Featured Image: Entry at Belsen camp warning of Typhus
14,000 Internees Die After British Occupation
April 15, 1945, after mutual negotiations with German Officers, British troops apparently “liberated” (by occupation) the Bergen-Belsen prisoner exchange camp.
The British troops who took over adminisration of the Belsen camp, three weeks before the end of the war, were shocked by the many unburied corpses and dying inmates they found. Horrific photos and films of the camp’s emaciated corpses and mortally sick inmates were quickly circulated around the globe. Within weeks the British military occupation newspaper proclaimed:
“The story of that greatest of all exhibitions of ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ which was Belsen Concentration Camp is known throughout the world.”
The narrative that accompanied the horrid imagery, was, as it is today, a gross distortion of the camp’s true history.
Ghastly pictures recorded by Allied photographers at Belsen in mid-April 1945 and widely reproduced ever since, have greatly contributed to the camp’s reputation as a notorious extermination center. In fact, the dead of Bergen-Belsen were, above all, unfortunate victims of war and its turmoil, NOT of deliberate extermination policy.
However, it can be verifiably argued that they were victims of Allied destruction of the entire European war theatre, by the terrorism of Allied “Carpet Bombing” policy.
More than 9,000 Jews with citizenship papers or passports for Latin American countries, entry visas for Palestine, or other documents making them eligible for emigration, arrived at Bergen-Belsen in late 1943 and 1944, from Poland, France, Holland and other parts of Europe. During the final months of the war, several groups of these “exchange Jews” were transported from Axis-occupied Europe. German authorities transferred several hundred to neutral Switzerland, and at least one group of 222 Jewish internees was transferred from Belsen to British-controlled Palestine.
Until late 1944 conditions were generally better than in other camps. Marika Abrams, a Jewish woman from Hungary, was transferred from Auschwitz in 1944. Years later she recalled her arrival at Belsen: “…We were each given two blankets and a dish. There was running water and latrines….The conditions were so superior to Auschwitz we felt we were practically in a sanitarium.”
Inmates received three meals a day. Coffee and bread were served in the morning and evening, with cheese and sausage as available. The main mid-day meal consisted of one litre of vegetable stew and bread. Families also lived together, otherwise, in keeping with the morality of the day, men and women were housed in separate barracks.
During the final months of the war, tens of thousands of refugees were evacuated to Belsen from Auschwitz and other eastern camps threatened by the advancing Bolsheviks. With the choice to stay or go with German officials, a great majority voluntarily left to avoid the encroaching Red Army.
Belsen became severely overcrowded as the number of inmates increased from 15,000 in December 1944 to 42,000 at the beginning of March 1945, and more than 50,000 a month later… many bringing with them disease infested lice from conditions of the war-torn east.
So catastrophic had conditions become during the final months of the war, that about a third of the prisoners evacuated to Belsen in February and March 1945, perished during the journey and were dead on arrival.
As order broke down across Europe during those chaotic final months of the war, regular deliveries of food and medicine to the camp stopped. Foraging trucks were sent out to scrounge up whatever supplies of bread, potatoes and turnips that were available in nearby towns.
Disease was kept under control by routinely disinfecting all new arrivals. But in early February 1945 a large transport of Hungarian evacuees was admitted while the disinfection facility was out of order. As a result, typhus broke out and quickly spread beyond control.
Commandant Josef Kramer quarantined the camp in an effort to save lives, but SS camp administration headquarters in Berlin insisted that Belsen be kept open to receive still more evacuees arriving from the East.
The worst killer was typhus, but typhoid fever and dysentery also claimed many lives. Aggravating the situation was a policy during the final months of transferring already sick inmates from other camps to Belsen, which was then officially designated a sick or convalescence camp (Krankenlager). The sick women of Auschwitz, for example, were transferred to Belsen in three groups in November-December 1944.
[Disease as the cause of death, is confirmed by Dr. Charles Larson, leading Forensic Pathologist, Colonel of the U.S. Medical Corps, assigned to the Judge Advocate Generals Department and the only Forensic Pathologist in the entire European war theatre – here]
When SS chief Heinrich Himmler learned of the typhus outbreak at Bergen-Belsen, he immediately issued an order to all appropriate officials requiring that;
“All medical means necessary to combat the epidemic should be employed … There can be no question of skimping either with doctors or medical supplies.”
However, the general breakdown of order that prevailed on Germany by this time, made it impossible to implement the command.
Kramer Reports a ‘Catastrophe’
In a March 1, 1945, letter to Gruppenfuhrer (General) Richard Glucks, head of the SS camp administration agency, Commandant Kramer reported in detail on the catastrophic situation in Bergen-Belsen, and pleaded for help:
“If I had sufficient sleeping accommodation at my disposal, then the accommodation of the internees who have already arrived and of those still to come would appear more possible. In addition to this question a spotted fever and typhus epidemic has now begun, which increases in extent every day. The daily mortality rate, which was still in the region of 60-70 at the beginning of February, has in the meantime attained a daily average of 250-300 and will increase still further in view of the conditions which at present prevail.
Supply: When I took over the camp, winter supplies for 1500 internees had been indented for; some had been received, but the greater part had not been delivered. This failure was due not only to difficulties of transport, but also to the fact that practically nothing is available in this area and all must be brought from outside the area …
For the last four days there has been no delivery [of food] from Hannover owing to interrupted communications, and I shall be compelled, if this state of affairs prevails till the end of the week, to fetch bread also by means of truck from Hannover. The trucks allotted to the local unit are in no way adequate for this work, and I am compelled to ask for at least three to four trucks and five to six trailers. When I once have here a means of towing then I can send out the trailers into the surrounding area … The supply question must, without fail, be cleared up in the next few days. I ask you, Gruppenführer, for an allocation of transport …
State of Health: The incidence of disease is very high here in proportion to the number of internees. When you interviewed me on Dec. 1, 1944, at Oranienburg, you told me that Bergen-Belsen was to serve as a sick camp for all concentration camps in north Germany. The number of sick has greatly increased, particularly on account of the transports of internees that have arrived from the East in recent times – these transports have sometimes spent eight or fourteen days in open trucks…
The fight against spotted fever is made extremely difficult by the lack of means of disinfection. Due to constant use, the hot-air delousing machine is now in bad working order and sometimes fails for several days…
A catastrophe is taking place for which no one wishes to assume responsibility… Gruppenführer, I can assure you that from this end everything will be done to overcome the present crisis…
I am now asking you for your assistance as it lies in your power. In addition to the above-mentioned points I need here, before everything, accommodation facilities, beds, blankets, eating utensils – all for about 20,000 internees … I implore your help in overcoming this situation.”
These are not the words of a man purportedly keeping so-called “Extermination Policy.”
Kramer did everything in his power to reduce suffering and prevent death among the inmates, even appealing to the hard-pressed German army;
“I don’t know what else to do,” he told high-ranking army officers.
“I have reached the limit. Masses of people are dying. The drinking water supply has broken down. A trainload of food was destroyed by low-flying [Allied] war planes. Something must be done immediately.”
Working together with both Commandant Kramer and chief inmate representative Kuestermeier, Colonel Hanns Schmidt responded by arranging for the local volunteer fire department to provide water. He also saw to it that food supplies were brought to the camp from abandoned rail cars. Schmidt later recalled in regards to Kramer;
“…He worked with great dedication to improve conditions in the camp. For example, he rounded up horse drawn vehicles to bring food to the camp from rail cars that had been shot up.”
“I was swamped,” Kramer later explained to incredulous British military interrogators:
“The camp was not really inefficient before you [British and American forces] crossed the Rhine. There was running water, regular meals of a kind – I had to accept what food I was given for the camp and distribute it the best way I could. But then they suddenly began to send me trainloads of new evacuees from all over Germany. It was impossible to cope with them. I appealed for more staff, more food. I was told that this was impossible. I had to carry on with what I had.
Then as a last straw, the Allies bombed the electric plant that pumped our water. Loads of food were unable to reach the camp because of the Allied fighters. Then things really got out of hand. During the last six weeks I have been helpless. I did not even have sufficient staff to bury the dead, let alone segregate the sick… I tried to get medicines and food for the inmates and I failed. I was swamped. I may have been hated, but I was doing my duty.”
Kramer’s clear conscience is also suggested by the fact that he made no effort to save his life by fleeing, but instead calmly awaited and negotiated with British forces, naively confident of decent treatment.
Nor does this reconcile with the ‘Systematic German Killing Machine’ which we are told of, where Germans went to great lengths to conceal mass murder by burning bodies and documents of internees, as with Auschwitz – the purported proof pivotal on, there being no evidence?
“When the Belsen Camp was eventually taken over by the Allies,” he later stated, “I was quite satisfied that I had done all I possibly could under the circumstances to remedy the conditions in the camp.”
Two German officers presented themselves before the British outposts and explained that there were 9,000 sick in the camp and that all sanitation had failed. They proposed that the British should occupy the camp at once, as the responsibility was international in the interests of health. In return for the delay caused by the truce the Germans offered to surrender intact the bridges over the river Aller. After consideration the British senior officer rejected the German proposals, saying it was necessary that the British should occupy an area of ten kilometers round the camp in order to be sure of keeping their troops and lines of communication away from the disease. After some time, it was peacefully transferred, with an agreement that “both British and German troops will make every effort to avoid battle in the area.”
Despite the obvious situation and conditions Bergen-Belsen was under, Commandant Kramer, who was vilified in the British and American press as “The Beast of Belsen” and “The Monster of Belsen,” was put on trial and then executed, along with chief physician Dr. Fritz Klein and other camp officials. At his trial, Kramer’s defense attorney, Major T.C.M. Winwood, predicted:
“When the curtain finally rings down on this stage Josef Kramer will, in my submission, stand forth not as ‘The Beast of Belsen’ but as ‘The Scapegoat of Belsen’.”
In an “act of revenge,” the British liberators expelled the residents of the nearby town of Bergen, and then permitted camp inmates to loot the houses and buildings. Much of the town was also set on fire.
The obvious Typhus fear spreading Europe as the Allies barbarous aerial campaign creating the diseased conditions intensified, signs, posters and flyers were posted wherever possible, warning in concentrated areas.
The notorious Bergen-Belsen camp where [according to Court Historians] purportedly 50,000 – 100,000 inmates (although a maximum of 60,000 ever passed through) were supposedly murdered, it was actually, about 7,000 inmates who died during the period when the camp existed under German control, from 1943 to 1945.
They died in the final months of the war as a result of disease and malnutrition – consequences of the allied bombings that had completely disrupted normal deliveries of medical supplies and food… not to mention creating conditions where the killer diseases thrive. A catastrophe the Allies would have been aware of, through their historical experience of thousands dying from Epidemic Typhus in British camps, during the Boer War.
HOWEVER, when the British took control of the camp, the new administrators proved no more capable of mastering the chaos than the Germans had, despite all their assistance with man power, hygiene and medical supplies.
The ‘Human Laundry’ was created in a former barracks. There were 20 cleansing stations where internees were treated with delousing powder and their infected skin scrubbed clean. Units were brought in with protective sanitary clothing to deal with the sick and the dead, all treating women were given white headdresses to prevent the spread of lice and British Officers continued to treat those suspected to be not yet infected…
…despite this highly organised attempt at combating the war time disease, almost 14,000 internees died at Bergen-Belsen in the months following the British Occupation… twice as many than under German Administration.
The Memorial Sign that stands at Bergen-Belsen attests to the post-occupation deaths, but somehow still attributes it to ‘German Atrocities’?
Unless of course, the “Evil Germans” had effectively trained the typhus-ridden lice to ignore British command and to continue killing in their absence?
A further measure to overcome the Typhus was to destroy a certain number of the urine, dysentery and Typhus ridden barracks, by setting them on fire. Claimed now by the latter-day ‘Exterminationists’ that it was a poignant ceremony to delete the memory of purported ‘German Atrocities’ – a therapeutic exercise. However, this narrative does not reconcile with the desperation for accommodations for the internees, or the fact that the majority of the facilities were still utilised and left untouched after occupation.
From 1945 until 1950, when it was finally shut down, the British maintained Belsen as a camp for ‘Displaced Persons'(DP). It mostly continued as a sick and transitional camp for emigrants to Palestine, no differently than it had under German Administration. However, during this period it achieved new notoriety as a major European black market center. The “Uncrowned King” of Belsen’s 10,000 Jews was Yossl (Josef) Rosensaft, who amassed tremendous profits from the illegal trading and from Jewish sponsors. Rosensaft had been interned in various camps, including Auschwitz (more miraculous survival stories I’m sure) before arriving in Belsen in early April 1945… He now turned his attention to demonising the British (who not only “Liberated” the camp he conducted business from), but who were the Mandate Government of Palestine… the very land the Jews sought to usurp for a ‘Jewish State’ without British oversight, or a restricted ‘Reservation’ as proferred by some NSDAP members.
Warning Sign in Camps: “One Louse = Your Death”
Expansive study here
N. Jones is a Writer, Researcher, Historian and Literary Critic.