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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 18:12 GMT 19:12 UK
Liberation of Belsen commemorated
A woman lays flowers where Belsen once stood
Commemorations were low key
Holocaust survivors and their liberators have been marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The Nazi death camp, near Hanover in Germany, was the first to be liberated by British troops, on 15 April 1945. An estimated 70,000 people died at Belsen.

The tone of Friday's ceremony at the site was low key, with pilgrims marking the occasion in quiet contemplation.

London's Hyde Park also hosted an official ceremony.

This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life
Richard Dimbleby

Several busloads of survivors, many with family members, made their way to the camp on Friday.

There were strong emotions in the car park as they arrived, the BBC's Ray Furlong reported from the site.

One woman told our correspondent she was there to show the world that she was still alive. "The British soldiers seemed to me like angels from heaven," she said.

But Stan Kaminski had different memories, saying: "It was only a liberation in the physical sense, because my soul was burnt out. I could not feel joy."

German surrender

Bergen-Belsen was originally created as a transit centre, but later became a fully-fledged concentration camp in all but name.

By 1945, it housed thousands of prisoners who had become too weak to work, left to die of starvation and disease.

British solider talking to inmate at Belsen camp, 1945
The British buried 10,000 people in mass graves after liberating Belsen

There was no running water in the camp and there were epidemics of typhus, typhoid and tuberculosis.

One of the reasons the Germans agreed to surrender Belsen was because so many of the inmates were diseased.

The first British soldiers who entered Bergen-Belsen described seeing a huge pile of dead, naked women within full view of several hundred children held at the camp.

The gutters, too, were filled with bodies.

In the weeks that followed, British troops buried 10,000 bodies in mass graves.

The camp was burned down shortly after it was liberated.

Defining image

A former Reuters correspondent described the scene he saw in 1945.

"Nothing could convey the impact of the reality that hit the senses, the piles of dead, men women and children being bulldozed into pits," he said.

"I think in my coverage of five different wars, I never saw anything quite as awful and atrocious as Belsen."

The UK's Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks and Gen Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, spoke in Hyde Park, alongside Belsen survivors and liberators.

A one-day seminar was held at London's Imperial War Museum.

Dr Sacks said the images from Belsen "belong to the defining images of human history".

He said people would "remember with thanks the courage of the British Army without whom freedom itself would have died".

Sir Michael said: "The real heroes were those who suffered so in the camps. What they had to go through is almost beyond comprehension."


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