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Bergen-Belsen: A Horrific Detention Camp

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Bergen-Belsen: A Horrific Detention Camp

Imagine starving to death, being so exhausted you want to die. Imagine losing your family and knowing they died a terrible death. This is what the prisoners at Bergen-Belsen had to go through. Unlike other concentration camps, Bergen-Belsen didn't kill people quickly through use of gas chambers. Instead people there died of starvation, work exhaustion, and disease.

Bergen-Belsen did not quickly exterminate people like they did at Auschwitz. Therefore, it became very overcrowded. It was only designed to hold 10,000 prisoners, but held way more prisoners towards the end of the war. In December 1944 there were 15,000 prisoners, 42,000 in the beginning of March 1945, and more than 60,000 prisoners one month later. Some of the German Soldiers did not want to do what they were ordered to do, but they had to. "If I could help you, I would, but I would lose my head" (Menkel), said a soldier to an inmate during the war. He didn't want to be torturing the prisoners, but he had to otherwise he would be killed. After the war, the soldier committed suicide because he couldn't live with what he had done.

Many people at Bergen-Belsen died of the disease typhus. This was the disease Anne Frank died from. Typhus broke out in the beginning of 1945 and killed about 50,000 of the 155,000 Jews at Bergen-Belsen. Typhus starts out as lice, and then you get symptoms like high fever, severe headaches, and rash. The Typhus vaccine was developed by Hans Zinsser in 1932. Prisoners at Bergen-Belsen didn't have access to the vaccine or antibiotics at this time, which is why so many of them died from it, even after liberation.

The prisoners had a very tiring schedule at Bergen-Belsen. They would have to wake up at 5:00 a.m., then go to roll call at 6:00 a.m. They would have to wait at roll call for about three hours, no matter what the weather was. The rest of the day they had to work as slaves in the factory making bullets for German Soldiers. By 10:00 p.m. the lights had to be out, and at midnight, there was an inspection. Three or four soldiers came and you would have to tell them how healthy and what condition everyone was in (Menkel). They had to sleep in severely overcrowded tents in cold weather. Several tents were blown away after a big storm, so conditions became worse for the prisoners. Disease spread fast since there were so many people and no sanitation. Anne Frank didn't know she was sick at first, she just thought she was extremely exhausted. "At Bergen-Belsen, you did not have feelings anymore. You became paralyzed" (Menkel).

Prisoners barely got any food. They only got one roll of bread for eight days; one cup of black coffee and one cup of soup per day. Later, the food rations decreased. About 37,000 prisoners died of starvation. Others just lost an extreme amount of weight. Irma Menkel, one of Anne's



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