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Bergen-Belsen - DP Camp

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  • Josef Rosensaft (1911 - 1975)
    Photo: April 1946, Josef Rosensaft, the General Director of the Central Jewish Commission, at an Unveiling Ceremony of a Memorial Commemorating The First Anniversary of the Camp's Liberation, Bergen-Be...

Bergen-Belsen DP camp was a displaced persons (DP) camp for refugees after World War II, in Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany, southwest of the town of Bergen near Celle, stablished in July 1945 in a former German army camp near the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen.

After liberating the concentration camp on April 15, l945, the British burned the camp barracks as a health precaution. Though the British attempted to name the new camp Hohne, the survivors refused to relinquish the name Bergen-Belsen. After November 1945, when the British allowed the segregation of Jews into their own portion of the camp, the Jewish inhabitants of Bergen-Belsen comprised the only exclusively Jewish DP population in the British zone. In 1946, the DP camp housed over 11,000 Jews.

The site used abandoned German army Panzer barracks for housing facilities, and after November 1945, Jewish refugees were given their own section. The camp was the largest DP camp in Germany with 11,000 residents in 1946 and the only exclusively Jewish facility in the British sector.

The British authorities tried to rename the camp Hohne to avoid the association with Nazi genocide at the concentration camp nearby, but the Holocaust survivors who were residents (Sh'erit ha-Pletah) in the camp refused to accept the name change and persisted in calling the DP camp Bergen-Belsen.

The camp included a hospital, which after a time was renamed the Glynn Hughes Hospital after British Brigadier Hugh Llewellyn Glyn Hughes, the first medical officer who entered Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

In 1946, the DP camp housed over 11,000 Jews. Though Bergen-Belsen was the only all-Jewish camp in the British zone of Germany.

The leader of the survivors, Josef Rosensaft organized the first Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the camp, an organization that grew to be the main organization of its kind in Europe. Under the stewardship of Rosensaft, Norbert Wollheim and Rafael Olewski, the Committee grew into an organization that lobbied the British on behalf of the DPs' political, social, and cultural aims, including the right to emigrate to British-controlled Palestine.

The refugees maintained active opposition to British restrictions on Jewish immigration to the British Mandate of Palestine, and until 1949 (well after the establishment of the State of Israel), British authorities did not allow free passage in and out of the camp. In 1946, administrative responsibility for the camp passed to the UNRRA, though British occupying forces maintained security around the camp. Nevertheless, the Haganah established secret training programmes on the camp grounds in December 1947.

For their part, the refugees organized a vibrant community within the camp. Schools were established within months of the liberation, and at one point there were 20 weddings every day in the camp. A newspaper known as Unzer Sztyme (Yiddish for "Our Voice") was edited by Paul Trepman, David Rosenthal, and Rafael Olewski ; it was published initially by the Jewish Committee in Celle and then by the Culture & History Committee of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in Belsen camp (headed by Olewski, Trepman, & Rosenthal) and was the main Jewish newspaper in the British sector.

The DPs founded an elementary school as early as July 1945, and by 1948, 340 pupils attended the school. A high school, which was staffed partly by soldiers from the Jewish Brigade (the Palestinian Jewish unit of the British Army) was established in December 1945. The DPs also provided education for the children of Bergen-Belsen. There was a kindergarten, an orphanage, and a yeshiva (a religious school). The Organization for Rehabilitation through Training (ORT) vocational training schools organized occupational education.

By 1951, the camp was vacated, the majority of refugees having emigrated to the State of Israel.