Back to The Camps


Bergen-Belsen

Bergen-Belsen was a POW/concentration camp set up by the Nazi Party, located in northwestern Germany. It was founded in 1940. Bergen-Belsen was originally designed as a camp for prisoners of war, mostly Soviets. In 1943, it was turned into a concentration camp, by order of Heinrich Himmler, Reichsfurher of the SS. He also ordered the deportation of many Jewish citizens into Bergen-Belsen.

A view of the workcamps in Bergen-Belsen.
A view of the workcamps in Bergen-Belsen.
One year later, in 1944, Josef Kramer, previously of Auschwitz-Birkenau, became the new camp commander. The camp was quite overcrowded; at one point it held over 15,000 prisoners when it was only built to handle around 10,000. Bergen-Belsen separated itself from other concentration camps by the fact that it held no gas chambers. Instead, it held mass-executions by guns, which were carried out east of the camp. Later in 1944, there was a typhus breakout that killed thousands of people, from inmates to guards/officers alike. Anne Frank, later famous for her published diaries about her life, died among others of the deadly epidemic in 1945.
A British worker bulldozing bodies into a mass-grave upon liberation, 1945. (Picture credit: Wikipedia)
A British worker bulldozing bodies into a mass-grave upon liberation, 1945. (Picture credit: Wikipedia)

The camp was liberated on April 15th, 1945 by British forces. Many, if not all of the former SS staff that survived the great typhus epidemic (Including Josef Kramer himself) were then tried by the British in the Belsen Trial, shortly after the war had ended. They fed the starving prisoners foods such as corned beef, rice and milk; however, most of their digestive systems were in too weak a state from long-term starvation to handle such strong food. Around 100,000 people in total died in Bergen-Belsen. Ever since then, the word "Belsen" has become a German word synonymous with "Terror" and "Fear".
One of the mass-graves in Bergen-Belsen.
One of the mass-graves in Bergen-Belsen.

Jewish prisoners sitting at a camp in Bergen-Belsen.
Jewish prisoners sitting at a camp in Bergen-Belsen.

A grave of Anne Frank and her sister, Margot, buried together at the remains of Bergen-Belsen. (They both died of typhus in March 1945)
A grave of Anne Frank and her sister, Margot, buried together at the remains of Bergen-Belsen. (They both died of typhus in March 1945)