“I’ve always hated the Germans in this war, but now that I’ve seen what they’ve done to these people I feel I’ll hate them forever. You’d never believe such cruelty would exist.” Those were the words of Joan Rudman, a British nurse serving in Bergen-Belsen三级成人视频, the Nazi concentration camp that was liberated by UK forces 75 years ago this Wednesday. Belsen, in northern Germany, was first established in 1940 as a prisoner-of-war camp. By 1943, it held Jewish civilians with foreign passports as leverage in possible exchanges for Germans interned in Allied countries. It later became a concentration camp and, finally, home to survivors of the brutal death marches, who were forced into appallingly overcrowded barracks, as the Nazis sought to get them out of the reach of Allied forces. About 70,000 people, mostly Jews, died there.
Outside its gates lay miles of pristine pine and silver birch forest. Inside, a man-made hell. By the time Belsen was liberated on April 15, 1945 – about two months after the death there of diarist Anne Frank三级成人视频 – there were more than 13,000 corpses scattered around the camp and 60,000 people clinging to life. They had no food, water or even the most basic of sanitation and were dying from typhus, dysentery and starvation. “The children’s ward would break your heart,” Sister Rudman writes home in an 11-page letter that is held in the archives of Imperial War Museums (IWM) and published here for the first time. “Tiny little scraps, two in a bed with two big eyes staring out of a sunken face and little babies just like birds. I want to cry every time I go near the place, to think that innocent little children should have suffered so much.”
三级成人视频There were 100 London medical students working in the camp, who “sort out the living from the dead,” she writes, before detailing the gruesomely named “human laundry” where “they are literally scrubbed on tables, hair shaved if necessary and de-loused. When I went along one afternoon, there were 50 naked women, so emaciated, you could have cut yourself on their ribs.” Fatal mistakes with the handing out of food had already been made by the liberators. The soldiers, so eager to help, had given out their army rations, but the skeletal prisoners were too weak to digest them and many died as a result.
Denis Norden and Eric Sykes – later to make their names as BBC comedians – were serving at a nearby RAF camp when they stumbled upon Belsen in search of lighting equipment for their entertainment unit. They too donated all the food they could. “I’ve always had this awful feeling that it was wrong for us to do that,,” Norden said in 2015. What another soldier, Major Dick Williams, called “the wrong kind of kindness” contributed to the toll of almost 14,000 who died after liberation. Richard Dimbleby was the first broadcaster to enter the camp and broke down five times as he tried to record his report. The BBC initially refused to put it out; they relented after Dimbleby threatened to “never broadcast again in my life”. But mention of Jews was censored, according to his son, Jonathan, for fear of seeming biased towards one group.
The BBC’s first war correspondent had “found myself in the world of a nightmare,” describing lawyers, doctors, musicians and authors “herded like animals behind barbed wire”. “They were dying, every hour and every minute. I have never seen British soldiers so moved to cold fury as the men who opened the Belsen camp this week.” Another never-before-published letter in the IWM archive was sent on May 9 by Father Vincent Fay, formerly an assistant curate in Manchester, now serving as Catholic chaplain to the 9th British General Hospital, in what he repeatedly refers to as “the horror camp”. “Believe me the horrors which one reads about in Belsen camp are not exaggerated,” he wrote the day after VE Day.
“It was hard to do much with 5,000 patients to look after,” he added, concluding: “Well, cheerio and thank God for peace.” Anita Lasker-Wallfisch, 94, will never forget the human misery. A cellist born in Breslau, then part of Germany, she arrived at Belsen in November 1944 on a train crammed with 3,000 others. She had survived nearly a year in Auschwitz, where her place in the camp orchestra – whose music was designed to keep the slave labourers marching in time – had saved her life. “Belsen was just a sea of dead people. The difference between Auschwitz and Belsen is that in Auschwitz they had a very accomplished way of murdering people – the gas chambers – and in Belsen, they didn’t need any particular apparatus to kill people. In Belsen, you just died.”
On April 15, she greeted her liberators not with shouts of joy, but silence, “not really believing that they could have reached us in time. It was very much the last moment – if it had lasted another week, I don’t think I would be talking to you today.” The red jumper she wore under her uniform for months, until liberation, having acquired it in exchange for bread in Auschwitz, will feature in the IWM’s new Holocaust Galleries opening next year, along with the pass she needed to attend the Belsen三级成人视频 trials in 1945 where she testified against the SS. Lasker-Wallfisch, who moved to the UK in 1946, would go on to become a founding member of the English Chamber Orchestra.
三级成人视频The first Jewish civilian relief worker to enter the camp was Jane Leverson, a 27-year-old London School of Economics graduate from Hampstead volunteering with a Quaker group. Though secular she arrived, five days after liberation, proudly wearing a Star of David. “They were very pleased to see me because... they hadn’t seen a Magen David worn voluntarily – only the yellow badges. And they were delighted by that,” she said in an interview with Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation.
“And also I was rather plump at the time and they would pinch my cheek and say how lovely it was.” Asked how she communicated with survivors who originated from so many different countries, she responded: “Some of them didn’t know I wasn’t communicating because I was listening. And it was such a change for them to be listened to.” Leverson was the aunt and godmother of Dame Esther Rantzen, and was a central inspiration to her young niece. “These memories are so painful that I didn’t ask her detailed questions,” says the TV presenter and campaigner. “But I think she knew how much I admired her.”
On the importance of continuing to mark these anniversaries, she says: “The knowledge that humanity can be so sadistic on an industrial scale is something that we need to be aware of.” Lasker-Wallfisch adds that “it’s a waste of time to have these commemorations if you don’t actually learn something from it. And I feel at the moment we are actually learning that there is no difference between a Muslim, a Jew, a Christian or whatever. We have now got a common enemy – the virus. Maybe we are learning something, I don’t know. I can only hope.”
For details of Imperial War Museums’ programme to mark the 75th anniversaries of VE Day and the end of the Second World War, visit: