Bergen-Belsen gas chamber?
"In Lueneburg, Germany, a Jewish physician, testifying at the trial of 45 men and women for war crimes at the Belsen and Oswiecim [Auschwitz] concentration camps, said that 80,000 Jews, representing the entire ghetto of Lodz, Poland, had been gassed or burned to death in one night at the Belsen camp." Associated Press story, 1945
Immediately after the war, in the Spring of 1945, the majority of Americans believed that there had been homicidal gas chambers in most of the Nazi concentration camps, certainly in Dachau, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. After seeing the horrible newsreels of thousands of dead bodies in the camps, there was no doubt in most people's minds that the Nazis had carried out mass gassings in Germany, as well as in the death camps in what is now Poland. Even today, news reports confirm that there were gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen, as well as at Buchenwald and Dachau.
In an article published on April 3, 1995, U.S.News & World Report described Dachau as a "Nazi death factory" although the Museum at the Dachau Memorial Site claims that the gas chamber there was only used a few times.
On June 3, 2009, President Barack Obama said in a speech in Cairo, Egypt:
Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed - more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, ignorant, and hateful.
On September 15, 2007, the Toronto Star newspaper published an article in which the following was stated as an undisputed fact:
.... Bergen-Belsen, a German concentration camp where Jews were murdered in gas chambers during the World War II.
On September 16, 2007, The Commercial Appeal newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee published a story about a Holocaust survivor in which a photo of a man standing inside a mass grave in Bergen-Belsen, was shown. The text under the photo was as follow:
Dr. Fritz Klein (center), who selected prisoners to be sent to the gas chamber at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany, was forced to move bodies to a mass grave after the camp was liberated by the British in April 1945. Sixty thousand prisoners were found in the camp. Klein was later tried and hanged.
The photo below shows Dr. Fritz Klein posing in front of a mass grave at Bergen-Belsen. This is not the photo that accompanied the article in the Commercial Appeal; that photo mistakenly identified the man on the right in the background as Dr. Fritz Klein.
The first proceedings against the Nazi war criminals after the war were conducted by a British Military Tribunal at Lüneburg, Germany in November 1945. Some of the staff members of Bergen-Belsen had previously worked at Auschwitz-Birkenau and former prisoners of that camp, who had been transferred to Bergen-Belsen in January 1945, testified about the crimes committed at Auschwitz-Birkenau at the Lüneburg proceedings. Dr. Klein was charged with selecting prisoners for the gas chamber at Auschwitz, but there were no charges, involving a gas chamber at Bergen-Belsen, against any of the accused.
In the quote at the top of this page, the "Jewish physician" was Dr. Bendel who testified about the gas chambers at Birkenau. The AP reporter mistakenly wrote that Dr. Bendel testified about prisoners being gassed at Belsen.
Fifty years later, in the Spring of 1995, there were numerous ceremonies in Germany, commemorating Germany's defeat in World War II, which was now called the "Liberation of Germany from the Nazis." The Germans had been rehabilitated and were now vigorously condemning the genocide of the Jews.
On April 27, 1995, a group of elderly Germans and Jews stood side by side at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial Site to mourn the "mass gassings" in the former Bergen-Belsen "extermination camp."
The following eye-witness account of the gas chamber in Bergen-Belsen was published in the Montreal Gazette:
August 5, 1993
Author recounts experiences in Nazi concentration camp
ST. LAURENT - As an 11 year-old boy held captive at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II, Moshe Peer was sent to the gas chamber at least six times. Each time he survived, watching with horror as many of the women and children gassed with him collapsed and died. To this day, Peer doesn't know how he was able to survive. "Maybe children resist better, I don't know," he said in an interview last week.
Now 60, Peer has spent the last 19 years writing a first-person account of the horror he witnessed at Bergen Belsen. On Sunday, he spoke to about 300 young adults at the Petah Tikva Sephardic Congregation in St. Laurent about his book and his experience as a Holocaust survivor.
The gathering was part of the synagogue's Shabbaton 93, which brought together young adults from across North America for a cultural and social experience.
Called Inoubliable Bergen-Belsen (Unforgettable Bergen-Belsen), Peer wrote the book to make the reader feel like a witness at the scene. But he admits he can never recreate for anyone the living hell he experienced. "The conditions in the camp is indescribable," Peer said. "You can't bring home the horror."
In 1942, at age 9, Peer and his younger brother and sister were arrested by police in their homeland of France. His mother was sent to Auschwitz and never returned.
Peer and his siblings were sent to Bergen-Belsen two years later. He recalls the separation from his parents as excruciating. But surviving the horrors of the camp quickly became a priority.
"There were pieces of corpses lying around and there were bodies lying there, some alive and some dead," Peer recalled.
"Bergen-Belsen was worse than Auschwitz because there people were gassed right away so they didn't suffer a long time."
Peer said Russian prisoners were kept in an open-air camp "like stallions" and were given no food or water. "Some people went mad with hunger and turned to cannibalism," Peer said.
Peer's day began with a roll call of the numbered prisoners. This could last as long as five hours, while their captors calculated how many prisoners had died. Anyone who fell over during the roll call was beaten on the spot.
After roll call, the prisoners returned to their barracks, where they were given a tiny piece of bread and some coloured water.
Peer and his siblings - who all survived - were cared for at the camp by two women, whom Peer has unsuccessful tried to find.
Children being children, they did play, sometimes chasing each other around the barracks. But there would always be some who were too sick or weak to get up.
After the war, Peer was reunited with his father in Paris and the family moved to Israel. Peer's four children were born in Israel, but after serving in the Israeli army in a number of wars, Peer moved to Montreal in 1974.
Even 49 years later, Peer is still haunted by his concentration-camp experience and still finds his memories keep him awake at night.
But what he is most bitter about is the way the rest of world stood by and let it happen.
"No one told the Germans not to do it. They had the permission of world," he said.
Moshe was by no means the only survivor to claim that there was a gas chamber at Bergen-Belsen. Robert Spitz, a Hungarian Jew, recalled after the war that when he took a shower at Belsen in February 1945, "....It was delightful. What I didn't know then was that there were other showers in the same building where gas came out instead of water."
Even one of the British liberators, British Army Captain Robert Daniell, recalled fifty years after the war that he had seen "the gas chambers" at Bergen-Belsen.
Niall Aslen, the son of one of the British liberators, wrote the following in an e-mail to me regarding whether or not there was a gas chamber at Bergen-Belsen:My late father was one of those who helped liberate the camp. He said the stench of the place went out 10 miles and was utterly revolting. Now you asked if there was a gas Chamber. There was a gas chamber on the site. It was underground with a ramp leading down to it from a wooden building above. Because the number of bodies was so great, the colonel made the snap decision to bulldoze the Gas chamber complex and use it as a huge grave pit. My Dad supervised the bulldozers that ripped off the roof and engineers blew up the interior walls. The place then became a grave pit for thousands of corpses. I believe there is a photographic record.
I can only repeat what my late father
told me. The wooden building appeared to be disguised as a shower
room with a water tank on the roof. He did mention that there
was a crematorium oven nearby but I cannot remember exactly what
he said. My father died in 1972 so my memories are over 30 years
old. He did explore the complex which had been built recently
and noted the blast proof hermetically sealed doors. There was
a hatch in the ceiling leading to the hut above. Each hatch was
also hermetically sealed and identified by a letter and a number
such as A3.
Several books published after the war maintained that there was a gas chamber at Bergen-Belsen. For example, in a book entitled "Jews, God and History," Jewish historian Max Dimont mentioned gassings at Bergen-Belsen. Another book, entitled "A History of World War II" claimed that "In Belsen, Kramer kept an orchestra to play him Viennese music while he watched children torn from their mothers to be burned alive. Gas chambers disposed of thousands of persons daily." (Josef Kramer was the Commandant of Bergen-Belsen from 2 December 1944 until the camp was liberated.)
In November 2008, Eva Olsson, who was born into a family of Hasidic Jews in Satu Mare, Hungary, told an audience of 550 delegates to the Upper Canada District School Board's ACT Now! Symposium in Cornwall that she was sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp on May 19, 1944; she also mentioned the gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen where she was later transferred. Eva Olsson and her younger sister Fradel were the only members of her extended family of 89 people who survived the Holocaust, according to her story, published in a news article in the Seaway News on November 6, 2008.
Olsson told the story of her experiences as a slave labourer at a German munitions factory, and as a prisoner in Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen in 1944 and 1945.
As people sat at the Nav Canada Training and Conference Centre trying to hold back tears, she spoke of how she witnessed her mother and three young nieces being led away to the gas chambers on their arrival to Auschwitz, never to be seen again.
The room fell silent as Olsson told of witnessing firsthand the horror of the "death factories" created by the Nazis. She told stories of German soldiers being ordered to shoot babies in their mother's arms-killing both mother and child-to not waste two bullets. She spoke of seeing the Angel of Death-Dr. Josef Mengele-and the hospital where he experimented on young Jewish children by infecting them with diseases such as tuberculosis.
Perhaps the most gruesome aspect of the tale was her recollection of her imprisonment in Bergen-Belsen when the camp ran out of pellets to fuel the gas chambers.
"On that day, five children at a time were put into the (crematorium) ovens alive, five children at a time, to be burned alive," said Olsson, who contracted typhus in the death camp.
But if the 10,000 bodies found in the camp by the British liberators weren't victims of mass gassing, how did so many die in such a short time? It was easy for viewers of the British documentary film, made immediately after the liberation, to believe that the emaciated corpses were those of prisoners who had been deliberately starved to death by the evil Nazis, especially because the film made no mention of epidemics in the overcrowded camp, or that the camp was right in the middle of a war zone and had even been hit in an Allied bombing attack.
Dr. Russell Barton, a British doctor who spent a month in Bergen-Belsen working with the British Army after the liberation of the camp wrote the following:
Most people attributed the conditions of the inmates to deliberate intention on the part of the Germans in general and the camp administrators in particular. Inmates were eager to cite examples of brutality and neglect, and visiting journalists from different countries interpreted the situation according to the needs of propaganda at home.
For example, one newspaper emphasized the wickedness of the "German masters" by remarking that some of the 10,000 unburied dead were naked. In fact, when the dead were taken from a hut and left in the open for burial, other prisoners would take their clothing from them [...]
German medical officers told me that it had been increasingly difficult to transport food to the camp for some months. Anything that moved on the autobahns was likely to be bombed [...]
I was surprised to find records, going back for two or three years, of large quantities of food cooked daily for distribution. I became convinced, contrary to popular opinion, that there had never been a policy of deliberate starvation. This was confirmed by the large numbers of well-fed inmates. Why then were so many people suffering from malnutrition? [...]
The major reasons for the state of Belsen were disease, gross overcrowding by central authority, lack of law and order within the huts, and inadequate supplies of food, water and drugs. In trying to assess the causes of the conditions found in Belsen one must be alerted to the tremendous visual display, ripe for purposes of propaganda, that masses of starved corpses presented.
This page was last updated on January 25, 2010