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 Men’s and Women’s Camps
As the war progressed, concentration camp prisoners were increasingly used as forced labourers in the armaments industry, and the functions of what had been set up as the “exchange camp” at Bergen-Belsen began to expand. From late March 1944, male prisoners from other concentration camps who were no longer able to work were housed in a separate section of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp known as the "men's camp". These prisoners were supposedly sent to Bergen-Belsen to recover before being returned to their camp of origin and put back to work, but thousands of them died in Bergen-Belsen of disease, starvation, exhaustion and the lack of medical attention.
Another part of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was sectioned off in August 1944 and turned into the so-called “women’s camp”. Between August and late November 1944, the SS imprisoned around 9,000 women and girls in this part of the camp. Most of the women and girls who were able to work only stayed in the women's camp for a short time before being transferred to other concentration camps or the three satellite camps of Bergen-Belsen as slave labourers.
During the first few months, the women were provisionally housed in tents in a large open space within the camp. It was not until a storm destroyed the tents in November 1944 that the women were assigned to huts. The first prisoners in the women's camp were Polish women who had been arrested during the Warsaw Uprising and deported, in some cases with their children. Most of the later prisoners were Polish and Hungarian Jews who had been transferred from Auschwitz.
The women who remained in Bergen-Belsen included Margot and Anne Frank, who died there in March 1945.