I heard on the Radio this morning that today, 15th April 2005, is the 60th Anniversary of the liberation by British troops of the infamous Nazi Concentration Camp of Bergen-Belsen near Hanover, Germany. It is thought that some 70,000 human beings died in that camp, in the most despicable of circumstances.
Today is also the anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, which struck an iceberg on 14th April 1912 and sank early the next morning with the loss of over 1,500 lives.
How many people, especially young people, know all about the tragedy of the sinking of the Titantic? A great many, I am sure, especially as the story was used as the basis for a film. How many people know what happened at Belsen or that it was a concentration camp? Far fewer, I suspect!
The story of Belsen is particularly horrifying because of the depths of man's depravity and extreme inhumanity to other human beings. Men, women and children, many already sick on arrival, who were incarcerated in an over-crowded 'hell' which, unless you are one of the few survivors, your worst nightmare could not begin to imagine. Human beings who were left to suffer and to die by means of starvation, disease, and extreme cruelty. Typhus, typhoid and tuberculosis were endemic, huts intended for 60 housed 600, toilets were non-existent, there was no running water. The inmates' daily diet consisted of turnip and potato soup, plus a small piece of bread - if you were not strong enough to get up and queue for it, you went without.
They lived like animals, wearing tatters of lice-infested rags, sleeping in huts carpeted with human excreta. They died, mostly from starvation, at the rate of some 500 per day. Their bodies were left piled up, rotting, in full view of other inmates, including children. There was evidence that some inmates had resorted to cannibalism. Liberation came too late for nearly three-quarters of the camp inmates who were too sick to respond to treatment and failed to recover.
If you find all this shocking and revolting - you should! Recent events in the news and a 'prison experiment' have shown that ordinary people given power as guards can easily turn into bullies and torturers. What happened under Nazi Germany must never be forgotten - sadly, it is so easy for man's evil nature to surface. If there were to be a "next time", it could be your grandchildren who are the victims or, an even worse scenario, your grandchildren as the guards, the instigators. We must never let this happen again!
N.B. The Belsen camp commandant, Josef Kramer, was found guilty at Luneberg of war crimes and hanged in December 1945.