Back in the Dark Ages, when I was a student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, we were taught that there are only 3 rules of Journalism: ACCURACY, ACCURACY, ACCURACY.
My first Journalism assignment was a job on the copy desk of a city newspaper where I checked news stories for errors and omissions.
There was no google back then; I had to look up possible errors in an encyclopedia, or call someone to verify questionable information. The newspaper had a “morgue” which was filled with previous news stories that I could also use to verify information.
When the presses rolled, and the first newspapers of the day were being printed, it was my job to go into the press room and quickly check the front page for errors before these papers hit the streets. If there was a serious error, it was my job to yell “Stop the presses.”
Today, I read a news article, which has this headline:
Queen Elizabeth II Will Visit Bergen-Belsen, Former Concentration Camp in Germany
Stop the Presses! There is a serious error in this headline.
There was a German army camp near the town of Belsen, and because of this, a POW camp set up there in 1940. This POW camp later became an exchange camp for Jews. It was not until December 1944 that the exchange camp became a concentration camp because none of the Allied countries wanted to exchange German prisoners for Jews.
So Bergen-Belsen should not be described as a “concentration camp” without explaining that the camp was originally set up for Soviet POWs and that it later became an Exchange camp for the purpose of exchanging Jews for German prisoners in American and British internment camps.
The newspaper article mentions that the Queen will visit the memorial to Anne Frank and her sister Margot, both of whom died in the typhus epidemic at Bergen-Belsen. Could we see a photo of the memorial please?
I took the photos below when I visited the Bergen-Belsen memorial site in 2001.
The thousands of prisoners who died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen are buried in mass graves, like the one shown in the background of the photo above.
Yes, the photos above show the mass graves, into which the British shoved the bodies of the dead Jews with bulldozers.
Anne Frank and her sister Margo were originally prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous death camp, before they were sent to the sick camp at Bergen-Belsen where they both died of typhus.
According to the Memorial Site at Bergen-Belsen, the camp population on December 1, 1944 was 15,257. By February 1, 1945, there were 22,000 prisoners in the camp, and by March 1, 1945, the number of inmates had swelled to 41,520. On April 15, 1945, there were an estimated 60,000 prisoners in the camp.
A total of 50,000 prisoners died during the two years the camp was in operation, including 13,000 who died of weakness and disease AFTER the camp was liberated. By far the biggest killer in the camp was typhus, a deadly disease that is transmitted by body lice.
The story of Bergen-Belsen can be summed up by a chart that hangs on the wall of the Museum there. It shows that there were 350 deaths in the camp in December 1944 before the typhus epidemic started. In January 1945, after a typhoid epidemic started, there were between 800 and 1000 deaths; in February 1945, after the typhus epidemic broke out, there were 6,000 to 7,000 deaths.
In March 1945, the number of deaths had escalated to an incredible 18,168 in only one month. In April 1945, the deaths were 18,355 in only one month, with half of these deaths occurring after the British took over.
Unlike the death camps in Poland, the Bergen-Belsen camp was not equipped to handle this kind of death rate; there was only one crematory oven in the camp.
When the British arrived on April 15, 1945, there were 10,000 bodies that were still unburied, and more were dying every day because the Germans could not control the epidemics. By the end of April, in only two weeks time, 9000 more had died. Another 4,000 died before the end of May.
In February 1945, a transport of Hungarian Jews arrived at Bergen-Belsen at a time when the disinfection chambers were temporarily not in use, and as a result, lice got into the camp, causing a typhus epidemic to break out. Heinrich Himmler, who was in charge of all the concentration camps, ordered that “all medical means necessary to combat the epidemic should be employed” but in spite of this, the epidemic quickly spread beyond control.
There were also epidemics of typhoid and dysentery at Bergen-Belsen, as well as a shortage of food and water after the camp became part of the war zone in Germany in the final days of World War II.
The three old photos, shown above, were sent to me by Kerry Smith; these photos were taken in 1945 by Oswald Lewis, a British soldier who participated in the cleanup operation at Bergen-Belsen.