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

Experience

General Information

When 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.


Abuse

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

There were many reasons why people were sent to this camp. One section of Bergen-Belsen was for prisoners of war. The "residence camp" was for thousands of Jewish prisoners. It was further divided into four sub-camps. This was known as the concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen, although there were no gas chambers. The "prisoners camp" housed over 500 prisoners who were non-Jews.

Deaths

About 50,000 people died for various causes such as starvation, overwork, disease, brutality, gun shots, hung, and sadistic medical experiments. Diseases were rampant because of the lack of sanitary. Typhus, typhoid fever, dysentery, cholera, and lice were a few of the disease present. Because of the overcrowding in the camp and poor living conditions, there was a high mortality rate too.

Nationalities/Statistics


  • 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.

Crazy Facts

  • 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.”

Surviving Bergen-Belsen | Tomi Reichental

Video Highlights

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.

Hope for the Hopeless
Bergen Belsen Song

About the Song

This song is based on the true story of Fela Warschau. She was a Jewish who survived the Holocaust. She died 2006 and lived to be 80 years old. She was at Bergen-Belsen during her teen years. Fortunately, Fela was not separated from her sister. Her story is unique because she had finally reached the point where she had no strength to live. She told her sister that she was going to the barrack to die so she would be out of the way of people stepping on her. Her sister and others followed her. But a miracle happened. One of her friends, who was the youngest there, was always so positive. She told them that something different was happening. Her sister returned from checking outside with great news of the gates being open. She could barely believe that she was alive because of the British who liberated them.


-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.

Meet the Creators

Molly Richards

Ruth Moore

Juniors at Rochester High School