NEARLY 70 years since the Oxfordshire Yeomanry liberated the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, its survivors met one of their liberators again.
At Woodstock’s Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum 11 survivors met 96-year-old Gilbert King, who was among those who freed the camp’s inmates from the clutches of the Nazis on April 15, 1945.
Survivor Henrietta Kelly struggles with harrowing testimony from Joseph Kiersz
Gilbert King, a 96-year-old who served in the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, met 11 Holocaust survivors when they visited the Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum.
The group from Jewish Care – Holocaust Survivors Centre spoke of their experiences in the camp before viewing the museum’s exhibition on Bergen-Belsen’s liberation.
Mr King, one of three surviving liberators, was a 28-year-old Gunner attached to the 249 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Battery of the British 63rd Anti Tank Regiment which freed the camp on April 15, 1945.
He said: “It has brought back memories that I have never forgotten should never be forgotten.
“To see bodies that were just skin and bone littered all over the compound – one just can’t forget that.
“I have seen little of the survivors, but what I have seen has been rather great.”
Joseph Kiersz shows the number tattooed into his arm by the Nazis when he entered the camp
Mr King, of Holmer Green, Buckinghamshire, added: “It has been a memorable day and a great credit to the museum.”
The meeting went ahead after Jewish Care was asked to contribute to the exhibition.
Among those who took part in the visit was Renee Salt whose daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters studied at the University of Oxford.
The 85-year-old spent five-and-half-years in captivity in Auschwitz-Birkenau and as a slave labourer in Hamburg before Bergen-Belsen.
She said: “I remember every day but to come back into contact with it does not help. It hurts to see it.
“My mother died 12 days after liberation and I was ill for months so it brings it all back.”
Another survivor, 88-year-old Joseph Kiersz, said: “I feel a very lucky man because not many survived.
“I would pray I had enough food to eat. I felt that I could eat anything at the time, even the stuff from the ground.”
In his opening address to the group, museum vice-chairman Tim May paid tribute to the Oxfordshire Yeomanry and those who endured the camp’s conditions.
He said: “It was our regiment who had the rather traumatic experience of going into Bergen-Belsen.
“We had heard rumours of conditions but we were totally unprepared for what was encountered.”
- Bergen-Belsen, north of Hannover in northern Germany, opened as a prisoner of war camp in 1940
- In 1943 concentration camp opened to hold Jews, Sinti, Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals and political prisoners
- By 1945 it held about 53,000 prisoners before Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, negotiated the camp’s surrender to the British
- On April 15t 1945, Lt Col Dick Taylor, CO of the British 63rd Anti Tank Regiment Royal Artillery ordered Major Ben Barnett, commander of 249 (Oxfordshire Yeomanry) Battery, to take his Battery and enter the camp.
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