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.