Guided tour through Bergen-Belsen Memorial
How to get to Bergen-Belsen Memorial
Guided tour across the outdoor area
1. Document centre
The new document centre was opened in 2007. In the foyer you will find the information desk, a cafeteria and a book shop. The exhibition shows the history of the
- POW-camp (1941-1945)
- Concentration camp (1943-1945)
- Displaced Persons Camp (1945-1950)
2. Square for roll calls of the Star Camp
The „stony path“ leads the visitors from the car park in front of the document center through the building to the „plateau“, situated at a central point of former concentration camp. There two different models can be seen
- a model showing the site of the concentration camp (1944)
- a model of today’s memorial (after the redesigning)
The „stony path“ also passes the site of the former star camp’s square for roll-calls (There men, women and children often had to stand for hours under the burning sun or in rain and snow to be counted).
In 1943 the so-called Star Camp was created for approximately 4000 Jews. The latter were to be exchanged for money or German POWs. The conditions within this so-called exchange camp were slightly better than for the remaining people of other parts of the camp.
- They were permitted to retain their baggage (1 suitcase/back pack) and their clothes (with the yellow star on them) which was the reason why this part of the camp was called the Star Camp.
- Families were kept together. During the nights men and women were separated.
- Old people and children up to the age of 14 were not selected for work.
- The food supplies were better (they were given packets from the Red Cross).
- In exchange for their better treatment they stood many hours for roll calls being counted, children also had to attend.
Over part of the former Camp Road one comes to the excavation area.
Every year since 1990 International Youth Work Camps have been carried out by youths of many countries. They have uncovered the foundations of many of the old buildings:
The original Camp Road:
Along this road prisoners were driven into the camp. It was a gravel road with large border stones which remain under the surface of the road. The road stretched from the entrance of the camp to the crematorium (approx. 1,6 km in length). Men, internees from the concentration camp in Buchenwald who had been deported from there to Bergen-Belsen, had to put up primitive huts in April 1943. No machines were used; heavy rollers made of cement had to be pulled by the prisoners. At the end of the road was a small crematorium.
Foundations from Blocks 9 and 10:
At this location three barracks stood which were constructed from white sandstone. Their size was 18m x 80m. Each block was divided into many compartments. In the front part of Block 9 one can see the outlines from the »bunker-cells« In the rear part was located a pigsty, in this were fattened 25 pigs for the SS. In the front part of Block 10 was a washroom, it is reported that this room was used daily as a collection point for the dead, until they could be transported up with a barrow. In the woods behind can be seen the remainder of the old Latrines. A cesspit with wooden boards lay over the top. There was no toilet paper and most of the time the inmates were in a filthy condition. The toilets could only be used at certain times. The youth of the YMCA have written names on the stones, they are the names of Hungarian Jews that were earmarked for exchange. On one side of the stone is recorded the date of birth on another side the date of death. Sometimes you can find the inmate’s number and an letter standing for country where he or she came from. From these one can read the names of children and old people. Besides some minor release/exchange actions only one large transport with 1684 Hungarians, the so-called »Kasztner Transport« could be exchanged to Switzerland.
Originally on the open ground stood a kitchen, each of the latter had a water basin, which was designated for fire purposes, and these can still be seen today. Parallel to the former camp road the youth workers have exposed the foundations of what is today called the Vegetable Cellar. Farmers from the surrounding areas planted swedes which were delivered to the camp on request. In the kitchen soup was made from pieces of the swedes which were cooked only in water. In the mornings prisoners were given mugs with brown coloured fluid, called coffee. Midday a bowl with soup was given. In the evenings they were given a piece of dried bread (3,5cm) and a mug to drink. In the weeks before the liberation they were given soup only, bread was only given occasionally, most of the time they did not received anything. Shortly before the liberation of the camp there was no drinking water available, as result many died of thirst.
4. SS Camp/Original Camp entrance
If you proceed along the original camp road in the direction of the camp entrance you come to the SS camp. On the left is a white tent. At this location was constructed the »delousing station« for the POWs. Later it was also used for the concentration camp. It was intended to kill lice inside the clothes with the hot steam, which came up from openings in the floor. This treatment would protect against the spread of disease. In the floor one can clearly see the old rails for the wagons which moved the clothing.
In the front area were showers, as the disinfecting of the clothes took longer as showering, the prisoners often stood waiting naked and wet in the cold for there clothing. In the building behind was another small delousing station which worked by hydrocyanic acid. On the right side of the track stood the SS barracks in which the SS male and female guards lived. In the woods behind stood a villa that was the residence of the camp commandant, also a sauna and swimming pool for the SS officers.
Proceed further along the track one arrives at the original entrance to the camp, this is marked with a red and white barrier. The concentration prisoners were unloaded onto the railway ramp (located on the south side of Bergen) and under close guard using dogs, were escorted 7km to the camp.
5. Prisoner of War Camp/ Large Women’s Camp
Here one can partially see the original pathway; youth workers have marked the outline of the buildings symbolically by the use of beams. This is the oldest part of the camp; it was here that the camp was constructed for the workers who came from all over Germany to build the military camp; this was between 1935 and 1938. After the outbreak of the 2nd World War (1939) it was converted into a POW Camp for French and Belgian POWs. In 1943 it became a military hospital for POWs in Northern Germany. In January of 1945 the hospital was removed and this location became the large women’s camp. In this camp were women with children in all ages. Females of the Sinti and Roma race with their children, pregnant women who had to give birth, also many orphaned children (in hut No 211), as a result of which it was called the children’s barrack. In total there were about 2.000 children (under 15) in the camp.
Actually their were many more, but the so called exchange Jews, to which many children belonged, just before the relief of the camp went with the three trains which went on the insane journey through Germany.
6. Soviet Prisoners of War Cemetery
A footpath leads to the Soviet POW cemetery; it takes approximately 30 minutes (from the document centre). If one wishes to travel to the cemetery by vehicle, take the road in direction of Bergen and follow the direction signs.
Shortly after the invasion of the Soviet Union (21.06.1941) many thousands of POWs were brought to Germany. In Bergen- Belsen a Prisoners of War Camp was erected, Stalag XI C (311). In this camp 20.000 POW’s were interned with absolutely no cover. From the death list available it is estimated that in the first winter of 1941/42 over 14.000 perished in terrible circumstances. At the beginning they were buried nearby in individual graves, later they were buried in mass graves.
7. Obelisk and Wall of Inscriptions
At the beginning 0f 1945 the mass dying started. This was as a result of the inhuman conditions of the camp: Totally overfilled, insufficient food, poor hygiene, no water, no medical help. The result was a breakout of typhus and other diseases. The dead were left lying in piles, in the open, at the end of the camp. On the liberation of Belsen by British soldiers on the 15 April 1945, many of the dead were quickly buried in mass graves.
The wall with the inscriptions together with the obelisk was erected between 1947 und 1952 on the order of the British occupying forces. The small stones which can be seen on the inscriptions and on many memorial stones in the area result from a Jewish tradition, they are memory stones for the dead.
An dieser Stelle findet in jedem Jahr eine Gedenkveranstaltung zum Jahrestag der Befreiung statt, die wesentlich von der AG Bergen-Belsen mit Überlebenden und Jugendlichen des Internationalen Workcamps gestaltet wird.
8. Timber Cross
The timber cross is the oldest memorial on the ground of the former concentration camp; it was erected on the initiate of Polish women, who held a service at this location shortly after the liberation of the camp. The cross was made from birch.
9. House of Silence
The house of silence was formally opened on the 16, 04, 2000. It was built on a design of Ingema Reuter and Gerd Winner as a place of reflection and thought.
10. The Jewish Memorial
The Jewish memorial was erected in stone on the first anniversary of the liberation of Belsen.
Surrounding the latter are symbolic gravestones, which have been erected by family members of those who died in the concentration camp.
In 1944 this was the location of the large tent camp for approximately 8.000 women; these came in many transports from Auschwitz. They lay on the bare ground only on straw. In one of these tents were Anne and Margot Frank who came from Auschwitz at the beginning of November 1944 to Bergen-Belsen. They died in March 1945 from typhus.
We hope that with this information we have been helpful.