Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp
It is hard to imagine people could be shipped to concentration camps on the basis of what they look like and what they believe. However, less than 80 years ago, one country was determined to imprison and exterminate certain people. In World War II, the Nazis created concentration, labor, and death camps where they imprisoned Jewish people and other people they thought were undesirable. More than 3 million people died in concentration camps in World War II. In Bergen-Belsen, approximately 50,000 people were imprisoned and later died. When the Allies liberated these camps at the end of World War II, the prisoners in these camps were either deceased or close to death. Bergen-Belsen was a horrific prisoner of war and concentration camp established by the Nazis in Germany in 1940.
The Origins of Bergen-Belsen
The Nazis established Bergen-Belsen in 1940, near the town of Celle, Germany. Bergen Belsen was part of Hitler’s plan called the “Final Solution,” which was a plan to exterminate all Jewish people and “undesirable” people. Until 1943, Bergen-Belsen was exclusively a prisoner of war camp. In 1943, the Nazis converted part of Bergen-Belsen into a concentration camp. Nearly all the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen came from other camps, such as Auschwitz. Bergen-Belsen was made up of three smaller camps. The “prisoners’ camp” was one of these three camps. The “prisoners’ camp” was divided into the “star camp,” which held mostly Dutch Jews, the “Hungary Camp,” which held mostly Hungarian Jews, the “special camp,” which consisted of Polish Jews, and the “neutral camp,” made up of Jews from other countries.
Life At Bergen-Belsen
Bergen-Belsen’s living conditions were initially better than those in other concentration camps. The prisoners were allowed to bring personal belongings to Bergen-Belsen and they could wear civilian clothing as opposed to prison garb. Even though they had these freedoms, life was still very difficult. One hundred eighty people shared one toilet, lice and rodents were everywhere, and a person would have to make one loaf of bread last a week. These horrible conditions made diseases very common. As a rule, entire family members were brought to the camp. Between 1943 and 1944, the Nazis sent at least 14,600 people to Bergen-Belsen, including 2,750 children.
Liberation of Bergen-Belsen
The British Army, augmented by Canadian troops, liberated Bergen-Belsen in April of 1945. The servicemen were not prepared for the horror they found upon arrival. They found men and women that were so malnourished, they were the weight of a seven-year old child. For thousands of men and women who were sent to Bergen-Belsen, the rescue came too late. Unfortunately, as many as 14,000 liberated from Bergen-Belsen died shortly thereafter due to complications from their malnourishment and treatment at the camp. In total, an estimated 50,000 people died at Bergen-Belsen, including Anne Frank and her sister, Margot.
Bergen-Belsen was a concentration camp operated by the Nazis from 1940 to its liberation in 1945. It was an awful place where 50,000 Jews and “undesirables” lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis, all because of their religion, race, or disabilities. Concentration camps like Bergen-Belsen stand as a reminder for the world that just because someone is different, they should not be discriminated against.
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