Luke Becker

  • The location south of the small towns of Bergen and Belsen, about 11 miles north of Celle, Germany
  • Until 1943, Bergen-Belsen was exclusively a prisoner-of-war (POW) camp
  • In April, 1943, converted it first into a civilian residence camp and, later, into a concentration camp
  • There was the POW camp, the "residence camp," and the "prisoners' camp"
  • The prisoner-of-war camp functioned as such from 1940 until January of 1945. The "residence camp" was in operation from April 1943 until April 1945, and was composed of four subcamps: the "special camp," the "neutrals camp," the "star camp," and the "Hungarian camp." The "prisoners' camp," also in operation from April 1943 until April 1945, consisted of the initial "prisoner's camp," the "recuperation camp," the "tent camp," the "small women's camp," and the "large women's camp."
  • With an increasing number of transports of female prisoners, the SS dissolved the northern portion of the camp complex, which was still in use as a POW camp, and established the so-called "large women's camp" in its place in January 1945. This camp housed women evacuated fromFlossenbürg, Gross Rosen, Ravensbrück, Neuengamme,Mauthausen, and Buchenwald concentration camps, as well as various subcamps and labor camps.
  • At the end of July 1944 there were around 7,300 prisoners interned in the Bergen-Belsen camp complex. At the beginning of December 1944, this number had increased to around 15,000, and in February 1945 the number of prisoners was 22,000.
  • As prisoners evacuated from the east continued to arrive, the camp population soared to over 60,000 by April 15, 1945.
  • Overcrowding, poor sanitary conditions, and the lack of adequate food, water, and shelter led to an outbreak of diseases such as typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and dysentery, causing an ever increasing number of deaths.


  • On April 15, 1945, British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen. The British found around sixty thousand prisoners in the camp, most of them seriously ill.
  • Between May 1943 and April 15, 1945, between 36,400 and 37,600 prisoners died in Bergen-Belsen.
  • More than 13,000 former prisoners, too ill to recover, died after liberation.
  • After evacuating Bergen-Belsen, British forces burned down the whole camp to prevent the spread of typhus.
  • During its existence, approximately 50,000 persons died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp complex including Anne Frank and her sister Margot, both of whom died in the camp in March 1945.

  • After liberation, British occupation authorities established a displaced persons camp that housed more than 12,000 survivors.

SS Officers

  • SS-Hauptsturmführer Adolf Haas became the first commandant of the Bergen-Belsen camp in the spring of 1943; SS-Hauptsturmführer Josef Kramer replaced him in December 1944.
  • The SS succeeded in destroying many of the camp's files, including those on personnel.
  • In autumn of 1945 a British Military Tribunal in Lüneburg tried 48 members of the Bergen-Belsen staff, including 37 SS personnel and eleven prisoner functionaries.
  • The tribunal sentenced eleven of the defendants to death, including camp commandant Josef Kramer.
  • On December 12, 1945, British military authorities executed Kramer and his co-defendants.

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SPIEGEL: That was during the winter of 1944-45. Where were you when the war ended?

Sassoon: In Bergen- Belsen. I don’t remember anymore how and when I was taken there. I think we had to walk the whole way. One day, as we were marching along in line, I suddenly keeled over with exhaustion. A soldier came up to me, seemingly really friendly, and said: “Come along, little one. Sit down and rest.” I had barely sat down on the side of the road for a minute and he shot me.

SPIEGEL: Shot you, just like that?

Sassoon: Yes. Maybe he thought I was too weak. But I just couldn’t go on any more. I passed out and only came to when the next group of marchers came by and discovered me. They were French prisoners of war. The soldier had shot me in the leg and I was bleeding. The French prisoners wanted to carry me, but at first the Germans wouldn’t allow it. Then they gave in and I was laid down in an ambulance and given emergency treatment. You can see the scar here. It was never really dealt with properly.

SPIEGEL: So they then brought you to Bergen-Belsen in an ambulance?

Sassoon: Yes. Although it is all very hazy in my memory, as I was suffering a lot of pain. I can still remember the piles of corpses, the stink and the smell of burning. Everything was in the process of falling apart.

SPIEGEL: How did the German prison guards act?

Sassoon: Brutally. One time I found a potato and wanted to bake it in the ashes of a fire. A female prison guard saw me and told me very kindly to put my hand nearer the fire so that I could warm myself. She was a very impressive. A tall, blue-eyed woman. I can still picture her beautiful white teeth. Suddenly she slammed her boot down on my small hand into the fire. My fingers were crushed and all the skin was burnt. A horrific pain shot through my body. People told me later that this must have been the infamous Irma Grese. I didn’t know women could be so cruel.

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