and Concentration Camps, Europe, June 1944 – May 1945

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60The Liberation of the Deathand Concentration Camps,Europe,June 1944 May 1945ANNIVERSARYTHAllied troops witness the horror of genocideSECOND WORLD WARNo.9The liberation of the deathand concentration campsDEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS, EUROPECover image: British soldier meets an Englishman, Louis Bonerguer, born in London. He was dropped by parachutein 1941 to work in the interior of Germany, but was caught and interned in Bergen-Belsen. 17 April 1945Bergen-Belsen is: Situated in the Lueneburg Heathregion of Germany 65km northwest of HanoverAuschwitz-Birkenau Memorial (today) is: Situated in the suburbs of Oswiecimin the Malopolskie province of Poland 59.5km west of KrakwKEY FACTSIWM BU 4002ParisBerlinHanoverBergen-BelsenDachauAuschwitzWarsawGERMANYPOLANDFRANCECZECHOSLOVAKIAAUSTRIAHUNGARYITALYGERMANYPOLANDLondon Warsaw RomeBerlincForeword by theUnder Secretary of State for Defenceand Minister for Veterans, Ivor Caplin MPThe act of commemoration serves not only as a way of respectingthose who fought and died, but also as a way of educating youngergenerations about the debt of gratitude we all owe those who enduredthe effects of war. The Second World War saw civilian struggle anddevastation on a scale without precedent in human history. This series of booklets sets out to give a detailed and lucid account ofsome of the key battles, operations and tragic episodes in the SecondWorld War. This ninth booklet, however, has a more poignant focus asit commemorates the liberation of the Nazis death and concentrationcamps which once stretched across the whole of Europe, from theChannel Islands to modern-day Ukraine. It recognises and respectsthose Service men and women and relief volunteers who went intothose camps to try and help the few who had survived. But mostof all, it commemorates the terrible suffering of the millions of peoplewho were victims of Nazi persecution and genocide.Some British prisoners of war (POWs), who were incarcerated in thesame camps, were forced to work in the factories of Auschwitz. Theysaw at first hand the terrible treatment of those forced into slave labourand did what they could to help them. On 27 January 2005, I willhave the honour of unveiling a plaque in memory of the 38 BritishPOWs who were killed at Auschwitz during air raids on the IG Farbenfactory. Later that day, I will join the British delegation attending theceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation ofAuschwitz. At the same time, thousands of our citizens, young andold, will be taking part in the United Kingdoms fifth National HolocaustMemorial Day and remembering all the victims of Nazi persecution. The Holocaust has provided us all with a terrible warning of what canhappen when ideologies of hate and prejudice take precedence overrespect for our fellow human beings.The systems that were constructed to carry it out are chilling and those whowere murdered, those who survived the ordeal, and those who carried theburden of liberating them must and will always be remembered.THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 1Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Partys leadershipof Germany resulted in a number of tragicoutcomes, the most serious of which were:the destruction of a democratic state and theestablishment of a dictatorship; the instigationof the Second World War, leading to thedevastation of Europe, and many otherparts of the world; genocide and the ruthlesspersecution of peoples and groups for politicaland unscientific racial ideals, the most seriousaspect being the almost total destructionof 2000 years of European Jewish life.Hitlers obsession with race was indicated fromthe start of his political career and his violentanti-Semitism was developed even earlier. In his1925 book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), writtenwhile he was in prison for attempting a politicalputsch, Hitler set out his political ideology, andat its very heart was the belief in Germansuperiority over others and the need to achievethat by the use of force. The Nazis became obsessed with the ideaof racial superiority and that the most importantfactor in the make-up of a nation was the bloodof its people. In accordance with their racialtheories, the Nazis established an idealisedracial scale, whereby all groups in societycould be categorised according to their race,which is carried on through blood.The Germans and other Europeans wereplaced at the top of the racial scale. SomeEuropeans, such as those from Eastern Europe,were put in the middle of the scale, and wereto be used as slaves. Others, specifically theJews, the Roma and black people, were atthe bottom of the scale these groups wereto be destroyed. Also to be destroyed, all bythe harshest means possible, were any groupsthat threatened the Nazi ideal and way of life,which included some groups of Germans, andany political or moral opposition. In order to achieve their aims, the Nazis believedthat all of society must be ordered and that allactions considered necessary could be used.The result was the virtual destruction of Europeand the murder of millions of civilians. Thegenocide of the Jews, now known as theHolocaust, was one of the most disturbingand far-reaching elements of the Nazi ideal.The presence of anti-Semitism in Europe wasnot new in the 1930s, but the systematic,state-organised, industrial killing of the Jewsof Europe and the attempt to eradicate anysign of their presence is an act unprecedentedin history. In order to achieve their aims, the Nazis believed that allof society must be ordered and that all actions considerednecessary could be used.| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS2The background to the death andconcentration campsTHE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 3The Nazi ideology and the road to genocideAt the centre of Hitlers racial ideology was hishatred of the Jews, who had lived in Germanyfor over 1500 years and who numbered lessthan 1 per cent of the total German population.Hitler, without any basis, accused the Jewsacross the world of inventing both capitalismand communism, and blame them for the FirstWorld War and the Russian Revolution. The Nazis immediately introduced a varietyof laws restricting the rights of German Jews.These restrictions included being barred fromcertain professions, having their movementsrestricted and being prevented from havingrelationships with non-Jews (including inprofessional circumstances). The most infamousof the laws were the Nuremberg Laws of 1935.The legal persecution developed over the yearsand many Jews tried without success to leaveGermany. On the night of 910 November1938, the Nazis carried out what is nowgenerally known as the Kristallnacht pogrom,the night of broken glass. It was a state-organised campaign of destruction againstthe Jews across the whole of Germany andAustria. 91 Jews were murdered and 30,000sent to concentration camps. Jewish propertywas destroyed and hundreds of synagogueswere burnt to the ground. After Hitlers invasionof the Sudetenland in 1938, and the CzechRepublic in 1939, and then his conquest ofwestern Poland later that year, over 3 millionmore Jews came under Nazi control.In Poland from 1939, Jews were persecuted andforced into ghettos. These places were intentionallyovercrowded, poorly sanitised and removedfrom the populations of non-Jews. Hundreds ofthousands died as a result of the conditions there.It was from the ghettos of Poland, and other areasof Eastern Europe, that Jews were transported byrail to the death and concentration camps. In Germany, Jews were segregated from theirneighbours and stripped of their belongingsand human rights. In 1940, Germany occupiedBelgium, the Netherlands, France, Denmarkand Norway. Jews in all these countries saveDenmark were also subject to severe restrictions.They were forced to wear the Star of David,and as their property and possessions were takenUSHMM 86838Germans pass by the broken shop window of a Jewish-owned business, 9 November 1938away they were taken to transit camps. From therethey too were taken to the camps in the east.Other groups who were persecuted from thestart because of the racial theory were theRoma and Sinti groups (Gypsies), who had firstarrived in Europe in the 13th century. Throughouttheir history in Europe, the Roma and Sinti hadbeen persecuted, with legal discrimination existingin many countries, including Germany. The Romaand Sinti were used by the Nazis for racialexperiments and were also designated as asocial.Thousands of Roma and Sinti were forcibly sterilisedand then later others were shot or sent to theconcentration and death camps.Another group persecuted on racial groundswas black people or those of mixed race.Although the black population of Europe wasrelatively small at the time, those who did livethere were treated harshly. In 1937, 500children of mixed race from the Alsace-Lorraineregion were taken away and forcibly sterilisedwithout their parents knowledge.Slavs were also designated as inferior andtheir lives were deemed to be dispensable.The Nazis intended to take control of theircountries and turn them into slave nations.The Nazis also believed that there wereGerman citizens who threatened Germanracial superiority. Consequently, in June 1933,the Nazis passed a law for the Prevention ofHereditary Diseased Offspring and 300,000men, women and children were forciblysterilised. When war started, Hitler orderedthe euthanasia programme. Children andadults who were in institutions and weredeemed to be incurable were sent to oneof six German hospitals, and between 1940and 1941 over 200,000 Germans werekilled. The programme was officially stoppedin 1941, after an outcry from the churchesand the German public.Other persecuted groups who were sent tocamps were homosexual men, JehovahsWitnesses, and political opponents.| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS4BerlinWesterborkGreat BritainIrelandDenmarkDenmarkNetherlandsNetherlandsFranceCroatiaSerbiaAlbaniaAlbaniaBulgariaTurkeyRomaniaHungarySlovakiaSlovakiaGreeceSardiniaCorsicaSpainItalySwitzerlandSwitzerlandGreaterGermanySwedenOccupiedEasternTerritorySoviet UnionNorwayTreblinkaChelmnoLodzMajdanekMajdanekTheresienstadtAuschwitzSobiborWarsawBelzecSalonikaSalonikaMechelenMechelenDrancyFossolidi CarpiBolzanoViennaMediterranean SeaBlackSeaAtlanticOceanNorthSeaBalticSeaFront lineJanuary 1944Front lineJanuary 1944RomeN0 400MilesGreater Germany andoccupied territoriesGerman allies ordependent statesNeutralcountriesAllies Extermination campsOther campsCityGhettoDeportation route Major deportations to extermination camps 194244USHMMIn 1932, Adolf Hitlers National SocialistGerman Workers or Nazi Party becamethe largest party elected to the GermanParliament. On 30 January 1933, Hitlerwas appointed Chancellor of Germany(a position comparable to that of the PrimeMinister of the UK). Immediately on reaching power, the Nazisintroduced a series of laws and measures thatestablished their permanency and removedpolitical opposition. Human rights wererestricted and, within months, the previouslydemocratic society showed the signs ofbecoming a police state.The backbone of the state system of control andoppression was the developing SS (Schutzstaffel,a protection squad made up of elite police andmilitary units) and the camp system. In March1933, Dachau concentration camp was opened it was a purpose-built camp and its firstinmates were political opponents of the Naziregime. Over the next 12 years, hundreds morecamps would be created.The camp system was a complex web of sites,each with specific purposes. The network ofcamps, that by 1945 would cover the wholeof Nazi Europe, was developed and supervisedby the SS, under the direct control of HeinrichHimmler. The camps ranged from the smallestof forced labour camps to the huge deathcamps in the east.The Nazi camps used for oppression andmurder are not the same as the prisoner ofwar camps (POW camps) created after thestart of the Second World War. In POWcamps, captured Allied military personnelwere to be removed from the war but treatedunder the provisions of the Geneva Convention.THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 5The camp systemIWM D825Himmler inspects Mauthausen camp, January 1941These places were harsh and restrictive, andmany Allied service personnel suffered in them.However, they are not to be compared withthe concentration camps although in somecases Allied, especially British, POWs didsee and experience some of the conditions ofthe concentration camps. For the Allied Soviettroops captured by the Nazis, the position wastragic. Their only experience after capture wasthe concentration and forced labour camps. AsSlavs, the Nazis refused to treat Soviet captivesunder the terms of the Geneva Convention.Camp types:Concentration camps Originally built asprison camps, these quickly became centresfor holding anyone not wanted by the Naziregime. Those sent there included politicaland religious opponents, anyone engagedin resistance, Jews, Roma and Sinti (Gypsies),homosexuals, Jehovahs Witnesses, SovietPOWs and others.Death (extermination) camps Camps builtwith the specific intention of murdering largegroups of civilians, primarily Jews.Slave labour camps Camps built to holdslave workers. These were usually built nextto the factories but could be part of a muchbigger camp. Special camps Camps built originally tohold people and groups that might be usefulfor exchange. Transit camps Holding centres where peoplewere gathered before being transported eastto the death camps. These were usually inWestern Europe.All the camps were sites of torture, persecutionand terror. Anyone sent to a camp could bebeaten or killed without reference to justice.Hundreds of thousands were killed in these placesbecause of the appalling treatment and conditions.| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS6San SabbaNatzweiler-StruthofBelzecBudzynChelmnoGreat BritainIrelandTurkeySpainSweden Soviet UnionTreblinkaGrini Berg (1942)Bredtveit (1942) VaivaraLagediKaiserwaldKloogaChelmnoGross-RosenDora-MittelbauStutthofWesterborkNeuengammeRavensbrueckSachsenhausen Bergen-BelsenVughtDachauBolzano MauthausenSan SabbaMechelenBreendonkHorseroedFlossenbuergAuschwitzSchabatzSajmisteNischSobiborStarachowiceTrawnikiJanowskaKoldichevoMajdanekSkarzysko-KamiennaBelzecBelzecBudzynPoniatowaPlaszowSalonikaDrancySchirmeck-VorbruckVittelNatzweiler-StruthofFuenfbrunnenCompiegneFossoli diCarpiGurs0 400MilesRivesaltesRegional boundariesJanuary 1944BlackSeaAtlanticOceanFront lineJanuary 1944Front lineJanuary 1944NBuchenwaldGreater Germany andoccupied territoriesGerman allies ordependent statesNeutralcountriesAllies Extermination camps Other campsUSHMMMajor Nazi camps in Europe, January 1944THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 7The Final Solution and the death campsSS Barracks and AdministrationPlawyRR toKatowiceAuschwitz II(Birkenau)Auschwitz Auschwitz III(Monowitz) 0MileAuschwitz subcamps1OswiecimDworyMonowiceDwory StationDworyRail YardSS War Industries(IG Farben)RR to KrakowBabitzOswiecimStationand Rail Yardc cBrzezinkaHarmenseBudyRajskoSS workshops andArmament Industries(DAW)RRtoPrague/ViennaRRtoKrakowVistulaSol aVistulaBielsko-BialaNUSHMMAuschwitz environs, summer 1944Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June1941, and each German army group wasaccompanied by an Einsatzgruppe (specialaction group) provided by the SS. The fourEinsatzgruppen rounded up and massacredJews, Communist officials and Gypsies. In oneweekend, at Babi Yar in the Ukraine, 33,771Jewish men, women and children were shotand thrown into a ravine. This method of killing,however, was time-consuming, a drain onresources and deemed to be unacceptable ifthe same thing was to occur in Western Europe.Despite this, over 1 million Jews were murderedby the Einsatzgruppen and their collaborators.On 20 January 1942, top Nazi bureaucratsmet to discuss how to solve the Jewish problem.The meeting was held at Wannsee in Berlin andlasted 90 minutes. It produced a document thatwas the plan for annihilation of European Jewry.It was decided that the SS would be in chargeof a Final Solution. Those Jews unfit for hardlabour would be murdered. Those fit for labourwould be worked to death, with men andwomen separated. Any of those fit whosurvived the slavery would then be murdered.No Jews in Europe were to be spared. The SS plan for the Final Solution was astructured one, with slave labourers beingtransported to where they were needed,and purpose-built annihilation camps or deathcamps. The death camps were all to be locatedin occupied Poland, near main railway lines.Staff at these camps would be able to kill largenumbers in comparative privacy, while removedfrom the actual process of death.The first death camp was established in 1941at Chelmno, and the second at the town ofBelzec near the ghettos of Lublin and Lvov.Dummy showers were built that would beBelzecs gas chambers. A third death camp was established at Sobibor,also near Lublin, in early 1942. A fourth deathcamp was built at Treblinka, near a railway linefrom Warsaw. All four camps used a petrolengine to generate carbon monoxide gas forthe gas chambers. The Jews taken to these camps would be rushedthrough a process of undressing and depositingvaluables; and would then be moved into thegas chamber. Initially the corpses were buried intrenches outside, but from late 1942 they wereincinerated in open fires and the ashes buried.By the middle of 1943, these four death campswere closed, their work done. It is estimatedthat 1.7 million people were killed in the fourcamps in under two years. Two other death camps continued the work:Majdanek and the most notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau. Auschwitz was originally built as aconcentration camp for Polish political prisoners.It was later expanded to include some POWs.Factories were also built as part of the campcomplex, to be operated by slave labour.The Birkenau section was a huge deathcamp. Zyklon-B gas was used as the killingagent. It was already available from chemicalfactories as an insecticide, and could be easilytransported. It meant that thousands of peoplecould be killed at once.At Birkenau, murder was industrialised.The victims belongings were recycled foruse in Germany. Even their dead bodieswere searched and gold teeth were extractedfor melting down. At least 1.1 million Jewswere murdered there. At its most terriblyefficient, Auschwitz-Birkenau could killover 10,000 people a day. In the slave labour camps of Auschwitz wasa section meant to produce synthetic fuels,but mainly a sort of synthetic rubber calledbuna. The buna plant was built with slavelabour drawn from the concentration camp,as well as British POWs sent from Stalag(POW camp) VIII B.Using British POWs to work in the Germanchemical industry was, the Germans said, nota violation of the laws of war since chemicalscould be used for peaceful as well as militarypurposes. At Auschwitz, the British POWsdiscovered that the German armed forcesallowed some of their fellow POWs whowere Jewish to be moved from POW campsto the concentration camps. Royal Navysurgeon Karel Sperber, they discovered, wasin the grey-striped uniform of the concentrationcamp inmates while working in the slave labourcamps hospital.British POWs who worked at the bunafactory were able to witness the horror theJewish victims experienced. They also triedto help them in small ways. When possible,they subsisted on their Red Cross parcels,leaving their German rations for the prisonerson the other side of the electrified fence,and passing cigarettes from their Red Crossparcels across the wire, where they becamecurrency the Jews could use to buy food. I myself have two scars onmy face, i.e. chin and lefteyebrow, for giving a youngJewish [inmate], 13 years old,a hand to get to his feet afterfalling down through weakness.The SS guard shot him andrifle-butted me in the face. British ex-POW Frank Harris| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS8British POWs tried to complain to the RedCross about the treatment of the concentrationcamp inmates. The deportation of people to Auschwitz andother concentration camps was a significantload on Germanys railway system. Yet at a timewhen Germanys armed forces were fighting onthree fronts, and its troops were desperate forsupplies, Auschwitz received its largest numberof victims. The desire to kill Jews was moreimportant than winning the war in Europe.The Western Allies bombed the buna factoryat Auschwitz, and briefly considered bombingthe death camp as well. The explosionskilled many, including 38 British POWs. Thediscussion as to whether the bombing should orshould not have happened remains contentious,and will continue to be so. The Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on27 January 1945. An attempt had been madeto destroy all the camps records, and about60,000 prisoners able to walk were forciblymarched westwards by the Nazis, away fromthe advancing Soviet troops. Many of thosewho survived the death marches were internedin a former transit camp, the Bergen-Belsenconcentration camp in northern Germany.After Auschwitz, I was in aBuchenwald concentrationcamp sub-camp, in Leipzig.On April 12, we were put ontothe road for our death marchwhich lasted for 11 days. Wehad to move the wooden trucksonto which the German guardsput their belongings. We hadno food at all during the pastten days. It was still snowing. Iwas barefoot, had a sleevelessflannel shirt on covered with athreadbare striped jacket. Weslept on the frozen ground.On April 22, a horse wasslaughtered in front of us and we were thrown pieces ofraw horsemeat. We also hadto queue up for a handfulof uncooked rice. As I haddysentery again and my teethwere falling out as my gumscouldnt hold them, the ricejust went through me.The next morning I collapsed. Iknew it was the end for me butI did not mind any more. Twoguards came and shouted at meto get up, I couldnt. They buttedme with their guns and thenone of them said: Oh, leaveher, she is not worth a bulletany more, and they left me. Trude LeviTHE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 9Bergen-Belsen was not intended to be adeath camp. It had been used as a specialconcentration camp for Jews whom the SS feltmight be used as hostages and exchangedfor German prisoners, money or equipment. From the summer of 1944, conditions inBergen-Belsen rapidly deteriorated as Jewsfrom the outlying eastern camps began to betransported there. Early in 1945, the survivorsof the death marches from other concentrationcamps were also packed into Bergen-Belsen.By February 1945, there were 22,000. ByApril, there were 60,000. At least one soldierof the British Special Air Service was imprisonedin the camp.Bergen-Belsens commandant, SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer (Captain) Josef Kramer,knew his camp was filled to overflowing, butmade no effort to draw on nearby Germanmilitary bakery facilities for additional food.Washing facilities were non-existent, andtyphus, a virulent lice-borne disease, wasrampant. Days before liberation, the waterwas turned off.As the Allies moved across Europe, theyhad each agreed to cover certain areasfor liberation. But those Allied troops in thewest were not aware of what they would find.On 7 April 1945, as British forces nearedBergen-Belsen, the head of the Reich SecurityMain Office, the Gestapos parent organisation,ordered all inmates of Bergen-Belsen to bemurdered. The following day, after pressurefrom Sweden, Himmler rescinded the order.From 10 April, the inmates were given neitherfood nor water.| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS10Bergen-Belsen and liberationA general view of Bergen-Belsen camp after liberation by the British Army, April 1945IWM BU 3764THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 11It was about 5pm on15 April when the miracleactually happened: the firstBritish tank rolled into the camp.We were liberated! No onewho was in Belsen will everforget that day. We did notgreet our liberators with shoutsof joy. We were silent. Silentwith incredulity and maybe justa little suspicion that we mightbe dreaming. Anita Lasker-WallfischOn 12 April 1945, the German commanderin the district surrendered. Over the next daysmost of the camps SS guards crept away. On 15 April, Intelligence Corps and Royal Artillerysoldiers entered the camp. Ten thousand unburiedcorpses lay there. Because no new latrines hadbeen dug, human excrement was everywhere.Every day 500 more victims would die of typhus.More died when their digestive systems failed tocope with the food they were given.Three weeks later another large camp, atNeuengamme near Hamburg, was liberatedby the British. Feeding the liberated prisonerswas difficult in the ensuing weeks. The BritishLiberation Army drew on local resources, andrelief agencies sent food from Great Britain;but caring for the prisoners continued to bedifficult. The British Army initially sent a CasualtyClearing Station, a Light Field Ambulance anda Field Hygiene Section. Then the Army set upa hospital at Bergen-Belsen which rapidlybecame the largest hospital in Europe. Medicalstudents were sent from Great Britain to helpcare for the sick. Teams from the British RedCross and the Medical Research Council, andboth Jewish and Quaker relief teams, arrivedto assist. However, 9000 inmates died by theend of April, and 4000 more in May. British soldiers supervise the distribution of food to inmates of Bergen-Belsen camp, April 1945IWM BU 4242As soon as possible, we weretransferred to the tank trainingschool six kilometres awayfor delousing and then tomakeshift hospitals, whereGerman doctors and nurseswere made to look after us.I was unconscious for 10days after we were liberated.Two days after I regainedconsciousness, on 27 April,my mother died aged 42 andwas buried in a mass grave,together with the thousands ofothers who died from starvationand disease after the liberation. Rene SaltThe remaining SS staff were made to collectbodies for burial. Germans living locally werebrought to the camp to watch the burials,forced to view the horror that had takenplace on their own doorstep, designed bytheir own countrymen.The soldiers of British Second Army wholiberated Bergen-Belsen had seen the horrorsof war. Some had been fighting almostcontinuously since 1942. They had heard ofsome Nazi atrocities, yet the task of bulldozingthousands of bodies into mass graves andwatching liberated women and childrendie of the food they had provided causedpsychological casualties amongst the liberators.As we walked down the mainroadway of the camp we werecheered by the internees, andfor the first time we saw theircondition. A great many ofthem were little more thanliving skeletons with haggardyellowish faces There weremen and women lying in heapson both sides of the track.Others were walking slowly andaimlessly a vacant expressionon their starved faces. Report by Brigadier Taylor-Balfour, Chiefof Staff, British VIII Corps, Bergen-BelsenA British Army bulldozer is used to push bodies intoa mass grave at Bergen-Belsen camp, April 1945IWM BU 4093| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS12The camp itself was so infested with disease-carrying lice that it posed a public health hazard.The inmates were evacuated to nearby barracksand villages. Between 19 and 21 May, theempty camp was burned to the ground byRoyal Engineers equipped with flame-throwers.The camp was later established as aDisplaced Persons Camp.Bergen-Belsen was not a designated deathcamp. Yet as at so many of the hundreds ofNazi concentration camps and thousands ofsub-camps, thousands of people died there.In fighting to liberate Bergen-Belsen, and goingon to liberate the rest of Germany, the Allieswere fighting a war which brought the horrorof the camps to light.THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 13The burning down of the last hut at Bergen-Belsencamp, 21 May 1945IWM BU 6674It was then that [Senior JewishChaplain to British Second ArmyLeslie] Hardman appeared. Istretched out my hand to greet himand he fell on my neck and weptlike a babe. The people round mesaw it and joined in the weepingand I had to take him aside andmake him pull himself together.He is not hysterical, he is tiredand should go away for a whilebut he refuses to move. He feelsthat he must stay and bring aword of comfort to these people.He talks of the horrors that theyhave suffered and I can seethat each word is spelt in blood. Isaac Levy, Senior Jewish Chaplain,British Liberation ArmyTyphus cases numbers difficultto assess. ADMS 11 Armd Divstates that he was told there were300 cases in hutted camp butbelieves there to be more. 54cases are in the local hospitalrecent death rate was very highas high as 300400 per day. Report by Capt J W Gray, GHQ LiaisonRegt, Bergen-Belsen, 15 April 1945| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS14Never shall I forgetNever shall I forget that night,The first night in campWhich has turned my life into one long night,Seven times cursed and seven times sealed.Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the childrenWhose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smokeBeneath a silent blue skyNever shall I forget those flames Which consumed my faith forever.Never shall I forget that nocturnal silenceWhich deprived me for all eternity of thedesire to live.Never shall I forget those moments Which murdered my God and my soulAnd turned my dreams to dust.Never shall I forget these things,Even if I am condemned to liveAs long as God Himself.Never Elie WieselElie Wiesel was born in Hungary in 1928.All his family were killed in the Holocaust.After liberation he moved to France and thenthe USA. He has written a number of booksand poems and received the Nobel Prizefor Literature in 1986.Camp liberationDeath camps:Belzec, Sobibor and Treblinka were allclosed by the Nazis in 1943Auschwitz-Birkenau,27 January 1945 Soviet forcesMajdanek, July 1944 Soviet forcesChelmno, 17 January 1945 Nazis abandon thecamp and Soviet forces arrive days laterConcentration camps:Lager Sylt Alderney (Channel Islands, UK),closed by the Nazis in June 1944Natzweiler-Struthof (France), closed by the Nazis in August 1944 Bergen-Belsen (Germany), 15 April 1945 British forcesBuchenwald (Germany),11 April 1945 American forcesDachau (Germany),April 1945 American forcesMauthausen (Austria),6 May 1945 American forcesSachsenhausen (Germany),April 1945 Soviet forcesRavensbrueck (Germany),April 1945 Soviet forcesStutthof (Germany),May 1945 Soviet forcesTheresienstadt (Czech Republic), 8 May 1945KEY FACTSTHE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 15Prisoners at Dachau celebrate their liberation by US troops, 30 April 1945IWM EA 65160In total, 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.At least one and a half million were children.Over 300,000 Roma and Sinti were alsomurdered as a result of Nazi race policy, and millions ofother people, including religious groups, ethnic minoritiesand homosexuals became the victims of Nazi persecution.| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS16SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Kramer and 44 other NaziSS guards who had been in charge of Bergen-Belsen camp were tried by a British military courtat Lueneburg. The trial lasted from 17 Septemberto 17 November 1945. The prosecutioncase was based on the grounds that Alliednationals who had been captured by surrenderor extradition or otherwise, had been killed there.The prosecution council established that theactions constituted war crimes. Thirty of those ontrial were found guilty. Those sentenced to deathappealed to the convening officer, Field MarshalMontgomery. All the appeals for clemencywere rejected. Ten, including Kramer, the campdoctor and female SS leaders, were hanged on13 December 1945. The other 20 found guiltywere sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment.Many of the leading Nazis and their collaboratorsmanaged to escape the Allies. Rudolf Hoess,commandant of Auschwitz camp, was capturedby the British and extradited to Poland, where hewas sentenced to death and hanged in 1947.Others, such as Hitler and Himmler, committedsuicide to avoid capture.In October 1943, the Allied leaders hadagreed that major war criminals would betried in a joint trial by all the Allied nations.The International Military Tribunal (IMT) openedin October 1945 in Nuremberg.The IMT tried 22 major war criminals on chargesof conspiracy, crimes against peace, war crimes,and crimes against humanity. Twelve of thoseconvicted were sentenced to death, seven weregiven prison terms and three were acquitted.A further 12 trials were conducted under the IMT,including those of doctors who had carried outexperiments, and the SS and German industrialistswho had benefited from slave labour.The IMT created the precedent for the establishmentof international tribunals and was the forerunner ofthe recently created International Criminal Court.In 1948, the United Nations passed aConvention on Genocide, citing it as a crime thatmust be acted on by the international community.The process of bringing war criminals to justicecontinues to the present day.War crimes trialsA liberated Russian slave labourer points out a Nazi guard who had beaten prisoners, summer 1945IWM EA 62817THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 17Bergen-Belsen camp officials face British justice, 18 September 1945HU 62379The Bergen-Belsen trialThe British Military Court sat at 30Lindenstrasse, Lueneburg, Germany.PresidentMajor-General H P M Berney-FicklinMembersBrigadier A de L CazenoveColonel G W J RichardsLieutenant-Colonel R B MorrishLieutenant-Colonel R McLayDeputy Judge Advocate GeneralC L StirlingCouncil for the ProsecutionColonel T M BackhouseLieutenant-Colonel L J GennCouncil for the Prosecution (continued)Major H G Murton-NealeCaptain S M StewartCouncil for the DefenceMajor T C M WinwoodMajor A S MunroMajor L S W CranfieldMajor C BrownCaptain D F RobertsCaptain J H FieldenCaptain E W CorballyCaptain A H NeaveCaptain J R PhillipsCaptain J M BoydCaptain D E MunroLieutenant A JedrzejowiczKEY FACTS KEY FACTS| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS18The George Cross is the British realms highestaward for acts of the greatest heroism not underenemy fire and of the most conspicuous couragein circumstances of extreme danger. The GeorgeCross is worn before all other decorations exceptthe Victoria Cross.The George Cross was instituted by a RoyalWarrant dated 24 September 1940. Thedecoration consists of a plain silver cross, withthe Royal cipher GVI in the angle of eachlimb. In the centre is a circular medallionshowing St George and the dragon,surrounded by the inscription For Gallantry.The reverse is plain and bears the name ofthe recipient and the date of the award. Since its inception, the George Cross has beenawarded 156 times. In addition to the directawards there have been 245 exchanges frompre-existing gallantry awards. The 108 livingrecipients and the next of kin of a further fourposthumous recipients of the Empire GallantryMedal exchanged their decoration for the GeorgeCross. In 1971, surviving holders of the AlbertMedal and Edward Medal were also invited toexchange their decoration for the George Cross.Including exchanges, the total number of GeorgeCrosses awarded to date is 401. The youngestdirect recipient was 15 years old and the oldestwas 61 years old. As well as individuals, Maltaand the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) havebeen awarded the George Cross.113 members of the British and Commonwealthforces were awarded the George Cross duringthe Second World War.ASSISTANT SECTION OFFICERNOOR-UN-NISA INAYAT-KHAN Womens Auxiliary Air Force, secondedto the Womens Transport Service (FirstAid Nursing Yeomanry) and SpecialOperations ExecutiveExtract from the George Cross citation:Assistant Section Officer Inayat-Khan wasthe first woman operator to be infiltratedinto enemy-occupied France, and landedon 16 June 1943. During the weeksimmediately following her arrival, the Gestapomade mass arrests in the Paris Resistancegroups to which she had been detailed. Afterthree months, she was betrayed and imprisonedin the Gestapo HQ, and she remained there forseveral weeks. Assistant Section Officer Inayat-Khan was sent to Karlsruhe in November 1943,and then to Pforsheim. She was interrogated butrefused to give any information whatsoever,either on her work or on her colleagues. Shewas taken to Dachau camp on 12 September1944. On arrival, she was taken to thecrematorium and shot.LIEUTENANT COMMANDER PATRICKO'LEARY (REAL NAME: ALBERT GUERISSE)Royal Navy and Special Operations ExecutiveExtract from the George Cross citation:Lieutenant Commander OLeary was capturedin April 1941. He escaped and set up anorganisation to help evaders. Through hisskill and his sustained personal bravery,the organisation succeeded. In March 1943,he was arrested and put to many forms oftorture, in an attempt to make him revealthe names, whereabouts and duties of theother members. The Germans sent him toMauthausen, Natzweiler, Neubremm andfinally Dachau. Throughout his time in prison,Lieutenant Commander OLearys couragenever faltered. From the time of inceptionGeorge Cross citationsTHE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 19until the end of the war, LieutenantCommander OLearys group was responsiblefor the rescue and successful return of over600 British and American officers and men.MRS ODETTE SANSOM Womens Transport Service (First AidNursing Yeomanry) and Special OperationsExecutiveExtract from the George Cross citation:Mrs Sansom was infiltrated into enemy-occupiedFrance and worked with great courage anddistinction until April 1943, when she wasarrested with her Commanding Officer. On theway to the prison at Fresnes, she succeeded inspeaking to her Commanding Officer and formutual protection they agreed to maintain thatthey were married. She adhered to this storyand succeeded in convincing her captors. Bythis action she caused the Gestapo to ceasepaying attention to her Commanding Officer.In addition, the Gestapo were determined todiscover the whereabouts of a wireless operatorand another British officer. Mrs Sansom refusedto speak and not only saved the lives of the twoofficers but also enabled them to carry on theirvaluable work.ENSIGN VIOLETTE SZABO Womens Transport Service (First Aid NursingYeomanry) and Special Operations ExecutiveExtract from the George Cross citation:Madame Szabo was parachuted into Francein April 1944, and was twice arrested by theGerman security authorities, but each timemanaged to get away. Eventually, with othermembers of her group, she was surroundedby the Gestapo in a house in the south-westof France. Resistance appeared hopeless,but Madame Szabo, seizing a Sten gunand as much ammunition as she could carry,barricaded herself in part of the house, and,exchanging shot for shot with the enemy, killedor wounded several of them. By constantmovement she avoided being cornered andfought until she dropped exhausted. She wasarrested and continuously and atrociouslytortured, but never by word or deed gave awayany of her acquaintances, or told the enemyanything of value. She was ultimately executed.ACTING WING COMMANDER FORESTYEO-THOMASRoyal Air Force Volunteer Reserveand Special Operations ExecutiveExtract from the George Cross citation:Acting Wing Commander Yeo-Thomasparachuted into France on 25 February1943. He enabled a French officer whowas being followed to reach safety and tookcharge of a US officer who had been shotdown. This officer returned to England on15 April 1943 in the aircraft that alsopicked up Wing Commander Yeo-Thomas.He undertook a second mission on17 September 1943 and returned to Englandon 15 November, bringing British intelligencearchives with him. He parachuted into Franceagain in February 1944, was betrayed on21 March, and was confined in Fresnes prisonfor four months. On 17 July, he was sent toCompiegne prison and was then transferredto Buchenwald. In attempting to escape, hewas picked up and transferred to a campnear Marienburg. On 16 April 1945, he ledan escape. He continued alone for a weekand was recaptured. A few days later heescaped to the American lines. He enduredbrutal treatment and torture and showedfortitude and devotion to duty throughouthis service abroad.| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS20There were thousands of camps across Europe,many of which are now untraceable. In someof the key sites, however, aspects of thecamps have been preserved and museumsand education centres operate. This is thecase at Auschwitz, Dachau, Mauthausen,Theresienstadt and a few others. Theseplaces receive thousands of visitors a year.In many places such as Sobibor andTreblinka the camps were destroyed bythe retreating Nazis to hide their crimes. Inplaces such as Bergen-Belsen, the Allies burntcamps to the ground because of health risks.At the sites that were destroyed, monumentsstand now to those who were murdered. AtBergen-Belsen, huge monuments stand overeach of the mass graves, with the individualvictims names unknown. In the last 20 years,there has been a greater effort to mark siteswhere victims of the Nazis were murdered.Some of the larger sites, such as Belzec,are currently being excavated to learnmore and to preserve the memory of thosewho perished.New memorials are being erected in townsand countryside right across Europe in memoryof the millions who were killed for no reasonbut existing. But the culture that was lost, andthe way of life that was destroyed for millions,will never be recovered.The Holocaust is a terrible warning of whatcan happen when ideologies of hate andprejudice take precedence over respect forfellow human beings.Bergen-Belsen memorialG BBThe camps todayTHE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 2163 Anti-Tank Regiment (Oxfordshire Yeomanry)113 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery1575 Artillery Platoon Royal Army ServiceCorps att. 113 Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment35 Pioneer Group32 Casualty Clearing Station35 Casualty Clearing Station30 Field Hygiene Section76 Field Hygiene Section 11 Light Field Ambulance163 Field Ambulance9 (British) General Hospital29 (British) General Hospital81 (British) General Hospital30 Field Transfusion Unit7 Field Transfusion Unit22 Field Transfusion Unit7 Mobile Bacteriological Laboratory104 Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit314 Mobile Laundry and Bath UnitBath Unit Section 8 CorpsBath Unit Section 11 Armoured DivisionBath Unit Section 6 Airborne DivisionBath Unit Section 15 (Scottish) Division10 Displaced Persons Camp Staff3 Military Government Inland Depot224 Military Government Detachment618 Military Government Detachment904 Military Government Detachment908 Military Government DetachmentSix British Red Cross teams, medical studentsfrom the London hospitals, Medical ResearchCouncil nutritional teams, and both Jewishand Quaker relief teams arrived later to assist.HQ 10 Garrison (subsequently relieved by 2 Control Section (later 102 Control Section))Bergen-Belsen List of British units known to havebeen involved in liberating the camp and in theprovision of subsequent humanitarian assistance(15 April to 8 June 1945)| THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS22Fourth National Holocaust Memorial Day, Belfast, 27 January 2004Harrison PhotographyUK National Holocaust Memorial DayThe UK National Holocaust Memorial Day iscommemorated on 27 January, the anniversaryof the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.Holocaust Memorial Day helps to ensurethat the horrendous crimes against humanitycommitted during the Holocaust and subsequentgenocides are never forgotten. Its purpose is toteach each new generation the lessons of rightsand responsibilities in a just and tolerant society. The first national event in the UK was held in2001 at Westminster Central Hall; addresseswere given by the Prime Minister and theChief Rabbi, and HRH The Prince of Waleslit the first memorial candle on behalf of thenation. Subsequent national events have beenheld in Manchester, Edinburgh and Belfast.The fifth UK National Holocaust MemorialDay commemoration in 2005 will beheld in Westminster Hall in the Palace ofWestminster. The event will be attendedby HM The Queen and HRH The Duke ofEdinburgh. Earlier The Queen will host areception at St Jamess Palace for survivorsof Nazi death camps.THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS | 23GlossaryAlliesAuschwitz-BirkenauBelzecBergen-BelsenBuchenwaldChancellorDachauDrancyEinsatzgruppenFinal SolutionGenocideGestapoHimmler, Heinrich Twenty-six nations, led by Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union,that joined in war against Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy and Japan (knownas the Axis powers).Largest Nazi camp, located 37 miles west of Krakw, Poland.Established in 1940 as a concentration camp, it included a killingcentre at Birkenau, built in 1942, and IG Farbens slave labour camp,known as Buna-Monowitz.Extermination camp in eastern Poland. Established in 1942.Earlier functioned as a slave labour camp.Camp in northern Germany. Transformed from a prisoner-exchangecamp into a concentration camp in March 1944.Concentration camp in north-central Germany. Established in July 1937.One of the largest concentration camps with more than 130 satelliteslave labour camps.Chief (prime) minister of Germany and head of the government. First concentration camp, established in March 1933 near Munich,Germany.Located near Paris. The largest transit camp for the deportation of Jewsfrom France.Mobile units of SS and SD (Security Service) that followed Germanarmies into the Soviet Union in June 1941.Refers to the final solution to the Jewish question in Europe. Nazi codefor the physical destruction of European Jews.Deliberate, systematic destruction of a racial, cultural or political group.In German, Geheime Staatspolizei (the secret state police).Reich leader of the SS from 1929 to 1945. During the Second WorldWar, he was responsible for carrying out the Final Solution. Himmlercommitted suicide before he could be brought to trial. | THE LIBERATION OF THE DEATH AND CONCENTRATION CAMPS24Hitler, Adolf Jehovahs WitnessesMajdanek-LublinMauthausenNazi PersecutionRavensbrueckSSTheresienstadtTreblinkaLeader of the Nazi Party, Chancellor of Germany from January 1933to April 1945. He annexed Austria in 1938 and invaded Polandin September 1939, forcing France and Britain to declare war onNazi Germany. Hitler committed suicide in Berlin in April 1945.Religious sect that originated in the United States and hadmembers in Germany in 1933 who were persecuted asenemies of the state.Camp near Lublin in eastern Poland. At first a labour camp for Polesand POW camp for Soviets, it was a concentration camp from April1943 to July 1944.Concentration camp for men opened in August 1938 near Linz inUpper Austria.Short term for the National Socialist German Workers Party, a right-wingand nationalistic political party formed in 1919 and headed byAdolf Hitler from 1921 to 1945.Act of causing others to suffer, especially those who differ in backgroundor lifestyle or hold different political or religious beliefs.Concentration camp for women opened in May 1939, 56 miles northof Berlin. Inmates included political prisoners, Jews, Gypsies, andJehovahs Witnesses.In German, Schutzstaffel. Protection squad units formed in 1925 asHitlers personal bodyguard. The SS was later organised by HeinrichHimmler and provided staff for police, camp guards and military units(Waffen-SS) serving with the German army.German name for the Czech town of Terezin, located about 40 miles fromPrague. Nazis used the Theresienstadt ghetto, established in November1941, as a model Jewish settlement to show Red Cross investigatorshow well Jews were being treated, but, in fact, thousands died there.Extermination camp about 50 miles north-east of Warsaw. Upto 750,000 Jews and at least 2,000 Gypsies were killed atTreblinka between July 1942 and November 1943.Bergen-Belsen camp, May 1945AcknowledgementsDr Aryeh Nusbacher, Department of War Studies, Royal Military Academy SandhurstMs Paula Kitching, Senior Consultant, Department for Education and SkillsCommonwealth War Graves CommissionConfederation of British Service and Ex-Service Organisations (COBSEO)Imperial War MuseumThe Victoria Cross and George Cross AssociationUS Holocaust Memorial MuseumVeterans AgencyThe National ArchivesPoetry in the text taken from Holocaust Poetry, compiled and introduced by Hilda Schiff,Quill Press, 2002Photography and mapsPhotography reproduced with the permission of the Imperial War Museum,US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Getty Images, Gedenksttte Bergen-Belsen, HarrisonPhotography and Holocaust Memorial Day Team Belfast. Crown copyright 2005. Designed and produced by COI, January 2005. IWM C 4668A nation that forgets its past has no future. These words by Winston Churchill could not be more aptto describe the purpose of this series of booklets, of which this is the ninth. These booklets commemorate various Second World War actions,and aim not only to remember and commemorate those whosuffered, fought and died, but also to remind future generationsof the debt they owe to their forebears, and the inspiration that can be derived from their stories. They will help those growing up now to be awareof how these events have affected the way of life weenjoy today, and in the future.


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