Ahead of the 70th anniversary of its liberation, a visit to the German camp with what is Europe’s largest Jewish cemetery, accompanied by some of the ‘babies’ born in the DP camp after the war
By Renee Ghert-Zand|The Times of Israel
BERGEN-BELSEN, Germany — There are no gas chambers or crematoria to see at Bergen-Belsen. Instead, there are grassy berms, covering the massive pits into which more than 10,000 emaciated corpses were packed, with bulldozers, after British forces liberated the concentration camp on April 15, 1945.
From a young age, I have seen film footage of those bulldozed bodies, but the other day I actually walked among those berms. It was a disturbing feeling, a surreal experience I have not yet fully grasped. Yet, before I will have had time to fully process it, I will walk by those mass graves again on Sunday, as I make my way to the official ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen.
Dignitaries like German President Joachim Gauck, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, and British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis will speak. I suspect, however, that I may be listening more to the ghostly sounds that someone with me here and who has visited this site many times, says she hears, as the wind blows through the 70-year-old trees that stand exactly where the camp’s barracks used to be.
The concentration camp
The barracks are gone because the British immediately burned down every single structure in the typhus- and typhoid-infested camp in an effort to prevent the further spread of disease. That’s why there is nothing left of this place, where more than 70,000 people perished between 1941 and 1945, other than vast open fields and the surrounding forest — and, of course, the huge mounds covering those who died of disease or starvation as the camp’s population ballooned tremendously beyond capacity. That was when the Soviets advanced across Poland, and the Germans marched and transported prisoners from death camps in the east to concentration and prison camps in territory still under their control.