Surviving survival: nursing care at Bergen-Belsen 1945

Australian Nursing Federation
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 2009, 26 (3), pp. 101 - 110
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Objective The purpose of this paper was to explore the previously little known contribution of nursing care at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Setting Bergen-Belsen concentration camp Primary argument The liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp became a widespread symbol of suffering when it was liberated by British forces. Films of the liberation and the appalling condition of the survivors were widely disseminated in the western Allied countries. Despite the earlier liberation of Majdanek and Auschwitz in Poland, Bergen-Belsen became fixed in the minds of the British public as an icon of the holocaust. Due to the catastrophic conditions found in the camp, doctors, nurses, medical students and aid organisations were quickly drafted into the relief effort. The work of doctors has been well publicised, however little has appeared that details the contribution of nurses. The diaries and letters of Muriel Knox Dougherty, the Australian nurse who became chief matron of the camp's nursing services have been published only in recent years. No other material has been made public; consequently the work of the nurses has yet to be fully detailed. Conclusion This paper presents the reflections and recollections of several nurses who served in the liberation nursing services. Primary sources for this paper include relevant literature, archival material including correspondence, diaries, testimonies and personal correspondence. The conclusion formed on the basis of these documents is that the work of the nurses during the liberation period was life-saving for their patients and life-changing for the nurses.
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