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

After the liberation of the camp the dead bodies were buried in mass graves. Photo taken on April 17, 1945, Germany.
After the liberation of the camp the dead bodies were buried in mass graves. Photo taken on April 17, 1945, Germany.
After the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp the dead bodies were buried in mass graves. The SS prison guards were forced by British soldiers to load the bodies into the trucks. Note British troops in background with Sten submachine gun and Lee-Enfield rifles.

The prison guards were part of SS-Totenkopfverbände (SS-TV), an independent unit within the SS with its own ranks and command structure. The whole of the SS-Totenkopfverbände training was based on elitism, toughness and comradeship, together with a regime 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 blatant orchestration and implementation of rounding up, documenting, and ensuring that every Jew within the conquered Nazi territory was killed. This policy of finding every single Jew within the vast territory under Nazi control, marking them for death in callous bureaucratic manner, finding ways to transport them to death camps or killing them with mobile killing units, gas, etc. was a unique aspect of the Holocaust, in that 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 this was an “exchange camp”, where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas. Before the advance of Red Army the number of prisoners at Belsen was small. In July 1944 there were just 7,300, by December 1944 the number had increased to 15,000 and by February 1945 it had risen to 22,000. However, it then soared to around 60,000 by April 15. This overcrowding led to a vast increase in deaths from disease: particularly typhus, as well as tuberculosis, typhoid fever, dysentery and malnutrition in a camp originally designed to hold about 10,000 inmates. All inmates were subject to starvation and epidemics. Some 50,000 people are estimated to have died in this camp.

The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division. The soldiers discovered approximately 60,000 prisoners inside, most of them half-starved and seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lying around the camp unburied. The average weight of prisoners was 25-30 kg (50-60 pounds). The prisoners had been without food or water for days before the Allied arrival partially due to the allied bombing. In the period immediately preceding and following liberation, prisoners were dying at a rate of around 500 per day mostly from typhus.

Dwight Eisenhower toured the remnants of a concentration camp near the town of Gotha in April 1945 and recorded his experience that was indescribable with words:

“I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency… I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.”

Interesting facts:

  • There were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen, since the mass killings took place in the camps further east. Nevertheless, an estimated 50,000 Jews, Czechs, Poles, anti-Nazi Christians, homosexuals, and Gypsies died in the camp.
  • Anne Frank lost her life in this camp. After liberation, the camp was burned in an effort to prevent further spread of disease, and Anne Frank was buried in a mass grave at an unknown location.

(Photo credit: AP Photo/British Official Photo).

Join the discussion

  • This image depicts how Hitler’s ‘Extermination’ agenda stripped everyone of something; the prisoners of their dignity and their life and the allies of their basic humanity. The Holocaust iss an utterly hideous example of the ravages of dehumanization.

    • You shouldn’t try to shrug off what happened in the German holocaust with a quip like that, nothing equalled what happened in these German extermination camps. Following one mans ideals to rid the world of the Jewish nation, for what reason, I see nothing at all with Jews. I’ve visited most of these camps during my army service and I’m still appalled at what happened.
      Perhaps we should have eradicated the German nation for what Hitler did?

  • The picture is very depressing to look at. To see how thin and tortured the victims were, their demise is saddening.

  • I visited this camp along with Auschwitz itself. I believe it is a place where it should be complusary for people to visit now and for many more years to follow. It is both horrific and sureal what the Nazi’s executed and nothing angers me more than the naiveness and ignorance of those follow german citizens who knew what was going on yet did not try to stop it. (excluding the brave opponents to Hitler’s regime)
    Respect should be paid daily for those innocent souls who lost their lives during the holocaust.

  • Eisenhower did not visit any camps. It is a popular myth propagated by Americans to have us believe he said that should we not record the events of the holocaust that someone in the future will deny it. This is in response to the fallacy that Muslims do not believe it did. Which is of course a crock of shite. Another piece of Americana.

    • There are well known photos of Eisenhower at Ohrdruf camp.
      General Eisenhower wrote in his autobiography that he only visited one camp and that was the camp near Gotha, which would be Ohrdruf.

      He visited the Ohrdruf sub-camp of Buchenwald on April 12, 1945, along with General Omar Bradley and General George Patton, a fact that’s also mentioned in Patton’s memories, IIRC

      Google “Eisenhower at Ohrdruf camp” and see by yourself, there is also the video on youtube, loaded from ChiTownView user that’s the original footage from US National Archives: go and see it, there are lots of infos and references in the video’s page

  • Belsen was not an “extermination” camp. There were no “gas chambers” there (as there were none on German soil), and nobody was “tortured” (note that the bodies are intact). These deaths were all due to typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, dysentery and malnutrition.

    • Oh, well then it’s a positively lovely place then?

      Whether their death was from the relatively quick zyklon-b, or the longer and most likely more excruciating death from disease and starvation, the death was perpetrated by the German people, participating in nazi ideology made real.

      • No, that’s not what he said, he was just pointing out the error. Stop taking his words and twisting it into something else. Your username does not suit you in the slightest.

    • You don’t have to show any physical damage to a human body for it to be considered ‘torture’…. you can suffer anguish via mental ‘torture’. So you are incorrect, sir.

    • @ Nord_Land
      Starvation is Torture. Being locked up and sick with disease is torture. No treatment for any of it is torture. Plain and simple. Lets see how you do not getting food and down to 50 or 60 lbs of weight and see if you think it was torture or not……What a horses you know what. Bet you have never served in the Military either. You are so mentally challenged.

  • If Bergen-Belsen was not an Extermination camp, could you please explain that to the relatives(if any survived) of the 200 plus men who were marched out of the Mannerlarger in 1944 and injected with phenol.
    They were seated on a stool, their left arm was held up in a position level with their shoulder, this was done so the chest was pushed forward to allow easy access to the heart.
    The needle was then thrust into the heart of the poor victim.
    The average time it took for them to die was about 2.5 minutes, in agony.
    Add that to the beatings, the shootings and the “Lets not feed the ungeziefer”, the death toll there will never be known exactly, but it was friggin high, 50 thousand plus.
    Now how the fuck could that not be classed as extermination?
    The definition of Extermination is this;. The killing, especially of a whole group of people or animals.
    That’s exactly what went on there for fuck sake, 50,000 human beings!
    Any people who try to justify the place simply because it was not “classed” as an extermination camp need to go and get themselves well and truly fucked.
    Thats pointing to you Nord Land and your little fart sniffing mate ihn.
    Now piss off.

    • 50000 human beings, not 6 million people! Of course if you JUST make blood out of a human nose, then you’re not human at all; but most of these are rumors made by Jewish media which is dominating throughout the world.

    • Sir, its not that these camps were nice. Its that extermination was not engaged in. The conditions in the camps was little different than the conditions outside them by the end of the war. Indeed, thats true throughout the war, as attested to by the red cross.
      Quote; ‘The definition of Extermination is this;. The killing, especially of a whole group of people or animals.’
      This accuratley describes the treatment of most people in Germany at the end of the war: Eisenhowers Death Camps for example. We are therfore guilty of deliberate genocide.
      The Germans did not engage in mass killing of prisoners as a policy of the III Reich, nor is there no evidence of mass killings performed on a large scale unofficialy. Consider the internment camps in America during the war. The Japanese were treated well but if America had its infastructure destroyed and its food production halted what would have happened to them along with many other Americans? Would we accuse Americans of genocide?

    • That was great. The new Nazi’s take distortions and lies cooked up by deniers in the 60’s and now because they’ve been repeated so many time over the years the new morons quote the old bullshit as if it were fact. I have known two Canadian G.I.s and one woman executive clerk(?) who was my best friends mother and this was no run of the mill prison camps…it was murder period. I don’t understand how the can spew when the are hundreds upon hundreds of witnesses. What did I just imagine my friends mom? Oh I know, she must be a plant from the Jewish/illuminati/mason/giants and akehnaton conspiracy
      My uncle and step dad flew B26s, my dad was a combat vet captain and my mom was a draftswoman working on the B25s and I am so glad they aren’t around to see that we have to give nutjobs airtime to spew their b.s. and make a laughing stock of the entire WW2 generation.
      Anyway, sorry for the rant and thanks again for your comment.

  • My uncle Jim was in one of the commando units ranging ahead of the 11th. British Armoured Division and was among the British troops who first entered Bergen-Belsen. He talked about their horror at what they found and making the Camp officers and guards to clean up the camp and prepare the bodies for burial. He said that they rounded up some of the inhabitants of a nearby town and forced them to work there as well. He had several photos of the macabre treatment of the prisoners (which he showed me). He also showed me pictures of the locals who were forced to work in the mass graves there. It still haunted him 15 years after the war had ended.
    I’m with you Wink, in what you said.

  • Jacek. Look at the pictures. Living skeletons (and dead ones) were being slowly starved to death. That is ‘torture’. I’m sure that many were also tortured.

  • Notice the British camera operator to the left. This was also in an early scene from “Night Will Fall” from 2014, a documentary with found footage shot by Alfred Hitchcock.

    • Hello Zaki J,
      I have a copy of the original film of this, it was called “German concentration camps factual survey”, which the British produced straight after the war.
      I acquired it in VHS format around 1990 from a friend who’s father was high up in the ADF, how he got it, i will never know.
      From my knowlege it was never shown in it’s entirety, but parts were shown in Germany after the war and parts of it have been used in a few diffrent documentary films over the years.
      My copy is of the full length original, bad sound and film quality.
      It contained film by British and Canadian combat film crews at the liberation of Bergen Belsen, also Russian film from the liberation of Auschwitz.
      One of the most horrifying part of the original film is the liberation of Majdanek, by the Russians.
      The original film covers the liberation of many other camps such as Dachau and Buchenwald and is truly horrible to watch, it goes on for hours.
      I have since researched it and found out it was produced by Sydney Bernstein and Alfred Hitchcock had a hand in it as an advisor.
      I had always wondered what i had, and the significance of it as a peice of history, documenting the evil’s of the camp systems.
      But now i know, and i will be keeping it in a safe place.
      Again, it is very horrific to watch and i hope history never repeats.

  • If Eisenhower wanted to encounter not such a situation but an extremely inhumane and brutal one, he could just wait for August of that year, when he could see (if he wanted to) what was done to the 70000 Japanese civilians who immediately died of [the] atomic bomb and many others aftermath. This was just the onset of a consecutive and infinite series of cruelty which continues to the day.

    • Look up Sgt Len Siffleet, an Aussie in 2nd AIF and what the Jap bastards did to him.
      Look it up!
      What about the Jap fuckers who flew over Broome (My town), machine gunning 88 innocent people in the streets.
      And lets not forget they bombed the shit out of Darwin, also machine gunning women and children in the streets then strafing a schoolhouse, killing even more children.
      What did those innocent Aussie people do to deserve that massacre hey?

      Bataan death march mean anything to you hey?
      The Japs bayoneted and shot the sick and wounded men when they fell down due to pure exhaustion, starvation and sickness. They even tied some of the prisoners to trees for bayonet practice for fuck sake!
      The torture they put prisoners of war through was unforgivable!
      THAT is the reason i have absolutely no sympathy for the Jap animal bastards.
      They started the whole caper, so they got what they deserved, the disgusting, cruel sub human pricks.

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