The Battleship USS West Virginia was struck with seven torpedoes and two bombs on 7 December, and sank into the mud. After the Japanese departed, survivors reported hearing a strange rhythmic bang from the ship. At first they thought it was just a bulkhead breaking, and with the harbor in chaos, no one paid any attention to it. That night however, the banging traveled far in the water. Men were still trapped in the West Virginia.
The next morning, an attempt was made to reach the survivors. But fuel oil covered everything and the cutting torches would cause an explosion. In any case, cutting through the pressurized hull would cause a blow out, flood the inside, and kill them. There was nothing left to do: they had to be left to die.
During the day it wasn’t noticeable, but at night, Pearl Harbor rang with the faint rhythmic banging from the forward hull of the sunken wreck. On those nights sailors refused to stand watch on the ships close to the West Virginia, knowing there was nothing they could do for the doomed souls trapped inside the hull. The banging continued until Christmas Eve. Then stopped.
In May 1942, the West Virginia was raised and the bodies of the sailors recovered. In Pump Room A-109, they discovered the bodies of Ronald Endicott, 18; Clifford Olds, 20; and Louis “Buddy” Costin, 21. They had flashlights, and batteries, food and water for weeks, but no fresh air. They had a clock that was still working and on the wall was a calendar. On the calendar were red X’s and the last one was over the twenty third – nineteen days after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
After Army Group North’s push through the Baltic countries on their way to Leningrad, Einsatzgruppe A (EG A) was tasked with ridding the newly occupied territories of “undesirables”, including Jews, Roma, intelligentsia, teachers, capitalists, commisars, homosexuals, and the mentally ill. On 1 December 1941, Einsatzkommando 3, a subordinate of EG A tasked with actually conducting the killings, finished operations in Lithuania. Their commander, SS Colonel Karl Jaeger, issued a very detailed report of his command’s activities, “Complete tabulation of executions carried out in the Einsatzkommando 3 zone up to December 1, 1941”. The cold and clinical “Jaeger Report” is one of the most complete and most horrifying documents of the Holocaust. The last page:
“Total carried forward 99,804
12.9.41 City of Wilna 993 Jews, 1,670 Jewesses, 771 Jewish children 3,334
17.9.41 City of Wilna 337 Jews, 687 Jewesses, 247 Jewish children and 4 Lith. Comm. 1,271
20.9.41 Nemencing 128 Jews, 176 Jewesses, 99 Jewish children 403
22.9.41 Novo-Wilejka 468 Jews, 495 Jewesses, 196 Jewish children 1,159
24.9.41 Riess 512 Jews, 744 Jewesses, 511 Jewish children 1,767
25.9.41 Jahiuna 215 Jews, 229 Jewesses, 131 Jewish children 575
27.9.41 Eysisky 989 Jews, 1,636 Jewesses, 821 Jewish children 3,446
30.9.41 Trakai 366 Jews, 483 Jewesses, 597 Jewish children 1,446
4.10.41 City of Wilna 432 Jews, 1,115 Jewesses, 436 Jewish children 1,983
6.10.41 Semiliski 213 Jews, 359 Jewesses, 390 Jewish children 962
9.10.41 Svenciany 1,169 Jews, 1,840 Jewesses, 717 Jewish children 3,726
16.10.41 City of Wilna 382 Jews, 507 Jewesses, 257 Jewish children 1,146
21.10.41 City of Wilna 718 Jews, 1,063 Jewesses, 586 Jewish children 2,367
25.10.41 City of Wilna 1,776 Jewesses, 812 Jewish children 2,578
27.10.41 City of Wilna 946 Jews, 184 Jewesses, 73 Jewish children 1,203
30.10.41 City of Wilna 382 Jews, 789 Jewesses, 362 Jewish children 1,553
6.11.41 City of Wilna 340 Jews, 749 Jewesses, 252 Jewish children 1,341
19.11.41 City of Wilna 76 Jews, 77 Jewesses, 18 Jewish children 171
19.11.41 City of Wilna 6 POW’s, 8 Poles 14
20.11.41 City of Wilna 3 POW’s 3
25.11.41 City of Wilna 9 Jews, 46 Jewesses, 8 Jewish children, 1 Pole for possession of arms and other military equipment 64
EK 3 detachment in Minsk from 28.9-17.10.41:
Pleschnitza Bischolin Scak Bober Uzda 620 Jews, 1,285 Jewesses, 1,126 Jewish children and 19 Comm. 3,050
Prior to EK 3 taking over security police duties, Jews liquidated by pogroms and executions (including partisans) 4,000
Today I can confirm that our objective, to solve the Jewish problem for Lithuania, has been achieved by EK 3. In Lithuania there are no more Jews, apart from Jewish workers and their families. . . .
The distance between from the assembly point to the graves was on average 4 to 5 Km. . . .
I consider the Jewish action more or less terminated as far as Einsatzkommando 3 is concerned.
Those working Jews and Jewesses still available are needed urgently and I can envisage that after the winter this workforce will be required even more urgently.
I am of the view that the sterilization program of the male worker Jews should be started immediately so that reproduction is prevented. If despite sterilization a Jewess becomes pregnant she will be liquidated. . . .
On 19 September 1941, the Wehrmacht’s Army Group C captured Kiev in the Ukraine. The Germans were initially welcomed as liberators (Stalin starved 7,000,000 Ukrainians to death less than ten years earlier) but the brutal treatment of civilians by the occupiers quickly turned the Ukrainians against the Germans. On 25 September, the German military governor, the rear area police commander, and the SS Obergruppen commander for Army Group C, and the Einsatzgruppen C commander decided to execute “Action T4” in Kiev.
Action T4 was originally the nickname for the National Socialist directive of forced euthanasia of handicapped and mentally ill people, but by the program’s formal cancelation in August 1941 the term Action T4 had grown to be used to justify the death of all “undesirables”, such as Jews, Poles, Gypsies, the disabled, Communist party members, capitalists, teachers, local leaders, intelligentsia, and anyone deemed a threat to National Socialist ideology. Action T4 in Kiev would be carried out by Einsatzgruppen C.
Einsatzgruppen is German for “deployment group”, a typically innocuous term that Nazi’s like to use for the various parts of the “Final Solution”. They were charged with the forced “de-politicization” of occupied territories, or more accurately the de- politicization of everyone who disagreed with National Socialism. They acted as judge, jury, and executioner, and were answerable to no one outside of the SS chain of command. The executions would occur at Babi Yar (Old Woman’s Gully) near several cemeteries inside Kiev.
On 28 September, 1941, a trench 150 m long by 30m wide by 15m deep was dug by Soviet prisoners. Posters were placed around Kiev demanding all Jewish residents report the next day with all of their valuables, documents, and warm clothes to a street corner in Western Kiev. The next morning more than 30,000 showed up expecting to resettle.
Many arrived before dawn, hoping to get a good seat on the train. Many packed for a long journey, and one survivor noted that many women wore strings of onions about their necks. The massive group was “processed” down Melnyk Street toward Babi Yar. First they gave up their luggage, then valuables, then they progressively lost more clothes. By the time they heard the gunshots and figured out what was going on they were naked, vulnerable, and hustled between rows of German SS and Ukrainian collaborators in groups of ten to the trench. Anyone would resisted was beaten and pushed along.
At the trench, the Jews were forced to lie down in rows on top of the corpses of the previous ten, then an Einsatzgruppen officer walked by and shot each in the head. When the bodies reached near the top, they were covered over. The process lasted all day, and into the next.
33,771 Jews were murdered in the largest mass execution to date in the war in Europe. But the National Socialists were only just beginning.
The German and Soviet occupation of Poland in the summer of 1940 was a brutal affair, and thousands joined the growing resistance. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of political prisoners were rounded up, some for the simple offense of not seeing a German walk past and bowing quickly enough. Most, if not outright killed, were sent to a growing series of concentration camps that sprung up across the country. The largest and fastest growing camp was outside of the Polish town of Oswiecim.
On 19 September, 1940, resistance member and former cavalry troop commander, Witold Pilecki volunteered to be captured and get sent to the camp where he would conduct a detailed reconnaissance, and set up a resistance movement inside if possible. The next day he was picked up in a random sweep and nearly beaten to death. A few days later he was transferred to the camp outside of Oswiecim, more commonly known to the Germans as Auschwitz.
Pilecki stayed in Auschwitz for the next three years and sent weekly reports to the Polish Underground which eventually made their way to British Intelligence. Additionally, he led and coordinated the resistance movements inside the camp, synchronized escapes, planned a camp uprising, and set up services and amenities for the prisoners including a news service and a secret hospital (the Germans killed sick prisoners). But it was his documentation of the Holocaust that would be the most benefit to Mankind.
Pilecki documented the abuses of the guards, the conditions of the prisoners, and later the daily arrival of Jews and other “undesirables”. His organization meticulously detailed the extermination of hundreds of thousands of people by the National Socialists. His reports were the first evidence of genocide on an industrial scale to reach the outside world. He escaped the prison in 1943, after the guards made known that the Polish prisoner camp “staff” (Pilecki was a baker) was going to be liquidated and replaced with new arrivals.
Pilecki fought in the Home Army against the Germans for the rest of the war. After the German surrender, the Soviets rounded up any Poles with connections to the British backed Polish Government-in-Exile. Witold Pilecki, a man who survived the absolute worst the National Socialists could devise, was arrested, given a show trial, and executed by Soviet socialists for “Crimes against the People.”
The night before he was executed, he told his wife, “”I cannot live. They killed me because Oświęcim (Auschwitz) was just a trifle compared with them (the Soviets).”
After the breakup of Yugoslavia in 1991 at the end of the Cold War, ethnic wars broke out between Roman Catholic Croatia, Orthodox Christian Serbia, and Bosnian Muslims over the status of the various minorities in each country. State control of the media, which pitted the ethnicities against each other, propagated extremism on all sides, par for the course for identity politics. This was particularly true in the largest of the Yugoslav rump states, Serbia. Serbian president Slobadan Milosevic waged a vicious propaganda campaign via Serbian TV and radio that led directly to ethnic violence against Croats and Bosnians across the former Yugoslavia.
In an area wracked by ethnically fueled rage, the most vicious fighting was during the Bosnian War. In addition to the bitter fighting, militias waged a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against the civilian population that frequently involved mass executions, forced migration, and systematic mass rape. In April 1993, the UN “Protection Force” (UNPROFOR) declared “safe zones” across Bosnia, one of which was the town of Srebrenica outside of the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo.
The Srebrenica safe zone was garrisoned a 400 strong battalion of Dutch peacekeepers but they only had authority to use force in self-defense, and not to protect civilians. Moreover, they were woefully under equipped, and had no heavy weapons and limited ammunition. Convoys destined fro Srebrenica were stopped and hijacked by Serb militias. Fewer and fewer UN convoys made it to Srebrencia for both the Dutch peacekeepers and the predominantly Bosniak population of the city. (“Bosniak” refers specifically to Bosnian Muslims, as opposed to the catch-all term “Bosnian” who is someone who lives in Bosnia.)
On 10 July 1995, Gen. Radko Mladic’s Serbian paramilitaries and interior police captured the town after a vicious battle with the Bosnian militia, as the Dutch peacekeepers looked on. The next day, the victorious Serbs rounded up 2,000 Bosniak boys and men and executed them. Any Bosniaks who sought refuge in the “Dutchbat” (Dutch battalion) compound were expelled and left to the non-existent mercy of the Bosnian Serbs. Over the next week they detained and killed another 6,000 Bosniaks as they fled the city. 25-30,000 Bosniak women and children were forcibly relocated by the Serbs from around Srebrenica. Thousands were raped in the process.
The Srebrenica Massacre, as it was known then, was the first event over the summer of 1995 that finally convinced US President Bill Clinton, an ardent supporter of the UN Mission, of the impotence of UNPROFOR, and UN missions in general. With little expanded military recourses at the UN to stop the fighting, Clinton turned to NATO to take action. In September 1995, NATO launched Operation Deliberate Force which targeted Serbian forces and compelled them to the negotiating table. The Dayton Peace Accords were signed in December which stopped the majority of the large scale fighting. IFOR, the NATO Implementation Forcecrossed into Bosnia that Christmas, and SFOR, the NATO Stabilization Force, headed to Bosnia later in 1996.
In 1974, the Soviet backed Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, more commonly known as “The Derg”, overthrew Emperor Haile Selassie establishing Ethiopia as a Marxist-Leninist Communist state on the Horn of Africa. The coup and subsequent heavy handed socialist policies expanded the Ethiopian Civil War from just Eritean separatists to include groups of separatists from across the country, including Tigrayan, Amhara and Oromo peoples, among many others. In 1983, the constant warfare, Ethiopian Red Terror (exactly what it sounds like), land redistribution, forced migration, corruption, deliberate starvation, and a drought led to a widespread famine across Ethiopia. Between 1983 and 1985, the famine and human rights abuses killed 1.2 million Ethiopians, nearly 500,000 refugees fled the country, and 2.5 million people were internally displaced.
In November 1984, a BBC news documentary on the Ethiopian famine shocked the world. The international community leapt to respond, but none so much as the British and American music industries. Irish musician Robert Geldof formed the super group “Band-Aid” who raised funds for the victims. Band-Aid’s single “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” raised nearly $10 million, despite being culturally inappropriate for the predominantly Christian country of Ethiopia. In March 1985, American super group “USA for Africa” released “We Are the World” raising further funds for Ethiopia.
The funds by the charity singles were still well below what international organizations thought was needed to combat the famine. Along with Geldof, Scottish musician Midge Ure organized a day of worldwide benefit concerts, billed a “global jukebox”, that would raise awareness and funds for Ethiopia. On 13 July 1985 simultaneous concerts were held in Austria, Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Japan, the Soviet Union, the United States, West Germany, and Yugoslavia. The two largest benefit concerts, dubbed “Live Aid”, were simultaneous showings at Wembley Stadium in London and JFK stadium in Philadelphia on 13 July 1985.
Both concerts were seen at each stadium on huge screens via near real time satellite transmission. According to the organizers, Live Aid showed that “humanitarian concern is now at the center of foreign policy”, and a new era of humanitarian cooperation would replace the Cold War. The line ups for both Live Aid concerts consisted of the “Who’s who” of Rock and Roll Aristocracy. At Wembley stadium, U2, David Bowie, Queen, the Who, Elvis Costello, Paul McCartney, George Michael, and Dire Straits headlined. In America, the JFK Live Aid concert was dubbed, “This Generation’s Woodstock”. Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Black Sabbath, the Rolling Stones, Tina Turner, the Beach Boys, Phil Collins, Brian Adams, Judas Priest, Simple Minds, Eric Clapton, and Duran Duran, among others, played twenty minutes sets. The JFK Live Aid concert even included the first on stage performance by Led Zeppelin since the death of their drummer, John Bonham in 1980 (Phil Collins drummed in his stead at the Live Aid concert). 160,000 people attended the concerts live. The combined Live Aid televised broadcast had an estimated 1.9 billion (with a “b”) viewers. 40% of the world’s population tuned in.
The Live Aid concerts are mostly remembered today for their technical difficulties, both on and off stage. Led Zeppelin’s songs sounded terrible. The group hadn’t rehearsed, Robert Plant sounded like shit, Jimmy Page’s guitar was not tuned, and Phil Collins didn’t know the songs. Tina Turner had wardrobe malfunction which almost got the plug pulled on the whole thing by the FCC. Bryan Adams couldn’t be heard in London due to a buzzing sound. And Paul McCartney’s version of Let It Be was silent for the first two minutes. Donations to Live Aid for the first seven hours amounted to a paltry $1.7 million, considering the star power assembled in support. The numbers went up considerably after Geldof got on the BBC radio and shouted, “Give us your focking money!.” Despite the problems, Live Aid raised at least $127,000,000 for the victims of the Ethiopian famine.
That $127,000,000 brought nothing but greater levels of death and destruction to Ethiopia.
The victims of the Ethiopian famine saw little if any of that money, and even the money raised previously by the charity singles, “Do they Know It’s Christmas” and “We Are the World”. Geldof ignored warnings from the NGO (non governmental organization) Doctors Without Borders, that the aid money was being funneled by the Ethiopian government for nefarious purposes. Geldof worked with Derg leader Mengistu Haile Mariam personally, and most of the Live Aid money went to fund arms and military equipment purchases from the Soviet Union. Geldof was instrumental in getting Doctors Without Borders expelled from Ethiopia, removing medical care for countless Ethiopians. As a response, future funds from sales of the Live Aid recordings went to several NGOs instead of the Ethiopian government. The NGOs turned out to be front organizations for the various rebel movements in the country. After the allegations of Live Aid mismanagement and corruption proved true, many artists admitted they were shamed and browbeaten by Geldoff to perform at the charity concerts.
Live Aid made a lot of rich people feel good about themselves, but Live Aid did little if anything good for the Ethiopian people. Ethiopia would have been much better off without Live Aid. Live Aid can accurately be described as having funded all sides of the Ethiopian Civil War. Live Aid funds directly resulted in escalations to the Ethiopian Civil War, and its donations tied directly to human rights abuses and war crimes. The Live Aid funded Ethiopian Civil War spilled over into neighboring Somalia and further destabilized that country, resulting in United Nations’ intervention in 1992. The Ethiopian Civil War continued until 1991 when Soviet backing for the Derg regime and its successor, The People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, ended. That year, Eritea won its independence, and Ethiopia transitioned to a US backed ethnic federation.
There is no question about the damage Live Aid’s funds did to the people and stability of the Horn of Africa. The only question is whether the Live Aid organizers were deliberately funding the Derg regime, or were willfully ignorant to the realities of the Ethiopian Civil War.
In either case, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.
Cool concerts though, I guess.
Ever since the Red Army arrived on Polish soil in 1944, the Soviets raped, looted, and murdered their way across the country. The largest Polish underground resistance movement, the Home Army, turned from fighting German socialists to fighting Russian socialists. At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Churchill made the same mistake Chamberlain did seven years previously and trusted a dictator. Stalin broke every pledge he made at Yalta, including allowing free elections in Poland, and power sharing between the American, French and British backed Polish Government-in-Exile and the Soviet puppets, the Polish Communists. The Soviet secret police, the NKVD, arrested any Pole even tangentially associated with the Polish Government-in-Exile or the Home Army. The detainees were placed in repurposed Nazi camps. Those that survived the torture, starvation, neglect, and interrogations at these camps were packed into cattle cars and sent east to the gulags, where most were never heard from again.
NKVD Special Camp No.10 near the town of Rembertów outside Warsaw was a former German labor camp for Soviet POWs. In May 1945, No. 10 was the final stop in Poland before prisoners and detainees disappeared into the Siberian wilderness. Since the camp was visible from the town of Rembertów, the guards ordered the prisoners around in rudimentary German to disguise from the townspeople that the prisoners were Poles. The ruse didn’t work, and the townspeople worked with the Home Army to free the prisoners. Many of the prisoners were high ranking Home Army and Exile leaders, and the next scheduled transport was 25 May.
Disguised as Polish Communist Army soldiers, Home Army soldiers under Captain Walenty “Młot” (The Hammer) Suda reconnoitered the camp. The raid to free the prisoners was tasked to Lieutenant Edward “Wichura” (The Gale) Wasilewski and his reinforced platoon of 44 heavily armed fighters.
On the night of Saturday 20 May 1945, the townspeople of Rembertów along with some prisoner’s relatives brought the guards some booze, and threw a party in the town for the camp commandant. With most of the guards and camp administration drunk, Suda executed a textbook raid on Special Camp No. 10 with security, breach, and assault groups. The raid was a complete surprise. The only casualties were three Home Army wounded, and 40 prisoners killed when they were caught in a field trying to escape into the woods. In less than 25 minutes, 100 sick and wounded prisoners were spirited away in two trucks, while somewhere between 800 and 1400 Polish prisoners escaped through Suda’s breach.
The Raid on Rembertów escalated the Polish resistance to the Soviets to an all-out civil war between Polish Communists and the Soviet Union and the “Cursed Soldiers” of the Home Army and the Polish people. Prison raids were a favorite tactic. For the next 18 months, 150,000 Home Army and resistance partisans fought two million Red Army soldiers, 50,000 NKVD agents, and 30,000 Polish communist militia. The Poles fought on alone without any support from their former allies in the West. The last of the Cursed Soldiers were killed or deported by October, 1946.
On 24 April 1915, Muslim Turkish authorities of the Ottoman Empire detained 250 Christian Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in the Ottoman capital Constantinople (modern Istanbul). Although there had been many massacres of Armenians in the past, 24 April saw the start of a systematic, well planned, and state sponsored scheme to remove Christians, mostly Armenian, and to a lesser extent Greek and Assyrian, from the Ottoman Empire.
The Armenian Genocide was done under the pretext that they formed a fifth column inside the country after the Ottoman Empire joined the side of German and Austria-Hungary in the First World War. 1.5 million Armenians were murdered or starved to death over the next five years, but most in 1915. The US Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Henry Morgenthau, extensively documented the genocide, and routinely called it “race extermination”
Thirty years later, Hitler used the world’s non-reaction to the Armenian Genocide to move ahead with his Final Solution of the Jews and other undesirables.
By 1950, the Iron Curtain had fallen across Europe and Soviet control of its satellite states in Eastern Europe was nearing completion. In Czechoslovakia, Communist control of the Czech Parliament was won in the relatively free elections of 1946. Following Socialism’s historical playbook of never giving up power once taken, the Communists seized complete control of the country in a coup in 1948. Power was consolidated, and by 1949, only one institution stood in opposition to the Czech Communists: the Czechoslovak Catholic Church.
Czechoslovakian StB (state security) agents and troops, trained and controlled by the Soviet Ministry of State Security (MGB, predecessor of the infamous KGB, the Committee of State Security), closed down churches and schools, outlawed all religious printed materials, and arrested priest and laity. The Stb engineered show trials to discredit Czechoslovak Catholics and parade them as agents of the Vatican, the Americans, and the British. The most famous show trial was that of the Číhošť Miracle, where 19 parishioners swore that a cross on the main alter moved on its own. The StB brutally tortured the priest to confess that he mechanically linked the alter and pulpit, from where he could control the cross. The show trial failed when Father Josef Toufar died from the torture before testifying that he staged the miracle.
The Číhošť Miracle show trial inflamed Czechoslovak passions, particularly the only remnants of the Catholic Church left in the country: its monasteries and nunneries. The Czechoslovak religious orders had emerged from the state sponsored violence relatively unscathed. They were socially isolated and physically distant from population at large and initially deemed no threat to the state power. However after the death of Father Toufar, the Church was no longer “an opiate of the masses” but a potential source of insurgent political power.
On the night of 13 April, 1950, StB plainclothes agents and troops, “People’s Militia”, and their Soviet handlers launched Operation K (for kláštery, Czech for monastery) to eliminate the monastic system in the country. In one coordinated operation, 75 Czech and 62 Slovak monasteries, belonging to the Salesian, Jesuit, Redemptorist and Benedictine orders, were raided that night. 13 more monasteries were raided later in the week. The monks were loaded onto trucks and sent to concentration camps, if not outright shot. Most of the older monks were not seen again, while the younger ones were worked to death in slave labor battalions. Prominent abbots were found guilty of treason in public show trials. The buildings were looted and the land confiscated for state use. In the most notorious example, the oldest monastery in the country, the Břevnov Monastery in Prague was converted into the Interior Ministry’s Central State Archive. About 2500 monks were killed or imprisoned during Operation K.
Several months later the Communists launched Operation R against Czechoslovak Catholic nunneries. Little evidence (in English, that I can find anyway) exists regarding Operation R, other than it happened and the Catholic nunneries in Czechoslovakia ceased to exist afterwards. The lucky nuns were sent into exile to live in the village of Bílá Voda. The vast majority were never heard from again. One can only speculate as to the nuns’ fate, but the Soviet proclivity of sexual violence toward female “enemies of the state” during and after the Second World War probably provides a clue.
Rumors about the extent and horrors of German concentration camps had been circling among the Allies for about two weeks, mostly from news stories about the Soviet discovery of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp system, and the American liberation of the camp at Buchenwald on 4 April. On 15 April 1945, the British 11th Armored Division became the next initiates into the horrific and insanity inducing fraternity of soldiers who first discovered a National Socialist concentration and extermination camp when they liberated the camps at Bergen-Belsen.
The camp at Bergen-Belsen was originally a Wehrmacht prisoner of war camp, and an exchange camp where Jewish civilians were held so they could be traded for German prisoners of war captured by the Allies. About 50,000 Jews, Polish and Russian pows died in the overcrowded camps before Bergen-Belsen was turned over to the SS in 1943. After the Wannasee Conference, Bergen-Belsen was expanded into concentration and extermination camps. Jews from across the Third Reich were sent Bergen-Belsen based on their potential ransom. The Jews were either exchanged for prisoners or sold to Allied and neutral nations for hard currency. Jews that didn’t sell quickly enough or got sick were shot. As the Russian armies closed in from the east, prisoners from the camps in Poland were sent west and many ended up in Bergen-Belsen.
By 1945 disease was rampant. Typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid, and dysentery ravaged the overcrowded camps. Anne Frank died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen in February 1945. On 11 April the typhus outbreak was so bad the SS created an exclusion zone around the camps and handed them over to British without a fight. Unfortunately, the peaceful transfer of the camps enabled time for the National Socialists to destroy the very meticulous records of their atrocities.
When the Brits arrived on 15 April 1945, they found 64,000 half starved and sick prisoners in camps designed to hold 10,000. They also found 19,000 unburied corpses. The captives had not eaten for days and madness and chaos engulfed the camps. The British troops restored order and trucked in food, water, and medical supplies and personnel to deal with the survivors. Medical specialists were flown in from Britain to assist. Despite their best efforts, about 500 prisoners died everyday for next the few months, mostly from disease. One of the last Luftwaffe attacks of the war occurred at Bergen-Belsen on 20 April which killed three British medical orderlies and several dozen prisoners.
The British forced the camp staff and civilians from nearby Celle to bury the dead. Correctly assuming that future generations would deny the Holocaust and National Socialist atrocities, the British command documented the Bergen-Belsen camps. No. 5 Army Film and Photographic Unit (like todays combat camera detachments) thoroughly covered Bergen-Belsen and interviewed as many survivors and liberators as possible.
The madness inducing pictures and recordings are available on the Imperial War Museum’s website.
The camps at Bergen-Belsen were so thoroughly riddled with disease that the camps were completely evacuated in August and burnt to the ground to prevent further spread. In the end, about 100,000 prisoners died at Bergen-Belsen from torture, medical experiments, disease, malnutrition, or execution, including about 14,000 after it was liberated, most to disease or complications in feeding.