Teaching the Holocaust with Primary Sources
Introduction: Nuremberg Race Laws | Kristallnacht | Ghettos
Concentration Camps: Dachau | Bergen-Belsen | Auschwitz
Righteous Among the Nations: Gies | Schindler | Winton | Grueninger
Primary Source and Analysis Tools | Library of Congress Resources
Primary Source Sets | PDF Version
Built in 1940 as a prisoner of war camp, Bergen-Belsen was converted to a concentration camp in 1943.14 Conditions at Bergen-Belsen were considered good when compared to other camps, most prisoners were not subjected to forced labor.14 But by 1944, conditions at the camp deteriorated and the camp began receiving prisoners too sick to work. Designed to hold 10,000, by the end of the war Bergen-Belsen consisted of 60,000 prisoners.14 This camp possessed no gas chambers yet 35,000 people died of starvation, overwork, disease, brutality and medical experiments.14 Among those who died were Anne Frank and her sister Margot who both died of typhus in March 1945.14
Bergen-Belsen was the first major camp liberated by British allies. There were always stories of the atrocities the Jewish people faced in Nazi concentration camps but nothing could prepare the British soldiers for what they witnessed. Starving prisoners, like the walking dead, wandering around the camp while others lay sick an dying. Even after liberation, nearly 500 people continued to die each day.14 Mass graves were dug to bury the enormous amount of bodies. The camp was eventually burned down to stop the spread of disease.
The liberation of Bergen-Belsen was a significant event covered by the press. The horrific scenes of life in the concentration camp were captured. Finally, the world could no longer deny what the Nazis had done to the Jewish people.
14. The Jewish Virtual Library, Bergen-Belsen by Rebecca Weiner. Accessed