Inside liberated camps

Of all the liberated camps, conditions were worst in Bergen-Belsen. Hunger and disease, including a typhus epidemic, had ravaged the camp before British forces arrived on 15 April 1945. Many of the over 50,000 survivors were more dead than alive. The liberators faced a formidable task, above all in the main camp (often called the “Horror Camp”). They quickly provided food and water, and then evacuated survivors to hastily established hospital areas. But these efforts came too late for many, and thousands died in the first weeks after liberation.

114 – British officer M. W. Gonin on emergency measures at Bergen-Belsen

The drill settled at [the] night’s conference was that my unit [11th Light Field Ambulance] would move the sick from the Horror Camp. We should try and feed the sick in the Horror Camp until they could be moved.[…] All patients would be taken from the Horror Camp completely naked and wrapped in blankets. They would then go straight to what we called the Human Laundry where they would be washed, shaved and dusted [with DDT powder] by nurses from the German Military Hospital and then removed still naked to the wards in the hospital arena. There they remained, still naked, until they died or we managed to clothe them.[…]

​ It was a heart-rending job

The MO [Medical Officer] went into each hut and marked on the forehead of each patient a cross to indicate to the bearers that this patient would be moved. […] It was a heart-rending job and amounted to telling hundreds of poor wretches that they were being left to die.

Source: B. Flanagan, D. Bloxham (eds), Remembering Belsen (London, 2005), pp. 25–7