The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Excerpts from The Belsen Trial

Part 2 of 5:
Testimony concerning Water and Food

From the testimony of Vice-Director of Medical Services Brigadier Hugh Llewelyn Glyn Hughs (pp. 31-34):

What water supply was there?

-- The huts had had water laid on but it was not functioning, and in addition there were large concrete ponds in the camp near the cookhouses.


Would you describe in your own words the general state of the camp?

-- [...] There were various sizes of piles of corpses lying all over the camp, some outside the wire and some in between the huts, and the frightful scenes inside were much worse... . The gutters were full and within the huts there were uncountable numbers of bodies, some even in the same bunks as the living... Some of the huts had bunks but not many, and they were filled absolutely to overflowing with prisoners in every state of emaciation and disease. There was not room for them to lie down at full length in each hut. In the most crowded there were anything from 600 to 1000 people in accommodation which should only have taken 100.


What was the state of sanitation?

-- There was none. The conditions were indescribable because most of the internees were suffering from some form of gastro-enteritis and they were too weak to leave the hut. The lavatories in the huts had long been out of use. In the women's compound there was a deep trench with a pole over it but no screening or form of privacy at all. Those who were strong enough could get into the compound: others performed their natural functions from where they were. The compounds were absolutely one mass of human excreta. In the huts themselves the floors were covered, and the people in the top bunks who could not get out just poured it on to the bunks below.

Now take the women's compound?

-- No. 2 was on the same side as those three I have described, to the left of the camp. This, although small, had about 6000 in it. The conditions were infinitely worse. They were absolutely frightful. No. 1 Compound was a very large and contained between 22 and 23,000 women. The huts were set amongst trees and conditions were frightful, but perhaps not as bad as No. 2 Women's compound. In this compound there was a very large pile of corpses.

Was there any particular hut in that compound which you could describe?

-- In Hut No. 208, which was close to the pile of corpses, there were dead women lying in the passage, which was so full that no women could lie down straight. The main room on the left of the passage was one mass of bodies and you could not get another into it. The inmates were in a state of extreme emaciation and women were dying frequently.


Could you give details of the medical supplies?

-- There were quite a few large stocks in the store, but one issue, I was told by the chief doctor there, was 300 aspirin tablets for 17,000 sick people for one week. I do not think there were any large quantities of disinfectant available and no anti-louse powder issued. I found a large number of Red Cross boxes sent by Jewish Associations for the Jews. I was told that no issue of the contents had been made except an occasional issue of sweets to the children. The boxes contained meat extracts and food of all kinds, biscuits, milk. There was some stealing of meat by the Hungarian soldiers while I was there.

What was the food supply in the camp?

-- At the time of entry practically nil -- at the most, one meal a day of watery stew made of vegetables.

What was the method of distribution?

-- In large metal containers which were very heavy. There had been no bread for a fortnight and no water for rather a shorter time, and there appeared to be absolutely no method of ensuring that each person got their share. When a man or woman got too weak to fetch for themselves and their friends became indifferent through their own condition, then they got none.


In your considered opinion for what period at the least must conditions have been bad in that camp to have produced the results that you saw?

-- Including the last five or six days it would take several months to produce death in people who were fit and well. What the condition of the prisoners was who were admitted I do not know, but if they were not robust it would have been a matter of a short time. But I should have said, with reasonable health, two or three months.

Testimony from Major Berney (pp. 54-55):

What was the position in relation to water when you arrived?

-- There was none except in what I took to be emergency water reserve tanks. In the concentration camp area there were three tanks and in the S.S. administration portion there was one. The water in the tanks in the concentration area was completely foul, and as an immediate emergency measure some army water-carts were sent in. To restore the water supply we utilized the fire pumps and hose which we found inside the camp to pump water from a river to the camp itself. It took about four or five days after we entered. We found enough materials to complete a working water supply throughout the camp.


Did you have any expert advice that was not available to the Germans with regard to the water supply?

-- We pumped the water from the river, using S.S. men. Later a R.E.M.E. Major arrived to help to get the water supply working. The water in the river was fit to drink.

Major Berney is questioned by the Judge Advocate (p. 56):

Can you tell us whether the water-supply system erected by you which was made from local materials was capable of lasting for some time or was it very temporary?

-- It would have lasted, and did last, for some time.

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