Imagine what it would be like to be reading a newspaper one day and seeing your picture as a 12 year-old boy staring through the fence of a concentration camp. Such was the experience of Yehuda Danzig. Danzig is an 82-year-old Jew, living in Toronto, who, as a boy, was incarcerated in Bergen-Belsen along with most of his family. Recently, while reading an article about the camp in the “Times of Israel,” he spotted a picture of a group of children taken at the camp in April 1945 shortly after liberation. And there he was! Along with his brother!
Of course, it was a tremendous shock to see the photo. Danzig does not remember ever seeing a photo of himself as a young boy. It turned out that it was a still image from a documentary on concentration camps that had been made 70 years ago and, inexplicably, never published until last year. (The famous director, Alfred Hitchcock, had been one of the documentary’s collaborators.)
Danzig said the picture brought back painful memories, such as:
- the daily roll calls, even in the rain, snow and freezing cold,
- severe lack of food and water,
- being covered in lice, and
- omnipresent diseases, such as typhus, which ran rampant through the camp.
Danzig recalled that when they were finally liberated by the British they were like “zombies.” Furthermore, since few of them spoke English, most of them did not understand the liberating soldiers who told them “you are free.” Finally, he remembers the piles of unburied dead bodies all over. People had been dying so quickly that the burial details could not keep up. Some of the piles outside the barracks doors were so high that many of the prisoners could not even get outside! No doubt, these were memories Danzig had spent a lifetime trying to forget, and here they were surfacing all over again.
Bergen-Belsen was located in northern Germany in the town of Bergen, village of Belsen. In the 1930s the site housed a military training facility for the German Army. Later, the Nazis built a concentration camp, the only one built exclusively to hold Jews. It was designed to hold 7,000 prisoners, but by April 1945 it held 50,000. No wonder disease was rampant.
From 1941 through 1945, 70,000 prisoners died there – including 50,000 civilian prisoners, predominantly Jews, and 20,000 Soviet army prisoners of war. Approximately half of them died of typhus in just four months from January – April, 1945. Conditions at the camp were so bad that even following their liberation about 500 prisoners continued to die every day from illness and malnutrition. In order to contain the spread of typhus the British burned the camp to the ground with flamethrowers. The site constitutes the largest Jewish cemetery in Western Europe, but there are very few grave markers or monuments to identify the deceased.
After the War a displaced persons camp was constructed near the site. Eventually, it grew to become the largest DP camp in Europe.
Danzig, his step-mother, two brothers and one sister managed to survive the war. After liberation they, like most people, returned to their former home to try to find family and friends. Unfortunately, only one uncle had managed to survive. Eventually, some family members emigrated to Israel. Danzig and one brother ended up in Canada where they were adopted by Jewish families.
Danzig lived his life. He married, raised a family and earned a living in electronics. Like most Holocaust survivors he was fairly reticent about discussing his experiences. It appears that he lived a more or less quiet life until last month’s shocking revelation.