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Starting in 1938, the Nazi party purged German society, and then the populations of the nations it captured, of undesireables. These individuals were first forced into ghettos or concentration camps. In 1939 labor camps were created. During Hitler's Final Solution, 1941-1945, the Nazis then built extermination camps where gas chambers and ovens were employed to kill people and dispose of the bodies.
This state-sponsored genocide is widely known today as the Holocaust. Although Jews were the primary victims of the Holocaust, countless others also suffered including Gypsies, Poles, the handicapped, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, prisoners of war and political dissidents. Those murdered by the Nazis number well over 6 million people.
Located in Germany, Bergen-Belsen was established as a prisoner-of-war camp in 1940. The population was made up of Soviet, French and Belgian soldiers until 1943 when the first Jewish prisoners were placed there. A year later Bergen-Belsen was designated a concentration camp, and the Nazis used it as a way-station for prisoners on their way to the extermination camp at Auschwitz. As Germany began to retreat from the western front, it moved more and more prisoners to interior camps, such as Bergen-Belsen, swelling its population to an unsustainable level.
On April 15, 1945, the 11th Armoured Division of Great Britain liberated Bergen-Belsen. At the time there were 60,000 prisoners. Liberators and survivors describe the camp as a living hell, with extremely poor sanitation, rampant disease, no food or water and scores of unburied bodies. It's estimated that over the five years of its existence, 50,000 people died there. Among the prisoners of Bergen-Belsen was the young Anne Frank who died there one month before liberation.
Today there is a memorial on the site.