Våren 1945 betyr ikke bare overgivelse og undergang. Den betyr også befrielsen av leirene, og det er et kapitel for seg.
24 år gamle John Randall var løytnant i SAS. Han snublet over Bergen-Belsen KZ ved et tilfelle. Porten til leiren sto åpen og han kjørte inn av pur nysgjerrighet. Men ganske snart forsto han at det ikke var en vanlig POW-leir.
»About 30 yards into the camp, my Jeep was suddenly surrounded by a group of around 100 emaciated prisoners,» recalls Randall. »Most of them were in black-and-white-striped prison uniforms and the rest wore a terrible assortment of ragged clothes. It was the state of these inmates that made me realise that this was no ordinary PoW camp. As to the identity or name of the place, I had no idea. We were two miles from Lüneberg Heath where, incidentally, Montgomery signed the German surrender.»
Det som møtte de allierte i leirene var et sjokk. De ante ikke hva de gikk i møte. Selv etter fem års krig var dette en annen verden.
Leirene var i oppløsning. Mange døde disse vårdagene.
Det utrolige var at kommandant Josef Kramer og beryktede Irma Grese, dukket opp og tilbød britene en omvisning!
As the four SAS men stood looking at this pitiful and horrifying sight, they were approached by Josef Kramer, the camp commandant, and a woman in a dark blue uniform. «Kramer introduced himself and the woman, Irma Grese, responsible for the female prisoners, and to our astonishment offered us a guided tour of the camp,» says Randall. »We followed them. We pushed open the door of one of the huts and were overpowered by the stench. Emaciated figures peered out at us, in fear and surprise, from the rows of bunks. Lying among them, on the same bunks, were dead bodies.»
Kramer og Grese ble tatt hånd om. Begge ble senere dømt til døden.
Randall blir aldri ferdig med det han så.
«The world lost some of the finest and brightest individuals on earth,» says Randall. »And what hurts me is the fact that they cannot be brought back. It is beyond comprehension that the Germans sought to exterminate such a wonderful race, which has contributed so much over the centuries. They will never recover from this barbarity. We must never forget what the Jews suffered.»
They certainly don’t forget him. On Holocaust day this year, Randall was presented to the Queen in St James’s Palace. As he stood in line waiting with other liberators and survivors of Belsen, a woman next to him turned and said: »You saved my life. When the British arrived in Belsen I was 15. I believe I had only about two days left to live. You came just in time.»