The Motorcycle Cop of Bergen Belsen – A Jewish Civil Policeman’s Story in The Liberated Concentration Camp Of Bergen Belsen, 1945 – 1950 Part 1

Feature Story

The Motorcycle Cop of Bergen Belsen – A Jewish Civil Policeman’s Story in The Liberated Concentration Camp Of Bergen Belsen, 1945 – 1950; Part 1

 

There were more than 12,000 witnesses over a 5 year period living at the largest Jewish DP Camp in Germany.

There were many history books and eye witness accounts that were published without even a mention.

This is a story that not even the Bergen Belsen Document Center had documents nor pictures of (until now)….

And Heebs on Hogs® is proud to be able to tell the story!

© Heebs on Hogs® 2019 – 2020 (Winter-Spring Edition)

by Michael Edelstein, Publisher 

We are honored to introduce our first e-published edition of Heebs on Hogs® with the story of Holocaust survivor Mr. Lou Edelstein, born in Sighet, Romania in 1926. After World War Two, Mr. Lou, as he was affectionately referred to by his friends, was in charge of the motor pool at the Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons (DP) Camp from 1946 through 1950. In addition, Mr. Lou also was one of the approximately 125 Jewish Civil Policemen who kept order throughout the Camp under the supervision of the British Military and the United Nations UNRAA and IRO, which included amongst his other responsibilities, the patrolling of the Camp using the Camp’s two official motorcycles, a small unidentified motorcycle and a captured World War Two issued German BMW-R75 with sidecar.

But before we can tell the story of Mr. Lou at the Bergen Belsen DP Camp, a general background of Mr. Lou and how he came to the Camp, as well as some specific historical information, is necessary in order to provide a better understanding and broader picture of the turbulent, dangerous and interesting times during the 1940’s.

Throughout this article, the words “displaced persons”, “DP’s” and ‘refugees’ are used interchangeably yet basically mean the same thing, that is people who left their homes either by force or voluntarily because of the conditions of war and were either unwilling or unable to return back to their original homes immediately after the War.

 

Mr. Lou in Sighet, Romania and Deportation

Sighet, Romania, also known as Sighetu Marmatiei, is one of the main Northwestern Romanian towns in the Maramures region located close to the Tisa River in northern Transylvania, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains.

Before World War Two began, the town of Sighet had around 10,200 Jews, about 39% of the town’s population of 26,200. By 1944, there was an estimated 14,000 Jews in Sighet. As a teenager, Mr. Lou grew up in a relatively normal environment with his parents and three siblings, a brother and two sisters, and had an active and normal lifestyle. He loved to ski, went to the movies with his group of friends and played the occasional pranks on his younger sister. His uncle, Ignatz (his mother’s brother), was a world famous master carpenter and amongst some of his accomplishments, built the inner luxurious private car inside of King Farouk of Egypt’s train, won an award at the Budapest World’s Fair as well as built the ark in one of the local synagogues. Mr. Lou’s grandparents were loving and one of his grandfathers, Yehuda, was on the board of the Joint Distribution, a Jewish agency that received charitable donations from mostly the United States. All money received by the Joint was distributed among the various local organizations which included helping the poor and the many widows and orphans who lived in Sighet.

A family portrait in Sighet, Romania when Mr. Lou was 12 years old in 1938. Mr. Lou is behind his grandparents, Yehuda and Rivka Charna in the middle of the picture. His brother Bernard is on the right, his older sister Rosie to the left. Mr. Lou’s father, Meir is at the extreme right, his mother Fani is sitting next to Meir and his younger sister Vera is standing at the bottom right. The 2 men on the left are Fani’s brothers, Mr. Lou’s uncles.

In 1940, Pro-Nazi Hungary annexed northern Transylvania from Romania which included Sighet, and within two years, in 1942, the life of the Jews become more restricted as all the young and middle aged men of Sighet were forced to work for the Hungarian government to help the Germans towards the War effort. During this time, there were many Jews who were not Hungarian nor Romanian nationals and they were deported to the Ukraine and murdered by the Germans. Many of these Jews had actually escaped from the Germans and came through Sighet speaking about the mass murders and the Camps. The people who heard these eye-witness accounts either found the stories too fantastic to believe or ignored the stories as exaggerations. Mr. Lou’s mother, Fani (Fayge), would on many occasions hide these Jews in the local synagogue as they were constantly moving in and out of town to find some safe sanctuary anywhere in Europe. One day, Mr. Lou’s parents were told by a friend that an informer had revealed Fani’s efforts to the Hungarian Police and they were about to arrest them for harboring fugitives from the German authorities. Fani and Mr. Lou’s father, Meir, fled to Budapest to hide out and planned to stay there until they could return without fear. Mr. Lou and his siblings lived alone for a while as their grandparents would constantly check in on them. The Hungarian police would visit their home every so often asking the kids if they knew where their parents were and when would they return. They honestly answered that they didn’t know where they were nor when they’d be returning home. Eventually, Fani and Meir returned to Sighet. Unfortunately, their return was sometime before the entire Jewish population of Sighet was deported to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp by the Germans.

The Nazis last phase of the murder of the European Jews involved the attempted destruction of the remaining major group of Jews located in Hungary and Romania. Even though the Germans were losing the war in 1944 and were retreating from the advancing Soviet soldiers on the Eastern front, the Nazis kept moving forward with great speed and fanatically continuing to implement their plans to murder the remaining Jewish populations within Europe. Over one million Hungarian and Romanian Jews were rounded up in 1944 and sent to various gathering points and Concentration Camps for slave labor and murder. The 14,000 Jews from Sighet, Romania, were rounded up from May 17th through May 21st, 1944, and were sent by trains in cattle cars on a three day journey directly to the largest murder facility, the Auschwitz Concentration Camp located in Poland.

Most of the Sighet deportees were deemed unfit to perform any work, which included young children, the disabled and the elderly (as defined by the Germans), and they were sent to the gas chambers and murdered upon arrival, including Mr. Lou’s mother (Fani was only 43 years old), his grandparents and many other relatives. Those who were considered strong enough to work were sent to Buchenwald and then transferred to one of the thousands of German forced labor camps to work for the Nazi empire. This was done until their ability to work as slave laborers was no longer of use to their captors, and then they were murdered. (For an eyewitness account of the plight of the Jews of Sighet, Romania, see the book “Night” by Nobel Prize recipient Elie Wiesel).

Mr. Lou, barely 18 years old, as well as his father and sisters, were sent to various concentration and work camps. Only Mr. Lou’s brother Bernard (Buri) escaped with just a few of his friends during the roundup of Jews in Sighet, and Bernard, as well as Mr. Lou’s sisters, survived the War. Mr. Lou’s father, Meir, was murdered (he died of starvation and disease) at the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp a few days before it was liberated by the British Army on April 15, 1945.

Before the War ended less than a year later, the then 19 year old Mr. Lou had been in 8 different Concentration and forced labor Camps. He was finally liberated by American troops at the beginning of May, 1945 near Schwerin while on a 188 kilometer (117 miles) death march in Germany from Oranienburg to Schwerin.

Within just a years’ time, the Labor and Concentration Camps Mr. Lou went through were:

Auschwitz (Poland)
Buchenwald (Germany)
Ellrich (Germany)
Sollenau (Austria)
Harzungen (Germany)
Mittelbau-Dora (Germany)
Lübeck (Germany)
Oranienburg-Heinkelwerke (Germany)

 

Some Background Information on the War: The Creation of the United Nations UNRRA and the IRO Organizations to Help Refugees

World War Two began officially on September 3, 1939. After invading Austria (March 12, 1938) and then Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939), Germany went on to invade Poland on September 1, 1939. The subsequent response from England and France was to give Hitler an ultimatum to immediately remove all German troops or face war. When Hitler ignored the demand, Britain and France in defense of Poland and the Polish People declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939. It would be more than two years later before the United States would officially join in the war fighting against Germany, Italy and Japan (known as the Axis Powers, while those fighting against the the Axis Powers were known as the Allies). On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and the next day, December 8, the United States declared war on Japan. That day, the Japanese Ambassador to Germany, Baron Hiroshi Ōshima, went to German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop to ask the Germans for a formal declaration of war against America. Von Ribbentrop hesitated and knew Germany was under no obligation to support their ally Japan under the terms of the Tripartite Pact which promised help if Japan was attacked, but not if Japan was the aggressor. However, Hitler believed that the United States would soon declare war on Germany as German U-boats were already engaging the US Navy in battles since October, 1941 while escorting supply ships to England. So three days later, on December 11, 1941 at 9:30 in the morning Washington, DC time, Hitler joined his Japanese allies and against the wishes of his generals, declared war on the United States.

There were two major battle fronts (also known as theaters), the European theater and the Pacific theater.

On November 9, 1943, as World War Two was raging on the European Front against the Germans and Italians (as well as the fighting in the Pacific theater), the Allied forces actively planned and prepared for the eventual defeat of Germany and Italy, and in the process, created an organization called the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA). UNRRA was commissioned to provide relief for the victims of both the European and the Pacific Theaters. The commissioning of this organization took place at a conference with representatives from 44 nations. The defined purpose of the agency was to provide support, including food and temporary shelter, and then repatriate these refugees (displaced persons), that is, to return them to their home country of citizenship, which would occur after the defeat and liberation of the occupying countries which the Axis powers controlled. UNRRA was conceived as a short-term organization, but the unexpected level of destruction in Europe was more devastating than imagined, and the additional responsibilities given to UNRRA after the War was overwhelming.

After the War, Germany was divided into 4 sectors which were controlled by the French, the British, the Americans and the Soviet Union. The capital city, Berlin, became the only city in Germany that was also divided into the same 4 zones.

The Soviet Union did not allow UNRRA to operate within its zone. Therefore, the UNRRA civilian relief teams would be located only in all non-Soviet controlled lands and responsible for the coordination of relief efforts, certifying welfare organizations to operate in the temporary housing for the refugee camps and provide services for displaced people. These services included providing food, clothes, health care and accommodation, as well as child welfare, occupational therapy, education, vocational training and employment opportunities until the refugees would be able to return to their former home countries and cities. In addition to helping the refugees go back to their homes, by 1946, Germany was dealing with an influx of refugees who were fleeing what were then Soviet-controlled states. The harsh conditions and fear which the Communist government was known for had created panic among people who once lived in countries that were relatively politically free before the War started, and they knew living under the communists would result in food and material shortages, political tyranny, anti-religious environments, little free choice and other harsh conditions. There were also others as well who could not go back to their original homes for many practical and political reasons.

The UNRRA representatives moved quickly to send out teams of workers to take over the administration of the camps from the military forces. They were not prepared for the extensive amount of work that was needed. The lack of experienced personnel and unanticipated numbers of people unable to return to their homes created tremendous difficulties in carrying out the UNRRA mandate. It was becoming clear that UNRRA’s goal of complete or near complete repatriation of displaced persons to their former home country would not be accomplished, and resettlement became the new priority.

As the European continent was being slowly liberated by the Allies, the Allied Army in each area that was victorious was responsible for the areas that they liberated. In the areas where the American, French and British Armies defeated the enemy and took control, a few Concentration Camps and some former German military bases were turned into DP Camps because most of the survivors had no immediate place to go. Of those survivors who happened to be liberated specifically by the American military forces and thus initially came under the US Army administrative control, the conditions for many were such that there was some political fallout that came into negative play.

 

Historical Background Information # 1

The Harrison Report

The Allies set up special “Displaced Persons” (DP) camps to provide shelter and food for the refugees/displaced persons. In general, DP camps were organized and run by the United States, British, and French armies and the United Nations Refugee Relief Agency (UNRRA). Initial conditions in some of the camps run by the Americans were less than favorable, with Jews sometimes being forced to live alongside those who had recently persecuted them.

In July, 1945, President Harry Truman asked Earl G. Harrison, formerly U.S. Commissioner of Immigration and then both dean of the University of Pennsylvania Law School and the American representative to the Intergovernmental Committee on Refugees, to conduct an inspection tour of camps holding displaced persons (DPs) in Europe. Harrison and a small group visited about 30 DP Camps and in August, 1945, reported that, “We (the United States military authorities) appear to be treating the Jews as the Nazis treated them, except that we don’t exterminate them. One is led to wonder whether the German people, seeing this, are not supposing that we are following or at least condoning Nazi policy.”

This was one of the conclusions of the Harrison Report that was sent to President Truman and released to the public. This report helped to speed up improved conditions and the establishment of Jewish camps in the American-administered zone of Germany.

The report additionally described the horrible conditions in part:

“Many Jewish displaced persons … are living under guard behind barbed-wire fences … including some of the most notorious concentration camps … had no clothing other than their concentration camp garb…. Most of them have been separated three, four or five years and they cannot understand why the liberators should not have undertaken immediately the organized effort to re-unite family groups…. Many of the buildings … are clearly unfit for winter….”

Harrison contrasted these conditions with the relative normal life led by the nearby German populations and wondered at the contrast.

He also stated that “to date U.S. authorities were handing DPs in traditional ways as national groups, but that conditions and the history of Nazi anti-Semitism required recognition of the distinct identity of these DPs:

The first and plainest need of these people is a recognition of their actual status and by this I mean their status as Jews…. Refusal to recognize the Jews as such has the effect, in this situation, of closing one’s eyes to their former and more barbaric persecution.”

Harrison advised that Jews should receive the “first and not last attention” and recommended they be evacuated from Germany as quickly as possible and allowed to enter (British) Palestine (pre-1948 Israel). “The civilized world,” he ended his report, “owes it to this handful of survivors to provide them with a home where they can again settle down and begin to live as human beings”

General Eisenhower responded and claimed that they were doing the best they could under the circumstances. Truman urged the British who were restricting Jewish immigration to open the gates in British Palestine for the immigration of 100,000 Jews which some British officials angrily refused in order to politically appease the Arab countries. The military control of the DP Camps were transferred for joint control by UNRRA and the military.

For those interested, more detailed information is also available by reading the Harrison Report on these websites:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harrison_Report

https://text-message.blogs.archives.gov/2015/12/15/the-harrison-report/

https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/the-harrison-report

 

The prolonged relief effort cost the United Nations billions of dollars and eventually led to the dismantling of the UNRRA organization. Afterwards, the International Refugee Organization (IRO), which was originally formed in late December, 1946, took over and replaced the UNRRA organization. UNRRA officially closed down on June 30, 1947 with the IRO gaining full responsibilities of the camps. There were still many more refugees without places to go.

The International Refugee Organization (IRO), undertook similar responsibilities but concentrated more on financial security. Both agencies served as major employers for the Jewish DPs and their representative bodies. The agencies and their officers, including former New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia who served as the UNRRA director general from March 29, 1946, to January 1, 1947, set important precedents for the care of refugees. (sources are listed at the end of the article)

The IRO, with the support of the Western governments, successfully resettled 1,038,000 people by the end of 1951.

Meanwhile, in the United States, there was an initial resistance to admitting displaced persons into the country. However, some sympathy was displayed between 1945 and 1950, and 350,000 people from Europe were admitted into the U.S. In 1948, Congress passed the Displaced Persons Act, which somewhat formalized the admissions that were already ongoing and provided some funding for resettlement. Mr. Lou came into the United States through this program. (https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/wagner-rogers-bill)

 

The Death Marches Throughout Europe

As the Allied troops were closing in on the Germans, the Nazis began a frantic move to relocate some of the surviving Jews from the various camps. Even though they knew they were losing the War, their hope was to either put these Jews to work at other camps to support what was left of the crumbling Nazi empire or murder them on the roads. Of the hundreds of separate death marches that took place throughout what was left of the German held areas, the life of each person was in the hands of the German soldiers guarding the prisoners. If a Jew fell down because they couldn’t walk anymore, they were shot were they fell. The survival rate of those on marches was not high because most of the German soldiers knew that this was the end, and many of these soldiers did not care altogether whether the prisoners lived or not. Other soldiers did not want to leave any witnesses behind. According to the documents at Yad Vashem (https://www.yadvashem.org), the Holocaust Document Center and Museum located in Jerusalem, Israel, an estimated 200,000 – 250,000 concentration camp prisoners were murdered or died on the forced death marches that were conducted throughout the last ten months of World War Two, of which 25% to 35% of them were Jews.  

The Death March in 1944 that Mr. Lou was on from Oranienburg to Schwerin in Germany mapped out on a Google Map. The route is approximate. Note at the extreme top left is Lubeck where the survivors from this Death March were sent by the Americans after they were liberated.

As incredible as it seems, during the last two months of the War as the Camps were being abandoned by the Nazis, 250,000 of about 700,000 concentration camp prisoners were being marched. Mr. Lou was on one of these marches from Oranienburg, Germany to Schwerin, Germany, about 188 kilometers (117 miles). In the beginning of May, as described by Mr. Lou, the exhausted prisoners from the death march were close to Schwerin. Above the skies where they marched, the prisoners could see hundreds of American bombers flying on their way to bomb German cities. In some cases, they witnessed the bombs being released from the bombers. One night after they marched, the exhausted Jewish prisoners went to sleep on the side of the road, not knowing if the Nazi guards were going to shoot them while they were sleeping.

When the prisoners awoke, they discovered the cowardly Nazi soldiers had run away, knowing that the advancing Allied troops were just around the corner. The Nazis ran away to save themselves rather than to take the time to murder the last remnants of these exhausted and emaciated Jewish prisoners. An American Military Police Sergeant was the first American Mr. Lou saw (and the first African-American he saw), and the Sergeant announced to these grateful men that they were now free. The survivors, who had no place to go, were bused to the American occupied German city of Lubeck and received food, health care and accommodations.

 

 

 

Historical Background Information # 2

Statistics of the War

The General Mass of European Refugees

At the end of the Second World War on the European front, Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945. It was estimated that at least 60 and up to 85 million people had died, of which about 20 million were military personnel and about 40 – 65 million were civilians, many of whom died because of battles, mass-bombings, deliberate genocide, massacres, disease, and starvation. It is difficult to know the real numbers. The number of people missing as a result of the war have not been compiled in one place, however, according to the United Nations, in just 1946, there were 200,000 inquiries for lost children.

When the War ended, approximately 7 – 11 million Germans were displaced from their homes. Non-Germans displaced from their home countries amounted to anywhere from about 11 to 20 million people, while one overall estimate suggested that up to 60 million Europeans became refugees as a result of World War Two (see Proudfoot, European Refugees, page 21). It is impossible to know what the real numbers were. The refugees liberated in the Allied occupied zones of Austria, Germany, and Italy included former prisoners of war, released slave laborers, and both Jewish and non-Jewish Concentration Camp survivors.

The occupied zones of Austria, Germany, and Italy were controlled by the Soviet Union and three Western Allied countries: France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Some 6 million plus displaced people were in the zones of Germany and Austria, which were controlled by the Allies, while around 4.5 million people were located in occupied areas under the control of the Soviet Union. Additionally, about 800,000 displaced persons were located in the Middle East. By 1951, some six years after the War ended, a million people had yet to find a place to settle.

In 1946 there were and estimated 250,000 Jewish displaced persons (DPs) living in various DP Camps and urban centers set up by the Allies. Of the Jewish DPs, 185,000 lived in Germany, 45,000 in Austria and 20,000 in Italy. The Camp facilities were administered by Allied Military authorities and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) until the IRO took over its duties.

By 1948, three years after the war, there were still 370 DP camps in the English, French and American Zones in Germany, with 120 DP camps in Austria and 25 DP camps in Italy containing over 800,000 DPs. Of these 800,000 refugees, 55% (440,000) were Roman Catholics, 27% (216,000) were Protestant and other Eastern Orthodox faiths, while 18% (144,000) were Jews (Statistics provided by Scholars in the DP Camps by Edward B. Rooney, SJ). The DP camps operated until as late as 1953, when the last camp was closed down.

 

The Post-War Jewish Fallout

Why many of the Jewish Holocaust Survivors chose to live temporarily in the DP Camps

The Jewish refugee situation was completely different from that of non-Jewish refugees. There was a remnant of European Jews that had survived tremendous devastation. Two-thirds of the European Jewish population had been slaughtered during the Holocaust. Some Jewish survivors, especially from Western European counties, returned to their homelands with the general flow of refugees, expecting to be treated as fellow citizens returning to their former homes. Most however were greeted with callousness, disdain and physical abuse. Others from Central and Eastern European countries were also met with the same hostility, and in some cases, pogroms and murder. Since the Jews were forced out of their homes and left their property behind, most of what was left behind had been taken (stolen) by the locals, and the surviving Jews who came back expecting to return to their homes and receive what was their property, were in most cases met with violence.

 

Historical Background Information # 3

The Realities of Moving Back to your Original Home Country After the War Ended

Kielce, Poland

Jewish homes and properties stolen by local civilian properties were not returned in many countries, especially Hungary, Romania and Poland. These countries (as well the cities and villages) denied the Jews any recourse to reclaim what was originally theirs. Many Jews returned to their former homeland only to be vilified, terrorized and, in some instances, murdered. In order to keep the unlawfully stolen properties of the Jews, around 1,500 Jews were murdered by civilians in various European towns.

On July 4th, 1946, an event occurred that in the mind of many, represented the Polish People’s stance regarding the possibility of Polish Jews rebuilding their lives in Poland after the Holocaust. Two hundred Jewish Holocaust Survivors who lived mostly in one part of Kielce, Poland, returned to town. When an eight year old Polish Christian boy returned home after being reported as missing, he claimed that Jews had kidnapped him. A riot ensued and about 80 Jews were murdered in the streets, while the police and some Polish soldiers watched and did nothing to prevent the murders. Some even helped victimize and beat to death Jewish residents as well. No city officials did anything to protect the Jews of the town, and within 3 months, approximately 75,000 – 100,000 Jews throughout Poland fled the country. Many who stayed in Poland, incredibly moved to areas where they were not recognized and hid their Jewish identities. Today, the Polish Jewish Community is actually helping Poles who are not sure about their ancestry, find their roots. Not surprisingly, many of those have Jewish roots from ancestors who survived the War and hid their Jewish backgrounds. (see https://jri-poland.org/)

 

In addition to a hostile and violent Europe after the war, many Jewish survivors stayed away from Stalin and his oppressive Soviet empire. It hadn’t been that long ago, just 28 years, that pogroms and mass murder were part of the Russian practices. After the Russian Revolution, between 1917 and 1920, the White Russians fought against the Communists (Bolsheviks) for control of the Russian Country in a civil war, and at the same time while fighting the Red Communist armies, were also massacring an estimated 100,000 Jews. The White Russians had the financial and military support of the British government along with the mostly anti-Semitic British generals who served as military advisors to help the White Army. Troops from the United Kingdom, France, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania and Japan and the United States were sent into Russia, initially to also stop the Germans who signed a peace treaty with the Russians after the Revolution in 1917, from opening a second front from the East. By December, 1918 (after the War ended), there were 200,000 foreign soldiers supporting the anti-Bolshevik White Russian forces in a military attempt to help defeat the Communists in the Soviet Union. British soldiers witnessed many of the murders of the Jews and were under strict orders by their military superiors to ignore the massacres. Winston Churchill, the then British Secretary of War, initiated and was in charge of this effort to defeat the communists in Russia and was aware of these mass murders. He complained to his generals who were not interested in doing anything to help stop these pogroms nor to save any Jews. Churchill’s hatred for Communism was stronger than his desire to save Jewish lives and he continued to fund the White Russians until the remaining allied armies were finally defeated by the Communists. This support for the White Russians became part of the pre-World War Two tensions between Russia and England until Germany attacked Russia on June 22, 1941 and then, both countries fought against the Nazis. And as to the Jewish “leaders” living in England who were well aware of Churchill’s treacherous behavior during this time, many ignored or apologized for his actions which carried through during World War Two while he, Churchill (as well as president Franklin Roosevelt) was receiving regular detailed reports from Jan Karski, an underground fighter and courier for the Polish government-in-exile, about the mass murder of Jews with little to no response from Churchill (nor Roosevelt), other than to continue to restrict Jewish immigration to British Palestine. To this day, many Jews unaware of this treachery from Churchill, still think of him as a great friend of the Jews. (There are many well documented books on the subject of Churchill and his relationships to the Jews, one of the earliest written was The Rape of Palestine by William Bernard Ziff Sr in 1938).

After World War Two, the Russians occupied most of Eastern Europe and the though or reality of living under Communist oppression was not an appealing option. Western Countries limited Jewish immigration while England continued to deliberately restrict Jews from migrating to British Palestine (occupied Israel). Jews living in Israel were disarmed by the British as much as possible, with the threat of capital punishment for any Jew found in possession of a gun or rifle. Many Jews were imprisoned by the British for possession of a firearm and some of these Jews were hanged. Arabs attempted to murder Jews in the land of Israel on a daily basis, and the British were passively allowing it with little to no protection for the Jews and Jewish villages regarding their plight. Under these extreme conditions of having to basically stay in Europe and the harsh reality of continued oppression in many countries, the surviving Jews of Europe had few options. As a result, seeking refuge and living in an Allied DP Camp run by the United Nations was a good temporary option until other options, like moving out of Europe, became available.

 

The Bergen Belsen DP Camp and Mr. Lou’s Arrival

One of the many burial mounds at the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp. This particular mound has a sign that states it has 1000 people buried underneath. There is an approximate total of 14,000 victims in these various mounds including Mr. Lou’s father, Meir.

The Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp contained no gas chambers, and more than 35,000 people died there between January and mid-April 1945 from starvation, overwork, disease, and before the liberation, a typhus epidemic outbreak. On April 15, 1945, Bergen Belsen was liberated by the British 63rd Anti-tank Regiment and the 11th Armoured Division. There were about 14,000 bodies of murdered victims strewn across the Camp. The British forced the former concentration camp guards and local civilians to help bury the dead. They also forced the local German townspeople and stores to give clothes and shoes for the survivors. On May 21, 1945, the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp had been burned down because of typhus and disease. Although the prisoners were liberated, and the British and other organizations tried to help the survivors, too many were too sick to be saved and after the liberation, between April 15 and the end of June 1945, another 14,000 liberated survivors had died. After the Camp was literally burned down to the ground, the only thing that remained were the many burial mounds containing the victims of the Nazi overseers. Eventually, several monuments would be added near the burial mounds which stand at the former Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp to this day.

Right after the British liberation of Bergen Belsen, the British needed to transfer all the victims, including the sick and dying, out of the Camp. While searching for an appropriate facility nearby, they chose the local German Army tank training military base located about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp, and turned it into a temporary Displaced Person’s Camp. According to Lt. Colonel Leonard Berney who picked out the military base as a location for the survivors, the base was a large military facility that had many buildings including sleeping facilities with beds for 20,000 soldiers, lecture halls, a theater, a 200 bed hospital, a bakery that was capable of producing 60,000 loaves of bread a day and literally hundreds of tons of food. Initially, all the survivors from the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp, Jews and non Jews were moved to this camp. Eventually the non-Jewish Polish and Russian civilians and military personnel who were located at the Belsen DP Camp were sent either back to their home countries or to other Displaced Persons Camps. What was then left was a Displaced Person’s Camp near Bergen Belsen that became the largest post-war Jewish DP Camp in Germany. The camp was closed in 1950 and was returned to the West German government in 1951 who turned it back once again into a German military base (to this day).

This is well known Post Card Picture which Mr. Lou had and shows the front entrance of the Bergen Belsen DP Camp.

For Mr. Lou, after his last death march in 1945, the taste of liberation from the Nazis and the knowledge that they were free from the terror of being murdered at any time was now a reality. The issue was, what type of future awaited them? Buses took the survivors to Lubeck, Germany to help them recuperate at an American military holding facility. Red Cross lists were being compiled and distributed throughout Europe of survivors from the Nazi murderers, as well as messages and news throughout Europe so that friends and relatives could attempt to find each other after the chaos of a destroyed Europe. Survivors from the camps were anxious to find their relatives and go home if possible, assuming there was anything to go home to. Europe was in shambles and the process of rebuilding a destroyed continent and getting people back home was now the challenge. Many Jews could not go back home and very few displaced people wanted to go back to their home countries, especially survivors from Eastern Europe who lived in countries now under the new Communist Russian Soviet rule. In spite of the mass destruction and chaos, Mr. Lou found on the posted lists of survivors that his two sisters Rosie and Vera, were liberated at the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp on April 15, 1945, and now living at the Bergen Belsen Displaced Persons (DP) Camp run by the British. There were many survivors from Sighet, Romania who were liberated there and were staying at the Belsen DP Camp. Mr. Lou took a train from Lubeck to Bergen Belsen and after reuniting with his sisters, was informed by them that some male eye-witnesses who were at the Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp, saw that Meir, Mr. Lou’s father, had died on April 13, 1945, just a few days before the April 15th liberation of the Camp. He was also informed that his mother Fani had also been murdered at Auschwitz after she arrived at the camp on May 19, 1944.

Mr. Lou and the BMW R75 at the Bergen Belsen DP Camp that he taught himself how to ride.

After Mr. Lou reunited with his sisters, he decided to go back home to Sighet with a small group of people. They returned and saw the Russians had occupied Romania and many Jewish survivors feared for their lives because of the lack of personal freedom in Communist countries and the personal untamed and sometimes anti-Semitic behavior and actions of the Russian soldiers. This real, “at home” introduction to Communism in Sighet was one of the reasons Mr. Lou and a small group of ten friends (men and women) decided it was time to leave Sighet and settle somewhere else. They acquired lots of cigarettes to bribe soldiers if necessary, and the girls were innocently flirtatious to in order to get rides from the soldiers for the group. They posed as refugees going to get to Greece (one of them spoke Greek and some spoke Russian) and hitch hiked their way to Vienna, Austria, where they were housed temporarily by the Jewish Agency. After a short while in Vienna, one of Mr. Lou’s friends, Pollack, who was a member of the Jewish Civil Police in Belsen, decided to leave the Camp and take his chance to make the illegal journey to Israel in 1946. He got in touch with his good friend Mr. Lou, and asked if he’d like to take his place taking charge of the Camp motor pool, which included driving the camp’s chief of police to his office every morning, taking care of the camp’s vehicles which included some light maintenance, and driving the two Camp police motorcycles. Mr. Lou did not know how to drive a car, nor a heavy truck nor a motorcycle, let alone anything about maintaining even superficially any type of vehicle. Of course, Mr. Lou knew a good opportunity and challenge when it appeared and said yes, he would love to take the job! So at the “old” age of 20 and full of self confidence, Mr. Lou didn’t bat an eyelash and went to the Bergen Belsen DP Camp and of course, was offered the position.  

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