Life at Bergen-Belsen
The Real Experience
About the Camp
Opening of Camp: April 1943
- Type of Camp: Holding divided into 8 sections (detention camp, two women's camps, a special camp, neutrals camp, "star" camp, Hungarian camp and a tent camp)
- End of Camp: April 15, 1945; It ended because the British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen and found 60,000 prisoners in the camp
General InformationWhen the camp started the prisoners had bunks and rations of soup and bread. But, as more people arrived they had to sleep in barracks. Each barrack held about 700 people, and everyone slept without blankets. They also were not given food because of the limited amounts available for the surplus of people.
There were rapes and sexual abuse at the camp. There was "anti-baby" shots to prevent pregnancies. Some still found themselves pregnant. Most of their pregnancies were not carried to term. A personal experience at Bergen-Belsen was this woman Lucille E. who remembered a woman who gave birth to "..maybe a half pound, a pound, large infant." She was so tiny that she didn't even know that she was pregnant. The women were victimized and treated with no respect. The Nazis decided the fate of their child. They would abort them, let the mother keep the child, or even kill the mother. They used the fear of sexual abuse as a method to increase fear and pain in women. Some women turned to prostitution in order to get benefits such as food. Females "...gave themselves away for a little bread and butter." Many don't blame the women and girls for turning to prostitution because it meant maybe an extra day of survival for themselves, children, and spouse.
Reasons for Arrivals
- Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Tunisia, Tripoli, and Benghazi
- Some prisoners were brought to the camp to do construction work. Some Jews were prisoners from Poland.
- Many Jews in Bergen-Belsen died at the camp, and only a few were set free. One group of 222 Jews arrived in Palestine after leaving Bergen-Belsen on July 10th, 1944. Another group that left the camp in August and December 1945, were sent to Switzerland. Finally, on January 25, 1945, Jews that had South African passports went to Switzerland.
The most notorious female guard at Bergen-Belsen was Herta Bothe. After the war, she was charged with war crimes. Bothe would shoot at female prisoners and beat them with wooden sticks. She was sent to prison for ten years after the war.
In March 1945 alone, more than 18,000 prisoners died in Bergen-Belsen, including the teenager Anne Frank.
As the soldiers toured the camp, they found an estimated 10,000 unburied bodies because the crematorium had broken down.
Colonel J A D Johnstone, RAMC, described what he saw at the camp when he arrived: “I saw a very great number of dazed, apathetic, human scarecrows, wandering around the camp in an aimless fashion, dressed in rags and some even without rags. There were piles of dead everywhere – right up to the front gate.”
Tomi Reichental was born in Slovakia and lived in a small farming community. Tomi’s father was in the Slovak army and later afterwards farmed to make money and help provide for his family. In 1939, the Czech Republic was invaded by the Germans. This affected Slovakia and people became out of jobs if they weren’t profitable, like storekeepers. The Reichental family wasn’t affected because they farmed they were considered useful and provided food for the people surrounding their area. Since the Germans had invaded, propaganda increased throughout Slovakia, that mostly targeted Jewish people. Over many months, the German army had taken over much of Slovakia and they wanted to get rid of the remaining Jews. Tomi’s parents went to a priest, who was also a family friend. He said he would convert their family to Christianity, but a law stating that you could only convert religions before 1922 stopped them. Instead, the priest gave them false papers with a Slovak name. Everyday Tomi’s mother would repeat his new last name to him, making sure that he never forgot it, because if he accidentally said his last name was Reichental, he would be sent away. Tomi was 9 years old when he and his family were taken away to Bergen-Belsen. The cattle car was extremely tiny. There was no room to move and no clean air to breathe. One person died in his car and when they stopped to get out and stretch, Tomi’s brother was instructed to carry out the deceased with another woman and if he did not obey, he would be killed. Once he arrived at Bergen-Belsen, Tomi describes that they were taken to a small hut and roomed with at least 50 other people. He didn’t find out they were at Bergen-Belsen till the following day. Tomi described that the day started off with roll call between 7-8 a.m. They stood outside in the freezing cold weather and Junge SS women would take attendance. He described them as “models with tailored uniforms, lacquer on nails, lipstick, polished shoes, and leather strap to whip people.” Towers were located every 300 meters to watch over the camp and make sure people didn’t escape. He said that every morning he would see 2 or 3 corpses on the barbed wire indicating that they were trying to escape. Bergen-Belsen wasn’t an extermination camp, but that thousands died from starvation, disease, and coldness. It was a slow and painful death.
About the Song
-All in all, Fela was one of the few who survived the concentration camps. Millions of jews and other minorities died and only thousands survived. Bergen-Belsen is, unfortunately, part of the world's History where we want to forget. We choose not to forget it existed because we have to keep the memory of every victim who died alive so we can know that they did not perish in vain.