British Jewish liberator of Bergen Belsen dies, aged 96
One of the few British-Jewish soldiers who liberated Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War Two has died, aged 96.
Bernard Maurice Levy was a 19-year-old corporal when he entered Bergen Belsen in northern Germany in April 1945. He had a key role in the relief operation, spraying survivors with disinfectant as they were moved out of the camp.
Overcrowding, starvation and poor sanitary conditions meant typhus, dysentery and other diseases were common throughout the camp where more than 50,000 people, including Anne Frank and her sister Margot, perished between 1941 and 1945. The British army cared for more than 60,000 survivors on arrival and had to bury approximately 13,000 corpses.
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Bernard was also responsible for processing Germans suspected of war crimes, sending some back to their families and others to face the consequences of their crimes against humanity at the Luneberg Trials in 1945 (also know as the Belsen Trials), which he attended as a scribe. He once memorably described a truck load of Nazi camp guards who were being taken for execution as looking “a bit glum”.
After the war Bernard returned to his home town of Hull where worked for his father’s menswear company.
Bernard as a teenage soldier.
Speaking in 2015, when he returned to Bergen Belsen to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation in the company of the Queen, Bernard recalled: “There was barbed wire everywhere. Chaos and bodies. They looked like skeletons. There were great white clouds of DDT (disinfectant), because everybody coming out was being deloused, so my greatest memory is standing there, doing what we can.”
He added: “I think the initial shock was so enormous that I blocked it out. I’m glad I’m returned because, if you like, it’s the last time I’ll be here. I just feel like I’ve come to say goodbye to all that, and I hope that they all rest in peace.”
Bernard with survivor Mala Tribich at Bergen Belsen in 2015
Bernard’s niece Lynda Seymour told Jewish News: “Bernard was an especially kind and caring man, to all who knew him. He was unique, modest and well loved.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, told Jewish News: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Bernard Levy. Following the liberation of Belsen by the British army, sorting the living from the dead became Bernard’s responsibility. The experience stayed with him and he didn’t speak about the horrors he saw for 70 years.
“In April 2015, he joined Her Majesty the Queen to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation at the site of the former camp. Bernard was gentle, kind and unassuming. He was a true gentleman who never wanted the appreciation he deserved. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. May his memory be a blessing.”
• A full tribute to Bernard Levy will be published in next week’s Jewish News.
Bernard with the Queen in 2015.