Former Wehrmacht barracks in Belsen: Open-air emergency hospital, 27 April 1945. Photo by Sgt. Oakes. Imperial War Museum, London, Photograph Archive, BU 4844.
The Jewish DP Camp
The Jewish DP camp was home to former prisoners of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp as well as thousands of other survivors of the Shoah from central and eastern Europe. For most of these Jewish DPs, remaining in Europe had become unthinkable. Very few of them had any relatives left, and their houses and property had either been stolen or destroyed.
Following democratic elections in September 1945, the Jewish camp committee that had been established immediately after the liberation was transformed into the Central Committee of Liberated Jews in the British Zone, with its headquarters in the DP camp. This committee organised political congresses which called for unimpeded emigration to Palestine and the foundation of the State of Israel. Even survivors who had not already been committed Zionists before the war supported the goal of a self-determined life in Palestine.
Though the British occupying forces viewed the Jews merely as a religious community, most of the Jewish survivors themselves felt that they comprised their own nation. The Central Committee acted as the government of the Jewish DP camp and set up a police force, courts, schools, and cultural and social institutions. Many of the DPs, most of whom were young and single, started families in the camp and thus found new hope for the future. In the first two years after the liberation alone, more than one thousand Jewish couples got married in Bergen-Belsen, and well over a thousand Jewish children were born in the DP camp until it was disbanded.
A large number of DPs began leaving the camp in 1947 as their emigration opportunities improved. The State of Israel was founded in May 1948, and in early 1949 the British government lifted the last emigration restrictions. Countries like the USA and Canada also eased their immigration regulations. The Bergen-Belsen DP camp was finally dissolved in the summer of 1950.