SS prison guards forced to load victims of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp into trucks for burial, 1945

After the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the bodies were buried in mass graves. SS prison guards were forced by British soldiers to load bodies into trucks. Note the British soldiers in the background with Stan submachine guns and Lee-Enfield rifles.

The prison guards were part of the SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), an independent unit within the SS with its own rank and command structure.

The entire training of the SS-Totenkopfverbände was based on elitism, rigor and companionship, along with a rule of ruthless discipline. While the Totenkopf (English: Death's Head) was the universal cap badge of the SS, the SS-TV also wore the insignia on the right collar to distinguish itself from other SS units.

One of the unique aspects of the Holocaust was the forceful orchestration and round-up, documentation, and ensuring that every Jew within the conquered Nazi territory was executed.

This policy of finding every single Jew within vast territory under Nazi control, marking them for death by harsh bureaucratic methods, finding ways to transport them to death camps, or killing them with mobile killing units, gas, etc. There was a unique aspect. of the Holocaust, in which the killing was so organized and efficient.

Bergen-Belsen was a relatively small concentration camp. Originally established as a prisoner of war camp, in 1943, part of it became a concentration camp.

Initially, it was an "exchange camp", where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of being exchanged for German prisoners of war held abroad. Before the advance of the Red Army, Belsen had a small number of prisoners.

In July 1944 there were only 7,300, by December 1944 this number had increased to 15,000 and by February 1945 it had increased to 22,000. However, by 15 April this increased to around 60,000.

This overcrowding led to a huge increase in deaths from disease: especially typhus, as well as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, dysentery, and malnutrition in a camp originally built to hold about 10,000 prisoners. All the prisoners were subject to starvation and pestilence. About 50,000 people are estimated to have died in this camp.

The camp was liberated by the British 11th Armored Division on 15 April 1945. Soldiers found about 60,000 prisoners inside, most of whom were half-starved and seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lying around the camp.

The average weight of prisoners was 25–30 kg (50–60 lb). The prisoners were without food or water before the Allied arrival partly due to Allied bombing. In the period just before and after liberation, prisoners were dying at a rate of about 500 per day, mostly from typhus.

Dwight Eisenhower visited the remains of a concentration camp near the city of Gotha in April 1945 and recorded his experience that was indescribable with words:

"I never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with undeniable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless defiance of every piece of complacency ... I never experienced the same sense of shock "

There were no gas chambers in Bergen-Belsen because mass murders had taken place in the camps in the past. Nevertheless, an estimated 50,000 Jews, Czechs, Poles, anti-Nazi Christians, homosexuals and Gypsies were killed in the camp.

Anne Frank lost her life in this camp. After liberation, the camp was burned in an attempt to prevent further spread of the disease, and Anne Frank was buried in a mass grave at an undisclosed location.


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