The camp of Bergen-Belsen, located near the towns of Bergen and Belsen in Saxony, northern Germany, got its start in 1940 as a P.O.W. camp for French and Belgian prisoners. In 1941, the camp was renamed Stalag 311 and housed some 20,000 Russian prisoners. Conditions were terrible, resulting by 1942 in the deaths of 16,000 to 18,000 prisoners from disease, starvation and exposure.

In April, 1943, the camp was converted to a concentration camp, primarily for Jews with foreign passports who could be exchanged for German nationals imprisoned abroad. The camp was renamed Bergen-Belsen. Few Jewish prisoners were ever exchanged for imprisoned Germans, although 200 Jews were allowed to emigrate to Palestine in exchange for German citizens, and more than 1,500 Hungarian Jews were able to purchase emigration to Switzerland.

Bergen-Belsen was primarily a holding camp, a place where Jews with foreign passports awaited exchange, and where sick, debilitated prisoners were moved from labor camps. From 1944-45, the camp also served as an evacuation site for prisoners from the East, as the allies liberated Eastern Europe.

The camp was divided into eight sections: a detention camp, two women's camps, a special camp, neutrals camp, "star" camp, Hungarian camp and a tent camp. Polish Jews with citizenship papers from foreign countries lived in the special camp. The detention camp held prisoners brought from other camps to construct Bergen-Belsen. Approximately 4,000 Jewish prisoners, primarily Dutch, lived in the "Star" camp, so named because the prisoners wore the Star of David on their clothing instead of camp uniforms. The Hungarian camp housed more than 1,600 Hungarian Jews. The tent camp housed the overflow of sick, debilitated female prisoners from the hospital camp. Bergen-Belsen's most famous prisoners-Anne Frank and her sister Margo-lived in the tent camp.

From late 1944 to April, 1945, thousands of prisoners-many of them suffering from exposure and starvation from forced marches-flooded Bergen-Belsen from the East. Conditions, never good, deteriorated rapidly. Sanitary facilities were non-existent, food was scarce, the water supply grossly inadequate for the large influx of prisoners. A serious typhus epidemic erupted. In the first few months of 1945, up to 35,000 prisoners died, among them Margot and Anne Frank.

On April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the Allied 21st Army Group, a combined British-Canadian unit. At the time of liberation, the camp had been without food or water for three to five days. As Matthew Nesbitt, a Canadian liberator, recounted, "…the first thing we had to do when we got to camp. Prior to even distributing the food. And that was to make sure we used the guards to separate the living from the dead, from the huts, because first of all, if we are going to save anybody, we had to know who was alive and who had to be buried…The only way you could do that was to go into each individual hut and shake whoever was on that little slab…if they didn't move, they were dead."

Although the camp commandant, Josef Kramer, protested that there was no way to pipe water into the camp, the Allied 21st quickly constructed a makeshift piping system from a nearby river, to supplement army water carts. Despite the best efforts of Allied relief workers, more than 10,000 seriously ill inmates died after liberation.

50,000 prisoners died in Bergen-Belsen. 60,000 prisoners were liberated by the Allies in April, 1945. The Bergen-Belsen staff, largely intact at the time of liberation, were tried in 1945 by a British military tribunal in Luneburg, Germany. Among those tried were the camp Kommandant, Josef Kramer, and a 22-year old female S.S. guard, Irma Grese, who was accused by camp inmates of shooting prisoners and beating them with a homemade whip. Forty-five staff were tried; fourteen were acquitted.

British troops burned the camp to prevent the spread of typhus. A graveyard currently exists on the site of the Bergen-Belsen camp. Somewhere on the grounds, Anne Frank is buried. A childhood friend imprisoned in the camp, Lise Kostler, recounted her reunion with Anne in 1945 in Bergen-Belsen, in the 1996 film, Anne Frank Remembered.

As Lise described the meeting, across barbed wire when the guard was occupied elsewhere, Anne told her that she had no one. She believed her father and mother were dead; her sister was very ill. Lise remembered, "After her sister died, she was just without hope. But she didn't know [that her father was alive], and so she had really nothing to live for."