Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Bare Bones of Bergen Belsen

This is a piece that I wrote for a little competition run by Wanderlust magazine, which they published in the latest May edition.

A childhood school trip that has stayed with me for 34 years.
They say that the birds don't sing in Bergen Belsen; outside, the birds sing in the heath and woodlands, but inside, they remain quiet. It seems fitting.

My father was in the armed forces, and for many of my school years we were in northern Germany, so it was natural that one of our history lessons saw us visiting the nearby site of the concentration camp, famous for having had Anne Frank as one of its prisoners, claiming her young life just months before the camp was liberated on 15 April 1945.

There is little left of the camp, which was burned down by the British liberators, but the mounds of thirteen mass graves stood as testament to just some of the horrors of the place. These graves were where the soldiers hurriedly buried around ten thousand bodies that had been left to decompose when the German guards fled. Many thousands of others who perished here were not even afforded that small dignity in their death.

Around one hundred and twenty thousand Soviet POWs and Jewish prisoners came through Bergen Belsen, and of those, almost half are believed to have died, mostly of diseases like typhus, or simply of starvation. The grounds of the place were a memorial to those who had their lives taken from them, and it was a very moving place to walk around.

It was quiet too - those birds didn't sing.

But as thought provoking as the grounds and graves were, it was what I saw inside the documentary house that was to become burned into my memory for ever more.

It was here, alongside the plans of the camp, discarded prisoners' belongings, and all of the historical facts and statistics, that they had on display the photographs taken when the camp was liberated.

Those pictures, of men, women and children, little more than living skeletons, were truly haunting. Their eyes stared out, too large for their shrunken faces, and it seemed that you could see every single bone in their emaciated bodies. These were the fortunate ones, the lucky sixty thousand or so survivors of the camp.

Other photographs showed those that had not managed to outlive the horrors of the place. Piles and piles of corpses, already skin and bones when they died, and now with the remaining flesh falling away.

These photos have stayed with me, etched into my brain, for the 34 years that have passed since I visited.

And if they weren't already a lasting memory when we left the camp, then our school dinner that day would seal it permanently. We got back to the school, to a meal of roast chicken portions. A single look at the visible ribcage of the cooked bird took me straight back to that documentary house and those graphic images. I wasn't the only one; you could clearly see who had been to Bergen Belsen that morning - I don't think that a single one of us touched our food.

I can eat it now, of course, but to this day, when I see those ribs on a portion of roast chicken, my mind goes to that visit and those photographs. It truly was a sight that I will never forget.

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