Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

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Bergen-Belsen (or Belsen) was a Nazi concentration camp in Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany, southwest of the town of Bergen near Celle. Originally established as the prisoner of war camp Stalag XI-C, in 1943 it became a concentration camp on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas[1]. Later still the name was applied to the displaced persons camp established nearby, but it is most commonly associated with the concentration camp it became as conditions deteriorated between 1943-1945. During this time an estimated 50,000 Russian prisoners of war and a further 50,000 inmates died there,[2] up to 35,000 of them dying of typhus in the first few months of 1945.[3]

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division.[4] 60,000 prisoners were found inside, most of them seriously ill,[3] and another 13,000 corpses lay around the camp unburied.[4] The scenes that greeted British troops were described by the BBC's Richard Dimbleby, who accompanied them:

"This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.[5]

"I could not believe the horror of these camps," said one liberator. "We found piles of bodies in train cars that had been dead for days."[citation needed]

For public opinion in Western countries in the immediate post-1945 period, the name "Belsen" became emblematic of Nazi horrors in general. The even greater horrors of Auschwitz, a camp which was liberated by the Soviets and of which Western soldiers and journalists had no direct experience, became widely known only later.


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