Hemel student visits site of Nazi concentration camp 75 years after its liberation

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A student from John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Hemel Hempstead recently visited Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp in Germany during the Second World War, as part of the 75th anniversary of its liberation.

Joe Sibley, 17, is studying history at A-level, so when the chance of seeing such an important and, needless to say, tragic landmark arose, he was keen to take part.

Joe explained to The Hemel Gazette: “Myself and my friend Conor who went with me both like history, so we handed in an application to show we were interested in going and fortunately we were successful."

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Eager to learn, Joe added: "I hadn't visited a concentration camp before and I wasn't too knowledgeable about the Holocaust so that's also why I took the opportunity."


Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the 11th British Armoured Division on 15 April 1945, 15 days before Hitler committed suicide and 24 days before victory in Europe on 8 May 1945.

Though there were no gas chambers at Bergen-Belsen, over 50,000 people died there between 1941-1945.

To mark 75 years since its liberation, The Holocaust Educational Trust gave selected students the chance to visit the site as part of its Belsen-75 project. Joe made the trip in early February with fellow student Conor Hawkins and his teacher Clara Timpe.

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Joe described his first impressions upon seeing the concentration camp grounds: “There were no buildings, just the foundations of huts. When the British liberated the camp the conditions were so bad that they burnt it because there was a typhus infection. That in itself was a shock to me because when you think of Auschwitz for example you think of the 'work will set you free' sign and it's all about the physical features."

Joe Sibley, 17Joe Sibley, 17
Joe Sibley, 17

However, the history student told us that the experience instilled in him that the Holocaust was about people, not buildings. He said: "Our tour guide was telling us the stories of people who were there and it was very personal. That's what the Holocaust was about - it happened to people, it happened to humanity."

He continued: “What really moved me was seeing the individual graves. They all had different languages, they all had different journey's.”

We asked Joe what was the most important lesson that he took away from the trip. He said:

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"What I took away from it was the importance of survivor testimony. The living memory of the Holocaust is now fading away but the survivors are telling us the stories and we've got to keep them going."

Memorial stone at Bergen-BelsenMemorial stone at Bergen-Belsen
Memorial stone at Bergen-Belsen

You can find out more about the vital work that The Holocaust Educational Trust are doing here: www.het.org.uk/belsen-75th-anniversaryWhen he returned, Joe wrote an essay reflecting on what he had seen and learnt. It can be read here.

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