The Research and Documentation department of the Bergen-Belsen Memorial focuses on the entire range of topics associated with the history of the Bergen-Belsen site. Artefacts, documents and photographs relating to other sites are included in the Memorial’s collection only in exceptional cases.
The Bergen-Belsen Memorial did not start collecting materials until 1987 when it hired its first permanent academic staff.
The collection covers five thematic areas:
- Background: History of the military training area
- Core area 1: POW camp
- Core area 2: Concentration camp
- Core area 3: DP camp
- History of the Memorial since 1945
The collection is stored in six secure, fire-proof, climate-controlled archive rooms at the Bergen-Belsen Memorial. Many of the materials relating to the POW camps are kept at the offices of the Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation in Celle. The collection index has been recorded in eight databases using the FAUST database and retrieval system; the archive of photographs and press clippings has not yet been fully indexed.
Monday - Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
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The Memorial’s collection of documents is divided into three areas: eyewitness accounts, files and press reports.
The collection of eyewitness accounts comprises around 1,700 personal testimonies mostly from former prisoners of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but also from POWs and DPs as well as members of the British Army, relief organisations and local residents. The length of the documents varies widely. Some are brief transcripts limited to one or just a few pages, most of which were written shortly after the liberation. Other texts are complete autobiographies which are hundreds of pages long and were only recently completed. These documents were written in a number of different languages. The majority are in German and English, but there are also many texts in French, Polish, Hebrew, Hungarian and other languages.
The file collection consists largely of copies of files. One central component of the collection are copies of files from The National Archives in Kew, which relate to the Bergen-Belsen trials. The Memorial also has original files, including the compensation files of Irgun Sherit Hapleta, the organisation of Bergen-Belsen survivors in Israel, as well as a selection of files from the unincorporated district of Lohheide, most of which also relate to the post-war period.
The press archive is made up of a chronological collection of articles on Bergen-Belsen from April 1945 to the present. Some of these articles are originals and some are photocopies. This part of the collection focuses on press coverage of the liberation and the period immediately afterwards (April to June 1945) as well as the Bergen-Belsen trial in Lüneburg (September to December 1945).
The Bergen-Belsen Memorial’s photo archive comprises over 15,000 photographs. The majority were taken during the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, but the Memorial also has extensive collections of photos of the DP camp and of various individuals, many of which have been loaned or donated to the Memorial by survivors or their relatives. In most cases, however, the Memorial has very limited usage rights for these photographs. The rights for most of the photos of the liberation, for example, are held by the Imperial War Museum in London.
The Memorial’s collection of artefacts largely covers three very different areas.
The collection of over 900 personal items and documents from former prisoners - including clothing, ID cards, letters and diaries - is of exceptional importance. Most of these objects have been (permanently) loaned or donated to the Memorial. The collection is supplemented by other historical artefacts with no direct connection to a particular person or family, such as original publications from the DP camp, some of which have been purchased by the Memorial.
The collection of archaeological finds from the Memorial grounds comprises over 3,000 individual objects which have been uncovered since the early 1990s by participants in the youth work camps that are regularly held at the Memorial. These finds typically consist of everyday objects like cups, bottles, plates, buttons and screws as well as remains from the camp’s architecture such as barbed wire. Some of these objects can be seen in the display cases in the floor of the permanent exhibition.
Video and Audio Collection
Video and Audio Collection
The Memorial has a collection of over 600 videos, most of which are biographical interviews conducted with witnesses since the late 1990s in the context of various projects. The video points in the permanent exhibition are based on excerpts from these interviews, which are copyrighted by the Bergen-Belsen Memorial. The Memorial’s collection also includes historical film footage and documentaries.
Most of the witness interviews were conducted in German or English, but many other languages are represented as well. The interviews in languages other than German or English have been transcribed and translated to make them more accessible. The biographical interviews have been stored in a database and tagged with keywords so that they can be systematically searched.
The Memorial’s audio collection consists of around 680 audio cassettes with over 300 witness interviews. The analogue recordings from the 1990s have been digitised for long-term preservation.