25 November 2023

Bergen-Belsen 1945 (part 3: images)

Continuation of Part 2.

References and Part 1: here.


Note. Viewing images and films of Bergen-Belsen one should be aware of the fact that prisoners who had poured in recently were in much better condition than those who had been there longer. (Read [S] for instance.) The starving and dying were simply unable to cheer at the wire when the British entered. 

The captions are those of IWM.

FLM 3762:
Women inmates of the German concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen
 wave through the wire to liberating British soldiers.
(First image in an unedited footage by Mike Lewis) 

Third scene in the footage by Mike Lewis.

BU 4013:
Women queueing up for food (17 April 1945)

These women are in the main road of the camp, near the "Shoe Mountain", consisting of shoes brought to the camp from all over Germany. Many inmates of the Star Camp worked in the "shoe commando" which salvaged usable pieces of leather from these. Herzberg, who worked there, provides us with some details. (Pages refer to [H5], translation is ours.)

The Ältestenrat negociated and organised the "commandos": Cleaning the camp, Care for the younger etc. (...) The Shoe Commando had a long working day, but no hard work. Outside service was a lot harder. (p.99)

What is the work we have to do? Mainly ripping apart old shoes and cutting out the usable pieces of leather. It is indescribably imbecile work, and —understably— very dirty. (p.96)

The shoes have to be carried from a tent nearby to the workplaces, while material and waste have to be removed. (p.97)

The Polish women in the tent camp next to ours change more than once, and whenever this happens, the Jews have to clean up the stable. By this I mean an old ragged tent, immediately next to our camp, initially meant as depository for old shoes we had to cut to pieces. (p.88)

The Germans required for the "shoes" 190 women. (...) In the "shoes" work goes on now during fourteen hours per day, i.e. till half past seven in the evening. (p.190 and 192)

There is no more wood for the kitchens, let alone coal. Burning is now done with old shoe soles. This causes the food to arrive hours late or not at all. Today we have nothing but a spoon of rutabaga soup. Perhaps a little piece of bread. Initially we were to get half a ration, but "thanks" to 1200 dead prisoners, so they say, we get a full ration. (2 April 1945, p.231)

The lay-out by Kolb (see Part 2) shows the "Shoe tent" and "working places" near the Star Camp, but not the Shoe Mountain. The liberated prisoners continued to use shoe soles as fuel, see photograph below. (The caption provided by IWM is misleading; these are not "the boots of the dead".)

BU 3810:
The boots of the dead are piled up and used for fuel (17/18 April 1945).

BU 4274:
Women of the camp collect bread ration (21 April 1945)

BU 4538:
A small group of children happy and smiling,
and at long last able to enjoy life
(26 April 1945)


Continued in Part 4.