Bergen-Belsen was one of the most notorious and fatal of the Nazi concentration camps.
Located in northwest Germany, it was the site of Anne Frank’s death from typhus and the source of some of the first archival evidence of the atrocities of the Holocaust for many US citizens.
On April 15, 1945, after five years of horror, the camp was finally liberated.
Bergen-Belsen was originally built to act as a prisoner of war camp. In 1943, it was doctored into the system of concentration camps to accommodate growing lists of Jewish prisoners.
Many of the Jews held at Bergen-Belsen were seen as potential pawns that the Nazis wanted to use with rival nations for prisoner exchanges or currency.
In 1944, a women’s camp was set up, with the first deportation of female prisoners including 9,000 women and girls, mostly from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Over time more train cars filled with women turned up, including Anne and her sister Margot.
Finally, in the spring of 1945, British and Canadian forces negotiated a handover of the camp. The Nazi forces agreed to relinquish control over Bergen-Belsen due to fear of a typhus endemic.
On the afternoon of April 15, allied troops arrived.
Many of the soldiers involved in that liberation called it the worst scene they had ever witnessed. Upon discovering the emaciated prisoners, which numbered over 50,000, troops were desperate for a way to provide some nourishment.
Accounts of the futile attempts to feed the prisoners from their own Army rations—the inmates could keep nothing down—did much to paint a picture for folks back home about how dire the situation had grown.
Of the living survivors at Bergen-Belsen, 13,000 would die within days, despite medical care and extreme efforts to keep them alive.
In the aftermath, troops famously set the camp ablaze, so disgusted were they with what they had found. Before destroying much of the camp, however, the soldiers worked to bury the thousands of corpses scattered across the site’s grounds.
Today, a series of memorials and monuments sits at the site of Bergen-Belsen, a tribute to the 70,000 that died there.