Some 60 miles North-East off Hannover, on the Lüneburger Moor, is found the former POW and Concentration Camp Bergen-Belsen.
On this site graves and memory stones attest to the suffering and killing of the prisoners. A documentation center retells the story of the prisoners and the camp.
The history of the Bergen-Belsen camp starts with the construction of the exercise terrain for German troops who were trained to enable the German Army to come to war strength. From 1936 onward there was a camp here with 30 barracks. In early 1941 the Wehrmacht started to construct the "stalags" for the attack on the Soviet Union.
As early as 1941, the first transports arrived here in Bergen-Belsen from the Soviet Union. Until early November there were some 21,000 prisoners of war in this camp. The building of the new barracks started later. Until the winter came the prisoners lived in self-made underground huts, made from leaf trees and self-made tents.
No more than 1,000 prisoners could manage to save themselves by working for the Wehrmacht, on farms or in industry. At least 300 but more likely 500 other prisoners of war were deported to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp and killed by a shot in the neck.
In 1943 the SS placed 10,000 European Jews in a part of the complex to have exchange material in hands. One of the 15,275 prisoners who stayed here, on the 2nd of December 1944 was a 15-year-old girl named Anne Frank. In early August 1944 Anne Frank and her family were captured in their Amsterdam hiding place and were deported to Auschwitz. She died of typhus some weeks before the end of the war, in March 1945, shortly after the death of her elder sister in Bergen-Belsen.
Not much has survived from Bergen-Belsen. It’s a place you just "feel." Knowledge of what happened here makes it an impressive and special visit. The museum gives an excellent account of the history of the camp and daily life during the war. The cinema shows a clear and horrible account of the war years. During your visit you will certainly see some impressive things.
(translation by Dan Reed)
For current visiting hours, please visit the website of the museum.
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- Text: Bergen-Belsen Memorial & Felix Dalberger
- Photos: Anneke & Paul Moerenhout