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Archive for Monday, April 18, 2005

Survivors mark liberation of notorious Nazi camps

April 18, 2005

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— Hundreds of survivors of Nazi concentration camps on Sunday marked the liberation 60 years ago of three of the most notorious camps in the Third Reich's vast system: Ravensbrueck, Sachsenhausen and Bergen-Belsen.

Judith Sherman, 75, brought her two sons and grandchildren to Ravensbrueck so she could tell them the story of her struggle to survive.

"I wanted to protect them, I didn't want them to feel sorry for me," said Sherman, of Cranbury, N.J.

But now, she said, "I'm ready to do it because I'm old and the story should be told."

Though she kept her feelings inside for 60 years, the memories of climbing over bodies to use the bathrooms and struggling to keep from getting sick were never far from the surface, she said.

"I think of Ravensbrueck every time I feel hungry. I think of Ravensbrueck every time I feel cold," she said. "Every time my grandchildren cry, I think of Ravensbrueck."

Sherman was among 300 survivors from around the world who attended the ceremony at Ravensbrueck, some 60 miles north of Berlin near the town of Fuerstenberg, which gained infamy as the Nazis' camp for women prisoners, though some men also were held there.

Following speeches, people threw roses into a pond used by the Nazis to dump the ashes of the camp's cremated victims.

Bonds of friendship

Women carrying wreaths walk in front the Wall of Nations during the
commemoration ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the
liberation of the Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbrueck in
Fuerstenberg, Germany. About 450 survivors gathered Sunday to
commemorate the liberation by the Soviet Army in April 1945.

Women carrying wreaths walk in front the Wall of Nations during the commemoration ceremony marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp of Ravensbrueck in Fuerstenberg, Germany. About 450 survivors gathered Sunday to commemorate the liberation by the Soviet Army in April 1945.

Pierette Pierrot, a French resistance fighter captured in 1944, was pregnant when imprisoned by the Nazis.

The 88-year-old Pierrot said she was only able to hide her pregnancy from the Nazis with her baggy prison clothes and the help of others.

"There was a lot of friendship between all of the prisoners and a lot of help, and only through that could I keep my child," Pierrot said in French.

When her son, Guy, was born March 11, 1945, in the camp, she had to lean even more on others -- including a German camp nurse who knew her secret.

A month later, as the Third Reich crumbled, the SS allowed the Red Cross to evacuate some 7,500 prisoners to Sweden -- presumably to curry favor with the Allies.

Pierrot was one of those chosen to go and remembers bundling her son up in rags and stuffing him under a seat to smuggle him out with her. She worried throughout the slow trip that the bus would be stopped and she would be caught by the SS.

"I only really felt saved when we made it Denmark," said Pierrot, whose son came with her for the ceremonies.

Tens of thousands of women were not as lucky and were marched north by the SS, with scores dying along the way. When the Russian soldiers liberated Ravensbrueck on April 30, 1945, they found 3,000 sickly prisoners who had been unable to make the march.

Slave labor camps

The Nazis built all of their death camps, like Auschwitz, in occupied Poland, but the slave labor camps in Germany also were places of death.

Between 1939 and 1945, some 132,000 women and children, 20,000 men and 1,000 female youths were deported to Ravensbrueck, and tens of thousands of them died from hunger, disease, exhaustion or medical experiments. A gas chamber built at the end of 1944 claimed some 6,000 victims as well.

Sachsenhausen, on the northern outskirts of Berlin, was liberated April 22, 1945, by the Soviet army. One of the first Nazi concentration camps, it was initially meant mainly for political prisoners, but inmates later included Jews, Poles, Soviets and other POWs.

Bergen-Belsen, near Hanover, initially was a special camp for "privileged" Jews and POWs, but by 1945 it had become a holding pen for the weak and sick shipped from other camps as the Allies advanced.

Teenage diarist Anne Frank was one of the camp's victims, dying of typhus a few weeks before it was liberated April 15, 1945.

When British soldiers arrived at Bergen-Belsen, they found thousands of corpses scattered haphazardly in heaps -- images that eventually became iconic around the world as proof of Nazi evil.

About 40,000 people were liberated from the camp, although about 13,000 later died of illness. Overall, about 70,000 people died in Belsen.

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