British measures immediately after the liberation

The British soldiers were utterly unprepared for the inferno they encountered when they entered Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945. They immediately implemented first aid measures which were intensified in the following days when medical units and other supply units arrived. They were supported by units of the British Red Cross and other relief organizations as well as many volunteers. 

The survivors were taken to the nearby Wehrmacht barracks where they received medical treatment. They were given the status of “displaced persons” (DPs), which gave them the right to special assistance and care. After most of the survivors had been repatriated, the British military government established a Polish DP camp and a Jewish DP camp at the former Wehrmacht barracks in the summer of 1945. The Polish DP camp existed until 1946, and the Jewish DP camp was not closed until mid-1950. With up to 12,000 inhabitants, the Jewish DP camp was the largest camp for Jewish displaced persons in post-war Germany.

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1. Drawings from Eva Sachselová’s sketchbook 14-year old Eva Sachselová made these sketches in the spring of 1945 at the Bergen-Belsen emergency hospital. They show the daily routine at the hospital. Sachselová gave the drawings to British medical student Andrew Matthews, who had taken care of her. In late June 1945, she returned to her hometown of Plzeň in Czechoslovakia. Property of Joanne James

2. Pass for British medical student Gordon Walker granting access to Bergen-Belsen The pass was valid for “Camps 1/2/3 and Hospital Block”. Camp 1 was the term for the former main camp of the concentration camp, Camp 2 was the emergency hospital at the barracks and Camp 3 was the DP camp at the barracks. Donated by Gordon Walker

3. The 97 British medical students who took part in the rescue and relief efforts in Bergen-Belsen. At the centre in the first row is Brigadier H.L. Glyn Hughes, Deputy Director of Medical Services of the 2nd Army. Imperial War Museum, London, Photograph Archive, HU 59497

4. 1–4 May 1945, Photographer: Sgt. Hewitt “Men of the Light Field Ambulance evacuating men suffering from typhus from their infested huts. These will be bathed, deloused and, in a fresh clean blanket, taken into our new make-shift hospital in the old SS barracks which adjoins the camp.” From the photographer’s “caption sheet”. Imperial War Museum, London, Photograph Archive, BU 5458

5. 1–4 May 1945, Photographer: Sgt. Hewitt The following comments were added: “With these pictures we are trying to show the tremendous efforts that are being made by the British and Allied medical services to save what may yet be saved of the distressed bodies and souls of the unfortunate inmates of Belsen, and within the limitations of the filmic medium, the success that has so far attended our efforts.” Imperial War Museum, London, Photograph Archive, BU 5473