Military loading platform between Bergen and Belsen, 2008. Photo by Christian Wolpers. Bergen-Belsen Memorial (Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation)
In April 1945, shortly before the British Army arrived, the SS evacuated most of the Bergen-Belsen exchange camp. Around 6,700 Jewish women, men and children were transported on three trains probably destined for the Theresienstadt concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Most of the prisoners were sick, and there was far too little food and water available for the long trip. Only one train reached Theresienstadt. The other two trains were liberated by American soldiers in Farsleben north of Magdeburg (in what is now the state of Saxony-Anhalt) and by Soviet soldiers near Tröbitz (in what is now the state of Brandenburg). Cemeteries, memorial plaques and monuments commemorate the events at these sites.
The first train carrying around 2,500 prisoners left Bergen-Belsen on 6 April 1945 and travelled for six days before coming to a stop near the village of Farsleben.The prisoners were abandoned by their German guards and liberated the next day by American troops. The American soldiers first housed the liberated prisoners in the surrounding area and then brought them to a former Wehrmacht troop camp in Hillersleben in the following days.
A memorial stone and plaque in the Farsleben Cemetery commemorate the 32 victims of the transport who are buried there. A temporary camp was established for the DPs in the grounds of the Hillersleben barracks in 1945. 143 DPs subsequently died and were buried in a Jewish cemetery there.
On 9 April 1945, the second train left Bergen-Belsen carrying over 1,700 prisoners, most of them Hungarian. The train reached the Theresienstadt concentration camp after travelling through Germany for 12 days, during which time a typhus epidemic broke out and the transport was bombed from the air. The survivors were liberated by the Red Army on 8 May 1945.
A Jewish cemetery was established in Zernitz for the 48 victims of the Allied bomb attack, and a memorial stone was later placed there. Following an initiative by survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, two more plaques with the names of the victims and inscriptions in Hungarian, Hebrew and German were placed in the cemetery in 2010. The Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation is providing professional assistance to a regional project researching these events for an exhibition.
The last of the three trains has gone down in history as the Lost Transport. It left Bergen-Belsen on 11 April 1945 with around 2,400 Jewish prisoners from more than twelve countries and travelled through Germany for two weeks. This odyssey finally ended for the prisoners on 23 April 1945 when the train was liberated by the Red Army near Tröbitz. Over 133 prisoners had not survived the trip and were buried near the railway tracks. Another 320 people died of illness and exhaustion after being liberated.
A cemetery was established after the liberation for the prisoners who died. In 1966, it was turned into a memorial and a Jewish cemetery of honour which was consecrated by rabbis. On the initiative of the Lost Transport Victims Memorial Society of Israel, a memorial wall made of black granite was dedicated in the Jewish cemetery on 27 April 1995, the 50th anniversary of the prisoners’ liberation.The victims of the transport who are known by name are listed on this wall. Many survivors and their relatives – numbering over 200 people – attended the commemoration ceremony.
Over the years, memorial stones and grave slabs have been placed along the former transport route. On 25 April 2003, another memorial to the Lost Transport was dedicated in the town of Schipkau, through which the transport travelled in 1945.