- What was the Holocaust?
- Memories of pre-war life
- The Nazi rise to power
- The Nazification of Germany
- The Nazi impact on Europe
- The Nazi camp system
- The Final Solution
- How did the world respond?
- Survival and legacy
A view of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after the liberation of the camp.
© 2015 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The British Army liberated Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945.
The liberators were totally unprepared to deal with the appalling situation they had discovered.
Most of the 60,000 inmates were in a critical condition. During the next five days, 14,000 died, and in the following weeks, a further 14,000 fell victim to the conditions to which they had previously been subjected.
A displaced person’s camp housing in excess of 12,000 survivors, was established by the British liberators in the former German military school barracks. Bergen-Belsen displaced persons' camp, remained in existence until 1951.
After evacuating Bergen-Belsen, the British forces burned down the whole camp to prevent the spread of typhus.
Forty-eight former members of the camp staff were arrested and tried by the British.
Eleven were sentenced to death, including camp commandant Josef Kramer. They were executed on 12 December 1945.
During 1940 the German military established Bergen-Belsen camp as a prisoner of war camp. The camp was located south of the towns of Bergen and Belsen, about 11 miles north of Celle in Germany.
In April 1943, the SS took over part of the camp and converted it into a concentration camp to house persons who had been identified as people who could be exchanged for German nationals held in Allied countries. Jewish prisoners from Buchenwald and Natzweiler were used to build the camp.
Bergen-Belsen’s first commandant, Adolf Haas, was succeeded, on 2 December 1944, by the brutal Josef Kramer.
By the autumn of 1944, five ‘satellite camps’ had been established:
Of the Jews sent to Bergen-Belsen, very few were set free. One group of 222 Jews reached Palestine after leaving Bergen-Belsen on 10 July 1944. The second group left the camp in two parts - in August and December 1945, the Kasztner transport was sent to Switzerland. Finally, on 25 January 1945, 136 Jews with South American passports reached Switzerland.
From March 1944, Bergen-Belsen gradually became a concentration camp. The Germans initially began transferring, from other camps, prisoners they classified as ‘unfit to work’. As more transports arrived from Flossenbürg, Gross-Rosen, Ravensbrück, Neuengamme, Mauthausen, and Buchenwald concentration camps, the prisoners were housed in the former ‘prisoners' camp’. German convicts, transferred from Dora, served as ‘block elders’ and Kapos. They treated other inmates brutally.
In August 1944, a women's camp was added. In October 1944 women from Plaszow and Auschwitz were sent to Bergen-Belsen, among them were Anne Frank and her sister Margot.
At the end of 1944 and early in 1945, a complete deterioration of living conditions set in as thousands of survivors of death marches began to arrive at the camp. The large numbers arriving at the camp soon overwhelmed the meagre resources available. The camp administration did not attempt to house them. Serious overcrowding and a lack of sanitary facilities resulted in the break-out of a typhus epidemic. From January to mid-April 1945, some 35,000 prisoners died due to typhus, starvation and the terrible conditions within the camp.