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The Liberation of Belsen
The Story of Belsen, by Captain Andrew Pares, Adjutant of the 113th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, The Royal Artillery TA, tells us about the liberation of Belsen concentration camp by the British Army in April 1945.
When the British were asked, by the Chief of Staff of the First German Parachute Army, to take over Belsen concentration camps on 12 April 1945, a battle was going on all around the Belsen area.
Under the truce, the Wehrmacht soldiers [the German professional army] were to be allowed to return to German lines, but the SS guards were subject to the British authorities.
Casualty Clearing Station personnel from the Royal Army Medical Corps and 63 Anti-Tank Regiment entered Belsen soon after the truce was negotiated.
On 18 April 1945, the 113th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, The Royal Artillery arrived, having covered 238 miles in 22 hours. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Mather, they took over from the Anti-Tank Regiment.
Typhus kills people, and there were about 10,000 unburied dead bodies in the camp to deal with immediately and a high death rate to contend with thereafter.
The longer the dead people remained unburied, the more risk there was to the survivors from infection.
'the very air was poisoned'.
The British soldiers commenced their task of burying the dead, providing medical attention for the sick, and feeding, disinfesting, sorting and repatriating the others.
'Unlimited water after days of thirst'.
The water supply was restored and the electricity supply reinstated by the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Facilities were then organised for toilets and washing and drinking water.
Food was impounded from the Wehrmacht barracks and obtained from the surrounding district, and cookhouses were organised to feed the prisoners. One cookhouse specialised in the 'Bengal Famine Diet' for the very sick. Medical student volunteers, who arrived at Belsen on 30 April 1945, helped to feed those too weak to feed themselves.
SS guards and German prisoners of war were made to help with the work.
The 'Daily Express' of 21 April 1945 [reference D/DLI 7/404/27] commented:
'These Germans must not pause in the hot wind. Never before, nor ever again, will they see Englishmen so angry as are the cool, grim young men ... left behind the fighting to see they do this task.'
'Ten of the GANG. One of the working parties of SS Camp Staff engaged in burying the 10,000 dead. Third from the camera is Dr KLEIN Camp Dr [doctor]'.
Funeral services were read at the graves daily. A total of 15,000 prisoners were buried at Belsen after liberation.
Finally, the concentration camp huts were burned, using Wasp flame throwers - machines that could send a jet of fire towards a target.
You can see the large picture of Adolf Hitler the soldiers hung on the end of the huts before setting them on fire.