Bergen-Belsen memorial 75 years after liberation 150420 CREDIT PA
WWII

Survivors Recall Horrors Of Bergen-Belsen 75 Years After Liberation

The camp was the first to be liberated by British forces - one survivor said she is "grateful forever".

Bergen-Belsen memorial 75 years after liberation 150420 CREDIT PA

Warning: some people may find the contents of this article distressing.

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen have been describing the horrors they witnessed there, 75 years on since the camp was liberated by British forces.

An estimated 60,000 people died at the camp under Nazi rule, and a further 14,000 of the 60,000 prisoners found by the British were so frail they died in the weeks after.

The first camp to be liberated by British troops, the horror of Belsen was on such a scale that the BBC initially refused to broadcast the full report by journalist Richard Dimbleby for fear of distressing listeners.

Footage of the piles of dead bodies left outside the camp’s wooden huts soon followed Mr Dimbleby’s report, revealing to the British public for the first time the reality of the Nazis' "final solution".

The broadcaster said he had "passed through the barrier and found myself in the world of nightmare".

Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, 94, was an inmate at Auschwitz before being crammed on a train to Belsen with 3,000 others as the Red Army marched on the notorious extermination camp.

"People always ask me: 'Was Belsen better or was it worse than Auschwitz?' It was just different," she said.

"Belsen was not an extermination camp.

"In Auschwitz people were murdered in the most sophisticated manner, in Belsen they didn’t need that.

"In Belsen you just simply perished. That was the difference between the two camps."

She added: "Belsen became so overcrowded that they just gave up. The Germans just gave up. They just left us there to die.

"It was total chaos. The end of the world."

Women gathered at Bergen-Belsen 150420 NATIONAL ARMY MUSEUM
Sixty-thousand prisoners were discovered at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 by British forces (Picture: National Army Museum).

Bergen-Belsen, situated between Hamburg and Hannover in northern Germany, was liberated by the British Army on 15 April 1945 as troops advanced through north-west Europe.

A Royal Navy pilot, who was fluent in German, was called in by the Army to help translate at the camp.

Lieutenant Eric Brown, who died in 2016, said he had never seen "such desecration of human beings".

"They were lost souls," he recalled.

"They were dying - there was no way back for them.

"If you tried to talk to them, to tell them: ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe’, they did not respond. They were zombies. Their minds had gone."

Susan Pollack, 89, survived both Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, arriving at the latter after being forced on a "death march" and has never forgotten the moment of liberation.

"When the British came and liberated us I was already a corpse, full of lice, but I remember the first time in almost a year the gentleness, kindness.

"Somebody lifted me up and placed me in this little ambulance – how was that possible? By then I was so dehumanised."

British soldier looks at sign of Bergen-Belsen 1945 CREDIT ROYAL NAVY.jpg
A British soldier at Bergen-Belsen (Picture: Royal Navy).

She added: "I remember his [the soldier's] touch. I remember his gentleness.

"I don’t remember what he said because my cognitive perception was gone but that was the first time I think that somehow I felt a spark of hope.

"I am grateful forever for what they have done for us survivors - those battle-worn soldiers."

Diarist Anne Frank and her sister Margot are among the camp's most famous victims - believed to have died between February and March 1945 from typhus.

The camp at Bergen-Belsen was eventually levelled. Today, nothing remains beyond the outline of the camp and a memorial site.

Cover image: PA.

For more on Bergen-Belsen, you can listen to a BFBS Radio documentary made to mark the 70th anniversary of the concentration camp's liberation by clicking here.