(c) United States Holocaust Memorial Museum: Survivors of Bergen-Belsen
On 15 April 1945, British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Following several days of ceasefire negotiations, British forces took over the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, freeing approximately 60,000 prisoners. Upon their arrival, British forces arrested Josef Kramer, the camp’s SS commandant, known as the “Beast of Belsen.”
Some 13,000 former prisoners were too ill to recover and died shortly after the camp was liberated. In the months preceding the liberation, a typhus epidemic spread throughout the camp. To halt the disease, British forces evacuated the barracks and burned all camp structures to the ground before creating a Displaced Person camp.
The liberation received a great deal of coverage and exposed the world to the horrors of the Holocaust. Military photographers and camera crews followed British forces to document the conditions at Bergen-Belsen, sharing the images worldwide.
Approximately 50,000 people died in the Bergen-Belsen camp complex, including Anne Frank. Prisoners there included Jews, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, prisoners of war, and homosexuals. Speaking of the horrific conditions at the camp, Holocaust Survivor Alice Lok Cahana described Bergen-Belsen as “hell on earth.”
Of the 480 staff at Bergen-Belsen, most never stood trial or answered for their crimes. In autumn 1945, a British Military Tribunal tried 48 members of the Bergen-Belsen staff; eleven were sentenced to death, nineteen were convicted to prison terms, and fourteen were acquitted.
Following the Holocaust, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was transformed into a Displaced Person’s (DP) camp for Holocaust survivors. Between 1945 and 1950, approximately 2,000 children, affectionately known as the “Belsen Babies,” were born there. In that five-year period, the camp’s Jewish population fluctuated between 10,000 and 12,000.
The World Jewish Congress and the Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation planned to host a commemorative event in honor of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, but it was postponed due to the coronavirus.