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


Figure 1.--As the Red Army moved into Poland, the NAZIS evacuated the deah camps and other concentration camps. The Jews and other inmates were forced on virtual death marches with little or no food and suitable clothing--often in winter conditions. One of the destinations was Bergen-Belsen. When the Allies reached the Camp, there were dead bodies along the roads to the Camp and the situation got worst as they got closer to the camp. Here is a scene the British found on the road to the camp. We do not know who these people were. The NAZIs killed many prisoners just before the Allies reached them. The little boy was photographed April 20, several days after the camp was liberated. He was identified as a Dutch Jewish boy--Sieg Maandag. We do not have much information about him, but he may have been one of the exchange Jews that were being held in the camp. The photographer was George Rodger. He was from Manchester, England and became a press photographer by accident. At the time he was working for "Life Magazine". His photographs of Bergen-Belsen were the first to expose the true evl of the NAZIs to the American and British public. Most saw the NAZIs as evil, but were unprepared to the full extent of NAZI depravity.

The NAZIs established the Bergen-Belsen Camp as a POW camp (1940). It was located just south of two small towns from which the name of the camp was derived. The larger town of Celle was 11 miles south. Many French and Belgian POWs were detained their after the German victories in the West. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Soviet POWs were transported to Bergen-Belsen. Many died because of the lack of food and shelter a deliberate NAZI action. The NAZIs then began setting up special camps within the Camp complex. The residence camp was opened (1943). The NAZIs held thousands of Jewish prisoners here. The were Jews not sent to the death camps because they were thought to be of value fo exchanges with the Allies for detained Germans. The NAZIs eventually redesignated Bergen-Belsen a concentration camp (DEcember 1944). Bergen-Belsen at the end of the War became a collection camp because of its location for thousands of Jewish prisoners evacuated from camps in the east as the Red Army pushed into Poland. The NAZI authorities were unprepared for the influx. Adequate food was not provided and the cowding and inadequate shelter resulted in a typhus epidemic. Thousands of inmates died. Anne Frank was one of te Jews who died at Bergen-Belsen. Dhe died in March 1945 of typhus in this camp, only a month before the Brirish reached the Camp. The British liberated the Camp (April 15, 1945). After the NAZI surrender, a displaced persons (DP) camp was estanlished at a nearby Wehrmacht barracks. Jews there organized a separate unit at the Camp and it became an important center for the Jews that had survived the Holocaust. Problems developed with the British, probably over the issue of Palestine.

Location

Bergen-Beslen was located in Lower Saxony, west of the Netherlands and south of Denmark in northern Germany. It was located just south of two small towns from which the name of the camp was derived. The larger town of Celle was 11 miles south.

Various Camps

The Bergen-Belsen camp complex was a collectiion of various camps, established at various times during its existence. There were three principal components of the camp complex in which conditions varied substabntially: 1) the POW camp, 2) Aufenthaltslager (residence camp), 3) and Häftlingslager (prisoners camp).

POW camp (1940-45)

The Germans early in the War initially established the Bergen-Belsen Camp as a POW camp (1940). POW camps were administered the Wehrmacht. After the German victories in the West (May-June 1940), many French and Belgian POWs were detained their. Some of the Belgian POWs were repatriated, but not the French POWs. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Soviet POWs were transported to Bergen-Belsen. They were treated dufferently than the French and Belgian POWs. Many died because of the lack of food and shelter a deliberate NAZI action. The NAZIs treated the POWs from various countries very differently. NAZI rascist and colonial polices were the determining factors here. The treatment accorded to Polish and Russian POWs was nothing short of barbaric. With the failure of Barbarossa, however, the Germans began to realize that the Russians could help alieviate the developing labor shortage in what was proving to be a long war of attrition. The POW camp functioned as such until January 1945.

SS camps (1943-45)

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). 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 ans people died. It was nothing, however compaed to what ocurred in the final months of the War.

Concentration Camp

The NAZIs officially redesignated Bergen-Belsen a concentration camp (December 1944). It became an important collection camp because of its location. Thousands of surviving Jewish prisoners ere evacuated from camps in the east as the Red Army pushed into Poland. The NAZIs did not want the few Jews who survived the death camps to be found by the Soviets. Most of these Jewish prisoners were subjected to virtual dearh marches. Those that survived and reached Bergen-Belsen were in apauling conditions. There were about 22,000 prosoners (February 1945). Evacuees from the East swelld the camp rolls to 60,000 (April 1945). The NAZI authorities were unprepared for the influx. Adequate food was not provided and the cowding and inadequate shelter resulted in a typhus epidemic. Thousands of inmates died. Anne Frank was one of te Jews who died at Bergen-Belsen. Dhe died in March 1945 of typhus in this camp, only a month before the Brirish reached the Camp. Otherwise she might have been in the picture with the other children ....

Liberation (April 15, 1945)

Bergen-Belsen was the first of the major concentration camps liberated by the Western Allies. The British Second Army as Bergen-Belsen was in northern Germany liberated the camp (April 15). The situation in the camp was horific. The British Second army found 60,000 emaciated and dieing prisoners in apauling conditions. Among them were 10,000 unburied corpses and mass graves containing 40,000 more victims. [Baxter] Most condsidered this the height of inhumnity. At the time the Death Camps were larely unknown. The fact that the inmates wee mostly adult men should have led to questions. Bergen-Belsen at the time of liberation was a collection camp where sick inmates or the survivors of camps in the East and West were sent to keep them out of Allied hands. Unburied corpses were scattered all over the camp. Life stringer George Rodger was with the British when they entered the Camp. These were the first images of the NAZI camos to reach Americans and Brits who were shocked. The public already knew the NAZIs were evil, and reports of NAZI attrocities had been reported, but few people realized just how evil the NAZIs were. The Allies had liberated NAZI camps in France and the Low countries, but the NAZIs had managed o clean them out before the Allies arrived. Bergen-Belsen was the first NAZI Camp that they had been unavle to sanitize. Rodger was so horrified with what he saw at Bergen-Belsen that he could no longer work as awar corespondant. The sad thing is that Bergen-Belsen was hardly the worst camp. These had been the death camps in the East and Auschwitz. Here the NAZIs had closed the death camps and attempted to destoy the evidence that they had existed. Tragically about 10,000 emaciated inmates died in the days following liberation. All told about 50,000 people died at Bergen-Belsen. The British burned the camp barracks because of the apauling sanitary conditions and the raging typhus epedemic they found there.

Women Guards

Women guards were found at the Bergen-Belsen and made no attempt to escape. They had the silver threaded Aufseherin (female overseer or attendant) brassads. The first female guards were trained at Lichtenburg concentration camp (1938) and then the Ravensbrück camp. After tht they were transferred to other camps as needed. They were generally recrited from the lower classes. They appear to have had no idea that they activities would be considered illegal or even immoral. After the war, many of the females held by the Westrern Allies were ranking leaders of the League of German Girls. The Soviets tended to execute both SS males and females were executed when they liberated the camps. Some wre sent to the gulags. Relatively few of the female gurds were ever tried for their crimes.

NAZI Surrender (May 7, 1945)

The Wehrmacht by April 1945 was shatered and no longer able to offer effective resistance to the Allies. The Western Allies raced through Germany from the west during April 1945 as the Soviet Red Army surrounded Berlin. American and Soviet forces made the long anticipated link-up at the Elbe River on April 25. The Red Army fought a massive engagement to take Berlin. Hitler insisted that the SS and Wehrmacht forces in the city, reinforced by the Volkstrum (Hitler Youth boys and older men) fight so that he might live a few more days. As Red Army soldiers approached his bunker, Hitler shot himself and named Admiral Karl Doenietz as the new Führer. The last raid of the strategic vombing campaign took place on April 25 when the Skoda armament plant at Pilsen, Czechoslovakia were bombed. The American Air Corps began shifting to mercy missions. Flights were dispatched to feed civilians in northern Italy and the Netherlands who were near starvation. Priority was also given to evacuting prisonors of war (POWs). Doenitz ordered General Alfred Jodl to General Eisenhower' Headquarters--Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) detachment in Rheims to seek terms to end the fighting. Jodl signed the unconditional surrender of German forces on allfronts At 2:41 a.m. on May 7, which was to take effect on May 8 at 11:01 p.m. Thus NAZI Germany surrendered unconditionally, as President Roosevelt had insisted. Celebrations ensued throught Europe--except Germany. Ther were big official celebrations. There were also smaller neighborhood celebrations. In communities throughout britain there were outdoors banquets called block parties that were family celebrations. For many of the children it mean that daddy would soon be headed home.

Slave Labor

The problem of displaced persons was especially severe in Europe because a major support for the NAZI war effort was the use of slave labor. The NAZIs drafted most of the phsically fit adult male population and by the end of the war teenagers and old men. Because they refused to use married women in war industries, the only available source of labor was POWs and slave labor from occupied countries. Some workers from neutral countries like Spain were actually paid, but most of the labor was slave labor conscripted from occupied countries. Thus there were million of foreign workers brought into the Reich to work in factories, mines, and farms. Children were also involved because of the Holocaust and Lebenborn programs.

Displaced Persons Camp

As a result of the NAZI slave labor program, when the NAZIs surrendered (May 7, 1945) there were millions of foreign displaced persond (DPs) ers in the Reich from every country in Europe. Many were abused and mistreated and by the end of the war large number had persished. The Allies set up displaced persons camps to provide emergency assistance to the DPs as to help them return to their home countries. Some of the DP camps were established in former NAZI concentration camps. One of the most notable was the Jewish Camp set up in the former NAZI Bergen Belsen conentration camp.

Sources

Baxter, Ian. Belsen and Its Liberation: Rare Images from War Time Archives (2014), 160p.







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Created: 8:19 AM 2/1/2006
Last updated: 4:19 AM 8/5/2014



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