A Radio Documentry by BBC reporter Patrick Gordon Walker
Listen to historic recording of a 1945 BBC broadcast from liberated Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi concentration camp, featuring the singing of “Hatikva” by the surviving Jewish prisoners. Allied troops liberated the camp on April 15, 1945.
Bergen-Belsen was a Nazi concentration camp in Lower Saxony, southwest of the town of Bergen near Celle. Between 1943 and 1945, an estimated 50,000 people died there, up to 35,000 of them dying of typhus in the first few months of 1945. On April 15, 1945, British forces liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northern Germany. Sixty-thousand prisoners were living in the camp when the troops arrived, most of them seriously ill. Thousands more lay dead and unburied on the camp grounds.
BBC reporter Patrick Gordon Walker was among the press corps that entered Bergen-Belsen with the British troops that day. Over the next few weeks, he documented what he saw, recording the first Sabbath ceremony openly conducted on German soil since the beginning of the war, interviewing survivors, and speaking to British Tommies about what they had witnessed at liberation.
One of the people who heard Walker’s radio dispatches was soon-to-be-legendary folk-music producer Moe Asch. An engineer at the time at New York radio station WEVD, Asch recorded the shortwave broadcast onto an acetate disc. Decades later, the record was re-discovered at the Smithsonian Institution by historian Henry Sapoznik.
Transcript of the recording:
PATRICK GORDON WALKER: This is London calling North America.
The day I reached Belsen concentration camp, the fifth day of liberation, was a Friday, the day before the Jewish Sabbath.
Something like half the surviving prisoners at Belsen were Jews, and the Jewish chaplain to the British second army, the Reverend L. H. Hardman, held an eve-of-the-Sabbath service in the open air in the midst of the camp. It was the first Jewish service that many of the men and women present had taken part in for six years. And Probably the first Jewish service held on German soil in absolute security and without fear for a decade.
Around us lay the corpses that there had not been time to clear away, even after five days. Forty thousand or more had been cleared, but there were still one or two thousand around, and people were still lying down and dying in broad daylight in front of our eyes. This was the background to this open-air Jewish service.
During the service, the few hundred people gathered together were sobbing openly, with joy of their liberation and with sorrow of the memory of their parents and brothers and sisters that had been taken from them and gassed and burned.
These people knew they were being recorded. They wanted the world to hear their voice. They made a tremendous effort, which quite exhausted them. Listen:
Singing of “Hatikvah.”
L.H. HARDMAN: The children of Israel still liveth!