The legacy of the Bergen-Belsen babies

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Photo: provided by Isaac Applebaum

Isaac Applebaum and his mother (top right) with other mothers and their babies who were born in 1946 at the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp after the German concentration camp was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945. 

Bergen-Belsen concentration camp became well-known as a result of Anne Frank’s famous diary. Both Anne and her sister Margot died at Bergen-Belsen in February or March 1945. Only weeks later, on the afternoon of April 15, 1945, the camp was liberated by British and Canadian troops. 

The scenes that greeted the troops were described by BBC correspondent Richard Dimbleby, who accompanied them: “Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved an awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people with nothing to do and no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them… A mother driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny mite into his arms, and then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for days. This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life.”

Disease and the terrible filth of the camp buildings caused the British Army to relocate the former inmates and eventually to burn the prisoner huts.

 Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons (DP) Camp was built for refugees two kilometres southwest of the former concentration camp. It was in operation from the summer of 1945 until September 1950. The survivors of the concentration camp were the first residents of the DP camp.* 

Photographer Isaac Applebaum is one of the babies born in the year following the liberation. Last Sunday, on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Applebaum gave a talk about his legacy as one of the “Bergen-Belsen babies.” The presentation was sponsored by Congregation Ohev Shalom Beth Israel and took place at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Sunday, November 8. 

Applebaum, who was an adult when his parents died, had learned about the concentration camp and about his birth in the DP camp directly from them. In his talk, he described his parents’ hardships and survival in the concentration camp. The story they told him was one of atrocity, devotion, and determination. To hear the story from one of the Bergen-Belsen babies is a rare, enlightening and moving experience. He showed a 2005 video of himself visiting the hospital where he was born, listening to a recording of his mother describing Bergen-Belsen. 

He also showed videos of interviews with five other Bergen-Belsen babies who told heart-wrenching tales of their experiences and how they coped growing up in their new country, Canada or the United States.   

The presentation concluded with a candle-lighting ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht. Also referred to as the Night of Broken Glass, this was a series of coordinated deadly attacks against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria on the night of November 9-10, 1938, carried out by stormtroopers and non-Jewish civilians. German authorities looked on without intervening. The name Kristallnacht refers to the shards of broken glass littering the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned homes, businesses and synagogues had been smashed.

 Avraham Lev-Louis, deputy consul of the Consulate General of Israel in Montreal, gave the closing address to thank Applebaum for his presentation.   

*From Wikipedia the free encyclopaedia.