All things are by degree as they say. Today would have been the climax of an event to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen but corona virus precluded the gathering of dwindling numbers of survivors and families.
At 3pm on Sunday 15th April 1945 British troops entered the camp to horrors that were all but inconceivable. A sign outside the camp subsequently indicated that 10,000 unburied dead were discovered and another 13,000 succumbed within a short period of time afterwards. The first journalist to gain entry was the war correspondent Richard Dimbleby and if you’re feeling sorry for yourself confronting another three weeks of lockdown (for starters) then a listen to his broadcast may reset your emotional compass. The BBC initially refused to broadcast his report as they didn’t believe it could be true but relented when Dimbleby threatened resignation. It went out on the 19th April, 75 years ago to the day. Available on BBC Archive it is a brilliant account – in a mere twelve minutes Dimbleby paints a picture that leaves nothing to the imagination. He later stated that this was the worst day of his life. A sunny afternoon in Hove on lockdown suddenly feels like a walk in the park – which we are still permitted.
Starvation was universal and cannibalism ensued – one survivor joked at a previous commemoration event that it was the first hot meal he’d ever had at Belsen and despite the panic buying shortage hasn’t really affected us. Water has never been under threat for us – in Belsen you’d drink from a puddle. Yes, disease was rampant – typhus, typhoid, diphtheria and more and surely many a virus even if it wasn’t corona but there the commonality ends. Dimbleby describes that what was “so ghastly” (sic) wasn’t so much the individual acts of barbarism but the gradual breakdown of civilisation as happens when humans are herded like animals in such dreadful conditions. People ceased to care about the customs and conventions of normal life. Contrast that with one cause for corona celebration as communities and individuals have pulled together more than at any other time in the living memory of most of us.
And there’s perhaps another reason to remember this day as well as a counterpoint to the relative hardship that we perceive. The news tends to focus on the topic of the moment and after months of Brexit, Brexit, Brexit I haven’t heard the word for about two months. We should not take our eye off the ball that there are pockets of ethnic and religious hatred simmering in various parts of the World and whose erumpent shoots could burst forth given half the chance. This must never be allowed to happen again. Corona virus may have brought most things to an end, albeit temporary for many, but we can’t rely on it to prevent other evils emerging.