SSAFA remembers liberation of Bergen-Belsen

15 April 2020

15 April 2020 marks 75 years since British Forces liberated the German concentration camp – and today we share some of the survivor’s stories.

Two women have re-told their stories to SSAFA, to help keep those memories alive and ensure that no one forgets the horrors suffered by those in the camp, but also to celebrate the actions of the heroic British soldiers on the day of the liberation.

 

Renee Salt

In 1944, Renee Salt, was forced out of her home country of Poland and moved to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. Then in 1945, she was force marched  to Bergen-Belsen at just fifteen years old. After surviving the horrors of Bergen-Belsen and losing her mother after the liberation of the camp, she met and married a British soldier, who had himself been a liberator of the very camp she had been imprisoned in.

  • Renee lived in Poland, but she was forced out of her home and sent to live in two different ghettos and moved to her first concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, in 1944.
  • She marched to Bergen-Belsen in March 1945– she was just fifteen at time. Her mother was also sent to Bergen-Belsen but they were separated on arrival.
  • “When I first got to Belsen, I didn’t think I would survive. It was so terrible, it was worst of all the camps – I was in Auschwitz as well – but of all the camps, I thought this was the worst. Everywhere else, I hoped maybe we would survive, we would find someone from our families, but once we were in Belsen, I gave up all hope of surviving.”
  • After liberation of the camp, Renee was taken to a makeshift hospital, but unfortunately nearly 14,000 prisoners died from starvation and disease, including her mother.
  • After leaving Bergen-Belsen, she found members of her family and moved to Paris.
  • Years later, after being saved by the British at the camp, she met and married a British soldier, who had himself been a liberator of Bergen-Belsen.

Read Renee's full story here.

 

Mady Gerrard

Also in 1944, but this time from Hungary, Mady Gerrard was rounded up and deported to the Auschwitz death camp.  She was then sent to a work camp in Germany, making radios for the German airforce.  As the war neared its end, and the Russian army advanced from the east, Mady was sent, as so many others were, to Bergen-Belsen.

  • Mady lived in Hungary, but her country was invaded by Germany in March 1944 – she was taken to Auschwitz on 8 July.
  • She was force-marched from Auschwitz to Bergen-Belsen in January of 1945– she was almost fifteen by this time.
  • “There was no sanitation, no showers. We were put into a barracks, with no furniture, lying on the floor with very little food. We got thinner and thinner and thinner. Then we started to die by the dozen.”
  • On 15 April 1945, British soldiers entered the gates of Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp for the first time. Lieutenant John Randall, an SAS man, and his driver, Cpl Brown, were the first to enter the camp.
  • Mady Gerrard saw him arrive. Knowing he was her hope of survival, she went and spoke to him. Decades later, she found him, and she became friends with her liberator.
  • After the liberation, Mady lived in Sweden and Hungary before she and her daughter moved to Cardiff.

Read Mady's full story here.

 

Now, more than ever, it could be easy to forget these turning points in our military history as we focus on this new, invisible enemy that threatens us all. But the harrowing tales that we have collated from survivors of Bergen-Belson must be remembered and shared. It is only through keeping this conversation alive that we can ensure that events of the past are never repeated.

These accounts hold a great personal connection for me, as a proud member of the Jewish community – however there are lessons of determination and bravery in the face of danger that we all can draw from now during this time of fear and uncertainty.

- Lisa Shattock, SSAFA Director

 

 

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