On 15 April 1946, nearly three-quarters of the 9,000 Holocaust survivors housed in the Displaced Persons camp at Bergen-Hohne made the short journey to the former site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The occasion was the first anniversary of Liberation Day – the moment twelve months earlier when British forces entered the camp and uncovered all manner of horrors and shocked many the world over. Like all commemorative events it was a highly politicised affair. As a stone memorial to Jews who had died in Belsen was unveiled, Norbert Wollheim – the Deputy Chairman of the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone – took the opportunity to publicly criticise the British for their continued recalcitrance towards Jewish immigration into Palestine, and not doing enough to prevent the destruction of Europe’s Jews during the Holocaust.
In the seventy years since, the liberation of Bergen-Belsen has held a position of pre-eminence in British collective memory of the Holocaust. As the work of Tony Kushner has shown, since 1945 Belsen has had a “particular resonance and centrality in the British imagination” – acting as a cultural reference and point of access for British approaches to the Holocaust. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh’s visit to the site last year, together with the intense media coverage given to the monarch’s meeting of survivors and former liberators, only further reinforced this symbolic power. Meanwhile, the government’s decision to fund a digital scanning project of Bergen-Belsen – part of an on-going (more…)