Suffering did not end after liberation. Thousands of inmates were beyond help. Allied soldiers tried to provide medical relief. But despite their efforts, up to 30,000 liberated prisoners died within the first weeks. Those who survived the camps faced the impossible task of rebuilding their lives. Many had lost their health, their homes and their families, and looked into an uncertain future.
Survivors met much indifference from the public. In 1945–6, the media had still reported widely on liberated camps and the first perpetrator trials, where many hundreds of Camp SS staff were convicted (although most perpetrators would escape justice). But the camps soon disappeared from front pages and faded from people’s minds. This was true not least in Germany itself. Keen to forget, many ordinary Germans claimed that they had known nothing about the camps. As the population moved on from the Nazi past, former sites of terror were forgotten. For much of the 1950s, for example, there was no museum at Dachau, while the old prisoner barracks were used to house German refugees.
Public interest in the camps grew stronger again from the 1960s, in Germany and elsewhere. Since then, many ordinary Germans have engaged openly with the history of Nazi crimes and their government is helping to preserve the camps’ memory. Survivors played a central role in commemoration, though not all were able to speak about their suffering. Survivors have also tried to draw lessons from the camps, for themselves and for the world at large.
- 120 – The Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi on memory and memorials
- 115 – Polish survivor Maria Jaworska on life after liberation
- 116 – CBS radio broadcast about Buchenwald after liberation
- 113 – US officer Samuel Glasshow on the liberation of Wöbbelin
- 121 – Auschwitz survivor Thomas Buergenthal on the lessons of the camps
- 114 – British officer M. W. Gonin on emergency measures at Bergen-Belsen
- 119 – Letter to a German TV station after the 1979 screening of the Holocaust miniseries
- 118 – Proclamation about Buchenwald in Weimar churches, April 1945
- 117 – German newspaper report on the Bergen-Belsen trial, autumn 1945
Related films & testimonies
“There never was a single individual that said: 'I am sorry'”
A US prosecutor of concentration camp perpetrators (17 mins)
“A monument is to be raised at the site of the Belsen camp”
Bergen-Belsen after liberation
A newsreel about Bergen-Belsen after liberation, 1945 (2 mins)
“Nothing equalled the atrocities of Auschwitz”
The Liberation of Auschwitz
A Soviet documentary, 1945 (21 mins)