After Daybreak: The Liberation of Belsen, 1945BMJ 2005; 330 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.330.7498.1030 (Published 28 April 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;330:1030
- Alex Paton (PatonAlex@aol.com), retired physician
Sixty years ago, on 15 April 1945, British soldiers of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment entered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Celle in northwest Germany. What they found sent shockwaves around the world. At first they came upon apathetic scarecrows in filthy, striped prison rags, sitting in their own excreta, so emaciated that it was difficult to tell women from men, living from dead. Then, as word spread, the soldiers were mobbed by wailing, stick-like figures, struggling frantically for help. The dusty barren ground was littered with piles of unburied corpses.
Worse was to come. A camp that had been built to house 7000 “elite” Jews to be used as bargaining counters had swollen to more than 40 000, as others were evacuated in advance of the Russians. More than a hundred huts measuring 90 by 30 metres and built to hold at most 50 to 80 people now housed an average of 500 sick, dying, or dead people; in one hut 400 of the …