Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the British troops on 15 April 1945. It was not the first camp to be liberated, but it was most likely the most infamous camp at that time. The gruesome scenes of Bergen-Belsen which were captured by British army photographers, soon went round the world and pictured the cruel Nazi regime. These pictures finally revealed the true nature of the concentration camps to the world. Bergen-Belsen would soon serve as an example of Nazi camps. But this is not entirely in keeping with the truth.
The town Bergen-Belsen does in fact not exist. Belsen is a small village, while Bergen was a larger town with 13,000 residents. Both are located about sixty kilometres northeast of Hannover. In 1935 the German Wehrmacht built a barracks with practice ground between both locations. It was a modern barracks for the Panzertruppenschule with well-equipped sleeping-places, canteens, kitchens, etc. To provide housing for the workers who were building the barracks, a camp with approximately thirty barracks was built.
During the May days of 1940, the former practice ground was used as a prisoner-of-war camp, where about 600 Belgian and French soldiers were accommodated. A year later it received its first official name Stalag 311 (XI C). A few weeks after the start of operation Barbarossa, the German attack on the Soviet Union, the first prisoner transports arrived at Bergen-Belsen. By July 1941, around 21,000 Russian prisoners of war were locked up in Bergen-Belsen. Their living conditions were miserable: in open air surrounded by barbed wire, without any sanitary provisions. By February 1942, more than 18,000 prisoners had died. Many died as a consequence of dysentery, but especially the typhoid epidemic of November 1941 caused most victims to die. At the same time, hundreds of Soviet commissioners were deported to Sachenhausen to be executed in concordance with Hitlerís guidelines.
The SS took over command of Bergen-Belsen in April 1943.