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1945: Liberation of Bergen-Belsen
When British troops entered the German concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen they found piles of dead and rotting corpses and thousands of sick and starving prisoners.

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

About 30,000 people had died at the camp from disease and starvation.

Photographs and a film taken at the camp and published in the media brought home the full horror of life in Belsen to the British public for the first time.

Your memories

My late husband was liberated from Belsen-Bergen.

He was 6ft 2ins and weighed 69 lbs. He had been laid out with the dead and when the priest came to give rites to him he saw his eyelashes moving!

It took him two years to be able to walk again. He said when they saw the British there were four men with sidecars on their motorbikes. They formed a square and stood inside of it, as they were afraid of the inmates, until the rest of the British arrived.

He said they looked so pink and fat that they wanted to eat the soldiers!

The inmates were given fat in tins. My husband, Michel Paris, was too weak to open his tin and sat there with it in his hands and wept. The others that ate the fat all died.

Michel had eaten grass to survive.

Hundreds of them had been shipped [to Bergen-Belsen] in cattle trucks when the Germans heard the Allies were coming.

If I remember correctly they were three days in transit - all standing up as they were pushed into the trucks, defecating and weeing where they stood.

When they arrived at Belsen and the doors were slid open the fell out - crawling over those who had died - being held up by the crush of so many people in the trucks.

It is devastating to me that because he died in l997 he never received any compensation for his slave labour.

Even so, the survivors received such a pittance that it is an international disgrace.
Glen Paris-Stamm, USA

Between 1982 and 1987, I was a teacher at a British school just up the road from the Bergen-Belsen Memorial.

The first time I took a group of children there I was worried that it might be a very upsetting experience for them - my first visit had been very upsetting for me.

It was, indeed, difficult for some of our students, but they really wanted to know how this terrible thing could happen and asked very intelligent and searching questions.

Those students we took will not have forgotten the experience and will have grown up with a greater understanding of the horrors of racism, and of war.
Chris Hooper, UK

I have been reading a book called Hitler's Holocaust. In one chapter called Liberation, there is a quote by a German Jewish prisoner of Dachau that brings tears to my eyes: "It took people to cross the ocean to free us at the last minute from the murderous clutches of our own 'countrymen'".
Frank Hartry, South Africa

I was 12 when the film of the liberation of Belsen was authorised for universal distribution in England, and was shown in all cinemas. Anyone of any age could go to see it, as I did.

I have never forgotten this film, and throughout my life have maintained that it should be shown again as a warning to future generations on the anniversary of the camp's liberation.
Alan Bain, UK

In the 1950s I read about some of the camps during the war, Belsen being one. My father Alfred Lavender was a soldier during World War II.

When I asked if he had killed a German he was most angry with me and I was told that war was dreadful and how lucky I was in my life.

But years later he told my daughter that he had been an officer in the group that were there when they opened the gates at Belsen concentration camp and was there for a time afterwards.

He opened up with his sadness at what he saw and the children and their reaction to the soldiers in uniform. I now realise that part of my father was lost to me from that time.

Many years later he travelled the route he took after he landed in France with the second phase of troops and put to rest his dreadful memories. He seemed to have a state of calming after that. And I thank God for that.
Dianna Thomas, Vancouver, Canada

I went to Belsen in 1983 when I was 13. My family stayed with friends in the army at Celle.

I just want to repeat what Messrs Goater and Copley (see below) have said about the silence of the place. I think we were there in July or August and yet we heard no birdsong or saw anything to suggest there was any animal life there at all.

It was a quite shocking place and certainly made a dozy teenager think hard about what had gone on there and why.
Thomas Chetwood, USA

I lived three miles from the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp from 1998 to 2001 and often took visitors to see it for themselves.

Contrary to the popular myth, birds do sing there. There was a time when they did not sing. I inquired about this and it was explained to me that the huge amount of lime which was put down on the site after the war kept wildlife away for many years.

The camp is now a memorial and aims to educate people about the horrors which took place there so that they might never happen again.

Incidentally, just behind the camp is the Soviet cemetery for the Soviet soldiers who were imprisoned and killed by the Nazis: there are tens of thousands of them buried there and it is worth a visit.
Grant Ashton, UK

My father was a British Army sergeant, and was one of the first to walk through the gates and he stayed there until the camp was cleared and the huts burnt down.

He would not talk to me about this experience even though it devastated my family in the following years.

My infant brother and sister both died from TB meningitis, my father spent four years in a TB sanatorium and I also spent a year in a similar sanatorium.

My father was not alive when the atrocities of Bosnia, Kosovo et al occurred but I am sure he would have felt ashamed of a world that could not control its ethnic hatreds.

We are all victims when we ignore inhumanity.
Daniel Phillips, UK

I visited Belsen in 1971 with a Jewish friend who was exhibiting his paintings in Hamburg.

It's a terrible place with the great burial mounds and the eerie silence hanging like a heavy blanket over the area.

I think I was most affected, not by the mass graves, but by one solitary grave marked "Eine Unbekante Toter"

If my memory of the German is correct - "One Unknown Dead Person".

As a footnote to that visit, back in Hamburg, we found that the exhibition visitors book had been defaced by anti-semitic comments.
John Constantine, UK

When I was five, I found some horrific photos in my dad's wardrobe.

They were fading brown and yellow and showed all the bodies in piles and in pits.

I still remember the shock and my mum tried to explain what it was about.

She told me how my dad had identified the Germans pretending to be prisoners, and made them load the corpses into pits.

I am very proud of my dad. The war left him unable to interact normally with people, including me.
Simon, UK

The camp was liberated three years before I was born, but in my early teens I was already fascinated by the sheer horror of the Nazi treatment of unwanted civilians and the unfathomably brutal concentration camp system.

No birds sang and I recall no insects chirping among the bushes and shrubs
James Goater, Japan
In the summer of 1966, I had just turned 18 years of age, and while on a hitch-hiking trip through Europe, decided that I must visit the site of this notorious camp.

There was a nearby base for British troops, in Celle, with whom I had stayed on the night prior to my visit to Belsen.

I recall that many of the soldiers were mystified as to why someone would want to visit such a place as Belsen.

That hot afternoon, so many years ago, remains indelibly imprinted on my memory.

There were no other visitors to the museum, there was no-one strolling between the huge grass mounds, with signposts on them saying simply, "Here lie 10,000 dead", and no-one sitting among the trees which dot the site.

No birds sang and I recall no insects chirping among the bushes and shrubs.

In short, a strange and unearthly place which, I hope, remains the same to this day.

The things that went on in the Belsen concentration camp, and the monstrous system of which it was a potent symbol, have no place in a sane world.
James Goater, Japan

I remember visiting the Belsen-Bergen death camp as a young lad in the British Army (9th/12th Royal Lancers) in 1969.

To this day I remember the starkness of the place, seeing a mound of dirt saying here lies 5,000 and there another mound saying here lies 3,000 and another and another and many more.

The strangest thing of all was - even though it was the middle of summer when we visited - there were absolutely no birds flying around or singing.

Very, very sad place indeed.

It gave me a new meaning and pride to have enlisted in the British Army knowing that we would never allow this to ever happen again.
Chris Copley, USA

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British soldier talks to an inmate at Belsen concentration camp
British soldier talks to an inmate at Belsen concentration camp


SS men captured at the camp were forced to carry the bodies of their victims
SS men captured at the camp were forced to carry the bodies of their victims
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