Tears as day of deliverance from Belsen recalled

ON A hot spring day in 1945 - a day much like yesterday - British soldiers stumbled on a dark secret of the Third Reich amid a dense German forest.

Those who survived the horrors of the Belsen concentration camp to welcome the "angels in khaki" yesterday returned to the place where 70,000 people died.

This time there was no stench of decomposing flesh, no pyramids of emaciated corpses waiting to be buried.

Six decades on, Belsen is a serene oasis of greenery and remembrance stones, the huts which contained the "sub-human" enemies of Nazism long ago vaporised by army flame-throwers.

It was said that before Belsen was liberated many Britons did not know what they were fighting for. After its discovery no-one was in any doubt as to what they were fighting against.

It was an international brigade of some 150 survivors - including Poles, Czechs, Canadians, Israelis, Americans and Slavs - who made it back to the hell from which they were rescued 60 years ago.

They were people like white-haired Lilliane Eckstein, now 77, who lost 82 members of her family in the Holocaust. Her mother died at Belsen, while she contracted typhus and only just survived.

"I didn’t want to. I survived in a world where everyone I loved had gone," she said.

With tears streaming down her face, the former Czech schoolgirl, now a pensioner living in New York, added: "I came here because I owe it to my family, to those wonderful British soldiers, to the dead. I hate this place. But I have a duty to be here."

Ruth Turek, 75, a Polish survivor who lost her entire family in the camps and who also now lives in the US, said: "They were our angels in khaki, the angels of the British army.

"They gave people food and some died because they were too weak to have such nourishment. But they rescued people like me, these healthy, happy- faced soldiers who were so very different from the brutal guards who abused us. My sister was gassed at Treblinka, my mother in Auschwitz. But I lived to say I would not forget them, and I won’t. I remember the awful stink of the place and people lying around and dying, dying, dying. There is never a day that I don’t think about what was done here."

Another survivor was Shaul Ladany, 69, from Israel, who was a young boy when the British arrived.

He said God had "shone twice on me in this life" - in 1972 he was a marathon walker with the Israeli Olympic team in Munich and narrowly missed being kidnapped with other athletes by Palestinian terrorists and killed.

He and his sister Marta, 64, walked hand in hand upon the fields where huts once stood with people more dead than alive crammed into them.

They walked past the mass graves, one of them containing the remains of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl whose diary of her years in hiding became a beacon of hope for humanity in the years after the war.

"You know what I really remember?" said Mr Ladany. "I remember being so hungry that I was in pain and seeing wild tomatoes growing in the forest on the other side of the barbed wire. And that tormented me more than anything."

Among the Britons who arrived last night was Renee Salt. Her husband Charles was a military policeman involved in the liberation of Belsen whom she met much later in Paris.

Major Dick Williams, 84, one of the first soldiers in the camp, will be there today to honour the dead and his comrades from long ago.

He said: "It was an evil, filthy place, a hell on Earth. I hope that the younger generation can understand to truly prevent another Belsen from ever being built on this Earth again."