Stalag XI C (311) at Bergen-Belsen, circa 1942: The entrance to the camp. From the collection of German soldier Heinrich V. From a private collection
The POW Camp (1940-1945)
The POW camps on Lüneburg Heath were part of an enormous system of camps operated by the Wehrmacht. This system consisted of over 200 main camps and thousands of work details and construction brigades. Shortly before the start of the war, a camp of huts near Fallingbostel was designated as the location for the POW camp known as Stalag XI B. This became one of the Wehrmacht’s largest POW camps during the war, at times holding up to 95,000 prisoners from different countries. Most of these POWs were assigned to one of more than 2,000 work details. In June 1940, the Belgian and French POWs assigned to Work Detail 601 were housed in the former Bergen-Belsen construction workers’ camp.
The Bergen-Belsen camp was significantly expanded from June 1941 as Germany prepared to invade the Soviet Union. It was transformed into an independent camp known as Stalag XI C (311) which was intended to hold 20,000 Soviet POWs. Two other so-called “Russian camps” were set up nearby: Stalag XI D (321) at Oerbke and Stalag X D (310) at Wietzendorf. Around 41,000 Soviet POWs had died in these camps of starvation, exhaustion and disease by the end of March 1942, and a total of 50,000 Soviet POWs died there by the end of the war.
Stalag XI C (311) was disbanded in the summer of 1943, and Bergen-Belsen became a branch camp of Stalag XI B at Fallingbostel. It remained in operation as the central hospital for Soviet POWs in the region until January 1945. Italian military internees were treated there as well from August 1944. After the suppression of the Warsaw Uprising in October 1944, around 1,000 members of the Polish Home Army were also housed in a separate section of the POW camp.