visitor" to Belsen, spoke of his experiences at the infamous camp:

"..if I shut my eyes and think about it I can still recall in my nostrils the stench of the human flesh that was still about. There were masses of what were obviously human bones, there were the crematoria, there was a vast amount of ash. And then one saw the sleeping- and indeed, living-quarters of the inmates of the camp. They were sort of bunks, with very little head room indeed, and to my recollection there were three, four, and even five bunks one on top of the other. And there were all the signs of the human excreta which had dropped down from bunk to bunk. Looking at it, it really made one feel…it revolted one, and yet it made one feel so humble….how ghastly the whole thing was, and at the same time one had the smell in one's nostrils, and one could see where all these heaps of naked dead bodies had been piled up on top of the other like a whole lot of dead animals' carcasses. It was a very humbling experience…I don't think we spent more than two or three hours there; a most interesting experience10 [1]…..".

Appendix "O" to Chapter VII of British Second Army History deals extensively with the Belsen Camp and the following extracts are taken from it:

"Disease of all kinds was rife and in a vast number of cases it was difficult to tell which condition predominated—whether it was typhus, starvation, tubercle, or a combination of all three…Conditions in the huts were indescribable…the appalling sanitary conditions in which excreta from those too weak to move or help themselves fouled the rooms or trickled through from upper bunks to those below…Latrines were practically non-existent and what there were consisted simply of a bare pole over a deep trench without any screening…There had been no water for about a week owing to damage by shell fire to the electrical pumping equipment on which the system depended. Food was of poor quality and the number of meals varied from one to three per day."11 [1]

In fact, since Belsen was classified as "an "unproductive" camp, where inmates were not forced to work, they (the Nazis) thought it a good idea to send others there who had outlived their "economic usefulness." So, Belsen became "a dumping ground for ill, sick, starved and emaciated slave laborers."12 [1]

Three Jewish men were among the first British soldiers who entered the liberated camp on April 15, 1944.13 [1]

Among these liberators was Captain Derek Sington, a young man working for British Intelligence at the time these events occurred.14 [1] Sington appears to have been one of the designated senior officials to first enter Belsen. His written account of the camp's liberation indicates that he acted with authority and decisiveness when initially confronting the camp commander, Josef Kramer, who was waiting just outside of the main camp to greet and escort the British troops upon arrival.

According to Sington's account, the Germans had made overtures to his commanding officer seeking to surrender the camp intact. An agreement was reached whereby a small contingent of guards, mainly comprised of Hungarians employed in the service of the Wehrmacht, would remain at the camp site to maintain order, along with a smaller contingent of about fifty SS staff-members and employees, retained for purely administrative purposes. It was implicitly understood that, once the surrender and transfer of the camp were completed, these units were to be allowed to pass on to the German lines without further molestation. Unfortunately for Kramer and his staff, events and emotions were soon to render that agreement null and void.

Sington had been sent on ahead by his commanding officer, Colonel Taylor, with instructions to drive forward, escorted by a column of tanks, and enter the camp proper. Upon arrival, he set up a public address system, from which he announced the liberation of the camp. Aware of the typhus outbreak in the camp, Sington also informed the inmates that, although they were technically liberated, they were to remain within the camp compound due to the outbreak of typhus. Furthermore, they were informed that the Hungarian guards would remain behind to maintain order and prevent any attempts by the inmates to leave the camp. "But," writes Sington, "they were to be assured that food and medical aid were being rushed up with all possible speed."15 [1]

As Sington's column approached the outer perimeter of the camp, they were met by two former inmates, who were part of a group of six hundred which had been hustled out of the camp by the SS. They had managed to detach themselves from the column and dart into a nearby wooded area, where they remained concealed until the whirring sound of British tanks lured them out of their hiding places. Sington conferred briefly with the two escapees, who informed him that he would soon be approaching the Belsen "neutral zone," which was visibly marked with white notices reading:

Danger! Typhus!

Within five minutes, Sington reached the cordoned off area, where he was approached by two minor emissaries from the camp. One of them, a green-clad German lance-corporal, simply handed him a note which read: "Allied Commander, do pay attention!" Sington pocketed the note and proceeded in the direction of the camp, which soon loomed up before him as he rounded a small bend in the road. The camp was now in sight, the entrance to which was marked by a rather crude single pole stretching across the roadway, with huts formed up in rows across either side. Sington was met by Commandant Kramer, who jumped onto the running board of his vehicle and saluted. Dispensing with formalities, Sington asked him how many prisoners were currently being held in the camp. Kramer gave a figure of 40,000, plus an additional 15,000 in Camp number 2, which was further up the road. When asked what types of prisoners were being held in confinement there, Kramer replied, "Habitual criminals, felons, and homosexuals."16 [1]

As Sington's column proceeded deeper into the foul recesses of the main prisoner compound, he was immediately struck by the overpowering smell of ordure, which he described as being similar to the smell in a "monkey house."17 [1] A bluish mist had formed and was hovering above the ground and between the buildings, which lent an eerie aspect to the incredible scene unfolding before his stunned eyes. In the midst of this surreal atmosphere, "simian" (sic) throngs of inmates soon began forming throughout the camp, hobbling about lethargically in the customary striped uniform of a concentration camp inmate. A weak cry of jubilation arose from hundreds of lips as the loudspeakers announced that the day of liberation had at last arrived. As Sington surveyed the incredible scene unfolding before his eyes, one man stood out amidst the multitude—he was standing in front of the gateway to one of the compounds dressed in a regular blue suit! The man was of imposing stature and his flaming red hair stood out dramatically amidst the shaven heads which were ubiquitous throughout the camp. Sington, struck by this singularly odd apparition, approached the man and shook hands with him. The man introduced himself as a Dutchman who had once fought with the "International Brigade" in Spain, and was now a self-described icon within the concentration camp system.

As Sington fought to hold back tears, he strode back to his vehicle and, still accompanied by Kramer, plunged deeper into the foul underbelly of the camp. By this time, the masses of inmates were fully aroused and began surging past the barbed wire enclosures into the main thoroughfare of the camp. At this point, Kramer suddenly leaned toward Sington and remarked, "Now the tumult is beginning."

As the mobs swelled in size and pressed forward, one of the guards began firing his rifle above the crowd. Sington, alarmed that he might fire into the mass of surging inmates, rushed up to the soldier and ordered him at gunpoint to cease firing. Too late, however, for the firing provoked an instinctual response from the "Kapos," or "orderlies," who, armed with cudgels, plunged determinedly into the mass of writhing inmates, striking, beating, and flaying the amorphous mass where they stood, knocking them to the ground like so many dominoes or rag dolls. To Sington's horror, the Kapos continued to inflict blow after blow upon those who were already lying on the ground; in fact, the Kapos struck so hard at the defenseless inmates that their bodies bent and cracked with the force of the blows.

Sington initially believed that the mob which had formed was heading toward his column to greet them as liberators, but soon discovered that their actual objective was directed toward the food stores. Women in the crowd began echoing the cry, "Deliver us!, Deliver us!" The hysterical women mobbed Sington's vehicle, crying and wailing the torments of the damned, their cries overpowering the powerful sound system. A shower of leaves and twigs rained upon the vehicle as an expression of gratitude. One of these twigs happened to land on the shoulder of Kramer, who impatiently flicked it off with his fingers. As Sington's vehicle retreated back toward the main camp, he turned to Kramer and said, "You've made a fine hell here." To which Kramer simply replied, "It has become one in the last few days."

Sington left Kramer at the entrance of the camp and rushed on to advise Colonel Taylor of the conditions existing there. Within minutes Sington arrived at the administrative offices of a Panzer Training School located a half mile up from the Belsen camp, where Taylor was at that very moment negotiating the peaceful surrender of the camp with two impeccably dressed German Wehrmacht colonels. Before Sington could interject a word into the conversation, a British medical officer rushed in and announced, "There have been some casualties down at the concentration camp." The telephone suddenly rang, and one of the German officers picked up the receiver and took the message. Placing the receiver back on the hook, he turned to the assembled men and announced, "It appears that a loud-speaker went into the camp and that it has started a disturbance."18 [1]

Colonel Taylor immediately asked the German colonel, "Who is causing casualties in the camp? Under the agreement only SS administrative personnel may be in the camp and they should be unarmed."

The German colonel shrugged his shoulders and replied, "They may have pistols."19 [1]

Irritated by this response, Colonel Taylor impatiently ordered the two Wehrmacht colonels to accompany him to the camp immediately. Sington, the doctor, and the two Wehrmacht colonels climbed into the vehicle along with Colonel Taylor. Kramer was still dutifully standing at the entrance to the camp, awaiting their arrival. As the small group alighted from the vehicle, Kramer walked up briskly toward them and saluted. Taylor ignored the salute and turned to Sington, barking, "Tell him that all SS must hand in their arms within half-an-hour." Kramer, taken aback, replied, "Without arms I can't be responsible for the camp."20 [1]

"No," responded Taylor, "but you can show the British officers how it's administered."

Kramer, however, sensing a possible danger to his person, adamantly refused to enter the camp unarmed, to which Taylor responded, "In that case tell him he can keep his arms for the present but that for every inmate of the camp who is shot one SS man will be executed."21 [1]

Sington asked Kramer why he needed to carry arms in the camp, to which Kramer responded, "To protect the food stores." Upon inquiring as to the available food stocks remaining in the camp, Sington was told by Kramer that there was enough food left for two days, consisting of turnip soup for morning and dinner meals, and bread "as often as possible." Water availability was virtually nonexistent, for, as Kramer explained, the camp was dependent upon the main at Hannover, which had been completely cut off by the bombing. The only water currently available in the camp, he continued, was contained in four large basins of stagnant water.

Colonel Taylor interrupted and ordered Kramer to escort the entire group to his office, whereupon Kramer led them to one of the huts inside the main camp. Once inside, Kramer affably offered all the men a seat, while he sat down at his own desk, casually slinging one leg over the edge of his chair and tipping his peaked cap up along the top of his forehead. Colonel Taylor was most anxious to lay hands upon all the official records relating to the history of the camp and ordered the commandant to produce them forthwith.

"They have all been destroyed," Kramer replied.

"On whose authority?," countered Taylor.

"That of the Hauptwirtschaftsamt in Berlin."

Astounded and disappointed, Taylor asked, "Are there none left?"

"Perhaps 2,000 (files)," responded Kramer.

"Then get the 2,000 at once."

Kramer complied by calling in his adjutant and ordering him to produce the files demanded by Taylor. Unfortunately, the adjutant returned a few minutes later and reported that no records at all could be found. The destruction of files and documents had been complete. Little time was left for any further discussion, as an orderly burst into the office in a panic, shouting, "The kitchens are being stormed!"

Taylor, Kramer, and the rest of the oddly assorted group scampered away in the direction of the kitchens, accompanied now by Brigadier General Glyn Hughes, who was Chief Medical Officer of the British 2nd Army. Kramer and the German Army Colonel led the way, while Taylor and his retinue, comprised of some ten men, followed directly behind. Shots were heard in the distance as the inmates began cheering "God save the King!"

At the far end of the main thoroughfare stood the object which elicited such panic in the orderly: the so-called "kitchen," which in reality was simply a long wooden shed furnished with thirty large cauldrons. Expecting to run headlong into a full-scale riot, Sington was surprised to find only the SS supervisor standing in the "kitchen" glaring ominously into one of the cauldrons. Sington remarked quite audibly,

"I see no storming going on here."

Whereupon the SS supervisor completely removed the lid of the steaming kettle full of rotting turnips and pointed into it, drawing attention to the fact that the level of the "soup" was a foot below what it should be. "All that has been taken," he exclaimed.

"And you call that "storming the kitchen?" replied Sington, who then dutifully scribbled the man's name down as a "trouble-maker" for future reference.

"Is this the extent of your "riot"? demanded Sington of Kramer.

Completely nonplussed, Kramer replied, "No, there's also been an attack on the potato field." Sington demanded that Kramer take the group there immediately. Dusk was beginning to fall when Kramer, Sington, and the rest of the group arrived at the potato patch. Kramer immediately pointed to an emaciated female inmate scrounging about in the dirt for a potato or two. "You see what I mean?" Kramer pointedly asked.22 [1]

Unbeknownst to Kramer, he was within minutes of becoming an "inmate" himself. General Hughes drew the group's attention to an inmate lying on the ground, blood streaming down his face. "That fellow's in a bad way. He ought to be got onto a stretcher."

Sington agreed, and ordered an SS man to procure a stretcher immediately. The order turned out to be completely unnecessary, for the inmate began screaming and writhing along the ground, and soon ceased movement altogether. He was dead. Emotion and patience began to wear thin among the small British contingent as they encountered one dead body after another as they moved through the camp.23 [1] One of the British sergeants accompanying the group suggested to Sington, "Why shouldn't Kramer carry one of these people away?" Sington stared hard at the commandant and then ordered, "Pick up that man and take him to the hospital!"

Kramer balked at the order and stepped back, undoubtedly thinking that this was an illegal order contrary to the agreed terms of surrender. Sington menacingly removed his revolver from his holster and pointed it directly at Kramer, ordering him again to "Pick up that man!" As Kramer stepped forward and stooped down to scoop up the prostrate inmate, Sington jabbed his revolver hard into the small of Kramer's back. Kramer stumbled off in the direction of the camp hospital carrying the wounded prisoner, followed closely by Sington. If there had been any doubt in Kramer's mind concerning his ultimate fate, such doubts were surely laid to rest at this moment.24 [1]

By the time Kramer returned to the potato patch, the entire field was swarming with female inmates. British soldiers had to urge them to return to their huts with rather emphatic gestures. Soon little fires began glowing throughout the prisoner compound, casting an eerie glow in the gathering darkness. Sington turned to Kramer and asked what they could possibly be using for fuel. Kramer replied, "Their huts." This answer puzzled Sington, and he asked, "Why?" "Freedom," answered Kramer. "Soon," he predicted, "the whole camp will be ablaze."

Having lost patience with Kramer and his self-vindicating comments, an irate Lt. Colonel Taylor ordered him shackled and placed under arrest. Shortly thereafter Kramer was roughly pushed into an underground cellar into a small cell located below the officers quarters. The walls and floor of the tiny cell were covered with a malodorous slime due to the fact that the room had previously been used to store fish. The stench was appalling and there was no light. For Kramer's "meal" a guard laughingly tossed a small raw potato no larger than a crab apple through a small aperture in the door every 48 hours. Under such abominable conditions of confinement, Kramer soon became a nervous and physical wreck. According to the recollection of one witness who saw him at the time, "His nerve was going by the end of the third day. When I went in, he jumped to his feet and put his hands over his face. He expected to be hanged every time the door opened."25 [1]

On the morning following Kramer's arrest, Sington drove into the SS compound and was surprised to see scores of healthy appearing female inmates thronging together, "gaily and smartly dressed, …talking in groups or carrying packages and blankets into or out of the huts."26 [1] Many of these women were young and robust Jewesses who had recently entered the camp from Auschwitz-Birkenau. The women were exuberant, as they had just looted the camp warehouses and SS storerooms during the night and early morning hours. A number of them were wearing SS uniforms.

Encouraged by this vision of exhilaration and rejoicing, Sington drove on through the SS compound and halted his vehicle in front of the prisoner compound in Camp 1. Loudspeakers affixed to his vehicle bellowed out the following message repeatedly in various languages:

"The Germans have nothing more to do with this camp. The camp is now under control of the British army. Food and medical aid are being rushed up immediately. Obey our orders and instructions. By so doing you will help us and it is the best way by which you can help yourselves."27 [1]

Sington was astounded to be approached by a man who exclaimed, "I am English."28 [1] The man was placed in the front seat of the vehicle and driven to the main entrance of the camp, where he was quickly spirited out by British Intelligence Officers.29 [1]

For Sington, however, the day was just beginning. It was time to deal with the small contingent of SS who had volunteered or were ordered to remain behind as assistants to Kramer and the Allied forces, per the arrangement agreed upon by the negotiators. They were soon to rue the day they had ever consented to remain behind.

Sington and a heavily armed band of British regulars stormed into the SS administrative offices, barking orders to the surprised SS men. One of them, a rather seedy looking man with puppy-dog eyes and a nervous disposition, began to cry when informed that he and his assistants were under arrest. His name wasHauptsturmfuehrer Franz Hoessler, who had formerly served under Kramer at Birkenau. Hoessler was ordered to accompany Sington, who demanded that he be shown the kitchen facilities. As they proceeded together along the corridor, Hoessler continued to weep profusely, reiterating over and over again, "I have a wife and two little children." Sington was unmoved, and merely asked him, "Why did you join the SS?" Hoessler replied that in 1933 he was unemployed. "What was your trade?" queried Sington. "I was a photographer," Hoessler replied.

As they entered the kitchen, Hoessler, clearly unnerved and possessing a presentiment as to what would soon happen to him and his colleagues, continued to weep unabashedly.30 [1] Clearly, this was a man who could be easily broken. "I have always done my best for the prisoners," mumbled Hoessler. "My camp at Dora was a fine camp. I had everything there, playing fields." Hoessler looked about helplessly and centered his gaze on the cook in the kitchen. "Wasn't my camp at Dora a model camp?" he asked in a pathetically pleading voice. "Oh yes, Dora was a fine camp," the cook replied. Sington was unimpressed with this testimonial. "Don't you understand that you have been working for years in a criminal organization,?" he asked. Hoessler only bawled the louder. Disgusted, Sington walked out into the compound, where he observed a Hungarian sentry striking one of the inmates for plundering food stocks. Sington rushed upon the Hungarian, disarmed him of his stick, and broke it over his knee. Trying to reason with the inmates, Sington ordered them to get back from his car, and called for reinforcements. Only after shouting repeated threats and brandishing their firearms were they able to drive off the starving, marauding inmates.

Having deflected this particular incident, Sington turned his attention once again to the SS. Twenty SS men were escorted under arrest to Block 72. As there was space for at least one hundred other people in the block, Sington attempted to place gypsies in the same holding tank as the SS. The gypsies, however, demurred, claiming that it was unfair to place them in the same detention room with the SS. "After all," one of them remarked, "we also are human beings."

By this time, events in the camp were beginning to take a very definite turn for the worse. As Sington walked back into the camp, a young lad rushed up to him and shouted excitedly, "There have been seven murders!" Sington, led by the boy, rushed off to the site to view the carnage for himself. Sure enough, seven corpses were lying about the compound. Their trousers and underclothing had been stripped from their bodies and they lay in the dirt, covered only by a nightshirt. Their faces were unrecognizable, as they had been mutilated and beaten into a bloody pulp. A number of skulls and jaws had been smashed in due to the savagery of the attackers, who apparently had pummeled these unfortunates into a faceless glob.

"Who are these men?," asked Sington.

The response came quickly: Kapos.

And so it went throughout the day, rushing from one atrocity to another. Encouraged by the presence of the British, the inmates soon discarded all restraint, and indulged every suppressed whim which had been forbidden them by the SS and their cruel taskmasters. Indiscriminate sexual intercourse was carried on openly and unashamedly throughout the camp. Even the British were reduced to firing off rounds every thirty seconds to drive the masses away from the remaining food stores. "We've been doing this all night, sir," remarked one of the men. "It's not the slightest use, they're taking everything they fancy."

In the meanwhile, an enraged Lt. Colonel Taylor ordered Kramer dragged out of his cell and driven about the compound. During this time, Kramer was subjected to further physical and verbal abuse as he was dragged to the site of a large mass grave. The scene was later described by a war correspondent who was present at the time:

"He stood there, this colossus of a man, his eyes unwinking, his face expressionless. The BGS, VII Corps, turned a white face to the interpreter. "Tell him," he said venomously, "that when he hangs I hope he hangs slowly." The interpreter translated. Kramer was unmoved. The BGS turned to the military policemen and told them he would hold them personally responsible if Kramer committed suicide. Captain Kirk pointed out that the cord tying the camouflage jacket round the waist would make a good rope. The BGS ordered his men to strip Kramer to the waist and remove his braces and his boots. Hobbling over the sharp gravel, his great fat stomach and back naked to the wind, Kramer made his way to the Jeep, the crowds of women whom he had treated so vilely clapping and dancing and making little hoarse whispering sounds as they tried to cheer."31 [1]


The night raids reached a climax on the night of April 15th, when mobs of inmates stormed into the remaining food stores, and plundered whatever food stocks remained. Not even the presence of a Sherman tank deterred them from their goal. By morning, only a few sacks of flour and hard loaves of black bread remained scattered along the floor. Perhaps the most bizarre sight was that of a group of Russians and Poles who had broken into Kramer's private livestock pens. The inmates had gone berserk, garroting and stabbing the twenty-five pigs remaining in the sty. Their squeals and grunts of agony resounded throughout the compound. It took less than one day for the plundering inmates to completely strip a massive SS clothing compound down to its bare boards.

The lack of water in the camp was an immediate threat to be reckoned with. The camp, due to the British bombing of the water main in Hannover, had been without fresh flowing water for about a week. As a result, the inmates had been compelled to resort to the massive concrete basins of water reserved for emergency use by the commandant. Unfortunately, the water inside these basins was completely befouled, as many inmates had thrown filth, rags, and even corpses into the tanks, or simply collapsed in them while trying to assuage their gnawing thirst. A temporary solution was to be provided by an SS man named Steinmetz, who suggested that a lorry be dispatched to the Wehrmacht headquarters in order to obtain a pump for emergency use. Steinmetz apparently seized upon an opportunity to exonerate himself with his captors, for he immediately protested, "I am purely a technician in this camp…" 32 [1]

Steinmetz's plan was to pump in water from the nearby river Meisse, which ran alongside the camp at a distance of only a few hundred yards. The British commandeered a small work platoon of SS men and civilians and ordered them down to the river to implement the plan.33 [1] On the way toward the river, Steinmetz grasped his opportunity and protested that he had nothing to do with what went on within the camp. He also took the occasion to denounce his comrades to the British, telling them that a number of them were planning to escape, and offered to continue feeding them information in the future. The British accepted his proposal of betrayal with gratitude.

Within hours, water was being pumped into the camp from the river, but the British were soon to learn that their troubles were far from over. Thousands of inmates continued to drop like flies, and the British medical authorities were at a loss for a solution. The camp was still covered throughout with vast mounds of excreta, and the stench of urine and vomit pervaded the entire length and breadth of the massive compound. Undeniably, superseding Kramer's authority was an unenviable inheritance indeed. For in spite of every attempt to ameliorate the lot of the inmates, they continued to drop dead by the thousands. It was estimated that some 28,000 inmates died after the liberation of the camp by the British.34 [1]

Clearly, however, with such enormous death rates and world opinion clamoring for justice and action, responsible parties as well as scapegoats would have to be found to answer for the detestable state of affairs in the Belsen compound.35 [1]

On the morning of April 18th, after having spent five days and nights in a vile underground cellar enveloped in total darkness, Josef Kramer was taken out of his cell and prepared for transfer out of the camp. The former commandant was manhandled and shackled, both hands and legs. The shackles were much too small for his enormous wrists and cut gaping gashes into his flesh36 [1]. Kramer was then prodded into a jeep, his shirt ripped from his back, and paraded throughout the camp half-naked, to the accompaniment of jeers, hooting, catcalls, and a resonant howling which sounded to one witness as a "terrifying blend of joy and hate.37 [1]" Insults and accusations were not the only items thrown at Kramer. Whatever object the inmates could lay their hands on was thrown at Kramer as he crouched as low as he could in the vehicle, trying to avoid any potentially damaging missiles. Two British soldiers were poised directly behind Kramer, constantly prodding him in the spine with their sten guns, which was a cause for great jubilation among the gleeful inmates, and provoked them to howling with "joy and hate." After he had been duly exposed to the contempt and wrath of the inmates, Kramer was driven out of the compound, amidst a hail of garbage and debris, never to return.38 [1]

Kramer's staff was to suffer a much worse fate than their former commander. Two days after Kramer's departure, the remainder of the SS staff were rounded up and arrested. Their anguish was undoubtedly magnified by the fact that of the 300 odd SS guards once stationed at the Belsen camp, only these 50 captured men and women were now to bear the brunt of the Allies' thirst for vengeance and the public's outcry for justice. 39 [1]

The British immediately formed them into burial squads which were driven around the camp on a truck for eight hours a day, picking up hundreds of decomposing, infectious corpses and slinging them onto the flatbed and then dumping them into mass graves. If the trucks were too loaded down with corpses, the SS men and women were made to sit on top of them. The truck was escorted by a tank, in case any of the SS had thoughts about jumping off. Crowds of cheering inmates would form at the edges of the graves in order to howl, ridicule, and heap execrations upon the despised SS staff and their female assistants.

Not content with hurling insults, the inmates soon took to hurling bricks at their former overseers. On one occasion, their aim failed, and the brick hit the British sentry guarding them straight on the jaw, which apparently knocked him out. Often the inmates, encouraged by the sentries, would kick and strike the SS.

One eyewitness to these scenes of brutality noted:

"Enraged by the enormous piles of corpses of Germans and other political prisoners who had died of typhoid, the result of panic and neglect, they first beat the guards and then ordered them to collect the bodies."40 [1]

Another witness commented upon how viciously the former female SS-Aufseherinnen were treated:

"all day long, always running, men and women alike, from the death pile to the death pit, with the stringy remains of their victims over their shoulders. When one of them dropped to the ground with exhaustion, he was beaten with a rifle butt. When another stopped for a break, she was kicked until she ran again, or prodded with a bayonet, to the accompaniment of lewd shouts and laughs. When one tried to escape or disobeyed an order, he was shot."41 [1]

The female inmates were much worse in their vindictiveness than the males, according to witnesses. They howled and screeched and screamed obscenities while encouraging the guards to fire upon the hapless SS. If one happened to be shot, they broke out in gales of applause and laughter. This psychological curiosity was duly noted by Caiger-Smith, who wrote:

Women prisoners kept inciting British guards to shoot down the exhausted SS men in order to avenge those among the prisoners who had lost relatives to the Nazi persecution."42 [1]

Two such horrifying incidents were duly recorded by Derrick Sington, who was an eyewitness to these events. He writes:

"The burial lorry was clearing corpses from the larger women's camp that morning….I was walking down the main highway which ran parallel with the little path when suddenly I heard the rattle of shots. The approaching burial lorry was visible through the barbed wire, and so was a running figure in a brown shirt and the grey-green trousers of the SS. From all around me on the thoroughfare people began to run towards the spot.

"An SS man! An escape attempt!" shouted someone.

The running man turned in his tracks. Suddenly he mounted the little slope leading to the concrete water basin. He was clearly visible as he stood there for a moment on the brink. Shots rang out louder, but did not deter the dozens of men and women from rushing towards him. There was also a splash, and two British soldiers with sten guns also appeared on the brink of the tank. Their bullets played ducks and drakes, pitting the surface of the water. Then the head of the SS man appeared above the surface, floating listlessly there. There was a hum of excitement, a cheer and a clapping of hands."43[1]

Referring to yet another instance of legalized murder, Sington records:

"This was the first of two attempts by SS men to escape from the burial cortege.44 [1] The second one happened two days later at exactly the same spot. I heard the same cry and stir in the camp, the same volley of shots. I ran to the water tank, and through the barbed wire fence I could see a running figure against the dark fir trees. He was a bull-like, bald-headed man, making straight along the pathway towards the western edge of the camp. The bullets caught up with him after fifty yards, and he stumbled and fell on his face. His laboured breathing still heaved his shoulders up and down as he lay there, and I could hear the breath coming from him in snorts. Then two soldiers walked up to him and pierced his body with lead."45 [1]

Nor did the torments of the damned end with the end of a grisly day's work. Those who escaped death by shooting frequently died as a result of the contagion passed along by handling diseased and decomposing corpses without any protection whatsoever.

Notes author Dagmar Barnouw:

"Few of them survived it, almost all of them dying from typhoid contracted when carrying the corpses without any protection."46 [1]

Needless to say, denial of medical treatment certainly contributed to their deaths.47 [1]

The 25 SS female assistants, or Aufseherinnen, fared little better than the males at the hands of their tormentors. Not only were these women used to bury the festering mountains of corpses, but they were also used to clean filthy huts, the floors of which were caked inches thick with vomit, urine, and excrement. There was neither rhyme nor reason for these actions, since the British had already vacated the huts and had arrived at the decision to raze the camp to the ground. Yet, according to Rabbi Hardman, these sadistically motivated tasks were assigned for the pleasure of the liberators.48 [1] Writes Hardman:

"…two SS women were detailed to clean a filthy hut, and it gave me an unaccountable feeling to see them scrubbing the walls, floor and ceiling under the keen eyes of a British guard."49 [1]

The plight of these women evoked no pity in either the hearts of their guards or independent witnesses, according to an account written by war correspondent Alan Moorehead:

"Some 20 women wearing dirty grey skirts and tunics were sitting and lying on the floor. "Get up", the sergeant roared in English. They got up and stood at attention and we looked at them. Thin ones, fat ones, scraggy ones and muscular ones; all of them ugly and one or two of them distinctly cretinous."50[1]

In bizarre scenes similar to those of the French Revolution, when women alternately did their knitting in the spectators' gallery while shouting imprecations and accusations at the accused, many of the female inmates took to doggedly following the corpse-laden lorries, all the while screaming taunts and accusations at the harried SS.

Sington records an instance where one women projected all her venom and wrath toward the camp doctor:

"You filthy swine, Dr. Klein," she was yelling; "where are my dear mother and my lovely sister and my sweet sister-in-law? All of them had to die. All of them had to go into the gas. Oh, you swine, you filthy swine."

Again, according to Sington:

"Not six months nor six years of such screamed denunciations and curses would have released all the pent-up hatred in her heart."51 [1]

These imprecations and accusations did not go unnoticed by the British authorities, for Klein and all the other accused were soon to feel the unrestrained wrath of their interrogators. Alan Moorehead, a correspondent for the Daily Express, was a witness to one of these "interrogation sessions" at Belsen:

"As we approached the cells of the SS guards the sergeant's language became ferocious. "We have had an interrogation this morning", the captain said. "I'm afraid they are not a pretty sight."

"Who does the interrogation?"

"A Frenchman.52 [1] I believe he was sent up here specifically from the French underground to do the job."

The sergeant unbolted the first door and flung it back with a crack like thunder. He strode into the cell jabbing a metal spike in front of him. "Get up", he shouted. "Get up; get up, you dirty bastards."

There were half a dozen men lying or half-lying on the floor. One or two were able to pull themselves erect at once. The man nearest me, his shirt and face spattered with blood, made two attempts before he got on to his knees and then gradually on to his feet. He stood with his arms half stretched out in front of him trembling violently.

"Get up", shouted the sergeant. They were all on their feet now, but supporting themselves against the wall. "Get away from that wall."

They pushed themselves out into space and stood there swaying. Unlike the women, they looked not at us but vacantly in front, staring at nothing.

Same thing in the next cell, and the next, where the men, who were bleeding and very dirty, were moaning something in German.

"You had better see the doctor," the captain said.53 [1] "He's a nice specimen. He invented some of the tortures here…."54 [1]

The doctor had a cell to himself.

"Come on, get up", the sergeant shouted. The man was lying in his blood on the floor, a massive figure with a heavy head and a bedraggled beard. He placed his two arms on the seat of a wooden chair, gave himself a heave and got half-upright. One more heave and he was on his feet. He flung wide his arms towards us.

"Why don't you kill me?" he whispered. "Why don't you kill me? I can't stand any more."

The same phrases dribbled out of his lips over and over again."55 [1]

A British army officer commented upon the treatment meted out to these unfortunate SS staff members:

"It was surprising what licence, for instance, the discovery of the horrors of Belsen Camp gave to some of the men with the army. Why, nothing was too bad to commit against a nation which allowed things like Belsen!"56 [1]

Yet with the passage of time and distance, historians and researchers would become more objective in their accounts of what happened at Belsen and why. For example, according to Konnilyn G. Feig:

"If it had not been for a typhus epidemic and overcrowding, the word Belsen might never have entered our vocabulary of the Holocaust. Unfortunately, near the end of the war prisoners from every part of Europe were trucked, marched, or taken by cattle car to Belsen to escape the advancing Allies. Thus, the camp doubled in size in the last months. Food became scarce or nonexistent. Because of the influx of diseased evacuees, one of the worst typhus plagues in the history of the camps broke out, sweeping through Belsen in almost demonic fury. Most of the camp population died either from starvation or typhus, or a combination of both—so quickly that thousands of bodies piled up all over the area."57 [1]

And according to Robert H. Abzug,

"The final great wave came in early 1945, when the Nazis shipped a good part of the population of Auschwitz to Belsen's already overcrowded barracks. And with these prisoners came the typhus bug. With little or no food or potable water, and typhus running rampant, Belsen became an uncontrollable nightmare of death and depravity. Yet the transports still arrived, and the population of the camp swelled to 60,000 by the first week of April."58 [1]

In view of these more enlightened, revised, and reasonable viewpoints, it should no longer appear shocking as it did in 1945 when one reads that Kramer once remarked that he did not have a bad conscience, and became a Nazi only because he had to choose between communism and National Socialism.59 [1]

With the passage of time and mature reflection, those who, like Derrick Sington, once participated in the mass frenzy of liberation and revenge, sometimes look back with dismay and regret over their impulsive actions five decades ago.

Among these individuals is one Emmanuel Fisher, who recently recounted his experiences whilst stationed at Belsen. According to Fisher, wholesale looting was also a part of the liberation process. Fisher, who at the time of liberation was a 24-year-old radiographer attached to the British Medical Corps, kept a written diary of his experiences while stationed at the camp and in one of his entries he writes:

"When we got to the camp the Sergeant said, "Here, boys, help yourselves, there are a lot of watches here."

Commenting upon this passage decades later, Fisher exclaimed, "I'm ashamed—I don't know whether I took a watch but it didn't occur to me, we didn't know. We just thought it was booty that had been left lying around. Everybody grabbed watches. Dear God."60 [1]

There is little doubt but that the horrifying conditions at the Belsen camp were also sedulously exploited by the Allies for propaganda and "educational" purposes. Alfred Hitchcock, the cinematic master of mayhem, murder, and mystery, was commissioned to film a documentary recounting the liberation of the camp. The gifted British actor Trevor Howard was enlisted as narrator. More often than not propaganda mixed with horrific truth was spoon-fed to journalists and observers from inmates. For example, in Belsen, as in many other liberated camps, Sington writes that one of his subordinates "had been in contact with an "international committee" of the camp inmates, whose leading members claimed to express the public opinion of the prisoners in the camp…"61 [1]

Furthermore, Russian members of this committee "had secured revolvers and were planning to take revenge on at least five Block Seniors."62 [1]

The members of this committee were actively encouraged to denounce other inmates and staff members to the Allies.63 [1]

Also, according to Sington, "when the school was organized, volunteer teachers from among the camp inmates staffed it, and the majority of witnesses called by the War Crimes Investigation Team were found and cross-examined by two Czech Jewish girls."64 [1]

A convincing example of tall-tale bearing was recounted by Rabbi Leslie H. Hardman, who was among the first to enter the Belsen Camp as a liberator. Hardman had been told by, and apparently believed, one of the inmates that a gas chamber had been under construction in the Belsen camp just prior to the arrival of the British.65 [1] After hearing this Hardman wrote:

"During March 1945 a devilish plan was conceived by the SS. They intended to build, partly underground, a large barracks, which they admitted was to be a "gas chamber". The plan was ready, the builders were ordered, the time estimated for completion was four or five weeks. We knew that the British had reached the Rhine, and those of us who knew also of the latest SS plan for our extermination feverishly counted the days as the front line approached. Which would reach us first? We heard the distant thunder of the guns. Would they arrive before the gas?"66 [1]

Of course these were not the only accusations to be made against the SS by the former suffering inmates. Other charges made against them by inmate and liberator alike were:

That the SS stole food from the prisoners' Red Cross packages. While not denying the possibility that this may have happened, it must be stated that if such thefts did occur and were discovered and reported to higher authorities, the perpetrators, if found guilty as charged, were subject to rigorous punishment. According to SS regulations, "…any SS man caught stealing food from a package sent to one of the prisoners—will be executed."67 [1]

The SS were also accused of being "healthy and well-fed" while deliberately starving the prisoners to death and depriving them of water.68 [1]

This peculiar viewpoint has apparently been adopted as factual by a number of post-war researchers and historians. Most likely this line of argument is a direct result and carry-over of the frustration, rage, and apparent inability of the Allies to accept the harsh realities of the situation which faced Kramer and his staff. For example, author Tom Bower repeats an Allied accusation which dates back to 1945 and its particular mind-set. He writes:

Two miles away, in the stores of a Panzer training school, were eight hundred tons of food, neatly stacked in warehouses, and a bakery capable of producing sixty thousand loaves (of bread) a day."69 [1]

However, from the account above, it appears that the British did not requisition those supplies either.70 [1] Indeed, also according to Bower, a number of British officers sympathized with the camp commandant, Josef Kramer. Bower writes:

"Josef Kramer, Belsen's commandant, had come out to meet the British troops and asked for their help. Many British officers thereafter believed that Kramer, who had been trained at Auschwitz, had done his best to help the inmates." 71 [1]

In fact, even the despised commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, supported Kramer's claims in his autobiography, where he wrote:

"..when Auschwitz was evacuated, and a large proportion of the prisoners came to Bergen-Belsen, the camp was at once filled to overflowing and a situation arose which even I accustomed as I was to Auschwitz, could only describe as dreadful. Kramer was powerless to cope with it. Even Pohl72[1] was shocked when he saw the conditions, during our lightning tour of all the concentration camps which the Reichsführer SS had ordered us to undertake. He at once commandeered a neighboring camp from the army so that there would at least be room to breathe, but conditions there were no better. There was hardly any water, and the drains simply emptied into the adjoining fields. Typhus and spotted typhus were rampant. A start was immediately made on the building of mud huts, to provide additional accommodation. But it was all too little and too late… it was little wonder that the British found only dead or dying or persons stricken with disease, and scarcely a handful of healthy prisoners in a camp that was in an unimaginably disgusting condition."73 [1]

In all fairness to Kramer it must be said, in view of the predicament in which he had found himself inextricably entangled, that there appears to be very little which he could have done to ameliorate the lot of the inmates at Belsen other than acknowledge his complete helplessness in view of the situation and surrender the camp to the British, which he did. It would appear that, under the circumstances, everything which could have been done, was in fact, done. His options were, when all is said and done, quite limited. As has been noted, after the arrival of the British, inmates continued to die at a most alarming rate in spite of the most intensive medical care and treatment. It has been estimated that 28,000 people died at Belsen from the time the camp passed on to British administration. Many of those who had volunteered to assist in a noble humanitarian effort to preserve lives were struck down by typhus themselves during the course of their duties. Unable to contain the epidemic through emergency measures instituted within the camp itself, the British, like the Germans, were compelled to deal drastically with the situation by a process of "selection" in which the seriously ill were transported out of the camp and isolated from the rest of the population. The rest of the camp was soon dissolved and razed to the ground as a source of contamination and infection.

On the day the camp was razed, the British assembled the local citizens and broadcast the following message as the huts went up in a sea of flames. A huge banner bearing Adolf Hitler's image had been tacked along the length of one of the buildings before it was ignited. The British announced,

"What you will see here is the final and utter condemnation of the Nazi Party. It justifies every measure which the United Nations will take to exterminate that Party. What you will see here is such a disgrace to the German people that their name must be erased from the list of civilized nations…..You must expect to atone with toil and sweat for what your children have committed and for what you have failed to prevent. Whatever you may suffer it will not be one hundredth part of what these poor people endured in this and other camps…."74 [1]

Kramer's prophecy had finally come to pass.75 [1]

Either coincidentally or as a result of deliberate political calculation, the Belsen Trial symbolically took place at Lüneburg in September 1945, less than 6 months after the liberation of the camp. Kramer and 44 others were charged with war crimes. Conspicuously absent from the trial were Kramer's superiors—the only people who could have testified on his behalf and perhaps saved him from the gallows. Rudolf Höss and Oswald Pohl, Kramer's nominal superiors, would not be captured until 1946. SS General Richard Glücks, head of the concentration camp directorate, was alternately claimed to have committed suicide or was murdered at Flensburg Naval Hospital on May 10, 1945, and all traces of Dr. Lolling, chief medical overseer for the concentration camps, appear to have vanished into thin air.76 [1]Needless to add, each of these potential witnesses was wanted as war criminals themselves by the Allies, which explains their reluctance to step forward and testify on behalf of their subordinate.

Kramer was ably represented at his trial by Major T. C. M. Winwood, R. A., but as he was unable to present any evidence on behalf of his client from his erstwhile superiors, Kramer's fate was a foregone conclusion. Thwarted as he was in this regard, Winwood was reduced to calling Kramer's wife as a witness on his behalf. In the summation portion of his opening statement to the court, Winwood coined a clever phrase which would singularly stand out in the course of the trial proceedings:

"In the last days, Kramer stood completely alone, deserted by his superiors, while these waves of circumstances beat around him. Since the date of the liberation by the British, Josef Kramer, former Kommandant, has been brandished throughout the world as "The Beast of Belsen." When the curtain finally rings down on this stage Josef Kramer will, in my submission, stand forth not as "the Beast of Belsen," but as "The Scapegoat of Belsen," the scapegoat for the man Heinrich Himmler, whose bones are rotting not far from here, and as the scapegoat for the whole National Socialist regime."77 [1]

Indeed, it was dryly ironic that the corpse of Heinrich Himmler, who, more than any other individual, could have absolved Kramer of any personal blame, was rotting in an unmarked grave only a few miles from where the trial was taking place, and neither Josef Kramer nor his defense attorney had the vaguest idea as to the convoluted chain of events which had placed him there.

Joseph P. Bellinger 




Joseph P. Bellinger 

The convergence of available evidence from all released sources provide more than ample justification to conclude that Heinrich Himmler, and a number of other high level officials in the Nazi SS organisation, were indeed assassinated as part of a pre-determined plan advanced by Churchill’s cabinet.
These facts have all been fully investigated and meticulously documented in my book, Himmlers Tod.
In respect to the assassination of Heinrich Himmler, et. al., the evidence that did survive reveals that:
1        Tentative plans were discussed and enthusiastically advocated by Churchill and his closest advisors to assassinate selected German and Italian officials within a few hours of capture.
2        The autopsy report of Heinrich Himmler was falsified, incomplete, and evidence was fabricated.
3        Material evidence relating to the homicide was removed at the site.
4       The participants in the crime were instructed not to divulge any details [other than the officially released version] to the public or to researchers insofar as their role in the events was concerned and they were bound to the rule of official secrecy thereafter.
5        Post-war accounts from the individuals in private diaries provided additional information supporting the conclusion that foul play was involved in the death of the German leader.
6        At least two of the participants were later decorated with the MBE for their role in the affair.
7        Material evidence relating to the crime was erased after the war at the express insistence of the War Office.
8        The records surrounding the ‘official’ inquiry into the circumstances of Himmler’s death have been sealed until the end of the century.
case I had reconstructed from the available documentary evidence in the form of private diaries, forensic evidence, eyewitnesses to the events and recently released papers from the archives in the United States and Great Britain led me to the ineluctable conclusion that the chief of the Gestapo and SS was assassinated for very specific reasons related to the postwar Allied occupation of Germany. The attendant circumstantial evidence I had uncovered and assembled was so powerful and incriminating that I had no need of Mr. Allen’s documents to support my thesis.  However, if the documents turned out to be authentic, they would have provided the icing on the cake. The Case of the Feckless Forger: The Forgery of a Forgery  

Treblinka Death Camp


Eliayahu Rosenberg, a survivor of Treblinka, testifies at a trial in Israel


Treblinka was second only to Auschwitz in the number of Jews who were killed by the Nazis: between 700,000 and 900,000, compared to an estimated 1.1 million to 1.5 million at Auschwitz.

The Treblinka death camp was located 100 km (62 miles) northeast of Warsaw, near the railroad junction at the village of Malkinia Górna, which is 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the train station in the tiny village of Treblinka.

Raul Hilberg stated in his three-volume book, "The Destruction of the European Jews," that there were six Nazi extermination centers, including Treblinka. The other extermination camps were at BelzecSobibor,ChelmnoMajdanek and Auschwitz-Birkenau, all of which are located in what is now Poland. The last two also functioned as forced labor camps (Zwangsarbeitslager), and were still operational shortly before being liberated by the Soviet Union towards the end of the war in 1944 and early 1945.

The camps at Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Chelmno had already been liquidated by the Germans before the Soviet soldiers arrived, and there was no remaining evidence of the extermination of millions of Jews. The combined total of the deaths at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor was 1.5 million, according to Raul Hilberg.

In June 1941, a forced labor camp for Jews and Polish political prisoners was set up near a gravel pit, a mile from where the Treblinka death camp would later be located. The labor camp became known as Treblinka I and the death camp, which opened in July 1942, was called Treblinka II or T-II.

The following quote, regarding the Treblinka I camp, is from Martin Gilbert's book entitled "The Holocaust":

The Jewish and Polish prisoners living there (Treblinka) were employed loading slag, cleaning drains and leveling the ground in and around the engine shed at Malkinia Junction, on the main Warsaw-Bialystok line. Later they were put to work repairing and strengthening the embankment along the Bug river. The staff of the camp consisted of 20 SS men and 20 Ukrainians. The commandant was Captain Theo von Euppen.

On January 20, 1942 at Wannsee, a suburb of Berlin, a conference was held to plan "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question" for Europe's 11 million Jews. SS General Reinhard von Heydrich, who was the head of RSHA (Reich Security Main Office) as well as the Deputy of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic) led the conference. The protocols from the conference, as written by Adolf Eichmann, contained the expression "transportation to the East," a euphemism that was used to mean the genocidal killing of all the Jews in Europe.

This map shows the routes of the deportation of the Jews to the three Operation Reinhard camps that were set up following the Wannsee Conference.

On May 27, 1942, Reinhard von Heydrich was fatally wounded by two Czech resistance fighters who had parachuted into German-occupied Bohemia from Great Britain where they were trained. Even before Heydrich died 8 days later, Odilo Globocnik began preparations for Aktion Reinhard, which was the plan to send Jews to their deaths at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, according to Martin Gilbert's book "The Holocaust." A fourth extermination camp had already opened at Chelmno in what is now western Poland, and the first Jews were gassed in mobile vans on December 8, 1941, according to the Cental Commission for Investigation of German Crimes in Poland.

There were no "selections" made at the three Operation Reinhard camps, nor at the Chelmno camp. All the Jews who were sent to these camps, with the exception of a few who escaped, were immediately killed in gas chambers. There were no records kept of their deaths.

Treblinka and the other two Operation Reinhard camps, Sobibor and Belzec, were all located near the Bug river which formed the eastern border of German-occupied Poland. The Bug river is very shallow at Treblinka; it is what people from Missouri would call a "crick" or creek, compared to the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers. It is shallow enough to wade across in the Summer time, or to walk across when it is frozen in the Winter.

As this map shows, the territory on the other side of the Bug river was White Russia (Belarus) and the section of Poland that was given to the Soviet Union after the joint conquest of Poland by the Germans and the Soviet Union in September 1939. This part of Poland was formerly occupied by the Russians between 1772 and 1917; between 1835 and 1917, this area was included in the Pale of Settlement, a huge reservation where the Eastern European Jews were forced to live.

The tiny village of Treblinka is located on the railroad line running from Ostrów Mazowiecki to Siedlce; a short distance from Treblinka, at Malkinia Junction, this line intersects the major railway line which runs from Warsaw, east to Bialystok. Trains can reverse directions at the Junction and return to Warsaw, or turn south towards Lublin, which was the headquarters for Operation Reinhard. A few Jews from Warsaw were sent to the Majdanek death camp in Lublin on trains that turned south at the Malkinia Junction.

When railroad lines were built in the 19th century, the width of the tracks was standardized in America and western Europe, but the tracks in Russia and eastern Poland were a different gauge. Bialystok is the end of the line in Poland; this is as far east as trains can go without changing the wheels on the rail cars. Treblinka is located only a short distance west of Bialystok, as can be seen on this map.

In June 1941, the German Army invaded the Soviet Union and "liberated" the area formerly known as the Pale of Settlement. By the time that the Aktion Reinhard camps were set up in 1942, German troops had advanced a thousand kilometers into Russia. The plan was to transport the Jews as far as the Bug river and kill them in gas chambers, then claim that they had been "transported to the East."

In 1942, the Germans built a new railroad spur line from the Malkinia Junction into the Treblinka extermination camp. When a train, 60 cars long, arrived at the junction, the cars were uncoupled and 20 cars at a time were backed into the camp. Today, a stone sculpture shows the location of the train tracks that brought the Jews into the Treblinka death camp.

The first Jews to be deported to the Treblinka death camp were from the Warsaw ghetto; the first transport of 6,000 Jews arrived at Treblinka at about 9:30 on 23 July 1942. Between late July and September 1942, the Germans transported more than 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka, according to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Jews were also deported to Treblinka from Lublin and Bialystok, two major cities in eastern Poland, which were then in the General Government, as German-occupied Poland was called. Others were transported to Treblinka from theTheresienstadt ghetto in what is now the Czech Republic. Approximately 2,000 Gypsies were also sent to Treblinka and murdered in the gas chambers.

Trains continued to arrive regularly at Treblinka until May 1943, and a few more transports arrived after that date.

On October 19, 1943, Odilo Globocnik wrote to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler: "I have completed Aktion Reinhard and have dissolved all the camps."

In an article published on August 8, 1943, the New York Times referred to a headline in a London newspaper which read: "2,000,000 Murders by Nazis Charged. Polish Paper in London says Jews Are Exterminated in Treblinka Death House." The subtitle read : "According to report, steam is used to kill men, women and children at a place in the woods." The London newspaper story was based upon an article published on August 7th in the magazine Polish Labor Fights, which contained information from a Polish report on November 15, 1942.

More news about the killing of the Jews at the Treblinka camp came from Vasily Grossman, a Jewish war correspondent who was traveling with the Soviet Red Army. In November 1944, Grossman published an article entitled "The Hell of Treblinka," which was later quoted at the trial of the major German war criminals at Nuremberg. Grossman had interviewed 40 survivors of the Treblinka uprising and he had talked to some of the local farmers. The camp had been completely razed to the ground; there was nothing left for Grossman to see, "only graves and death." The Jews had all been killed, according to Grossman.

Proof that Treblinka was an extermination camp is contained in a 16-page secret document, that was submitted by Nazi statistician Dr. Richard Korherr to Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler on March 27, 1943. Reichsführer-SS Himmler was a five-star general and the leader of the SS; he was responsible for all the Nazi concentration camps, which were administered by the SS. This report on "The Final Solution of the European Jewish Problem," compiled at Himmler's request, stated that of the 1,449,692 Jews deported from the Eastern provinces, 1,274,366 had been subjected to Sonderbehandlung at camps in the General Government.

On April 1, 1943, Himmler had the report prepared for submission to Hitler; the words "Sonderbehandlung at Camps in the General Government" were changed to "Transport of Jews from the Eastern Provinces to the Russian East, Processed through the Camps in the General Government." The term Sonderbehandlung, sometimes abbreviated SB, was used by the Nazis to mean death in the gas chamber; the English translation is "special treatment."

The terms "evacuation" and "transportation to the East" were Nazi code words for sending the Jews to death camps where they were murdered in the gas chambers. The words "resettled" and "liquidated," when used to refer to the Jews, were also euphemisms which meant killed in the gas chambers.

The term "die Endlösung der Judenfrage" was written by Hermann Goering in a letter to Reinhard von Heydrich on July 31, 1941. Translated into English as "The Final Solution to the Jewish Question," this is as a euphemism which was used by the Nazis to mean the genocide of the Jews in Europe. However, at the Nuremberg IMT, Goering testified that the term meant the "Total solution to the Jewish question" which was a euphemism for the evacuation of the Jews to the East.

In order to hide its real purpose as a death camp, the Nazis referred to Treblinka as a Durchgangslager (transit camp).

Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler was responsible for completing, by March 1943, the resettlement of 629,000 ethnic Germans from the Baltic countries into the Polish territory that was incorporated into the Greater German Reich in October 1939. He was also responsible for deporting 365,000 Poles, from the part of Poland that was incorporated into the Greater German Reich, to occupied Poland, and for deporting 295,000 citizens from Luxembourg and the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, which were also incorporated into the Greater German Reich. All this had been accomplished by Himmler by March 1943 when Dr. Korherr, who was Himmler's chief statistician, made his report on what had happened to the Jews who were living in Eastern Poland.

In 2000, a document called the Höfle Telegram was discovered by Holocaust historians in the Public Records Office in Kew, England. This document consists of two intercepted encoded messages, both of which were sent from Lublin on January 11, 1943 by SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle, and marked "state secret." One message was sent to Adolf Eichmann in the Reich Security Main Office (RSHA) in Berlin and the other to SS-Oberststurmbannführer Franz Heim, deputy commander of the Security Police (SIPO) at the headquarters of German-occupied Poland in Krakow.

The encoded messages gave the number of arrivals at the Operation Reinhard camps during the previous two weeks and the following totals for Jews sent to the Treblinka, Belzec, Sobibor and Lublin (Majdanek) camps in 1942:

Treblinka, 71,355; Belzec, 434,500; Sobibor, 101,370; and Majdanek, 24,733.

The number for Treblinka, 71,355, was a typographical error; the correct number should be 713,555, based on the total given. The total "arrivals" for the four camps matches the total of 1,274,166 "evacuated" Jews in the Korherr Report.

Besides the freight trains that carried the Jews in box cars to Treblinka, there were also passenger trains with 3,000 people on board each train, as well as trucks and horse-drawn wagons that brought the victims to Treblinka.

Samuel Rajzman, one of the few survivors of Treblinka, testified at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal that "Between July and December 1942, an average of 3 transports of 60 cars each arrived every day. In 1943 the transports arrived more rarely." Rajzman stated that "On an average, I believe they killed in Treblinka from ten to twelve thousand persons daily."

The following testimony was given by Samuel Rajzman at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal:

Transports arrived there every day; their number depended on the number of trains arriving; sometimes three, four, or five trains filled exclusively with Jews -- from Czechoslovakia, Germany, Greece, and Poland. Immediately after their arrival, the people had to leave the trains in 5 minutes and line up on the platform. All those who were driven from the cars were divided into groups -- men, children, and women, all separate. They were all forced to strip immediately, and this procedure continued under the lashes of the German guards' whips. Workers who were employed in this operation immediately picked up all the clothes and carried them away to barracks. Then the people were obliged to walk naked through the street to the gas chambers.

At the camp, a storehouse was "disguised as a train station," according to a pamphlet which I purchased at the Visitor's Center in 1998. The fake station was designed to fool the Jews into thinking that they had arrived at a transit camp, from where they were going to be "transported to the East."

Regarding the fake train station, Samuel Rajzman testified as follows at the Nuremberg IMT:

At first there were no signboards whatsoever at the station, but a few months later the commander of the camp, one Kurt Franz, built a first-class railroad station with signboards. The barracks where the clothing was stored had signs reading "restaurant," "ticket office," "telegraph," "telephone," and so forth. There were even train schedules for the departure and the arrival of trains to and from Grodno, Suwalki, Vienna, and Berlin.

According to Rajzman's testimony at Nuremberg, "When Treblinka became very well known, they hung up a huge sign with the inscription Obermaidanek." Maidanek was the German name for Majdanek; it was a death camp on the outskirts of Lublin, the headquarters of the Operation Reinhard camps. Rajzman explained that "the persons who arrived in transports soon found out that it was not a fashionable station, but that it was a place of death" and for this reason, the sign was intended to calm the victims.

In spite of all this effort to reassure the victims, the SS soldiers at Treblinka were allowed to grab babies from the arms of their mothers and bash their heads in. The first person to be tried for war crimes committed at Treblinka was Josef Hirtreiter, who was put on trial in a German court in Frankfort am Main, and sentenced on March 3, 1951 to life in prison. Based on the testimony of survivors, Hirtreiter was found guilty of killing young children at Treblinka, during the unloading of the trains, by holding them by the feet and smashing their heads against the boxcars.

The pamphlet from the Visitor's Center says that "In a relatively short time of its existence the camp took a total of over 800,000 victims of Jews from Poland, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Jugoslavia, Germany and the Soviet Union." Raul Hilberg puts the number of deaths at Treblinka at a minimum of 750,000. Other sources say that the total number of deaths was 870,000. Although the Nazis kept detailed records of everything, they did not record the number of deaths by gassing.

The following quote is from the same pamphlet:

"The extermination camp in Treblinka was built in the middle of 1942 near the already existing labour camp. It was surrounded by fence and rows of barbed wire along which there were watchtowers with machine guns every ten metres. The main part of the camp constituted two buildings in which there were 13 gas chambers altogether. Two thousand people could be put to death at a time in them. Death by suffocation with fumes came after 10 - 15 minutes. First the bodies of the victims were buried, later were cremated on big grates out of doors. The ashes were mixed witch (sic) sand and buried in one spot."

Martin Gilbert wrote in his book entitled "Holocaust Journey" that the gas chambers at Treblinka utilized carbon monoxide from diesel engines. Many writers say that these diesel engines were obtained from captured Russian submarines, but according to the Nizkor Project, they were large 500 BHP engines from captured Soviet T-34 tanks. However, at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal proceedings against the major Nazi war criminals, which began in November 1945, the Nazis were charged by the Soviet Union with murdering Jews at Treblinka in "steam chambers," not gas chambers. Steam chambers were used at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt for disinfecting the clothing of the prisoners.

The pamphlet continues with this information:

"Killing took place with great speed. The whole process of killing the people, starting from thier (sic) arrival at the camp railroad till removing the corpses from the gas chambers, lasted about 2 hours. Treblinka was known among the Nazis as an example of good organization of a death camp. It was a real extermination centre."

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has the following information about Treblinka:

"The camp was laid out in a trapezoid of 1,312 by 1,968 feet. Branches woven into the barbed-wire fence and trees planted around the perimeter served as camouflage, blocking any view into the camp from the outside. Watchtowers 26 feet high were placed along the fence and at each of the four corners."

The camp was divided into sections with one area reserved for the living quarters of the administrators of the camp and the Ukrainian guards; another section at the south end of the camp was for the 1,000 Jewish workers who sorted the clothing and removed the bodies from the gas chambers. Another section, where the gassing operation took place, was fenced off from the reception area and the living area. The victims went through a tube, which was a fenced-in and camouflaged path that led from the reception area, where they had to undress, to the gas chamber. The victims had to run naked through the tube to a building with a deceptive sign that indicated that this was a shower room.

Samuel Rajzman testified at the Nuremberg IMT that the Nazis had nicknamed the path to the gas chamber "Himmelfahrtstrasse," which means Street to Heaven. In his testimony, Rajzman stated that there were originally 3 gas chambers at Treblinka, but later 10 more were built and there were plans to increase the number of Treblinka gas chambers to 25.

On August 23, 1942, fifty-two-year-old Jankiel Wiernik (Yankel Vernik) was among several thousand Jews transported from the Warsaw ghetto to Treblinka. Wiernik, who was born in 1891 and lived in Czestochowa, Poland, survived and after the war, he wrote a book entitled "A Year In Treblinka." Despite his age, Wiernik had been assigned to the work squad, composed mainly of young men, which had to carry the bodies to the mass graves that had been made by "an excavator which dug out the ditches." According to Wiernik, "The dimensions of each ditch was 50 by 25 by 10 metres."

Wiernik wrote that there was originally one gas chamber building which had 6 small rooms, three on each side of a narrow hallway. This was a rectangular building located at the end of the tube; the door into the building faced north. Today, a large monument stands in the spot where this building was located.

According to Wiernik, the engine room was at the south end of the hallway; carbon monoxide was pumped from diesel engines into the gas chambers. After the gassing, the bodies were removed through six outside doors on the east side which opened upward like a garage door. The bodies were first buried in pits, then later dug up and burned on two pyres located just east of the gas chamber building.

The first Commandant of the Treblinka II death camp was SS-Obersturmführer Irmfried Eberl, who held this position from July 1942 to September 1942. He was succeeded by SS-Obersturmführer Franz Stangl, who served as the Commandant from September 1942 to August 1943. Prior to his service at Treblinka II, Stangl had been the commander of the Sobibor death camp and before that, he was on the staff at Schloss Hartheim, where mentally and physically disabled Germans were sent to be gassed.

The 3rd and last Commandant of Treblinka II was SS-Untersturmführer Kurt Franz who was the commander from August 1943 until October 3, 1943. Franz was a handsome man who was nicknamed "Lalka" by the prisoners. Lalka is the Polish word for doll. The German word for little doll is Puppi, a common term of affection for little girls, but for a man, this nickname was a term of derision.




Kurt Franz was nicknamed "Doll" by the prisoners


On September 3, 1965 Kurt Franz was convicted by the German Court of Assizes in Düsseldorf, Germany in the First Treblinka Trial, along with 9 other SS officers who had worked at Treblinka II.

The killing of Jews at Treblinka had not bothered Kurt Franz in the least; the photograph album, that he complied while working in the camp as the deputy of Franz Stangl, and later as the Commandant, was entitled "Schöne Zeiten" which means Good Times.

Kurt Franz was sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was based on the finding of the court that "At least 700,000 persons, predominantly Jews, but also a number of Gypsies, were killed at the Treblinka extermination camp."

This finding by the court was based on the expert opinion submitted to the Court of Assizes by Dr. Helmut Kraunsnick, director of the Institute for Contemporary History (Institute fur Zeitgeschichte) in Munich, who referred to the following documents during his testimony:

(1) The Stroop report, a book by SS Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, which contained photographs and daily reports of the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943. The Stroop report mentioned that approximately 310,000 Jews had been transported in trains from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka during the period from July 22, 1942 to October 3, 1942. After the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the Jews who survived were transported to Treblinka.

(2) The testimony at the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg.

(3) The official records of train schedules, telegrams, and train inventories pertaining to the transports of Jews and Gypsies to Treblinka.

Franz Stangl was imprisoned by the Allies after the war, but was released two years later without ever having been put on trial. Following his release, he went to Italy where he was helped by the Vatican to escape to Syria, where he lived with his family for three years. In 1951, he moved to Brazil where he lived openly, using his real name.

Stangl was a native of Austria, but for years the Austrian authorities declined to bring him to justice for the murder of thousands of Jews at Treblinka. Finally in 1961, a warrant for his arrest was issued, but it was not until six years later that he was captured in Brazil by the famous Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal; he had been working at a Volkswagen factory in Sao Paulo, still using his own name.

In 1969, Dr. Wolfgang Scheffler submitted an expert opinion, based on more recent research, that the total number of persons killed at Treblinka was 900,000.

Franz Stangl was finally put on trial in the Second Treblinka Trial by the court of Assizes at Düsseldorf on October 22, 1970, charged with the deaths of 900,000 people at Treblinka. Stangl confessed to the murders, but in his defense, he said, "My conscience is clear. I was simply doing my duty ..."

After his six-month trial in the German court, Stangl was found guilty on December 22, 1970 and sentenced to life in prison in January 1971; he died in prison at Düsseldorf on June 28, 1971.

Aerial photos taken by the Soviet Union while the camp was in operation show that there were Polish farms adjacent to the camp and that the area of the camp was devoid of trees. Today, the area of the Treblinka Memorial site is completely surrounded by a forest and the section of the camp where the guards once lived is now covered by trees.

Like the Buchenwald concentration camp, the Treblinka II camp had a zoo, which was built by Commandant Franz Stangl for the amusement of the SS staff and some of the privileged prisoners, called Kapos, who assisted the Germans in the camp. Treblinka also had a camp orchestra and a brothel for the SS staff.

According to Jean Francois Steiner, who wrote a book called "Treblinka," the privileged prisoners in the camp had "a great life." They were allowed to marry in the camp, and Kurt Franz conducted the wedding ceremonies. After one of the wedding celebrations, the prisoners got the idea of "a kind of cabaret," where there was music, dancing and drinking on the Summer nights.

The following quote is from Steiner's book:

When Lalka heard about what was going on, far from forbidding it, he provided the drinks himself and encouraged the SS men to go there. The first contact lacked warmth, but the S.S. men knew how to make people forget who they were, and soon their presence was ignored. In addition to the dancing, there were night-club acts. The ice was broken between the Jews and the S.S. This did not prevent the S.S. from killing the Jews during the day, but the prospect of having to part company soon mellowed them a little.


The high point of these festivities was unquestionably Arthur Gold's birthday. An immense buffet was laid out in the tailor shop, which the S.S. officers decorated themselves. Hand written invitations were sent to every member of the camp aristocracy. It was to be the great social event of the season and everyone was eager to wear his finest clothes. [...] The women had done each other's hair and had put on the finest dresses in the store, simple for the girls and decollete for the women. [...] Arthur Gold outdid himself in the toasts that preceded the festivities. He insisted on thanking the Germans for the way they treated the Jews.


One evening a Ukrainian brought an accordion and the others began to dance. The scene attracted some Jews, who with the onset of Summer, were more and more uncomfortable in their "cabaret." The nights were soft and starry, and if it were not for the perpetual fire which suffused the sky with its long flames, you would have thought that you were on the square of some Ukrainian village on Midsummer Eve. Everything was there: the campfire, the dancing, the multicolored skirts and the freshness of the night. Friendships sprang up. Just because men were going to kill each tomorrow was no reason to sulk.

On August 2, 1943, the Jewish prisoners who worked at Treblinka staged an uprising after they had managed to steal weapons stored at the camp. The prisoners sprayed kerosene on the camp buildings and set them on fire. Jankiel Wiernik survived the uprising, although he was shot by one of the guards. According to Jean Francois Steiner, the Treblinka guard known as Ivan the Terrible was killed during the uprising.

In 1986, John Demjanjuk, an American citizen, was extradited from the United States to Israel, where he was put on trial, convicted and sentenced to death in 1988. At the trial, five survivors identified him from a photograph as "Ivan the Terrible," a guard at the Treblinka extermination camp who was famous for his brutality. His conviction was overturned when it was learned that the real Ivan the Terrible was probably a man named Ivan Marchenko, who had been killed with a shovel during the prisoner revolt at Treblinka in 1943, just as Jean Francois Steiner wrote in his book.

The following quote is from a book written by Jean Francois Steiner, entitled "Treblinka":

All the members of the Committee and most of those who played a role in the uprising of the camp died in the revolt. Of the thousand prisoners who were in the camp at the time, about six hundred managed to get out and to reach the nearby forests without being recaptured.

Of these six hundred escapees, there remained, on the arrival of the Red Army a year later, only forty survivors. The others had been killed in the course of that year by Polish peasants, partisans of the Armia Krajowa, Ukrainian fascist bands, deserters from the Wehrmacht, the Gestapo and special units of the German army.

The photograph below shows three unidentified survivors of Treblinka who escaped during the uprising.




Treblinka survivors



Photo Credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum


One of the 40 prisoners who escaped from Treblinka, and lived to tell about it, was Abraham Bomba, a Jew who was born in 1913 in Germany, but raised in Czestochowa, Poland. Bomba was one of the 1,000 Jews who lived in the barracks in a separate section of the Treblinka II camp and worked for the Germans who ran the death camp. Bomba was a barber and his job was cutting the hair of the victims inside the gas chamber, just before they were gassed. In 1990, he told about his experience in the camp in a video-taped interview for the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. The quote below is from the transcript of his interview:

"And now I want to tell you, I want to tell you about the thing...the gas chamber. It was, they ask me already about this thing. The gas chamber, how it looked. Very simple. Was all concrete. There was no window. There was nothing in it. Beside, on top of you, there was wires, and it looked like, you know, the water going to come out from it. Had two doors. Steel doors. From one side and from the other side. The people went in to the gas chamber from the one side. Like myself, I was in it, doing the job as a barber. When it was full the gas chamber--the size of it was...I would say 18 by 18, or 18 by 17, I didn't measure that time, just a look like I would say I look here the room around, I wouldn't say exactly how big it is. And they pushed in as many as they could. It was not allowed to have the people standing up with their hands down because there is not enough room, but when people raised their hand like that there was more room to each other. And on top of that they throw in kids, 2, 3, 4 years old kids, on top of them. And we came out. The whole thing it took I would say between five and seven minute. The door opened up, not from the side they went in but the side from the other side and from the other side the...the group...people working in Treblinka number 2, which their job was only about dead people. They took out the corpses. Some of them dead and some of them still alive. They dragged them to the ditches, and over there they covered them. Big ditches, and they covered them. That was the beginning of Treblinka."

After each gassing, the Jewish workers at Treblinka had to clean up in preparation for the next batch of victims, according to Abraham Bomba. The clothing that had been taken off by the victims had to be removed and put into piles for sorting before being sent on the next empty transport train to Lublin. Everything was done with great efficiency in this assembly-line murder camp, and nothing was wasted. All of the clothes and valuables, taken from the Jews when they arrived at Treblinka, were sent to the Majdanek camp in a suburb of Lublin where everything was disinfected before being sent to Germany and given to civilians.

In his 1990 interview at the USHMM, Bomba described what happened next. Below is a quote from the transcript of his interview:

"People went in through the gate. Now we know what the gate was, it was the way to the gas chamber and we have never see them again. That was the first hour we came in. After that, we, the people, 18 or 16 people...more people came in from the...working people, they worked already before, in the gas chamber, we had a order to clean up the place. Clean up the place--is not something you can take and clean. It was horrible. But in five, ten minutes this place had to look spotless. And it looked spotless. Like there was never nobody on the place, so the next transport when it comes in, they shouldn't see what's going on. We were cleaning up in the outside. Tell you what mean cleaning up: taking away all the clothes, to those places where the clothes were. Now, not only the clothes, all the papers, all the money, all the, the...whatever somebody had with him. And they had a lot of things with them. Pots and pans they had with them. Other things they had with them. We cleaned that up."

After a visit to Treblinka in February 1943, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler ordered that all the evidence of the killing of the Jews had to be destroyed. Beginning in March 1943, the bodies of approximately 750,000 victims were exhumed and burned on pyres; the ashes were then buried in the original pits, according to Raul Hilberg. Today, a symbolic cemetery is located where some of the ashes were buried. By May 1943, the daily transports had stopped and the Treblinka camp was getting ready to close.

During his trial, the last Commandant, Kurt Franz, testified that "After the uprising in August 1943, I ran the camp single-handedly for a month; however, during that period no gassing was undertaken. It was during that period that the original camp was leveled off and lupines were planted."

There were neither factories nor living quarters for the 713,555 Jews who arrived at the fake transit station at the Treblinka death camp in 1942. The terms "arrivals" and "evacuated" were Nazi code words for extermination; the Jews who were sent to Treblinka and the other Operation Reinhard camps were immediately gassed, only hours after their arrival.

The following quote, regarding the purpose of the Treblinka camp is from the trial transcript of David Irving's libel case against Deborah Lipstadt which is on this web site:

(Richard Rampton, the lawyer for the defense, shows David Irving a map of the railroad lines to the Treblinka, Sobibor, and Belzec camps, as he questions him about the purpose of these camps.)

[Mr Rampton] Then there is that another marking, which we do not have to bother about, which is the actual, I think, German railway as opposed to the Russian one or the Polish one. A different gauge, I think. The line runs north/east or east/north/east out of Warsaw to a place called Malkinia; do you see that?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Just on the border with White Russia?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] And there is a sharp right turn and the first dot down that single line is Treblinka.
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Then if you go to Lublin and you go east/south/east towards the Russian border you come to a place Kelm or Khelm.
[Mr Irving] First of all Treblinka and then Kelm, yes.
[Mr Rampton] And you go sharp left northwards to Sobibor?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Which is just again next to the border. If on the other hand you turn right before you get to Kelm or Khelm and go to Savadar, again, travelling right down to the border on single line you get to Belsec?
[Mr Irving] Yes.
[Mr Rampton] Those, Mr Irving, were little villages in the middle of nowhere, and from the 22nd July 1942, if these figures you have given in your book are right, which they are not quite, but the volume, if you multiply, must be hundreds of thousands of Jews transported from Lublin and Warsaw and as I shall show you after the adjournment also from the East; what were those Jews going to do in these three villages on the Russian border?
[Mr Irving] The documents before me did not tell me.
[Mr Rampton] No, but try and construct in your own mind, as an historian, a convincing explanation.
[Mr Irving] There would be any number of convincing explanations, from the most sinister to the most innocent. What is the object of that exercise? It is irrelevant to the issues pleaded here, I shall strongly argue that, it would have been --
MR JUSTICE GRAY: If you want to take that point, can you 
[Mr Irving] -- it would have been irresponsible of me to have speculated in this book (Hitler's War), which is already overweight, and start adding in my own totally amateurish speculation.
MR RAMPTON: No, you mistake me, Mr Irving, it is probably not your fault I, as his Lordship spotted what I have done, I have taken what you have wrote (sic) in the book as a stepping stone to my next exercise, which is to show the scale of the operation, and in due course, and I give you fair warning, to demonstrate that anybody who supposes that those hundreds of thousands of Jews were sent to these tiny little villages, what shall we say, in order to restore their health, is either mad or a liar.


MR RAMPTON: No. I suggest, Mr Irving, that anybody -- any sane, sensible person would deduce from all the evidence, including, if you like, the shootings in the East which you have accepted, would conclude that these hundreds of thousands of Jews were not being shipped to these tiny little places on the Russian border in Eastern Poland for a benign purpose?

Mittelbau Dora Concentration Camp

Nordhausen, Germany

"This is what hell must be like" - French survivor Jean Mialet

Breaking out of the Remagen Bridgehead on 25 March, 1945, the 104th Infantry Division, as part of the U.S. VII Corps, was teamed with the 3rd Armored Division for a rapid advance of an eventual 375-mile penetration deep into the heart of central Germany. Hitler's once mighty war machine was crumbling, but counter attacks and stubborn pockets of resistance, by the hungry and desperate enemy, continued as tongue-twisting towns and villages like Holzhausen, Niederingelbach, Dalwigsthal, Strasseberbach & Eibelshausen appeared and were soon overrun. In black forbidding nights and gray days, often sullen with the slow, cold drizzle of rain, the thrust continued with Easter Sunday and April Fool's Day practically unnoticed. The 193-mile segment from the Rhine to Paderborn had taken only nine days with captured Wehrmacht vehicles and even barnyard carts supplementing more conventional means of military transport for the relentless push to the east.

The morning of 11 April dawned with yet another strangely named town to be reckoned with. Easier to pronounce, but impossible to forget, Nordhausen, home of the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp, was first viewed as just another spot on the map, but became a name to be stamped forever in the annuals of Timberwolf and 3rd Armored history - permanently engraved in the hearts and memories of all present.

The history of the 104th Infantry Division, Timberwolf Tracks , relates the long to be remembered and heart gripping story from first-hand accounts:

"In Nordhausen the Division found a large German concentration camp for political prisoners, discovering 5,000 corpses among the 6,000 inmates in various stages of decay. The corpses were scattered throughout the buildings and grounds of the large camp and all of them appeared to have been starved to such an extent that they were mere skeletons wrapped in skin. Most of the bodies apparently lay untouched since death had overtaken them, but some were stacked like cordwood under stairways. In almost all bunkers and buildings the living were found lying among the dead. In one corner was a pile of arms and legs. All medical personnel that could be spared in the Division were rushed to the scene to give medical aid. Hundreds of the male citizens of the town were ordered to the camp, where under guard, they worked several days carrying litter cases and collecting corpses by hand. They dug mass graves on a prominent hill near the camp and carried the corpses through the town to the graves."

Sergeant Ragene Farris of the 329th Medical Battalion,104th Infantry Division, was there and explained the impact of the gruesome sights at Nordhausen upon the men of the 104th:

"For days and weeks, even months afterwards, the word Nordhausen brought us a mixed response of emotions. We were battle-tired and combat-wise medics, and we thought there was nothing left in the books we didn't know. Yet in a short period of two days I and many others of the Division saw and lived a story we shall never forget.

The strongly Nazified town of Nordhausen fell before air-armor and night attack on 11 April. Our S-2, Captain Johnson, brought the news that we were needed to evacuate patients from a concentration camp in one of the large factory areas of the city. Lying among the multitudes of dead were reported to be a few living 'beings', and with quick medical attention some might be saved. Colonel Taggart called into action, early 12 April, the litter bearers and medical technicians as well as any other men available from duties with our own wounded. In a caravan of trucks we rushed into a job which proved unbelievable to an American; a job distasteful and sobering; one created by the fanatical inhuman Nazi machine. We found out the full meaning of the words 'Concentration Camp.'

Bombs had ground flesh and bones into the cement floor. Rows upon rows of skin-covered skeletons met our eyes. Men lay as they starved, discolored, and lying in indescribable human filth. Their striped coats and prison numbers hung to their frames as a last token of those who enslaved and killed them. In this large motor shop there were no living beings; only the distorted dead. We went to the stairs and under the casing were neatly piled about seventy-five bodies, a sight I could never erase from memories. Dying on the second floor were, upon later count, about twenty-five men or half-men. Some of these, lying in double-decked wooden bedsteads, were grotesquely still, yet hanging tenaciously to life's breath. They were still alive.

We saw, at a quick survey, this was to be as big a medical job as we had been called upon to do. Speed would save lives, so we fell into a day of evacuation, hospitalization, and feeding, unparalleled to any day of combat. It became evident almost immediately that our few medics could not evacuate hundreds of patients, set up improvised hospital wards, and feed many mouths without help. So under the leadership of Colonel Jones and Chaplain Steinbeck, who spoke German, we rounded up German civilians on the streets of this Nazi city as we saw them. The order was, "You will work." In this manner, about one hundred German litter bearers were gathered up and rushed to the scene.

I was accosted by a less emaciated prisoner who asked if anyone spoke French. When I answered, he brightened and related that a group of Frenchmen had established a small colony in the large cellar of another building, and would I please bring aid to them. This was my signal to get into gear, and off across bomb-cratered grounds we picked our way to this particular building. There were many bodies strewn about. One girl in particular I noticed; I would say she was about seventeen years old. She lay there where she had fallen, gangrened and naked. In my own thoughts I choked up - couldn't quite understand how and why war could do these things. But my job crowded out any serious impressions at the moment. Only later I thought of what I had seen. Now we approached the cellar stairs leading to the French group. I heard 'monsieur' very softly, and at my feet, lying as if dead, was a cadaverous man; he raised up and said, in beautiful Parisian French, that if he were stronger he would honor me by the traditional kiss on either cheek. I learned that he was a captain from France's famous Saint Cyr Military Academy and had received particularly sadistic attention from the SS Troopers. He looked to be seventy-five but was only forty-five. His last step had taken him to the edge of the stairs. He had gone as far as possible to escape the fury of war when the Americans fought into Nordhausen. He lay dust-covered, where he had nearly been crushed by falling walls - yet he displayed remarkable discipline and composure. With care, he was lifted upon a litter and taken to our waiting ambulances. I often wonder if he made it back to life, and if he had ever been able to tell his story.

We went downstairs into a filth indescribable, accompanied by a horrible dead-rot stench. There in beds of crude wood I saw men too weak to move dead comrades from their side. One hunched-down French boy was huddled up against a dead comrade, as if to keep warm, having no concept that the friend had been dead two or three days and unable to move his own limbs. There were others, in dark cellar rooms, lying in disease and filth, being eaten away by diarrhea and malnutrition. It was like stepping into the Dark Ages to walk into one of these cellar-cells and seek out the living; like walking into a world apart and returning to bring these shadow-men into the environment of a clean American ambulance. In one bomb crater lay about twenty bodies. We pulled three or four feebly struggling living ones from the bottom of the pile; they had been struggling for five or six days to get out but the weight of the other bodies piled on them had been too much for their starved, emaciated frames. We saw those on a bank who had been cut down by machine guns in trying to escape the fury of the guards. I saw one man feebly stagger to attention and salute us as tears slowly trickled down his cheeks. Too weak to walk, this man was genuinely moved to pay tribute to those who were helping him - showing him the first kind act in years. A few men were able to walk on their swollen, bulging feet; they had no shoes and they were unbelievably dirty. There were lash marks on many of their scantily covered backs - definite proof of beatings and floggings by their inhuman guards. One Parisian business told me he had been kicked and beaten repeatedly. He was comparatively healthy, as he had been in camp only three months. He told me that many of the 3,000 dead in the camp had been worked, beaten and forced at top speed until they could work on longer, after which they were starved off or killed outright."

"Everything that is now in space had its origins here, not in America or Russia." -- 
                                                                                                                                             Rene Steenbeke

Two miles northwest of Nordhausen a huge underground V-bomb factory was discovered. It was two miles in length, with two large tunnels approximately fifty feet in width and height, connected laterally by forty-eight smaller tunnels. From 1943 until 1945, 60,000 prisoners had toiled here in production of V-1 and V-2 bombs*. Of these, 20,000 had died from various causes including starvation, fatigue and execution. The SS was in charge of the factory and the camp, with German criminals as strawbosses. Workers were executed at the slightest suggestion of sabotage. No workers had ever been allowed to leave the camp and when they became too weak to work, they were abandoned to die and their bodies burned at the crematorium within the grounds. Reports indicated that approximately one hundred bodies were cremated per day, and there were about thirty corpses piled on the ground awaiting such treatment when the 104th arrived. These bodies showed many signs of beating, starvation and torture.

*(The V-1, V for Vengeance, was the pilotless radio-controlled aircraft carrying a high-explosive bomb, put into operation a week after D-Day. In the June-July period they were coming down by the hundreds on London and killed more than 5,000 people and injured 35,000 more. This terror weapon of little military value, put an enormous strain on the British public. The V-2 was worse and more effective, the world's first medium-range ballistic missile. This long-dreaded "secret weapon" of Hitler, launched from Holland, first hit London on 8 September, 1944.)

More than a half-century later, the memories of Nordhausen remain fixed in the minds of the 104th Division Timberwolves who were there and witnessed that terrible evidence of atrocity. Leon Karalokian of the 104th Signal Company is among those who can't forget:

"Nordhausen was to provide a ghastly traumatic experience never to be forgotten by those who passed through it. On the grounds laid out in neat rows were an estimated thousand decaying corpses ranging from the near skeletonized to the newly dead. In the building bedded on straw side by side in indescribable filth lay the emaciated living, too weak to move away from the dead. Nordhausen did not have the huge inmate of Auschwitz. Nor did it have the gas chambers of Dachau or Buchenwald, a refinement apparently reserved for Jewish victims who were on the bottom of the insane Nazi scale of values. Its crematory, though small, was able to convert 100 of yesterday's men to a heap of ashes each day. The 5,000 victims here, dead and alive, were predominantly Polish slave workers, with some French, conscripted to turn out in enormous underground factories the deadly supersonic V-2 rockets. The full medical resources of the division and from other units did all possible for the living. The very few walking skeletons able to stand wandered about dazedly in the now familiar striped uniforms, bodies shrunken, white faces blood drained, reaching for the hands of their liberators as they shed their tears. Battle-hardened men of the 104th wept too.

The emotional impact was heavy on all who were witness to these incidents but considerably more so on this writer. As an American of Armenian ancestry I had been brought up, as have virtually all first and second generation Americans of similar background, on the eye witnessed horror stories of an even more sanguine genocide in Turkey three decades earlier. Massacre was the word here, knives and bullets for the males, desert death marches, hunger and rape for the women and children. A million or more Armenian lives destroyed at the whim of those who ruled the old Turkish Otterman Empire. Staring at the human debris on the ground awaiting burial I asked myself, 'Is this what is meant by genocide? Was this also the fate of the grandparents, uncles and aunts I had never known?'.

Time dulls the impact of events. There are those who now maintain Hitler's holocaust never occurred. Would that it was possible to take the doubters by the hand, back through the years, and point out the tragedy of this minor concentration camp! Sobered and drained each of us eventually left the area, in the words of a poet a sadder but wiser man."


The following words by Father Edward P. Doyle, O.P., Ph. D., former Army Major and Catholic Chaplain, 104th Infantry Division, reflect the passionate recollection of a personal witness to the gross example of "man's inhumanity to man", discovered at Nordhausen, Germany by troops of the 3rd Armored Division and 104th Infantry Division. Father Doyle's remarks were presented to the International Liberators Conference of 1981.

"I Was There"

On April 11, 1945 our 104th Division, under command of General Terry Allen, took the fortified town of Nordhausen located some 60 miles southwest of Berlin. The capture of this town was the culmination of much hard fighting and having taken the site one could readily see why such strong resistance was met. The Division stepped into a world difficult to describe, although many have tried to do so adequately, but fail. It was a world of horror, tragedy . . . a concentration camp! It was Nordhausen, a sub camp of the dreaded Buchenwald.It was said we discovered 6,000 political prisoners, but alas 5,000 were corpses. A sight beyond description, mutilated, beaten starved skeletons. 1,000 were "living" in various stages of decay, merely breathing among the already dead. The call went out for medical personnel, the 329th Medical Battalion of the 104th was first on the scene. Having seen the disaster, the call was again sounded and all units of the 104th were ordered to the camp. Convoys of trucks brought the American troops to assist in the overwhelming task, to save the living if possible and to bury the dead. As it was my wont during combat, I stationed myself at the Regimental forward aid station to be of assistance to all my men. The urgent call having come for medics, I joined them and came upon the again indescribable and humbling catastrophe. The first and monumental task was to administer to the living. Here the American G.I. was superb working under the direction of the equally heroic doctors ,together they saved the savable and put forth their best effort in the cause. I have seen as many as 125 wounded a night in our combat area of Belgium and Holland and assisted in preparing the wounded for surgery and the like, but never have I seen such suffering and anguish. The gun and the pursuit of the enemy was dropped and all hands turned to the job here and now . . helping the helpless. It was a busy scene, soldiers as angels of mercy, their reward, if the patient was able, a smile of gratitude. Deliverance at long last!

Our division was in the area five to six days and after doing all that could be done for survivors the attention had to be given to the dead. Here extra help was urgently needed and the command came to conscript the able bodied man of the village. They came, some reluctantly with as ordered, make shift litters, a sheet, a piece of carpet, a blanket even a door. The burial of some 5,000 began carrying the bodies through the town to a prominent hill on the far side where a huge trench has been prepared. The trench was six foot deep and six foot wide to receive the many corpses to be laid at rest.

The men conscripted mainly denied knowledge of what went on behind the gates of the Nordhausen camp and what we can believe of this is divided and does provoke questions of honesty. The mass graves on that hill outside the village stand as an indictment. Assuredly I have not forgotten and on the occasion of our annual convention of the 104th Division a special Memorial service is held in which is included the nameless victims of Nazism. Here is remembered the days when the chaplains offered the special prayers and fulfilled the rituals of their faith as the victims of hatred were placed in a now hallowed ground.

The war continued and after five or six days the command was given to move on. We discovered further evidence of the inhumanity of man and his cruelty when we ran across but two miles from the concentration camp a massive buzz bomb factory. Herein we are told over 25,000 slave laborers toiled for months in production of V-1 and V-2 bombs. Again it was the same, workers unfed until they dropped and then were abandoned and died and were cremated. Such a scene of horror!

We moved on, the war came to an end and we returned home, but the scene remained. One asks over and over again . . Why? The question can be simplified and yet remains difficult . . why does man do these things, why the inhumanity to fellow human beings? If ever I needed a reason for my having left the classroom at Providence College to join the combat troops as a spiritual advisor and priest it was at the scene of horror! It was at Nordhausen and the subsequent scenes of cruelty, the wholesale ignoring of the Judeo-Christian tradition . . namely love God and love your neighbor that it all had a meaning. I had witnessed a sinister, brutal, cruel and utter disregard of human dignity. Facts and details overcome one as memory conjures up the scene over and over again. Sad, yes my photographs bespeak a thousand words for the wholesale slaughter and slow death which was not restricted to men but to women and children also. I was present and saw the aftermath. I feel very keenly about death and the more so death in war. It was for this reason that I returned to France, Belgium, Italy, Holland and Germany after the war. I visited the cemeteries where our American dead lie (in 1945 no American soldiers were buried in Germany) I found walking among the crosses and looking for my "buddies" that every sixth cross carried no name, rank and serial number but the poignant words, "Unknown but to God".

One is forced to reiterate the need for educating our people to need of unanimity and cooperation. Surely the vastness of man's inhumanity to man can convey to the mind the wisdom of sound theology and its application in our daily lives. Men may disagree but that does not destroy charity and love for each other. Again the call must go out "that free government is not lightly come by; nor is it lightly held. It is not to be bought, received as a gift, nor hit upon by accident, nor can it be compromised, maintained as such with its enemies, nor by the determined efforts of a few. . . it must be earned by a whole people, live up to by a whole people and fought for to the death of everyone who shares its benefits".

Religion and Patriotism are not rival virtues but rather children of the same parent virtue, namely Justice. Allying these virtues was the theme of the words of General John J. Pershing who said, "As I see it, the defense of one's country is a religious as well as a patriotic duty. No man can be faithful to his religious obligation and fail in his duty to his nation. The system of defense that we stand for will become the surest guarantee of peace that could be devised."

Having seen the barbaric ravages of hatred and the parallel need of love of mankind cannot our closing prayer be a fervent plea to Almighty God that our actions be a dedication and an accepted responsibility of ever seeking out avenues of peace among all nations, and in such pursuits may we be God's willing and effective instruments. May God strengthen our resolve to work diligently to remove any likelihood of another genocide, the tragic consequence of the failure of man. Let us carry our theme of this conference, "Remembrance" to its ultimate conclusion recalling the words of Elie Wiesel, the chairman,

"Unless we remember in good faith and in sincerity in the very depths of our being, we must not speak. But speak we must."

Simone Lagrange

Klaus Barbie: women testify of torture at his hands from the Saturday, March 23, 1987 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer


LYON, France--In 1944, when she was 13, Simone Lagrange testified yesterday, Klaus Barbie gave her a smile as thin as a knife blade, then hit her in the face as he cuddled a cat at the Gestapo headquarters in Lyon.

Lise Lesevre, 86, said Barbie tortured her for nine days in 1944, beating her, nearly drowning her in a bathtub and finally breaking one of her vertebrae with a spiked ball.

Ennat Leger, now 92, said Barbie "had the eyes of a monster. He was savage. My God, he was savage! It was unimaginable. He broke my teeth, he pulled my hair back. He put a bottle in my mouth and pushed it until the lips split from the pressure."

The three women were among seven people who took the witness stand yesterday to testify against Barbie, the former head of the Gestapo in [Paris] during the Nazi occupation of France in World War II.

Barbie, 73, is on trial in Lyon, accused of torturing Jews and members of the French Resistance and deporting them to Nazi death camps.

But he did not hear their testimony because he has refused to attend the courtroom sessions since the second day of the trial, as he may do under French law.

He has, however, denied the accusations against him and has contended that his 1983 extradition from Bolivia to France was illegal.

Several of the seven witnesses yesterday sobbed as they told of arrest, torture, rail convoys to the Drancy collection center near Paris and on to concentration camps.

They depicted Barbie as a harsh, sadistic officer ready to resort to any cruelty to extract information.

Lagrange, her voice breaking, recalled the arrest of her father, mother and herself on June 6, 1944, the day Allied troops landed in Normandy to drive back the Germans.

Denounced by a French neighbor as Jews and Resistance fighters, Lagrange and her parents were taken to Gestapo headquarters where a man, dressed in gray and caressing a cat, said Simone was pretty.

"I was a little girl, and wasn't afraid of him, with his little cat. And he didn't look like the typical tall, blond SS officer we were told to beware of," she said.

The man, whom she identified as Barbie, asked her terrified parents for the addresses of their two younger children.

"When we said we did not know, he pulled my hair, hit me, the first time in my life I was slapped," she said.

During the following week, the man hauled her out of a prison cell each day, beating and punching at her open wounds in an effort to obtain the information.

"He always came with his thin smile like a knife blade," she said. "Then he smashed my face. That lasted seven days."

Later that month, Simone and her mother were put aboard a sealed train for the Auschwitz concentration camp on a horror ride "which turned us into different people" and that still gave her nightmares 40 years later.

From Auschwitz, where her mother was gassed, the inmates were marched to Ravensbruck, where only 2,000 of the 25,000 people who began the march arrived alive. On the way, Simone saw her father marching in another convoy.

"A German officer told me to embrace him. As we were about to meet, they shot him in the head," she said. "It wasn't Barbie who pulled the trigger, but it was him who sent us there."

Ennat Leger, who lost her sight at Ravensbruck after her arrest, was hoisted to the witness stand in her wheelchair by four policemen.

She was a Resistance fighter nearly 50 years old when she was arrested in 1944, she said, and Barbie and his men "were savages, brutal savages, who struck, struck and struck again."

"Have you heard of the Gestapo kitchens?," she quoted him as saying, in an allusion to the torture chambers.

Lise Lesevre, frail and upright despite her 86 years, described the defendant as "Barbie the savage," saying she recognized him decades later because of his "pale eyes, extraordinarily mobile, like those of an animal in a cage."

Lesevre, who belonged to a resistance group, said the Gestapo arrested her on March 13, 1944, while she was carrying a letter intended for a Resistance leader code-named Didier.

She said Barbie spent almost three weeks trying to learn if Lesevre was Didier, and if not, who was. She was interrogated for 19 days, she said, and tortured on nine of them.

First she was hung up by hand cuffs with spikes inside them and beaten with a rubber bar by Barbie and his men. "Who is Didier, where is Didier?" were Barbie's main questions, she said.

Next was the bathtub torture. She said she was ordered to strip naked and get into a tub filled with freezing water. Her legs were tied to a bar across the tub and Barbie yanked a chain attached to the bar to pull her underwater.

"During the bathtub torture, in the presence of Barbie, I wanted to drink to drown myself quickly. But I wasn't able to do it. I didn't say anything.

"After 19 days of interrogation, they put me in a cell. They would carry by the bodies of tortured people. With the point of a boot, Barbie would turn their heads to look at their faces, and if he saw someone he believed to be a Jew, he would crush it with his heel," she said.

"It was a beast, not a man," she said. "It was terror. He took pleasure in it."

During her last interrogation, she said, Barbie ordered her to lie flat on a chair and struck her on the back with a spiked ball attached to a chain. It broke a vertebrae, and she still suffers.

"He told me, 'I admire you, but in the end everybody talks.'" But she never did, and she heard Barbie say finally, "Liquidate her. I don't want to see her anymore."

She was condemned to death by a German military tribunal for "terrorism" but was placed in the wrong cell and deported to Ravensbruck concentration camp, where she survived the war. Her husband and son did not. She said they were both deported to their deaths by Barbie.

Lesevre said she identified Barbie in February in a face-to-face confrontation at St. Joseph Prison, where he is being held.

Chiune Sugihara

Chiune Sugihara was one of the most important rescuers of Jews during the Nazi Holocaust. An estimated 40,000 descendants of the Jewish refugees he saved are alive today because of his courageous actions. The story of Chiune Sugihara is among the most remarkable of the second world war.

Chiune 'Sempo' Sugihara was the Japanese Consul General in Kovno, Lithuania in 1939 and 1940. When World War II broke out, Consul Sugihara's office was flooded with visa requests from thousands of Jews fleeing German-occupied Poland. With the encouragement of his wife Yukiko, Sugihara issued Japanese transit visas to as many as 6,000 Polish Jews.

Sugihara acted on his own without the official permission of his government. In issuing the visas, Sugihara felt that he was risking his career, his future and even his safety. After the war, he was let go from the diplomatic service, and rather than being honored for his humanitarian initiative, he spent his life in disgrace, never recognized by Japan during his lifetime.

Contributor: bgill
Created: October 18, 2011 · Modified: November 2, 2011

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