Situation in the camp when the British arrived

The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was established in the spring of 1943. It was the first Nazi concentration camp to be set up solely for Jewish prisoners initially. These prisoners were to be exchanged for Germans interned abroad. From the spring of 1944, the SS, which was in charge of the camp, brought other groups of prisoners to Bergen-Belsen as well, especially political prisoners. At the end of 1944, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp became one of the main destinations for evacuation transports from concentration camps near the front lines. Between December 1944 and mid-April 1945, at least 85,000 prisoners from all of the countries occupied by Germany arrived at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on these transports. Most of these prisoners came from Poland and Hungary. The SS made no serious effort to ensure that the prisoners were adequately fed or to prevent the rapid spread of epidemics. Bergen-Belsen therefore became a site of mass death. At least 52,000 people died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, including political prisoners from all over Europe, Jews, Sinti and Roma people, as well as people persecuted as homosexuals, as “anti-social elements” or “criminals”, or as Jehovah's Witnesses.

With the front approaching, the Wehrmacht and SS surrendered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp peacefully to the British Army under the terms of a local truce. This was done in order to prevent the spread of the epidemics that had broken out in the camp.




1. 12 April1945, Photographer: Lt. Handford “A British Brigadier + Captain set off for the German lines to discuss the area needed so that British soldiers could be kept free from infection. Bandages were placed over the German Officers’ eyes so that they should not observe our dispositions.” From a caption in the Imperial War Museum’s collection, based on the photographer’s lost caption sheet. Imperial War Museum, London, Photograph Archive, BU 3624

2. 16 April 1945, Photographer: Lt. Wilson “A general shot of part of a lager. The four figures lying in foreground are either dead  or nearly so.“ From the photographer’s “caption sheet”. Imperial War Museum, London, Photograph Archive, BU 3767

3. 17 April 1945, Interior view of a hut, Bergen-Belsen This photograph of a hut at the women’s camp was taken by Sgt. Morris two days after the liberation. Imperial War Museum, London, Photograph Archive, BU 3805