Ex-British Army Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard Berney has passed away at the age of 95. During his military career, Lt Col Berney was among the British and Canadian forces who liberated the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp on April 15th 1945. The camp was located in modern day Lower Saxony in northern Germany and during the 5 years it was in operation nearly 70,000 prisoners died there from execution and disease. Lt Col Berney was part of the British 11th Armoured Division when the camp was liberated.
During an interview with Sky Newslast year he said;
We’d been fighting battle after battle from Normandy for 10 months up to that time when we got to the camp, and we were used to seeing casualties and people killed, but never, never had we seen anything like this at all…The people that were there were mostly emaciated, walking skeletons, in a complete daze. They didn’t really realise they were being rescued. There were a few in a better condition, some wearing prison clothes, some wearing rags.
Lt Col Berney passed away yesterday from a heart attack.
Located in Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony this impressive structure was built in 1935 for use as an officer’s mess for Wehrmacht units training in the area. The site was chosen due to the sparse population and varied landscape which offered opportunities for a wide array of training activities. The building displays the more glorious times for the German Wehrmacht when the country was casting off the shackles of the Treaty of Versailles which forbade them from establishing an army of any real strength. As such the building was lavishly designed and decorated with sculptures symbolising German history and of course the belief in German superiority.
At the end of the Second World War it was taken over by British occupying forces and some of its facilities were used as a liberation camp for survivors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The grand hall in the roundhouse became an overcrowded makeshift hospital where there were so many patients that they were literally squeezed in to any available space that could be found. In mid to late 1945 medical efforts began to wind down as the patients were transferred to Glyn Hughes Hospital after which it was briefly used as an accommodation block for British Army occupation forces before being handed over to the Jewish Central Committee of the British Zone for use as their Headquarters.
The Roundhouse continued to be used by the Jewish Central Committee until the camp was handed over to the BAOR (British Army of the Rhine) in 1950. Under British Army administration the site expanded rapidly as it became an integral part of NATO’s training program and at one time as many as 50,000 British, German and U.S. soldiers were based in and around the region making it the largest training site in Western Europe.
On April 1st 1958 the British Army relinquished administration of the site to the West German Bundeswehr.
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