In 1943, the SS established Bergen-Belsen as a camp for selected Jewish prisoners, who might be exchanged for Germans detained abroad (or for foreign currency and goods). At first, the prisoners had been treated comparatively leniently. But by early 1945, everything had changed. Following mass deportations from other camps, Bergen-Belsen turned into a disaster zone. In March 1945, the camp held an average of around 45,000 inmates (more than half of them Jews); over 18,000 of them died, among them Anne Frank and her sister Margot, who had arrived via Auschwitz in autumn 1944. Several prisoners kept secret diaries in Bergen-Belsen, chronicling the horrors of the last weeks. One of them was the resistance fighter Hanna Lévy-Hass.
Everything we see around us, everything we see going on, makes us begin to doubt whether we are still human beings – indeed, to doubt the humanity of man. We are starting to put strange questions to ourselves. I had a long talk with Prof K. He is in the sick bay, utterly exhausted, his face and limbs terribly swollen from frostbite and boils, his body covered in running sores. In addition he is suffering from dysentery and all manner of other disorders.[…]
In Prof K.’s view, morality, as we understand the term, does not apply in concentration camps and is out of place there, even unnecessary, and we must needs dispense with it if we really intend to survive and help to build the new world in which it will prevail. […]
We die like animals here
[…] I refuse to die like this – I refuse! Better to put an end to it all as quickly as possible, like a human being. Are we supposed to let ourselves decay and perish, physically and psychologically, slowly but inexorably sinking into the void of total exhaustion, smelling of suppuration and contamination, dying bit by bit like beasts? We die like animals here, not like human beings. Why wait? To do so is to trample on human dignity. What dishonour, what unspeakable disgrace! I look around at this gloomy hut full of ghosts, of hatred and degradation, these sick, helpless creatures unable to move, these living corpses, already decaying, a black abyss into which a whole civilisation is slipping.
Source: H. Lévy-Hass, Inside Belsen (New Jersey, 1982), pp. 63–5, 68–9