* war and social upheaval: World War II -- Bergen-Belsen camps NAZI concentration camp KZ

World War II: NAZI Concentration Camps--Bergen-Belsen Camps

Figure 1.--This appears to be a photographn taken at the Bergen-Belsen Sonderlager/Special Camp. We see women and children in a crowded hut. They would have been mostly Polish Jews. It looks like it was taken when they first arrived (July 1943). Many were survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. We are not sure who took this photograph, but it must have been an SS guard. Put your cursor on the grouo to see the rest if the group.

Bergen-Belsen has a horific reputatioin because of what the Briurish found when they liberated the Camp (1945). In fact, it was was hardly one of the woirst NAZI camps. What the British found were tens of thousands of victims inclidinh the unbiurried dead, the mnear deads, the fanished, and some people in relatively good comdition. What happened is that the SS did not want their victms to be liberated by the NAZis as they could tell what had happened to them and their families. So as the Red Army approached camps in the East, large numbers of imamtes, ,mamu in poor comdition, were sent on death matches so theu would die alkong the way. The survivors were cramed iknto ncampos in the Reuihwhere they were given very little food and nom medical care. Thiese are the people the Britisg found at liberation. For most of its life, Bergen Belsen had been a milkitaryu training camo and than a POW camp. The SS took over control of some of the Bergen-Belsen facilities (April 1943). The Allgemeine-SS unit which administered the camp system was the SS Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS Economic-Administration Main Office -- SS-WVHA). It is at this time Brrgen-Belsen became part of the SS camp system. It was, however, very different than the thousands of camps the SS operated. The SS-WVHA at first established specialized civilian 'Residence Camp' for certain categories of relatively privlidged prisoners. Subsequently a regular concentration camp was established which became known as the 'Prisoner's Camp'. The Pisoner's Camp was not a death camp, but conditions were harsh and people died. It was nothing, however compaed to what ocurred in the final months of the War.

The Special Residence Camps (1943-45)

The SS-WVHA opened special residence camps (April 1943). We are unsure just who resonsibkle for this. Himmler had to approve it, but we do not know if it was his idea. Almost ceratinly Hitler was not informed. There were four special sub camps. Conditions at some of these camps were such that individuals had a good chance of surviving. Bergen-Belsen was not at first a death camp or a brutal concentration camp like Dachau or Sachenhause. They were for mostly Jews that the SS believed has some value both as part of exchanges or for ransome. We suspect tge cdeteriorating mikitary situatiin was a factor in this development. The camp was initially designated a Zivilinterniertenlager (civilian internment camp). Then a few months later, the SS lawyers realosded that this was a mistake (June 1943). The Geneva Conventions stipulated that such facilities must be open to inspection by neutral parties. [Godeke] They thus redesignated it a Aufenthaltslager (holding camp). This did not change the purpose. It was a holding / exchange camp for Jews who the Allies might be willing to exchange for German internees in Allied or neutral countries or for hard currency. The Soviets seemed unwilling to conduct exchanges, even for Stalin's son who was captuted. These special camps y included the Sonderlager (special camp), Neutralenlager (neutrals camp), Sternlager (star camp), and Ungarnlager (Hungarian camp). Some 14,600 Jews, including 2,750 children and minors, were selected and transported to the Bergen-Belsen holding/exchange camp. [Knoch] They were mostly Jews with passports who could prove that they were citizens of countries in which the Germans were interested. Some of these prisoners had to work, but it was inside work and not dehabilitating. Most worked in the Shoe Commando. Here tgey salvaged usable pieces of leather from shoes collected and transported to the camp from all over Germany and occupied Europe. These Jews were not treated as harshly as was was common for Jews in SS custody. This was due to their preceived value. In the last month of the War conditions began to deteriorate. Theew were vsome small excanges. About 2,560 Jewish prisoners were exchanged and released.

Prisoners Camp

The "prisoners' camp" was for Jewish prisoners from the Natzweiler-Struthof and Buchenwald concentration camps brought to Bergen-Belsen for construction work to to expand the Camp. This closed February 1944 when new construction ceased. The "prisoners' camp," also in operation from April 1943 until April 1945, consisted of the initial "prisoner's camp," the "recuperation camp" (Erholungslager), the "tent camp" (Zeltlager), the "small women's camp" (Kleines Frauenlager), and the "large women's camp" (Grosses Frauenlager).

Initial prisoner camp

Recuperation camp

Hospital/tent camp

At first this was a kind of hospital facility for sick and injured prisoners from other concentration camps. They were interned in a section, which was referred to as the hospital camp. This soon became badly overcrowded. So a tent camp was opened to handel the overflow. This was where Anne Frank was eventually sent and died. Rather than treat seriously ill prisoners, the NAZIS at the camp infirmary simply injected many with lethal chemicals.

Small women camp

Large women's camp


Godeke, Monika. Ed.) Bergen-Belsen Memorial 2007: Guide to the Exhibition (Scherrer: 2007).

Knoch, Habbo. Ed. (2010). Bergen-Belsen: Wehrmacht POW Camp 1940–1945, Concentration Camp 1943–1945, Displaced Persons Camp 1945–1950. Catalogue of the permanent exhibition. (Wallstein: 2010).

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Created: 9:19 AM 10/2/2020
Last updated: 9:19 AM 10/2/2020