- The concentration camp, which was located in Lower Saxony, was constructed in April 1943 as a detention camp designed to exchange German prisoners for German nationals in Allied countries whom the Reich wanted to repatriate. At the time Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp in March 1944, it consisted of a main camp and five satellites, which included four that held large numbers of Jewish prisoners. Conditions at Bergen-Belsen were horrific. Prisoners received no medical attention and inadequate food rations. Thousands died from chronic illnesses as a result of the terrible conditions. In the last weeks of the war, tens of thousands of Jews were evacuated from the extermination camps in Poland and force-marched to Bergen-Belsen. The evacuation included 20,000 women from Auschwitz. The camp, however, was unprepared for the influx of so many people, and as a result conditions at the camp deteriorated. The camp administration did nothing to house the large number of Jews who streamed into the camp. Because of a lack of shelter and shortages of food and water, the camp inmates were subjected to an outbreak of typhus, which in March 1945 had already claimed the lives of more than 18,000 prisoners, including Anne Frank and her sister, Margot.The total number of those who died in Bergen-Belsen between January and April 1945 was 35,000. When the British Second Army, 11th Armored Division, along with Canadian units liberated BergenBelsen on 15 April 1945, there were 60,000 prisoners in the camp who were chronically ill. There were also thousands of unburied bodies strewn all over the camp, a scene vividly captured on film by the British, who were horrified by what they encountered. In the days following the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, an additional 14,000 persons died, and thousands of others perished in the following weeks.See also Death marches.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.