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April 29, 2015 5:52 pm

Remembering Bergen Belsen, So That We Never Forget

avatar by Richard Ferrer

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Bergen Belsen today. Photo: Richard Ferrer.

So here I am again, moping around another Nazi concentration camp.

Why do I keep taking these hellish trips? To Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Plaszów, and today Bergen Belsen, as part of a UK delegation marking the 70th anniversary of the camp’s liberation by the British army.

Is it a sense of duty? Morbid fascination? To fill a void, scratch an itch? Perhaps I just like a good funeral. What sort of sick tourist am I?

Perhaps I’m here for the broken branches of my own family tree; mum’s Polish aunts and uncles and dad’s Ukrainian nieces and nephews. Perhaps Jannic and Marie, the Ferrers recorded in the Bergen Belsen memorial book of the dead, were among them.

One thing’s for sure. I can’t help myself. The psychological scars cut so deep that even everyday objects and events scream six million: a packed train; an arm tattoo; a wood-fired pizza oven; a pile of tiny shoes at my daughter’s nursery; a sudden knock at the door.

Amazon has a lot to answer for.

Arriving at a rainy Bergen Belsen I recall the disappointment of my first visit back in 1991, being told it had shut for the day and asking if there were any other Nazi camps they could recommend nearby. A flippant remark made, in my defence, by a profound urge to fill that void; scratch that itch.

Had I known Neuengamme, where 50,000 perished, was a mere hour’s drive north, I’d have forced my mates to catch the train there rather than head to Amsterdam to get stoned with all the other graduates.

On Sunday I returned during opening hours as part of a 200-strong British delegation led by the Holocaust Educational Trust [HET] to mark the liberation anniversary of the final resting place of Anne Frank and 70,000 others.

Among us were 100 teenage ambassadors who’ve taken part in HET’s remarkable Lessons From Auschwitz project, which aims to give two pupils from every school in Britain the chance to visit the most infamous of all Nazi death camps.

We joined 1,000 others, including survivors, liberators, and political and religious leaders including German President Joachim Gauck.

Auschwitz is the ultimate symbol of terror, but it is Belsen that has most informed Britain’s relationship with the Holocaust – from liberation by the 11th armoured divison to Richard Dimbleby’s solemn eyewitness reports for the BBC to the displaced persons camp set up at the nearby British Bergen-Hohne army barracks where survivors were nursed.

I walked with Mala Tribich, 84, and Rudi Oppenheimer, 82, both liberated from Belsen. Rudi recalled how his parents both died here. He says: “So many people were ill with diarrhea, pneumonia, and other illnesses. In January 1945 my mother fell ill. There were no doctors, no nurses, no medicines. One evening she disappeared from the hospital barracks. She had died and her body had been taken away to make room for someone else. She was not yet 43.”

The British burnt this typhus-ridden place to the ground soon after liberation. Today Belsen resembles a landscaped garden more than a gravesite. Lush acres are interrupted by occasional gravestones, including one for Anne and Margot Frank, and raised mounds of earth – mass graves with marker stones stating: ‘Here lie 2,500 dead.’ ‘Here lie 1,000 dead.’ ‘Here lie 800 dead…”

It all seemed so unrecognisable to Mala, who shut her eyes to help her remember. “My barrack was opposite a hut with a pile of corpses,” she says. “I recall a procession of women dragging bodies in blankets or by a limb along the ground, adding to the pile all day long.”

I meet Mervyn Kersh, a 90-year-old British-Jewish soldier, who recalled giving survivors his chocolate rations. “It was only after doing this [that] I learned it was the worst thing I could have done,” he says. “These people were walking skeletons. Chocolate was far too rich for their weak digestive system.”

The day ended with a service in the Jewish cemetery at the nearby British barracks, where 29,000 survivors arrived after liberation. Some 14,000 perished despite the best efforts of the British army.

The mourner’s kaddish and the sounding of The Last Post were painfully poignant, but the most moving moment saw each of us handed a chalk ‘memory stone’ on which to write a few well-chosen words before placing it on the memorial.

I thought of the past and Mala, Rudi, and Mervyn. And I thought of the future and the desire of these young British ambassadors to speak on their behalf. And I wrote the three words on my stone that seemed to best sum up the day: ‘History is happening.’

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  • My life has been dedicated to holocaust education, Judaism , Israel and helping the survivors. As I retire after a 41 year career as a pulpit RABBI, I will dedicated the rest of my life that G-d grants me to help Israel , holocaust education, and to give purpose to our lives as Jews…..Many have contacted me regarding conversion classes and I have advised them…I may start my own if enough are interested.. To me 2g’s are especially special. Not all 2g’ s like me or agree with me AND THAT IS FINE. I am here to help any 2g who wants help returning their family to Judaism, especially if you are intermarried. We are a family. I have offered to help in a leadership capacity to stem the problems inherent in Judaism today…I need financial support and an organization. I am not seeking a new job just an avenue to be independent and lead the way I believe is honest. The new holocaust book is in its final stages. Remember this Rabbi cares for you . I can not be bought or sold. I am an independent thinker and I want to help….RABBI DR. BERNHARD ROSENBERG

  • , Echoes of the Holocaust: Survivors and their Children and Grandchildren Speak Out.

  • Bernhard Rosenberg

    1 min ·


    this is the title of the new book

    , Echoes of the Holocaust: Survivors and their Children Speak Out. Some of you sent in articles but no pictures. We can use illustrations and art work. Last request. No articles will be accepted after Friday MAY 8.

    Seeing the Shoa through liberators’ eyes

    While the Holocaust can be fully understood only by those who experienced it, said historian Robert Jan van Pelt, its dimensions can at least be grasped through the experience of the soldiers — Russian and American — who liberated the camps…

  • this is the title of the new book

    , Echoes of the Holocaust: Survivors and their Children Speak Out. Some of you sent in articles but no pictures. We can use illustrations and art work. Last request. No articles will be accepted after Friday MAY 8.

  • Echoes of the Holocaust: Survivors and their Children Speak Out


    Deadline May 8

    Send the info to, Some of you came up with some great titles for the new book please send them directly to my secretary as I misplaced them…also if you have experience with create space for publishing please offer to help my secretary…..Please help if you have talents to make this book a reality. volunteer sap

  • Might I point out Richard that it is The Death Camp which clearly identifies The Holocaust. We cannot begin to measure the outrage, one Camp against the next! But for x6 Death Camps ranged against the Jews of Europe, it is a Catastrophe beyond compare. For Birkenau where 1,100,000 Jews were Slaughtered, can Treblinka compare. Here are some of what that Catastrophe represents!

    Belzec 600,000
    Birkenau (Auschwitz) 1,100,000
    Chelmno 152,000
    Majdanek, 200,000
    Sobibor 250,000
    Treblinka 900,000

    Sub-Total 3,202,000 Jews Murdered in The Death Camps alone!

    Dare I mention a salient point here! 1,250,000 Jews were Murdered by der Einsatzgruppe. Many have no marker, though we know Babi-Yar, Bikernieki, Ponary and Rumbuli.