Morbid Fact Du Jour For September 23, 2016

Morbid Fact Du jour will be on hiatus for a few days while The Comtesse entertains family visiting from out of town. She begs you to stay morbid until her return next week!

Today’s Hopeless Yet Truly Morbid Fact!

Accounts from Soviet prisoners of war in the Bergen-Belsen and Wietzendorf Nazi concentration camps, 1941-1942:

“We were taken to a place called Bergen, I think. But we knew nothing. We didn’t know where they were taking us. Some said they’d take us somewhere to be shot. Others said we’d be taken somewhere to work. But nobody knew anything, nobody explained anything to us. There was nobody to ask and nobody talked to you. I did speak a bit of German, mind you.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

Blueprint for Bergen-Belsen

“We were taken to an open field. There was a wire fence there, but no huts, nothing. We used spoons and other things to dig earthwork dens. We lived in these dens.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“We dug… I had a broken soup spoon, and there were some stones there. That’s what we used to dig a hollow in which we could lie. There we lay on top of each other, covering each other, because there were no huts and it was cold.”
Mark Tilevich, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“In the morning we heard the order: ‘Line up!’ If one of us had fallen ill or something else happened, they came running and tramped down our dens, filled them up. And the people were still in there.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“There was a field there, watchtowers, barbed wire and soldiers. And there were dogs, I remember it well, there were dogs. Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to properly guard the grounds without them. And then there were these masses of people just lying on the cold ground…”
Mark Tilevich, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

The hand-dug holes that served as shelter at Wietzendorf Prison Camp

“The first cases of disease in the camp occurred in autumn, when it got colder and the first frost came. The first cases of dysentery and typhoid fever had occurred a little earlier, and everyone was starving. People started to eat grass. It’s interesting that the bark of the few trees that were there was gnawed off and eaten. People ate belts, too. The belts that held up our trousers, you see? But there weren’t many belts around. They took them from the prisoners. You weren’t allowed to wear belts, I don’t know why.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

“It was terrible! This terrible, overwhelming feeling of hunger. You have to understand, it’s worse than physical pain. Pain is terrible and you scream, you do something. But this was complete hopelessness. You couldn’t find anything anywhere, you see?”
Mark Tilevich, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

Starving prisoners at Bergen-Belsen

“The winter of 1941/1942 was very harsh. It was one of the coldest winters ever. That was when the mass deaths, the ‘great dying’ started. Typhoid fever and dysentery were raging through the camp and there was the hunger, the starvation. Your body couldn’t even cope with the slightest ailments, and people were dying. Every day, hundreds of them were taken away on the carts. In the morning after reveille, before we had to line-up for the roll-call, there’d already be bodies lying on the bunks. They’d be loaded onto a cart and taken to the cemetery.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

Victims of starvation and disease at Bergen-Belsen

“This cart was accompanied by German guards. But they didn’t accompany the prisoners all the way. There were some tree trunks lying around there. While the prisoners were unloading the cart, they’d sit there and smoke cigarettes.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

“In the beginning,loading the bodies onto the cart would really scare me. How old was I in 1941? I was 19 and I’d never seen anything like it. Two or three of us would grab a body. We weren’t particularly strong. We’d hold them by their hands and feet and throw them onto the cart. They were practically naked. Some had dog tags, others didn’t. They were taken there on the cart, and then they weren’t laid into the grave, they were just tossed in.”
Mikhail Levin, imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen

Unloading corpses from the carts at Bergen-Belsen

“A ditch had been dug behind the camp. That’s where they were taken and then tossed in. This ditch would then gradually be filled in. Our comrades, the other POWs, were in charge of filling in the ditch. One day they would still be shoveling soil, and the next day it might be their turn to be buried.”
Semyon Zamyatin, imprisoned in Wietzendorf

Culled from: Bergen-Belsen Wehrmacht POW Camp, 1940-1945


The Morbid Sightseer: Bergen-Belsen

I had the honor of visiting Bergen-Belsen in the summer of 2014. Although the barracks were burned down immediately after the camp’s liberation due to rampant disease, it is still a fascinating and unbearably sad place to visit.  Archaeological digs have recovered many relics from the time of the camp and they are displayed imaginatively in glass-topped cases in the floor of the museum. The museum also includes abundant photographs and information about the prisoners who suffered and died there – the most famous being Anne Frank and her sister Margot who died of typhoid shortly before liberation.

The museum is excellent, but my most vivid memory is walking by the dozens of enormous burial mounds, each marked with a month and year of interment.  I still need to write up a full travelogue on my visit, but for now, you can look at some of my photos at my Forlorn Photography Facebook page Bergen-Belsen album.

One comment

  1. Anne Frank and her sister are thought to have died of typhus, not typhoid. (Typhus is contracted from fleas, typhoid from contaminated food or water.)

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