The Exchange Camp

In April 1943, the SS took over the southern section of the Bergen-Belsen POW camp from the Wehrmacht and turned it into a "detention camp” (Aufenthaltslager). It was intended to hold various groups of Jews whom the SS and the Foreign Office planned to exchange for Germans interned abroad or for foreign currency or commodities. These hostages were initially exempt from deportation to an extermination camp. The prisoners who were considered suitable for exchange were mostly Jews who either had official emigration papers from the British authorities in Palestine, were citizens of an Allied country or who held high-ranking positions in Jewish organisations.

At first, the living conditions for these exchange prisoners were much better than those at other concentration camps. The prisoners were allowed to bring personal belongings with them and wear civilian clothes, and they were able to develop a secret cultural and religious life in the camp. Numerous poems and drawings as well as 27 diaries from the exchange camp have survived.

Prisoners were usually taken to the exchange camp with their entire families even if only one family member qualified for exchange. Between July 1943 and December 1944, at least 14,600 Jewish prisoners, including 2,750 children and adolescents, were transported to the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp. The SS had set up separate areas of the camp for different groups of prisoners: There was the so-called "star camp" which held a large number of Dutch Jews, the “Hungarian camp”, the “special camp” for Polish Jews and the “neutrals camp” for prisoners from neutral countries.

A total of only around 2,560 Jewish prisoners were ever actually transported from Bergen-Belsen and released.

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