Sixty years after the Holocaust horrors, the memory of those who suffered in Nazi period it’s still alive in Germany. Ex-concentration camps became now pilgrimage places. The Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen near Hannover is such a place.
Almost 30 youngsters from different countries, Romanians also, visited the former concentration camp within the project “Understanding the past – shaping the future”. This European project focuses on learning about the Roma genocide in the Second World War.
Bergen-Belsen was one of the Nazi concentration camp in Lower Saxony, in Nord - West of Germany. At first, the camp was a jail for the war prisoners. At the order of Heinrich Himmler, in 1943, Bergen-Belsen became a concentration camp for the Jews and Sinti Roma. Almost 50.000 Russian war prisoners and over 50.000 Jews and Sinti Roma prisoners died here.
In 1945 the British Army released the camp, as explained by Professor Bernd Gafe-Ulke from Bergen-Belsen memorial.
“If you look in this area, you will see that the concentration camp was released by the British Army in 15 April 1945, after two weeks of negotiations. The Brits made hospitals for urgent healthcare and they bring food to the people. Between 13.000 and 14.000 people died after the liberation. If you will see the pictures you will understand why... they were in a very bad health condition, it was impossible to survive there. The officers give them canned meat. Some of them were so weak that they could not hold the cans in their hands, they were too weak and this way they died.”
60.000 prisoners were founded in the concentration camp, most of them were ill. 13.000 corpses were unburied and spread along the camp. The video scenes filmed by the British troop’s shows terrifying images. Sick people, naked, malnourished, they were crawling. All over the place were dead bodies. A Royal British Army officer was saying at the time:
“We buried 17.000 corpses and we expect to bury about a half of this. When we came here conditions were indescribable. The people didn’t have any food, they were eating turnips. Now we organized kitchens and even they have to be guarded, for everyone to get a fair share of food, the things are much better now.”
More than 65 years after the Holocaust, instead of the camp we find a gray concrete building, surrounded by high concrete walls. The Bergen-Belsen Memorial Gedenkstätte is full of testimonials of Jews and Sinti Roma.
The project “Understanding the past – shaping the future”
Romanian, Spanish, Moldavian and Ukrainian youngsters were for the first time to visit a concentration camp. In the big rooms they watched carefully the exhibition with photography, personal objects, journals, clothes, documents and identity cards of the people who died there. From place to place the youngsters stopped to the multimedia galleries with videos and testimonials of the Holocaust survivors. From the big glasses you could easily see the backyard of the concentration camp with autumnal yellow trees.
Unlike other camps, at Bergen-Belsen were just few bricks in the grass, as a proof of what happened there. The bricks were written with the names of those who died in the concentration camp. Magda Budek, Georg Braf, Ludwik Schisi, Emanuel Reisz – are just some of the names scratched in stone, surrounded by candles or a small flower bouquets.
“We can find this kind of collective graves in the whole cemetery. As you can see here are thousands of dead people. There are between 13 and 14 these kinds of graves in the whole area” explains the professor Bernd Gafe-Ulke.
One of the youngsters from Romania, who visited Bergen-Belsen, says that these collective graves have drawn her attention. “I was impressed by the photos and the movies with the prisoners of Bergen-Belsen were we could see how they were treated. We saw just the last few days, the liberation, we didn’t see how they lived before, but the images are terrifying, mostly the collective graves with 2000 dead people which we don’t know anything, their names, their number and how they died “says Alexandra Chiriac.
For Antonio Cortez, from Barcelona the visit to the memorial was a sad day. “It was painful and sad in the same time because I understood what happened with all those people, Sinti Roma and Jews who died. I didn’t felt too well. The images made me think a lot to what happened. Something like this should not be repeated.”
The same opinion has also Gheorghita from Republic of Moldova. He is Roma and he is saying that he has in his memory the atrocities that the Nazi applied even to the children.
“The war documents shows that the Nazi were cruel. I was shocked when the professor told us that they had to kill also children’s. It wasn’t normal. We have to know the history of our people because I think they fight for us not just for them. We have to do this kind of meetings and be careful with this kind of things.
At the end of the visit to Bergen - Belsen concentration camp, Mihai Grigore, also a Roma youngster, he asked himself “how this could happen”…
“The experience that we had here it was something that I will never forget. I saw how they suffered. The Spanish, the Roma, the Jews. I was shocked by a picture with two little children’s, one was dead another was alive; they were sitting near their dead mother. The dead bodies were thrown in holes, some of them they tried to survive. If one of them was dead, they take his clothes to wear them, they died by laces. I cried when I saw all of this, I wasn’t feeling good after this. The Roma died, we know about the Holocaust, but we don’t speak about this, why, for what they died?”