Dead prisoners at Bergen-Belsen camp
Josef Kramer, commandant of Bergen-Belsen camp, who stayed to help the British
In the year 2002, I took a tour of the Bergen-Belsen memorial site, and as far as I know, I was the only American there that day.
I arrived, by bus, at the memorial site at 1:30 p.m. and by 2:30 p.m. I had finished my tour of what is left of the former camp. I then went to the Document Center to see the English version of a British-made documentary movie that was supposed to start at 3 p.m.
There was a large theater where the movie was being shown in German; the movie had just ended, when I arrived, and the audience of young German students was having a discussion period when I peeked into the theater.
Since I was the only person that wanted to see the movie in English, the film was shown to me in a small room on a TV set with a relatively small screen. Apparently, there were very few English-speaking visitors in the year 2002.
The title of the film was “Bergen-Belsen for Example.” This is obviously a translation of the German title “Bergen-Belsen zum Beispiel.” Zum Beispiel is a German expression which means “for example” but it is used more often and in more different ways than our English expression.
The film opened with scenes of the prisoners greeting the British soldiers as they entered the concentration camp on April 15, 1945.
Not all of the inmates at Bergen-Belsen were starving
The prisoners looked remarkably healthy, considering the ordeal that they had just been through; everyone was happy and smiling, as shown in the photo above.
Then a British soldier, who said his name was Arthur Bushnell, explained that when the British soldiers first arrived, they got a “false impression” because at first, they didn’t see any dead bodies or emaciated prisoners. All the inmates who rushed up to greet them appeared to be healthy and well-fed.
Bushnell said that there had been 400 German guards in the camp, but only half of them were there when the British arrived. For some strange reason, he didn’t explain why all of guards had not run away to avoid being captured and put on trial as war criminals.
What had actually happened was that the Bergen-Belsen camp had been voluntarily turned over to the British with the agreement that the guards would stay on in the camp to maintain order and help with the work of cleaning up the camp.
Nothing was said about what would happen to the guards, but it was implied in the negotiations that the German guards would be treated with respect and not arrested as war criminals. The movie did not mention that the camp was formally surrendered to the British after both sides had negotiated an agreement.
Instead, the movie led viewers to believe that the British had captured the camp and surprised half of the guards who hadn’t managed to escape like the other half.
According to Eberhard Kolb of the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site Committee, there were only 80 guards who remained in the camp, 50 men and 30 women. The photographs taken by the British after the liberation show that this number is probably correct.
Bushnell went on to say that there was no food at all in the camp when the British arrived. What had happened to all the food?
Eberhard Kolb wrote that the 30,000 prisoners who had arrived in the camp on April 8, one week before the liberation, had raided the food supplies of the camp. Would it have killed the British to have mentioned this in their film that was made for German children who were not yet born?
The water pump, which pumped drinking water out of cisterns at Bergen-Belsen, had been destroyed by allied bombs and there was no water in the camp. Some water was being brought to the camp by the Germany Army, but not enough for the 60,000 prisoners who were in the camp by the time that the British arrived.
It was not mentioned in the film that the British proceeded to pump water out of a nearby creek, which caused the deaths of more Bergen-Belsen prisoners.
Was the bombing of the water pump mentioned in the film? No, of course not.
At one time, Bergen-Belsen was an EXCHANGE CAMP. Were any prisoners ever exchanged? The film doesn’t tell us. [Read on]
German citizens and a few German-Americans had been rounded up and put into a prison on Ellis Island two days before Germany declared war on America.
For the German-American citizens, this was a violation of their civil rights under the Constitution of the United States because no charges were brought against them and they were never put on trial. They were held for as long as a year after the war ended.
For the most part, very few prisoners were ever exchanged, but a few lucky inmates were sent to Palestine in exchange for German citizens imprisoned in Great Britain who were released and sent back to Germany.
A few American Jews, who were stranded in Europe when the war started, were held in the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp, but this was not mentioned in the film. America did not offer to exchange any prisoners.
The narrator in the film, that was shown at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site, said that the “Germany Army” had refused to bury the dead in the camp. Bergen-Belsen was right in the middle of a war zone and the Germany Army was engaged in fighting in a last-ditch effort to save their country from Communism. Were they supposed to stop fighting in the war, and bury dead Jews who had died of typhus?
Some of the dead bodies at Bergen Belsen were buried near the German Army base, shown in the background
After the Bergen-Belsen camp was voluntarily turned over to the British, Hungarian soldiers in the German Army were assigned to maintain order at Bergen-Belsen for six days during the transfer of the camp to the British, according to the negotiated agreement. After six days, they had been promised that they would have safe passage back to the German lines.
When they were ordered by the British officers to handle the diseased bodies with their bare hands, the Hungarian soldiers refused because this was not part of the negotiated agreement; their job was to maintain order.
The narrator of the film did not mention that some of the Hungarian soldiers were shot, in violation of the agreement, because they had refused to help with the burial of the bodies.
The next person, who was featured in the film shown at Bergen Belsen, was Mike Lewis, who said he was a Jewish soldier in the British army. He said that it was purely an “accident” that he was sent to Bergen-Belsen as one of the liberators.
British soldier driving a bulldozer to shove the bodies of prisoners into a grave
Mike Lewis said that he took photos and movie film at the liberation but he could never bear to look at the photographs afterwards.
The film that Lewis took was shown at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal; this was the famous footage of British bulldozers shoving the bodies into the mass graves. Remarkably, Lewis says that he took a turn driving the bulldozer himself while someone else filmed him.
Next, a short film clip is shown of a woman naked from the waist up, washing herself with water in a wash basin. The narrator explains that the prisoners were so demoralized that they thought nothing of doing their “body functions” out in the open.
In the film, Lewis asks “Why Germany?” Then he explains that “any race is capable of this.” So why the Germans?
Lewis says in the film that “some disease made them [the Germans] prone” to do this.
The implication was that the Germans had deliberately starved or killed the prisoners in the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp, and that they did this because of some strange disease from which only the German “race” suffers.
It was not explained in the film that the emaciated corpses in the camp were those of people who had died of typhus in an epidemic that was out of control. Keep in mind that most of the visitors who were watching this film, when I was there, were 14-year-old German students.
The film shows the British feeding the prisoners only a clear broth, but says that many of them died, in spite of this, after the liberation. It was not mentioned how many died. (There were 13,000 who died in the six weeks AFTER the liberation.) The film doesn’t say what was the cause of these deaths.
Martin Gilbert, one of the foremost Jewish Holocaust writers, says that many of the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen died from being given too much rich food too soon by the British, and that the rest died from disease before the epidemics could be brought under control.
Next the narrator tells us that the prisoners who were from Eastern Europe didn’t want to return to their homes. The film doesn’t say why.
What the film didn’t tell us is that, the reason that some of the prisoners didn’t want to return to their homes, was that some of the prisoners had been selected for the exchange camp because they were Zionists who wanted to go to Palestine.
The prisoners who didn’t want to leave Bergen-Belsen stayed on, for TEN YEARS, in the German army barracks nearby where they were quartered in brick or stone buildings. This became the largest of all the DP camps, as the prisoners waited for years to get into Canada, Australia and Israel, according to the film. They had a long wait because Israel did not exist until 1948 and before that, the British were restricting Jewish immigration into Palestine.
The narrator then says that, 10 days after the British arrived, which would have been on April 25th, the local German people were brought to the camp to see the bodies which had not yet been buried. Since the burial had begun on April 18th, the bodies that were still to be buried were probably those of the typhus victims who had died after the camp was liberated.
A British soldier speaks to these elderly German civilians in German telling them, “Your sons and daughters are responsible for these crimes.” Then we see scenes of the German SS guards who had risked their lives to stay behind and help, as they take the bodies off the trucks and put them into the mass graves.
There is an audience of former prisoners, mostly healthy-looking women, who are screaming at the top of their lungs, in German, at the guards: “Who is responsible?”
The German civilians were forced to watch this horrible scene in silence while the Jewish soldier filmed it for posterity. The narrator didn’t mention that some of these German civilians were now homeless because they had been forced to move out so that Jewish survivors of Bergen-Belsen could live in their homes.
Former German guard at Bergen-Belsen after she was forced to carry bodies to graves at Bergen-Belsen
After seeing the film, I went to the Bergen-Belsen museum where I saw photos of the former prisoners. The photo below was shown in the Museum.
Photo of a Bergen-Belsen prisoner who survived