The Cesspit Beneath 

27 January 2016

cesspit 5a

In April 1945, the BBC’s Richard Dimbleby[1] was one of the first Allied journalists to enter one of the Nazi concentration camps in what had been Nazi Germany. The experience was seared into his soul. He told his fellow BBC war correspondent Wynford Vaughan-Thomas:[2] “It’s horrible; human beings have no right to do this to each other. You must go and see it, but you’ll never wash the smell of it off your hands, never get the filth of it out of your mind. I’ve just made a decision… I must tell the exact truth, every detail of it, even if people don’t believe me, even if they feel these things should not be told. This is an outrage… an outrage.”[3] Below is the text of the report he made, which was broadcast on the BBC’s domestic services (the Home Service and the General Forces Programme) as well as the external services. It is uncensored.


I picked my way over corpse after corpse in the gloom, until I heard one voice raised above the gentle undulating moaning. I found a girl, she was a living skeleton, impossible to gauge her age for she had practically no hair left, and her face was only a yellow parchment sheet with two holes in it for eyes. She was stretching out her stick of an arm and gasping something, it was ‘English, English, medicine, medicine,’ and she was trying to cry but she hadn’t enough strength. And beyond her down the passage and in the hut there were the convulsive movements of dying people too weak to raise themselves from the floor.

cesspit 2aIn the shade of some trees lay a great collection of bodies. I walked about them trying to count, there were perhaps 150 of them flung down on each other, all naked, all so thin that their yellow skin glistened like stretched rubber on their bones. Some of the poor starved creatures whose bodies were there looked so utterly unreal and inhuman that I could have imagined that they had never lived at all. They were like polished skeletons, the skeletons that medical students like to play practical jokes with.

At one end of the pile a cluster of men and women were gathered round a fire; they were using rags and old shoes taken from the bodies to keep it alight, and they were heating soup over it. And close by was the enclosure where 500 children between the ages of five and twelve had been kept. They were not so hungry as the rest, for the women had sacrificed themselves to keep them alive. Babies were born at Belsen,[4] some of them shrunken, wizened little things that could not live, because their mothers could not feed them.

One woman, distraught to the point of madness, flung herself at a British soldier who was on guard at the camp on the night that it was reached by the 11th Armoured Division;[5] she begged him to give her some milk for the tiny baby she held in her arms. She laid the mite on the ground and threw herself at the sentry’s feet and kissed his boots. And when, in his distress, he asked her to get up, she put the baby in his arms and ran off crying that she would find milk for it because there was no milk in her breast. And when the soldier opened the bundle of rags to look at the child, he found that it had been dead for days.

cesspit 4aThere was no privacy of any kind. Women stood naked at the side of the track, washing in cupfuls of water taken from British Army trucks. Others squatted while they searched themselves for lice, and examined each other’s hair. Sufferers from dysentery leaned against the huts, straining helplessly, and all around and about them was this awful drifting tide of exhausted people, neither caring nor watching. Just a few held out their withered hands to us as we passed by, and blessed the doctor, whom they knew had become the camp commander in place of the brutal Kramer.[6]

I have never seen British soldiers so moved to cold fury as the men who opened the Belsen camp this week, and those of the police and the RAMC who are now on duty there, trying to save the prisoners who are not too far gone in starvation.[7]


  1. Frederick Richard Dimbleby CBE (25 May 1913 – 22 December 1965)
  2. Lewis John Wynford Vaughan-Thomas CBE (15 August 1908 – 4 February 1987)
  3. Quoted in Richard Dimbleby: Broadcaster edited by Leonard Miall, BBC 1966, p43
  4. Now known as Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. It is in Lower Saxony in northern Germany. Built as a prisoner of war camp, the concentration camp part was added in 1943
  5. The 11th Armoured Division, or The Black Bull, was a tank division of the British Army created in March 1941. It liberated the Bergen-Belsen camp on 15 April 1945
  6. Josef Kramer (10 November 1906 – 13 December 1945) also known as The Beast of Belsen. He was captured by the British, tried for crimes against humanity and hanged
  7. The victims of the Nazis at Bergen-Belsen continued to die from starvation, typhus and general weakness even after the camp was liberated and then burnt to the ground by the British, who set up a displaced persons camp in its place – where people continued to die of the after effects of the main camp

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2 responses to this article

Mary Heath 27 January 2020 at 8:46 pm

I have never ceased to wonder at man’s inhumanity to man. Never forget always remember and never deny. Kindness is the greatest power…

Robin Squire 28 January 2021 at 5:32 pm

Even the Gods will never forgive them ,ever. May the perpetrators of these sins against all mankind and humanity never ever be forgiven or forgotten

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