Bergen-Belsen had 8 separate sections

Army Training Camp on the right-hand side; concentration camp formerly on the bottom left-hand side, and former POW camp on the top left-hand side. British Air Force Photo, Sept. 1944

Bergen-Belsen was divided into 8 separate camps. Each of the camps was surrounded by high barbed wire fences and the inmates were strictly isolated from each other. The 8 camps were as follows:

1. Prison Camp (Häftlingslager)

When a detention camp at Bergen-Belsen was authorized in April 1943, its location was to be in the barracks formerly occupied by Prisoners of War. But first, the barracks had to be made suitable for the exchange Jews who had to be kept "healthy and alive" according to the orders of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. The Häftlingslager was established at the very beginning to house 500 male prisoners who were brought from other camps to do the work of constructing the detention camp for the exchange prisoners. According to the Memorial Site, the prisoners in the Häftlingslager had to wear striped uniforms and were forced to perform hard labor to the point of exhaustion. The first transport of prisoners for this camp left Buchenwald on April 30, 1943 for Bergen-Belsen, according to Eberhard Kolb. Additionally, on May 18, 1943 a group of French prisoners were sent from the Natzweiler concentration camp to help in building the detention camp.

Erholungslager (Recuperation camp)

Beginning in March 1944, a section of the Prison Camp was used to house prisoners from other concentration camps or forced labor camps who were sick and unable to work any longer. By 1945, sick prisoners from all over Germany were being brought here. Prisoners in this section received inadequate medical care and there was a high mortality rate, according to the Memorial Site. This section was also sometimes called the Krankenlager or Sick camp.

The first transport brought to the recuperation camp arrived on March 27, 1944; it consisted of 1000 inmates from the Dora-Mittelbau camp, where prisoners were forced to work in underground factories building the V-2 rockets for the German military. Most of these prisoners were suffering from tuberculosis, a fatal disease. By the time Bergen-Belsen was liberated, a little over a year later, only 57 of them were still alive.

According to a booklet distributed by the Document Center at the Memorial Site, there were 200 prisoners in the Häftlingslager who were murdered by an injection of Phenol, administered by Karl Rothe, who had been appointed as "Head Nurse" in the sick camp by the SS. Rothe injected the prisoners on the orders of the SS who characterized these murders as "mercy killing." In September 1944, the prisoners organized a trial and sentenced Rothe to death; they carried out the death sentence themselves by killing Rothe at "an opportune moment," according the the Memorial Site booklet.

2. Neutral Camp (Neutralenlager)

Several hundred Jewish prisoners from neutral countries, such as Spain, Portugal, Argentina and Turkey, lived in this camp. These prisoners did not have to work and conditions were tolerable up until March 1945, according to the Memorial Site booklet.

According to Eberhard Kolb, a transport of 441 Jews from Salonika arrived in August 1943, including 367 "Spagnioles" or Sephardic Jews, who had been living in Greece for a long time, but were nevertheless Spanish nationals. This group was sent to Spain in early February 1944, and from there they were sent to an internment camp in North Africa, from which they were finally sent to Palestine. The 74 other Greek Jews were put into the Star Camp.

Kolb also wrote that 155 Spanish Jews and 19 Portuguese Jews were arrested by the Nazis in Athens, Greece in March 1944 and transported to Bergen-Belsen where they remained until the camp was liberated.

3. Special Camp (Sonderlager)

According to the Memorial Site booklet, this camp held several thousand Polish Jews who had been deported in mid-1943 because they were in possession of temporary passports from South American countries. They did not have to work, but they were kept in strict isolation because they "had full knowledge of the cruelties committed by the SS in Poland." The booklet says that "By mid-1944 most of this group had been transported to Auschwitz and murdered. Only about 350 of them remained."

Eberhard Kolb wrote in his book "Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945," as follows:

In mid-July 1943 two transports with about 2300 - 2500 Polish Jews (mostly from Warsaw, Lemberg and Cracow) reached Bergen-Belsen. They mostly possessed Latin American papers (e.g. from Paraguay and Honduras), which however were not passports in most cases but so-called "promesas." These were letters by consuls of the respective countries saying that citizenship of the state represented by the consul was granted and that a passport would follow soon.

According to Kolb, these documents were of "very dubious quality" and the camp administration headquarters decided not to honor them.

Photo from the Stroop Report, taken in Warsaw Ghetto in April or May, 1943

Seven-year-old Tsvi C. Nussbaum was one of the Polish Jews who was arrested, along with his aunt, on July 13, 1943, in front of the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of the Warsaw ghetto, where they had been living as Gentiles. Since they had foreign passports, they were sent to the Bergen-Belsen detention camp as "exchange Jews." Little Tsvi's parents had emigrated to Palestine in 1935, but had returned to Sandomierz, Poland in 1939 just before World War II started. Tsvi was one of the survivors of Bergen-Belsen. In 1945, he went to Palestine, but in 1953 he moved to America. He became a doctor, specializing in ear, nose and throat, in Rockland County in upstate New York. He was blessed with 4 daughters and 2 grandchildren.

Long after the war, Tsvi Nussbaum claimed to be the little boy in the photo above. However, this photo was allegedly taken during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which took place between April 19, 1943 and May 16, 1943 before Tsvi was arrested; it is one of the photos included in the Stroop Report about the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto. The soldier, who is holding a gun on the little boy in the photo, was Josef Blösche; he was put on trial in East Germany after the war and was executed after being convicted of being a war criminal.

On October 23, 1943 a transport of around 1700 of these Polish Jews arrived on passenger trains at the death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, although they had been told that they were being taken to a transfer camp called Bergau near Dresden, from where they would continue on to Switzerland to be exchanged for German POWs. One of the passengers was Franceska Mann, a beautiful dancer who was a performer at the Melody Palace nightclub in Warsaw. She had probably obtained her foreign passport from the Hotel Polski on the Aryan side of the Warsaw Ghetto. In July 1943 the Germans arrested the 600 Jewish inhabitants of the hotel and some of them were sent to Bergen-Belsen as exchange Jews. Others were sent to Vittel in France to await transfer to South America.

According to Jerzy Tabau, who later escaped from Birkenau and wrote a report on the incident, the new arrivals were not registered. Instead, they were told that they had to be disinfected before crossing the border into Switzerland. They were taken into the undressing room next to the gas chamber and ordered to undress. The beautiful Franceska caught the attention of SS Sergeant Major Josef Schillinger, who stared at her and ordered her to undress completely. Suddenly Franceska threw her shoe into Schillinger's face, and as he opened his gun holster, Franceska grabbed his pistol and fired two shots, wounding him in the stomach. Then she fired a third shot which wounded another SS Sergeant named Emmerich. Schillinger died on the way to the hospital.

According to Tabau, whose report, called "The Polish Major's Report," was entered into the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as Document L-022, the shots served as a signal for the other women to attack the SS men; one SS man had his nose torn off, and another was scalped, according to Tabau's report which was quoted by Martin Gilbert in his book, The Holocaust. Reinforcements were summoned and the camp commander, Rudolf Höss, came with other SS men carrying machine guns and grenades. According to another report, called "Jewish Resistance in Nazi-occupied Europe" written by Ainsztein and quoted by Martin Gilbert, the women were then removed one by one, taken outside and shot to death. However, Eberhard Kolb wrote that they were all murdered in the gas chamber.

In 1944, two more transports of the Polish Jews were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau, leaving only about 350 in the special camp at Bergen-Belsen. They were the ones with papers for Palestine, the USA or legitimate documents for South American countries, according to Kolb.

4. Hungarian Camp (Ungarnlager)

This camp was established on July 8, 1944 for 1683 Jews from Hungary. According to the Memorial Site, they were treated even better than the inmates in the Star camp. They were allowed to wear civilian clothes, with a Star of David sewn on. They did not have to work, nor were they forced to attend the endless roll calls. They were given better food and the sick were properly cared for. They were known as Vorzugsjuden or Preferential Jews. Like the Star Camp, this camp had a Jewish self-administration.

5. Star Camp (Sternlager)

Approximately 4,000 Jewish prisoners, mostly from the Netherlands, lived in the Star camp, where conditions were somewhat better than in other parts of Bergen-Belsen. In the Star camp, the prisoners wore a yellow Star of David on their own clothes instead of the usual blue and gray striped prison uniform, but they did have to work, even the old people, according to the Memorial Site.

The following quote is from Eberhard Kolb's book Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945:

From the Dutch "transit camp'" at Westerbork all those inmates were transported to Bergen-Belsen who were on one of the coveted "ban lists", above all the "Palestine list", the "South America list", or the "dual citizenship list". Holders of the so-called "Stamp 120000" were also taken to Bergen-Belsen, i.e. Jews with proven connections to enemy states, Jews who had delivered up large properties, diamond workers and diamond dealers who were held back from transportation to an extermination camp but who were not allowed to go abroad, as well as so-called "Jews of merit". A total of 3670 "exchange Jews" of these categories, always with their families were deported from Westerbork to Bergen-Belsen in eight transports between January and September 1944.

According to Kolb, there were only 6,000 Dutch Jews who returned home after the war, out of a total of 110,000 who were deported by the Nazis. 20,000 more Dutch Jews survived by going into hiding until the war was over. More than a third of those who survived the camps were inmates of the Bergen-Belsen Star Camp.

6. Tent Camp (Zeltlager)

This camp was constructed at the beginning of August 1944. At first it was used as a transit camp for women's transports arriving from Poland. In late October and early November 1944, around 3,000 women who had been evacuated from Auschwitz-Birkenau were housed in the tents because pre-fabricated barrack buildings which had been removed from the Plaszow camp near Cracow and transported to the Star Camp were not yet ready for them. According to Eberhard Kolb (Bergen-Belsen from 1943 to 1945) the Dutch Red Cross was told that the prisoners in this transport were "ill but potentially curable women" and because of this, they were the first to be evacuated from Auschwitz-Birkenau. These sick women, who had just completed a journey of several days in overcrowded railroad cattle cars now had to camp out in tents with no heat, no toilets, no lighting, no beds and only a thin layer of straw covering the bare ground.

Anne Frank and her sister Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen from Auschwitz in October 1944 and most likely were housed temporarily in the tent camp. Due to their condition of ill health, the prisoners in the tent camp were not forced to work.

7. Small Women's Camp (Kleines Frauenlager)

After a storm blew down several of the tents on November 7, 1944, the prisoners were crowded into the barracks of the Small Women's Camp which was right next to the Star Camp. This Women's camp had first opened in August 1944 for women who were transported from the death camp at Auschwitz, which was being evacuated because the army of the Soviet Union was advancing across Poland.

On December 2, 1944, there was a total of 15,257 prisoners in Bergen-Belsen and 8,000 of them were women and girls in this camp, which was called the Women's camp. On that date, Bergen-Belsen became officially a concentration camp, instead of a detention camp, and a new commandant, Hauptsturmführer-SS Josef Kramer, who had been brought from Auschwitz-Birkenau, took over from the previous commandant, Hauptsturmführer-SS Adolf Haas.

According to Eberhard Kolb, in January 1945, the Women's camp became a second Prisoner's Camp, or Häftlingslager II, for male prisoners. At the same time, Bergen-Belsen was expanded and a new camp was set up for the women prisoners.

8. Large Women's Camp (Grosses Frauenlager)

According to Eberhard Kolb, there were 9,735 men and 8,730 women in Bergen-Belsen on January 1, 1945. By January 15, 1945, there were 16,475 women and a new camp had to be set up for them. The former camp hospital in the POW camp was incorporated into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the 36 barracks there were used to house the women. By March 1, 1945, there were 26,723 women in this camp. On March 15, 1945 there were 30,387 women in the new Women's camp.

Map of Bergen-Belsen camp at the Memorial Site

If you draw a diagonal line through this map, from the top left-hand corner to the bottom right-hand corner, you will see where six of the sections, described above, were located. Beginning at the top left, was No. 7 the original Women's Camp which later became a new Prison camp for men; next to it was No. 5 the Star Camp; then No. 3 the Special Camp and No. 4 the Hungarian Camp; next is No. 2 the Neutral Camp, and then No. 1 the Prison Camp. Outside the line which represents the boundary of the concentration camp is part of the German Army Training Center on the right-hand side.

If you draw another diagonal line through this map, from the top right-hand corner to the bottom left-hand corner, you will see the location of the new Large Women's Camp and the tent camp. The Large Women's camp is located inside the loop which outlines the Bergen-Belsen camp boundary, just down from the top right-hand corner. Outside the loop was the POW camp, which was first set up in 1940. In January 1945, the POW camp was closed and the Large Women's camp was put in the hospital section of the former POW camp. In the bottom left-hand corner of the photo is where the Documentation Center and Museum now stand. Just above these two buildings is where the tent camp once stood, inside the loop where it juts out on the left side. There are no buildings left now, but this map shows where the buildings were formerly located.

The Memorial Site is located on the left-hand side of the map above. The Documentation Center and Museum are shown in the bottom left-hand corner with a path leading to the former grounds of the camp. If you turn right where this path intersects the road around the former camp boundary, you will come to the place where roll calls were held. To the left, the road leads to the monuments. The large obelisk monument is shown in the top left-hand corner of this map. As you can see, the Memorial Site consists of only a small portion of the former concentration camp.

German Army Training Center next to Bergen-Belsen

On the left-hand side of the map above, you can see part of the former concentration camp, which was inside the loop which represents the road around the camp boundary. On the right-hand side of the map is the German Army Training Center which is still in existence. It is right next to the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. A POW camp was first set up in the Army barracks shown in the center of the map, next to the concentration camp on the left. The POW camp was later expanded to the section on the left, above the concentration camp. Part of this POW camp was incorporated into the concentration camp in January 1945 because a new women's camp was needed to hold a huge influx of prisoners. The diagonal line across the right-hand corner of the photo above represents the road from Celle to Belsen. The entrance to the Bergen-Belsen camp is about 1.5 kilometers from the Army Training Center, along this road.

German Army Training Center at Belsen

History of Bergen-Belsen


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