Belsen was not the largest camp, but for a short few months at the end
of the war it was one of the worst, conditions being considered worse than those of Auschwitz.
To say that the British soldiers sent to take over the camp in April
1945 were horrified at what they saw, what an understatement of the largest degree. A place to house about 10,000 prisoners
had been packed with more than 60,000 in hellish conditions. Because of this and typhus, 35,000 had died in the weeks before
the takeover and at least 10,000 more were beyond help as they were so ill.
The huts had water laid on but it wasnt working and in addition there
were large concrete ponds in the camp near the cookhouses. There were various piles of bodies lying all over the camp, some
outside the wire and some in between the huts. The frightening scenes inside were worse. The gutters were full and within
the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the bunks with the living. Some of the huts had bunks, some
didnt, but they were all full of emaciated and disease ridden people.
There was not room for them to lie down full length in the huts. In the
most crowded huts, were between 600 and 1000 people where there should have only been 100. There was no sanitation, and most
suffered from gastro-enteritis and were too weak to leave the hut. The compounds were one mass of human excreta. In the huts
the floors were covered and the people in the top bunks who could not get out, just poured it onto the bunks below.
No 1 compound was a very large and contained 22,000 and 23,000 women.
The huts were set among trees and conditions were terrible but not as bad as compound no 2. This was a small hut but contained
6000 people. There was a very large pile of bodies.
In hut no 208, which was close to the pile of corpses, there were dead
women lying in the passage, which was so full, they couldnt lie down. The main room was one mass of bodies and you could not
get into another.
The medical supplies were more or less non existent, with 300 aspirins
for 17,000 people for one week. There didnt seem to be any disinfectant available and no anti-louse powder issued. Food parcels
issued by the Red Cross, containing meat extracts and food of all kinds, biscuits and milk, had never been issued.
At the time of entry there was practically no food in the camp, at most
one meal of watery soup of vegetables was given once a day. There had been no bread for a fortnight and no water for a bit
shorter time. And there was no method which made sure everyone got their share. Anyone who could not get up to get theirs,
At his trial in 1945, the main blame for the horrors of Belsen fell on
Josef Kramer, who had become known as the Beast of Belsen The trial showed that Kramer could easily have alleviated the terrible
conditions but had chose not to. In his opening statement, prosecutor Colonel Blackhouse said So far as one knows,
Belsen was originally a small camp,
a transit camp but at the end of Novemeber of last year, Josef Kramer was called to Berlin. Kramer who had been in the concentration
camp service throughout the whole Nazi regime, had been the commander of a potion of Auschwitz. The head of the concentration
camp service told Kramer to go and look at the camp and if he found difficulties he was to report back. He was in sole charge
of the camp
To write about this place, you must
have been here at least two years. But if you survive that long.you dont want to write any more Buchenwald
In the hills less than 10km
from Weimar, was Buckenwald. This was the scene of some of
the most hideous barbarity perpetrated by the Nazis. It was the one of the main pre-war camps, designed to handle prisoners
from central Germany the others were Sachenhausen in the North and Dachau in the South.
In 12 years of its existence an estimated 56,000 people were killed at
Buchenwald. The camps capacity reached 70,000 at the end of 1944 although there were just
21,000 inmates left alive when the camp was liberated a year later, many of these on the verge of death.
This was not an extermination camp, but a slave labour camp. Some men
endured its horrors for years, a handful freed in 1945 had been there since before the war. Many were tortured by soldiers
there just for the sheer pleasure of it.
One person recalled with horror of
how the guards repeatedly entered the barracks and dragged someone outside to have their limbs broken with steel rods. All
night there were screams, cries and the occasional shot to conclude it all.
When it was liberated you could see the living dead of Buchenwald
but no-one would admit to knowing anything about what went on behind the wire, although when they went out to work in the
factories they were under the locals care.
From 1943, when the inmates became too sick to work, they were shipped
to Auschwitz to be gassed. After the closure of the extermination camps in late 1944, the
sick were put to death in block 61. The favoured method was to hold the prisoner down and stab him in the heart with a large
syringe of phenol. The bodies were cremated on the spot, the ashes thrown into the excretment pits that were dug out to supply
fertilizer for the locals.
Work was the only way to survive. Another survivor described how much
of the work was no more than torture, back-breaking labour like building walls only to tear them down and to start again or
carrying sacks of wet salt too and fro for no reason other than to exhaust the prisoners. Anyone too tired to carry on was
put to death on the spot by whatever method the SS guard on duty thought best.
Himmler visited the camp in May 1943 and was annoyed at the death rate,
these men that were being killed were valuable slave labour. It worsened the next year and he was concerned that the commandants
in charge had not heeded his word. Himmler laid down a three-stage incentive scheme for the inmates-the fourth unspoken one
being death for failure to meet norms laid down by the relevant factory foreman.
An inmate who exceeded his quota would get extra rations. As the normal
rations was little more than a single slice of black bread, a smearing of butter and watery turnip soup, such generosity would not eat into the Germans food supplies.
The second stage was to pay him a wage, 30-40 pfennigs a day. The third
was a visit to the camp brothel. Buchenwald still didnt have one and Himmler demanded one was set up. Such were provided in
other camps, always for the SS guards, sometimes for the kapos and now for willing prisoners. The girls were usually teenagers
abducted from occupied Europe.
Some inmates like Dr Alfred Balochowsky, worked on vaccines for typhus
for the German armed forces. Tests held in block 46, were conducted on other prisoners. Blood was drawn from the men infected
with typhus when the fever reached its height, then 5-10 millilitres was intravenously injected into healthy men. Their blood
was taken in turn to infect other men. None were treated for the disease, their function was provide a constant supply of
typhus germs on which to test various vaccines.
Other medical experiments were even more nauseating. Allied prisoners
of war were tied down and burned with phosphorus. Russians were preferred since they were believed to be physically tougher
and racial inferiors. Others were placed on diets of salt water only, their death agonies providing medical data for the German
Navy. Men convicted of homosexual offences were also sent to Buchenwald to be given hormone injections to cure what German
doctors chose to regard as their medical condition.
Presiding over this hell on earth was SS-Standartenfuhrer Karl karli
Kosh and his wife Ilse. Kochs claim to fame is that he was one of the handful of concentration camp commandants executed by
the SS before the allies could hang him. His wife Ilse was known as the witch of Buchenwald who amused herself by riding horseback
through the camp, whipping any inmates that caught her eye. She was also rumoured to collect human flesh especially if decorated
with tattoos. Prisoners found with tattoos she liked were killed by lethal injection then skinned to produce lampshades and
book covers. Funnily enough, although everyone knew about this and the fact that artefacts were removed after the war, the
charges were rejected.
In 1947 Ilse Koch was sentenced
to life imprisonment for mass murder by an American Tribunal. This was commuted to four years and she was released,
having given birth to a son, Uwe in prison. The identity of the father remains a mystery. Re-arrested in 1949 by the West
German authorities, she was again sentenced to life. The court heard overwhelming evidence of her personal involvement in
the murder of imates. Psychiatrists examined her, pronouncing her a perverted, nymphomanical, hysterical, power-driven demon.
Held at Aichach womens prison in Bavaria, she committed suicide in 1967 by hanging herself with her bed sheet.
Himmler cheated the hangman in 1945, biting into a cyanide capsule after
his capture by British soldiers. Just before his death, he had been shown photos from Buchenwald and Belsen the piles of emaciated
corpses that stunned the world in 1945. Am I responsible for the excesses of my subordinates? he asked.