What happened to the survivors?

8.1 USHMM 30415 survviors tent city Bergen Belsen CC.jpg
Survivors' tent city at Bergen-Belsen after liberation.
© 2012 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

By 1945 the Nazis had murdered six million Jews. 

For many of the survivors within mainland Europe, the defeat of Germany did not bring instant freedom. Some of the liberated camp survivors were so disease-ridden and weakened by lack of food that they died after liberation.

There were 10 million refugees in Europe at the end of the war. Many of them were forced labourers as well as camp inmates. The Red Cross and other relief organisations did all they could to help send these victims home. The situation for Jews was far more difficult. Many of them did not have homes, families or communities to go back to.

As the German army began to retreat westwards during the last months of the war, prisoners were marched and transported to camps in Germany and Austria. The Germans still wanted to exploit Jewish slave labour from the concentration camps and wanted to make sure that there were no witnesses to their crimes. The death marches often lasted for weeks at a time and resulted in thousands of deaths.

As the Allies fought their way across Europe, they discovered the concentration and death camps. Although they had had reports about the Nazi treatment of Jews across Europe they were not prepared for what they were about to witness.