See trips hub: Europe Road Ways

For themes of conflict, present in any country, see Studying War.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Bergen-Belsen KZ. Concentration Camp. Memorial Park Grounds

 Bergen Belsen Konzentrationslager (KZ)
Nazi Concentration Camp, Germany

Learn the KZ road sign for Concentration Camp because that will be on many signs to Bergen Belsen; the name, however, may not be given at all. This place began as a transport center, a way-station for prisoner destinations elsewhere; then it evolved into a Concentration Camp itself.  It is in Northern Germany, Saxony, near the town of Celle.


Of the camp itself,it is in two parts.  First, structures.  There are no structures left.  None at all. It is a Memorial Park.  The only way to get an idea of what happened there, without independent information, is ground level relief maps scattered about ("You are here," they point out from time to time, so you know which way to go next).

Second, there is an impressive - but removed emotionally since there are no physical structures to support what the Documentation Center "documents," a Documentation Center. See Bergen-Belsen Documentation Center. That building is large but appears almost as an afterthought:  It is as though Germany had been directed to maintain education centers for the concentration camps, they are supposed to tell what happened here, so enjoy your walk first, and then here are the pictures, Goodbye.  

The Center is indeed very large, with thorough exhibits including photos of inmates like Anne Frank who died here at age 15.  See if first, before the long walks outside. How else to orient.

We started with the outside, to see what we could learn if we already did not know about Concentration Camps (we have been to 
 On the outside walkways intersecting the park-like setting at Bergen Belsen, find only memorials, explanations on signs as you walk around the circumference and across, much heather, and raised mounds.

Much is in English.  Thank you.

Leave stones. The memorial custom in Judaism, we understand and have seen, is to leave small stones on markers, signs, graves. This dedication wall, "To the Memory of All Those Who Died in this Place," is covered with small stones and pebbles. The origins of the practice are Biblical, and sensible.  Honor, and replenish and preserve the site. See ://www.jewish-funeral-guide.com/tradition/grave-visitations.htm/  We do not know the rituals, but do leave our stones everywhere.


The Obelisk at Bergen Belsen was erected between 1945 and 1952, see ://www.stripes.com/military-life/travel/bergen-belsen-where-sorrow-never-sleeps-1.70532/. 



We were told that, immediately upon liberation, the Polish prisoners erected a tall wooden cross, just like this. It stood until it needed to be replaced; and has been replaced many times, but always on the same spot, same design. Imagine the spirit, for starving, abused, near-death inmates to erect such a structure.


This is a destination point for families but with so little to really show of the purpose of the place, and kids trotting about playing, what are they learning. That this is a remote park, and fun to visit. Or does awareness grow. But that takes returning, and returning.  The grave markers are all symbolic:  no-one knows exactly where anyone died and was interred.  Families could request monuments and stones, however, and many did.


The mounds blend in, no exotic plantings, heather and low growth the maintain the shapes, flat tops, large footprint, rectangular or square, angled sides, and the designation: "Hier ruhe 2500 tote," for example; here rest 2500 bodies.  Or 800.  Or 1000. There were 10,000 unburied dead at Bergen Belsen upon liberation, see the Auschwitz site above.  Of the 40,000 alive, some 28,000 of those died soon after liberation. The task of burial was overwhelming.  They started with heaving bodies onto trucks and piling them.  That was too slow, so the documentation center shows bulldozers pushing and piling them into holes, cover up, level off.  Over and over.

And those are only the individuals found at liberation.  The deaths took place for years, from starvation, beatings, mistreatment, disease.  This was not an extermination camp predominantly, as it began as a transit stop for the extermination camps and the labor camps; I do not recall gas chambers.  Perhaps they were built. But there were thousands of shootings and killings, and a crematorium for the dead. Need to check.


How else to communicate the overwhelming size of this place, on and on, many markers giving the function of the structure that had been there.


The danger is that the place will become just a nature walk.




The walkways go on and on.  It is difficult to see where to go next.


Bergen Belsen is a large memorial park - there is no one orienting feature until you make it to the far end and the Obelisk and the Cross.

Then suddenly a part will be manicured.  See the size of the burial mounds. There are byways and markers scattered, as well as in particular locations. They tend to retell a story, or give a name and relationship. Remembrance stones are on most of them.




With so many burial mounds, appreciate the variety of shrubbery used to differentiate them without requiring upkeep.  It all is rough. Heather. Excellent.



Artifacts are still being found as they rise to the surface.  People leave them on markers.



Now: Of all those who died in the Holocaust, we all know of the Jews.  They have advocates, and funds, and justifiably memorialize that group.  There are other groups targeted by the Third Reich, as being less than Aryan, or the chosen Superiors; the Gypsies (here memorialized as Roma, Sinti, Zigeun, the homosexuals, the Jehovah's Witnesses - did you think of that?  

Here is a specific marker to the often-forgotten.


The marker here specifyies groups targeted :  
  • Juden, 
  • Sinti and Roma,
  • Zeugen (Gypsy groups), 
  • Jehovahs, 
  • Homosexuals.  
 See the Holocaust Glossary at http ://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/wiesenthal_glossary.html/, click on Concentration Camps, and find that the camps began in 1933 with Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachenhausen (near Berlin) for the enemies of the Nazi regime.  Those initially forced there were defined as Gypsies, Jews, homosexuals, the handicapped, mentally disabled, Jehovah's Witnesses, communists, monarchists, socialists, "asocials" and other actual and potential political enemies.

Among the Juden: Anne Frank and Margot Frank:  no known actual place of burial. 



Finally, see the Obelisk, and nearby is the Documentation Center and a Memorial Religious building.




The numbers are unfathomable. But, after seeing all the mounds, the visitor is persuaded that tens of thousands were killed and killed and killed.  Do see the park first, then go to the big memorial structures and then the documentation center.  Otherwise, the numbers are just ho-hum  It took us a long time to walk the full perimeter of this Camp, and we also got lost in the by-ways.  


Now:  gas chambers here?  Yes, say several sites.  No, says the Institute for Historical Research http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v15/v15n3p23_Weber.html; the researchers at http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v15/v15n3p23_Weber.html/  The conditions at Bergen Belsen were generally better than elsewhere until 1944, when most of the mass deaths occurred from conditions, starvation, epidemics, and the prisoners surviving showed those effects.  Gas chambers, repeats Institute for Historical Research, no.

The problem at this kind of Memorial Park without structures where someone (particularly children, who need to carry this memory along, is that so?) cannot see, and remember (even if there is some little sign saying so): is that without a sign that here was a gas chamber, or its reconstruction, is that we don't even think of how so many people were murdered.  Neglect, absence of treatment unto death, beatings, shootings, and the epidemics and starvation.

Germany.  The impact of concentration camps here is muted. Visit Mauthausen in Austria. Austria Road Ways, Mauthausen Concentration Camp. There is a gas chamber, intact, places where hangings took place, tools of the killing trade. By pulling facilities all down, as happened in Buchenwald and here at Bergen Belsen, even in anger and reprisal and remorse and guilt, what is destroyed is a means of passing on the memory of what hate, polarization, propagannda and demonizing do.  We are coping with that in the US and may not pull out. Fodder Site: The Way to Mauthausen.

For any nation:  which groups are targeting our own children for domination. Prime the children.  Bellwether Haiku. Nicens Baby Tuckoo at Shooter Camp

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