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Royals pay their respects to Nazi death camp victims

By Tony Jones

The Queen has paid her respects to the tens of thousands of people who died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

She and the Duke of Edinburgh laid a simple wreath at a memorial to all who perished following their internment at the camp, which was liberated 70 years ago by British forces.

With quiet dignity and the minimum of protocol, the royal couple toured the site in northern Germany which was razed to the ground and is now a museum and memorial to those who died.

The Queen, who is patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, has not visited a concentration camp during previous State visits to Germany.

At the site's Inscription Wall, she and Philip laid a wreath near the words 'To the memory of all those who died in this place'.

The monument also bears other poignant words in a number of languages, including Yiddish, Hebrew and Latin.

Among those who perished at the site were Anne Frank and her sister Margot, who died a few months before British troops walked through the gates and liberated those interned on April 15, 1945.

Near to where the wreath was laid was a headstone dedicated to the sisters, who became world-famous through Anne's diary, which was written while she and her family hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam before their capture.

Bergen-Belsen was the only concentration camp to be liberated by British forces and its name became synonymous with the atrocities of the Holocaust after newsreel footage, narrated by BBC war reporter Richard Dimbleby, was shown in the Allied nations.

Michael Bentine, the Goon Show comedian who was among the British liberators, said he always regarded the events that took place at Belsen as "the ultimate blasphemy".

Brigadier Hugh Llewellyn Glyn Hughes, the 2nd Army's deputy director of medical services, was the first to arrive at the site and took control of the relief operation.

He later said: "No description or photograph could really bring home the horrors that were outside the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse."

The British troops found 10,000 prisoners dead when they entered the gates, and thousands more suffering from malnutrition, disease and the brutal treatment they had endured.

In the months leading up to liberation, the population of Bergen-Belsen, which was not designed as an extermination camp, had quadrupled to 60,000 and conditions worsened with a lack of water, shelter and sanitation.

In the weeks that followed, 14,000 people died as a result of ill-treatment or sickness and the camp was burned to stop the spread of disease.

Nothing now remains of the huts and buildings where Jewish, Russian and other prisoners starved to death or died from disease; in their place is a meadow of knee-length grass and a number of simple memorials to the dead.

Today, the only reminder of the site's history is the huge mass burial mounds, some holding the remains of 5,000 victims.

Among the survivors of Bergen-Belsen who met the Queen was Rudi Oppenheimer (83), whose Jewish family were rounded up in Amsterdam and arrived at the camp in February 1944. Both of his parents died there, but his brother and sister survived.

He said: "People who came from Auschwitz said the conditions at Belsen were worse than at Auschwitz. Things were really bad. Corpses were lying all over the place.

The Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who joined the Queen for part of visit, said: "I told the Queen that the Jewish world appreciates enormously her gesture in coming here, because it shows her solidarity with our pain and suffering."

Belfast Telegraph


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