Concentration Camps are different form Death Camps. As their name suggests, they are where concentrated groups of people were held. Clara Lehrs and possibly Karl Schubert in the Hani strand of our story went to concentration camps.
Neither Renate, Hani nor the other German girls were very aware of what these were or how bad the conditions were in them. They were probably more aware of the idea of a work camp. Renate may have been familiar with these in England too, for some fellow Germans were interned.
Bergen Belsen is a camp whose name tends to fill people with horror. Actually it was a type of holding camp and possibly not the worst sort of concentration camp. However, as the war was ending, the Germans abandoned it and left it without a water supply. That is why British troops faced such horrible conditions when they liberated it in 1945.
Clara Lehrs was taken to Theriesenstadt, a camp which had a better reputations and one which was used by the Nazi regime to show the world that its camps were well run and that they took care of people. They managed to fool the Red Cross inspector, Maurice Rossel. Rossel later visited Auschwitz and the SS avoided showing him round. Was there a clue there? Rossel was a young, inexperienced man, in his late twenties.
The Nazis even organised a football match, which they filmed. They showed contented Jews watching the match. They made a propaganda film, showing Theresienstadt as a holiday camp: the actors were the inmates, who, as soon as the filming finished, were transported to Death Camp Auschwitz. Most photographs of the camp were created to deceive.
It was probably a more benign camp than many but was still horrible and still robbed people of their liberty. However, even here people were allowed to die though they were not killed as such. 500 children form 15,000 survived, for example. 88% of the adult population was killed and 97% of the children.
The inmates had to do slave labour, such as making toys. However, they did manage to organise themselves. For example, a teacher set up a small school in one of the barracks. Letters were allowed out but were censored. Therefore the inmates developed codes – for example one family made their handwriting slope downwards to indicate that things were not all right.
People may have seen Clara Lehrs and the others on her transports and on other transports departing for Thereiesenstadt. Railway officials would have overseen those transports. After the war, these people carried on almost as if nothing had happened. Arguably, life had to go on and if one got rid of every bystander, who would be left to do the work?
Why was Rossel deceived?
Why did “bystanders” do nothing?
What would you do?