Louis Martin Chauffier

L’HOMME ET LA BETE, Gallimard, 1947, Folio, 1995.
The Liberation of Bergen-Belsen


“Beyond the believable,

22,000 naked corpses were rotting between the rundown barracks. Drying would a better way to put it because nothing but skin on bones was left of the twisted bodies… The 30,000 or 35,000 men and women thrown on to the scrap heap there had had nothing to eat or drink for six days. Those still able to walk wandered about aimlessly, delaying the moment when they would lie down and never rise again… In the putrid air, bumping into corpses, we reached our block… there were no more windowpanes, no bunks, no straw mats. Nothing but a bare room teeming with millions of lice. No sinks or toilets. Nine hundred of us were crammed into each barracks, which had been built for 300 bunk beds on three levels. There was not enough room to lie down on the floor… Those who did not have dysentery had typhus; others had both... The patients in the infirmary did not receive any more to eat or drink than the others… The entire camp was an antechamber of death, populated by the dying.

Hunger, thirst, dysentery, typhus and beatings all systematically added up to kill us. Every morning 800 corpses were added to the carpet of rotting bodies. Long lines of the dying dragged the dead (they no longer had he strength to carry them) to the mass grave a kilometer away: it took two men for each corpse. Often one of them, exhausted, would collapse on the dusty cadaver he was dragging by the leg. The S. S. would savagely beat him: if the wretched soul did not move it meant he was dead; he was buried with the rest. If he wasn’t quite dead, they buried him anyway…

I wasn’t hungry and barely thirsty. I felt death approaching with indifference. I gave myself a week at the very most to live... For two days the gates opened only to let the S. S. leave, which they did every night in small groups on bicycles. Deliverance was near. The Allies were unwittingly in a race against time and death: we were the stakes. We were no longer even interested in the outcome. Liberation came too late. Why not just let us die free at the place of our suffering?”span>