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Bergen-Belsen – Beyond May 1945

Bergen Belsen – Beyond May 1945

Nic Vanderpeet (SOFO Learning and Outreach Officer)

Arthur Tyler, second left, with other men of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment (Oxfordshire Yeomanry), near Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 1945.
Arthur Tyler, second left, with other men of the 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment (Oxfordshire Yeomanry), near Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, 1945.

The survivors of Bergen Belsen would continue to live in camps after their liberation in April 1945. Camps were established to house Displaced Persons (DPs). Displaced persons were those who had been deported or sent as forced labour to Germany, in the case of Bergen Belsen the majority of the DPs were Polish or Jewish former prisoners.

The survivors of Bergen Belsen were moved from the original camp to the former German army barracks nearby. This became the Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons (DP) camp.

The camp was divided into two parts, a Polish Camp and a Jewish Camp. Both camps had thriving communities with fully functioning schools, hospitals, nurseries, cultural institutions, police and law courts. Many children were born in the camps as people looked to re-establish their lives.

However, there was the ever-present problem of where the people of the camps would settle. Many Poles did not want to return to a Poland dominated by the Soviet Union. For the Jewish people in the camps there was often nowhere to go back to with whole families and communities being destroyed and property lost due to confiscation. Anti-Semitism did not disappear with the end of the Third Reich with pogroms occurring in Poland in 1946.

The Polish Camp was disbanded in September 1946 with the majority returning to Poland. The Jewish Camp remained open until 1950, numbers of DPs decreasing after several years of increased migration to the USA, Canada and the United Kingdom and from 1948 to the new state of Israel.

There were almost 30000 people in the Bergen Belsen DP Camp, part of the millions who had been displaced as a result of the war. Alongside the relief work there was also the task of tracing people, reuniting families and discovering the fate of those dislocated by the conflict in Europe.

This enormous task was undertaken by organisations such as the International Tracing Service (ITS) which was born out of an initiative undertaken by the British Red Cross under the auspices of the Allied High Command. The ITS still exists as the Arolsen Archives and holds records of 17.5 million people persecuted by the Nazi regime.

On a smaller scale were the efforts made by one member of the 249TH Battery, 63rd Anti-Tank Regiment (QOOY), Arthur Tyler. Arthur Tyler took it upon himself while helping with the liberation of Bergen Belsen in April 1945 to record names and addresses of survivor’s relatives in places such as the UK and the USA. This selfless act did have some positive results, small successes in terms of numbers but massive in terms of the families concerned.

I met very many British soldiers and I asked everybody to write about me to my family, but nobody did it – only you.”

Letter to Arthur Tyler from Naomi Kaplan in America 23rd May 1946.

Sources & Useful Links

Arolsen Archives

Wiener Holocaust Library

Gedenkstätte Bergen-Belsen

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