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Durham County Record Office: the official archive service for County Durham and Darlington

Surviving Belsen

Find out about the liberation of Belsen concentration camp in Germany at the end of the Second World War.

Documents and photographs from The Durham Light Infantry archive reveal the task faced by soldiers sent to help the surviving prisoners in April to May 1945.

Eye witness accounts provide excellent resources for Key Stage 3 History, QCA Unit 19 How and why did the Holocaust happen? The documents can also be used for KS3 Citizenship, QCA Unit 3 Human rights and QCA Unit 16 Celebrating human rights - citizenship activities for the whole school and for KS4 Citizenship QCA Unit 1 Human rights. Other curriculum links include Literacy and creative writing, Key Skills and ICT, particularly KS3 ICT QCA Unit 3 Processing text and images and QCA Unit 8 Public information systems.

Surviving Belsen - Introduction

On 12 April 1945, following the successful Rhine crossing by the British Second Army, the 113th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, The Royal Artillery received orders to move to Belsen. In the words of The Regimental Journal of The Durham Light Infantry [volume 4, number 23, October 1946, page 80], 'the wrong map reference was given, no-one had heard of the place, and it appeared to be about 250 miles away inside enemy held territory'.

Nevertheless, the Regiment moved 100 miles to Osnabruk, west of Hanover, Germany, where their task was confirmed: to take over and administer the concentration camp at Belsen, near Celle, Germany, where the electricity and water supply had failed, food was scarce and disease raged.

'The Story of Belsen', p.3, The Truce (D/DLI 7/404/10) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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A truce was negotiated with the local German Army Commander, who wanted to prevent the spread of disease from the camp, and the Regiment arrived at Belsen on 18 April 1945.

'The scene which we encountered beggars description and the administrative task was so vast as to appear impossible at the time'[The Regimental Journal of The Durham Light Infantry, volume 4, number 23, October 1946, page 81].

Photograph of female SS camp guard, 1945 (D/DLI 7/404/41) - Copyright © Durham County Record Office.
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The Commandant of Belsen, Josef Kramer, and 44 of his SS prison guards were arrested and later tried by an international war crimes tribunal at Luneburg, Germany, in September - November 1945. Kramer, plus 10 others, were executed.

'The well filled form in this photo was later discovered to be one of [the] camp staff masquerading as an internee.'

Among the soldiers who arrived that day, in April 1945, to liberate the camp was Lieutenant (Quartermaster) Stanley Levitt, whose records of the event are shown here. The records include photographs and the testimony of one of the internees, Jeanette Kaufmann