Jewish people from Britain have taken part in the “March of the Living” event in Krakow, Poland, to mark the 70 years since British troops liberated the people in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on 15 April 1945.
Bergen-Belsen, near Hanover, was a place where tens of thousands of people died in horrific circumstances.
Those who died, many of them women and children, included Jews, Czechs, Poles, anti-Nazi Christians, homosexuals and Roma gypsies. There were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen but the people died of of disease: particularly typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, dysentery and malnutrition.
Margot and Ann Frank died there just a few weeks before the camp was liberated. It is estimated that as many as 28,000 of the 38,500 prisoners in the camp when it was liberated, subsequently died.
At the “March of the Living” some of the survivors told their stories. Mala Tribich, then known as Mala Helfgott, arrived at Bergen-Belsen with her cousin, Ann, in February 1945. Mal was 14 years old and Ann was 7. She said, “It was like something out of hell. There was a kind of heavy smog, and a foul smell, with skeletal figures shuffling everywhere like zombies. The camp was built for 3,000 but, when we arrived, there were 69,000 there.”
After leaving Bergen-Belsen Mala spent 2 years in Sweden and then came to Britain where she was reunited with her brother, Ben, who is thought to be the only Holocaust survivor to win an Olympic medal for Britain. He was a weightlifter. Mala married and rebuilt her family.
This reminds us of the depths of wickedness to which human beings, created in the image of God, can descend. It also reminds us that we all need the hope that only God can give us. The words of the Jewish Scriptures have brought comfort to many who trusted God in the most painful experiences of life. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death; I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”