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)
“Reception" Camp and Camp for Dying Prisoners
In the summer of 1944, the SS began to evacuate the camps near the front lines and transport tens of thousands of prisoners to more centrally located camps under catastrophic conditions. At least 85,000 men, women and children were taken to Bergen-Belsen on over 100 transports and death marches starting in December 1944. The train journeys in overcrowded cattle cars and the death marches sometimes lasted for several weeks.
These transports carrying thousands of people arrived at Bergen-Belsen in quick succession, leading to complete overcrowding in the camp. After taking over the section of the camp that the Wehrmacht had used as a POW hospital in January 1945, the SS expanded the women’s camp and made the men’s camp much larger as well. Nonetheless, the available huts were entirely overcrowded in a very short period of time. The prisoners received almost no food, and epidemics of typhus and typhoid fever broke out which the SS never seriously tried to contain. The “special” status originally held by the exchange camp prisoners no longer applied, and in the final months of the war they were subjected to the same unimaginably horrific living conditions as all of the other prisoners.
The SS evacuated most of the exchange camp in early April 1945. Around 6,700 prisoners were taken on three trains probably destined for the Theresienstadt ghetto, but only one train reached its destination. The other two trains were liberated by American soldiers near Farsleben on 13 April 1945 and by Soviet troops near Tröbitz on 23 April.
At the same time, the SS was directing other evacuation transports to Bergen-Belsen. In early April 1945, around 15,000 newly arrived prisoners were housed in buildings in the nearby Wehrmacht barracks.