Polish prisoner Maria Gniatczyk had to wear this number on her clothing in the women’s camp of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Bergen-Belsen Memorial (Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation)
The Concentration Camp (1943-1945)
The Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was part of the official concentration camp system from the time it was established in April 1943. Today, many consider it the embodiment of Nazi crimes. However, Bergen-Belsen differed from all other Nazi concentration camps in several key aspects.
Bergen-Belsen was initially set up for Jewish hostages whom the SS had said they would release - in exchange for Germans interned abroad, foreign currency or commodities valuable to the war effort.
The character of the camp changed in March 1944 when a new section was established for sick male prisoners from other concentration camps who were no longer able to work. A section for female prisoners was set up in August 1944.
In December 1944, the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp became the destination for numerous evacuation transports from other concentration camps. The camp’s subsequent overcrowding and disastrous living conditions led to mass deaths which claimed the lives of around 18,000 victims in March 1945 alone.
At least 52,000 of the total of around 120,000 prisoners in Bergen-Belsen died of starvation or disease, of the abuse they received from the SS, or of the immediate effects of their imprisonment following their liberation.