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Through Australian Eyes

MAY 2005 - MARCH 2006

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The British army liberated Bergen-Belsen on 15 April 1945. On arrival in the camp, they found over 10,000 unburied corpses of people who had died of starvation, disease and maltreatment. Over 60,000 inmates, referred to as 'living skeletons', were living in the most appalling conditions. 13,944 perished after liberation as their health had deteriorated beyond medical intervention.

In the context of Hitler’s campaign to murder the Jews, Bergen-Belsen occupied a unique place within the concentration camp system. It was not an extermination centre such as Auschwitz- Birkenau or Treblinka, nor was it a work camp like Mauthausen or Dachau. Bergen-Belsen, near Hannover in north-west Germany, was established as a special camp for prominent Jews who were either citizens of neutral states or were seen as useful hostages for the Reich, or alternatively, as a means of exchange for German citizens interned abroad. Conditions in the camp were initially quite good, by concentration camp standards, but from 1944 they deteriorated rapidly.

As the German army was forced into the defensive by the simultaneous advances of the British and American forces in the west and the Red Army in the east, the concentration camps in the path of the Allied armies were cleared and their starved, sick and dying inhabitants sent to Bergen-Belsen.

The facilities in Bergen-Belsen were unable to cope with this influx and basic services such as food, water and sanitation swiftly collapsed. Diseases such as typhus, dysentery and tuberculosis flourished and quickly reached epidemic proportions.

Lieutenant Alan Moore, Australian Official War Artist, accompanied the British army liberating Bergen-Belsen. Whilst there he made several sketches, drawings and paintings as a record of Nazi atrocities committed against the predominantly Jewish inmates. Conscious that the outside world might not believe the atrocities illustrated in his art works, Moore also used a camera to document irrefutably the scenes he witnessed.

Matron Muriel Knox Doherty, Royal Australian Air Force Nurse, arrived at Bergen-Belsen on 11 July 1945. Doherty faced the mammoth task of establishing a hospital and nursing for the thousands of survivors.

Through the images and correspondence of Moore and Doherty, this exhibition reflects the experience of the Holocaust through Australian eyes.

 

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