Bergen-Belsen concentration camp documentation center

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Directions sketch
Plan drawing of the concentration camp memorial
Documentation center exterior view (2008)

The Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp Documentation Center shows what is happening in Bergen-Belsen, Wietzendorf and Oerbke in a permanent exhibition. From the beginnings of a barracks settlement for construction workers, to the prisoner-of-war camps and the later Bergen-Belsen concentration camp , to the liberation of the camp by the British. The establishment of the DP Camp Belsen for Displaced Persons (DP) on the adjacent barracks area in Belsen is also documented. Part of the documentation center is also dedicated to post-war justice.

The documentation building

Until the mid-1960s, there was very limited information about the camp here. A permanent exhibition was opened in 1990, although it was still very limited due to the lack of sources. The new Bergen-Belsen documentation center was opened on October 28, 2007 . In particular, archives from the former Soviet area and sources from the property of former prisoners and contemporary witnesses enabled more comprehensive documentation. The building is located on the road between Bergen , Belsen and Winsen / Aller , on the southern edge of the former area of ​​the Nazi concentration camp.

The 18-meter-wide, partly two-storey, almost 200-meter-long concrete building was planned by the Brunswick architects Engel and Zimmermann (KSP office). It has an exhibition area of ​​1,500 m². The Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Lower Saxony each contributed half of the costs of 13 million euros . For the construction of this memorial, the architecture office and the Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation received the Lower Saxony State Prize for Architecture 2008. However, there is also criticism of the concept and the specific design of the work of the documentation center, some of which have found expression in the press.


The historian Jens-Christian Wagner has been head of the memorial since 2014 and will take over the management of the Buchenwald and Mittelbau-Dora Memorials Foundation in October 2020 . Elke Gryglewski is to follow him as director of the memorial.

The historian and author Thomas Rahe has been the scientific and deputy director of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp memorial since 1987. From 2001 to 2007, Henry Friedlander was the chairman of an international commission made up of eleven experts who volunteered to advise on the new conception of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp documentation center .

Lower Saxony youth associations have been working on the site of the memorial and the Soviet war cemetery since 1993. For them, actively dealing with the history of National Socialism is an important part of their work. Every year, 25 to 30 youth associations take place in Bergen-Belsen. It was possible to uncover, research, document, measure and secure structural remains of the former camp. In the past, warehouse parts were also redesigned through such work camps.

The exhibition

The permanent exhibition shows documents and photos from the camps Bergen-Belsen Stalag XI C (311) , Wietzendorf Stalag XD (310) and Oerbke Stalag XI D (321) . In addition, in short video scenes, reports from survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and from former prisoners of war in the camps. They report on their childhood and youth, their family and hometown and life during and after deportation or captivity. The life dates and photos of people who did not survive the camp are also shown. Furthermore, eyewitness reports from residents of the villages neighboring the camps can be seen. Floor showcases are embedded in the floor of the Dokuzentrum building. Here are various items of daily use that were found in the barracks or on the camp grounds.

After the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, the British Army Film and Photographic Unit (AFPU) recorded 33 rolls of cine film and over 200 photos, some of which can be seen in the exhibition.

Chronology of the Bergen-Belsen camp

The exhibition shows in a large area, with various plans, drawings and descriptions, the chronological structure of the individual parts of the camp, the prisoner of war camp and the later Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

In 1936 there was a settlement of over 40 buildings, mostly wooden barracks , north of a road that led from Belsen to Meißendorf . In the eastern part these were arranged in rows. In the western part, in a pine forest, there were several scattered barracks (the so-called "forest camp"). Around 3,000 German construction workers were housed here. They were employed in Belsen to build the Wehrmacht barracks for the Bergen military training area, which is currently under construction. A shooting range for the military training area had already been set up about 700 meters further south.

From 1940, 600 French and Belgian prisoners were housed in the barracks.

The Mourners ” by Mykola Muchin in the docu building, it was previously in the prisoner of war cemetery

As of May 1941, the entire area was cleared and prepared to accommodate around 20,000 Soviet prisoners of war. In addition, Serbian prisoners extended the area to the south to about 55 hectares. They erected watchtowers and drew a barbed wire fence around the site. The camp was given the designation Stalag XIC (311) . In the east of the site, near the country road (today L 298) from Bergen to Winsen , the main entrance with the administrative barracks was laid out. A hospital with around 770 beds was built in the “forest camp”. The main camp for prisoners of war was set up in the southern part of the site. In August 1941, 8,000 Soviet prisoners of war had already arrived in Bergen-Belsen. On November 1, 1941, the number had grown to 13,878. But there were only five makeshift accommodation barracks. About 600 meters west of the site, separated by the Meiße , a prisoner of war cemetery was set up, where the first dead prisoners of war were buried in individual graves.

By the summer of 1942, a few more wooden barracks had been built in the main camp. The hospital had been expanded to 1,200 beds. Between July 1941 and March 1942 around 18,000 Soviet prisoners of war perished from starvation and epidemics. They were buried in the prisoner-of-war cemetery, now in mass graves. The barracks themselves were now mostly empty, as the prisoners of war were either on duty or were in the constantly full hospital.

Trasse separates the concentration camp site (left) from the hospital area (right)

In April 1943, the SS set up the part south of the road from Belsen to Meißendorf as the "Bergen-Belsen camp of the Waffen-SS". Jews who were to be exchanged for Germans interned abroad were to be accommodated here. Around 520 concentration camp prisoners prepared the camp to accommodate 10,000 Jews. The expansion of the barracks went very slowly and remained in a provisional state. In July 1943 the first “ exchange Jews ” came from the ghettos in Poland , Greece and the Dutch transit camp Westerbork . The individual groups were housed in separate areas. The areas were separated from each other by barbed wire fences .

In the spring of 1943 the camp for prisoners of war Stalag XIC (311) was closed. The hospital continued to operate as a branch camp of the Fallingbostel POW camp ( Stalag XI B ). Prisoners of war from the entire military district XI were treated here. The northern part, the prisoner-of-war camp, was separated by a four-meter-wide route with barbed wire fences and privacy mats on both sides from the southern part of the site, the concentration camp. The former road from Belsen to Meißendorf was now the camp dividing strip.

In the autumn of 1944 the exchange camp with around 6,400 Jews was located on the site of the concentration camp. This was divided into four individual camps, the "star camp" , the prisoners had to wear their civilian clothes with the " Jewish star ", the "neutral camp" for Jews who had the citizenship of neutral countries, the "special camp" for Jews from Poland and the "Hungarian camp" for Hungarian Jews whose ransom was negotiated with foreign Jewish organizations. At that time there was also the “women's camp” in the far south . Around 2,100 civilians from the Warsaw Uprising and prisoners from the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp were housed here in tents . The “men's camp” also existed in the far east of the concentration camp . Around 3,000 sick prisoners from other concentration camps who were classified as incapable of work were usually held here. In the barracks of the prisoner-of-war hospital there were around 800 Italian military internees in addition to Soviet prisoners of war . In addition to this area, about 1000 men and women of the Polish Home Army who had been captured during the Warsaw Uprising were imprisoned. In January 1945 the Wehrmacht handed over the hospital area to the SS. At the beginning of April 1945, it also took over the Wehrmacht barracks about one kilometer to the east . Towards the end of the Second World War , many concentration camp prisoners came to Bergen-Belsen from other concentration camps and extermination camps near the front. At least 85,000 men, women and children were brought here in more than 100 transports and so-called “death marches” . This attempted to cover up the crimes from the approaching Allied troops and to prevent the prisoners from being released.

Burning down the barracks
Former warehouse entrance today

On April 15, 1945, the concentration camp was handed over to the British armed forces without a fight . The barracks of the concentration camp were torn down by the British in April / May 1945 and set on fire to prevent the further spread of epidemics. The remaining warehouse fences, watchtowers and the crematorium were demolished in the winter of 1945/46 by German authorities.

Most of the survivors of the concentration camp returned to their homeland in the summer of 1945. However, mainly Poles and Jews of different nationalities remained behind. They were civilians who were initially without a known place of residence due to the turmoil of World War II, the so-called Displaced Persons (DP). Up to 10,000 people lived in the Polish DP camp in Bergen-Belsen . It was disbanded in the summer of 1946. Up to 12,000 people lived in the Jewish DP camp in Bergen-Belsen. The camp was largely closed after the emigration of most of the Jewish displaced persons in the summer of 1950; the last DPs left it in August 1951.

The historic camp has been largely destroyed by the park-like landscaping. The archive and the exhibition in the documentation center are therefore of particular importance.

Overview of the documentation center

Documentation center interior view of the ground floor

Wehrmacht prisoner-of-war camp from 1939 to 1945

This area is divided into:

  • Soviet prisoners of war 1941 to 1942
  • Soviet prisoners of war 1942 to 1945
  • Italian military internees 1943 to 1945
  • Warsaw insurgents 1944/1945
  • Liberation 1945
A “stone path” leads through the documentation center into the geographical center of the former warehouse area. The location of the building and the routing trace the route of a country road that was cut when the camp was built in 1941.

Among other things, the following is shown in chronological order:

  • September 1939: The Fallingbostel prisoner-of-war camp is set up on the Bergen military training area
  • June 1940: Use of the former construction workers' camp
  • 1943: Part of the camp was handed over to the SS and housed Italian military internees
  • October 1944: Soldiers of the Polish Home Army arrive as prisoners of war
  • January 1945: The prisoner-of-war camp is cleared, the SS takes over the building
  • April 1945: Liberated by the British Army

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp 1943 to 1945

This is broken down into:

  • The exchange camp from 1943 to 1945
  • Men's and women's camps from 1944 to 1945
  • Reception and death camps 1944 to April 1945
  • The Liberation and Pictures of the British Liberators

In detail is shown here:

  • April 1943: Part of the POW camp is taken over by the SS and a concentration camp is set up
  • From the spring of 1944: Expansion of the concentration camp, accommodation of inmates unable to work from other concentration camps
  • From August 1944: arrival of female prisoners from Auschwitz
  • From October 1944: Arrival of evacuation transports from concentration camps near the front
  • April 15, 1945: Liberation of 55,000 prisoners by British troops.

Displaced Persons Camp Bergen-Belsen 1945 to 1950

( on the upper floor of the documentation center )

  • Emergency hospital 1945 and Polish DP camp 1945 to 1946
  • Jewish DP camp 1945 to 1950

Other documentation

  • Topography of the former camp area: The history of the site from 1938 to April 1945 is shown in six chronological maps.
  • Prosecuting the perpetrators, preliminary investigations, trials ( Bergen-Belsen trial ), judgments.
  • Archaeological finds: Objects found on the site of the former camp during excavation work are shown in 20 showcases.
  • Video interviews with contemporary witnesses: The 340 interviews with survivors and contemporary witnesses have a total length of around 1,300 hours (as of July 2007).

Loading ramp

Transport wagon - part of the loading ramp in the background
Memorial stone for the victims of the Nazi tyranny who were led from the loading ramp to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Monument near the loading dock

Aside from the new documentation center, it becomes clear on the loading ramp which way the prisoners had to cover in the camp. On the road (L 298) from Bergen to Belsen , about halfway there, a road bridge leads over the railway line that runs from Celle via Bergen to Belsen. Immediately behind this bridge on the left, in the parking lot, is a memorial. This was created by the Hanoverian artist couple Almut and Hans-Jürgen Breuste and inaugurated here on January 26, 2008. It is intended to commemorate the nearby railway ramp on which the prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates arrived. They were transported here by the Reichsbahn and had to walk 5 to 6 km to the camp from here. From the parking lot, a narrow inconspicuous (but signposted) approx. 550 m long footpath leads along the railway line to the loading ramp. The AG Bergen-Belsen has set up a "boxcar" there. At their request, part of the ramp and track was placed under monument protection in 2000. The loading ramp will continue to be used (as of 2019) to unload and load tracked vehicles of the exercising troops.


  • Wilfried Wiedemann: "Earth Conceal Not The Blood Shed On Thee". The new documentation center at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial. In: Bergen-Belsen: POW camp 1940–1945, concentration camp 1943–1945, Displaced Persons Camp 1945–1950. Catalog of the permanent exhibition. Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation, Göttingen, Wallstein-Verlag 2009. ISBN 978-3-8353-0612-7 .
  • Wilfried Wiedemann / Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn (eds.): Landscape and Memory: Bergen-Belsen, Esterwegen, Falstad, Majdanek, Munich 2011, pp. 103–124. ISBN 978-3-89975-268-7 .
  • Knoch, Habbo (ed) (2010). Bergen-Belsen: Wehrmacht POW Camp 1940–1945, Concentration Camp 1943–1945, Displaced Persons Camp 1945–1950. Catalog of the permanent exhibition. Wallstein. ISBN 978-3-8353-0794-0 .
  • Fletcher, David (2007), "Churchill Crocodile Flamethrower", Volume 136 of New Vanguard (Osprey Publishing): 33 & 47, ISBN 1-84603-083-8 .

Web links

Commons : Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Bergen-Belsen. Foundation The permanent exhibition
  2. ^ Matthias Hannemann: In the difficult terrain of history. From: FAZ , Feuilleton, May 26, 2008.
  3. ^ NDR: Memorial director Wagner goes to Thuringia. Retrieved August 11, 2020 .
  4. Petra Schellen: “Also direct your eyes to the perpetrators” . In: The daily newspaper: taz . August 10, 2020, ISSN  0931-9085 , p. 27 ePaper 23 North ( [accessed on August 11, 2020]).
  5. ^ Annette Langhorst: History in progress - the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp memorial opens its new documentation center. In: Jüdische Allgemeine from November 1, 2007.
  6. Overview of youth work in Bergen-Belsen
  7. camp history with bearing sketches
  8. Stalag XIC (311) Bergen-Belsen
  9. According to information from the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge on the prisoner of war cemetery in Bergen / Hörsten over 19,500 buried prisoners of war. → Different information about the number of deaths: The AG Bergen-Belsen names at least 19,580. According to documents from the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, 19,500 Red Army soldiers are buried in the prisoner of war cemetery. The information board of the Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation at the entrance to the cemetery names an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 dead. The Soviet memorial erected in 1946 names 50,000 dead.
  10. The dead of Bergen-Belsen
  11. Stalag XI B Fallingbostel
  12. ^ Death march to Bergen-Belsen
  13. ^ Liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
  14. Report of the independent journalist Stefan Drössler on the memorial to the loading ramp ( Memento of 27 March 2009 at the Internet Archive )
  15. Not far from the Bergen-Belsen memorial (Celle district), in April 2002, on the initiative of the “Arbeitsgemeinschaft Bergen-Belsen eV”, a covered freight wagon of the old design was set up next to the ramp on the edge of today's military training area. Lower Saxony) had come. Its iron skeleton was provided with new boards by soldiers of the Bundeswehr in Bergen-Hohne. The year before, during construction work at the Bergen train station, the military mistakenly tore down part of the loading ramp, which had been a listed monument since September 2000, and had to be restored (information from Ms. Elke von Meding, Bergen-Bleckmar, chairwoman of the AG Bergen-Belsen, see Memorial Forum )

Coordinates: 52 ° 45 ′ 27.6 "  N , 9 ° 54 ′ 39.8"  E