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Belsen - 75 years on.

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Today, the 15th of April, is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Belsen. Unlike Auschwitz, it was not a death camp, there were no gas chambers, but still thousands died there. They died because of prejudice. Because men and women were not prepared to accept that others might have a different lifestyle or belief system to them.

My friend Henk was lucky, he arrived in Belsen only a couple of weeks prior to its liberation. The sights he saw there never left him, neither did the memory of the stench arising from the piles of rotting corpses that strew the camp grounds. Henk had been denounced for anti-social behaviour just over a year before his arrival in the camp. He was gay. He was sent to a labour camp building the Atlantic Wall. When the allies advanced towards the Low Countries, they were moved inland to other camps, eventually arriving at the end of March 1945 in Belsen. He was one of the many in the camp who wore the pink triangle. 

On the 15th of April, the Allied troops, mostly British, arrived and liberated the camp. That did not bring Henk freedom. Immediately after its liberation the camp was quarantined due to the outbreak of Typhus in the camp. Then, eventually Henk was repatriated to his homeland. That though did not mean freedom. As he had been found to be a homosexual he was deemed to be a criminal and imprisoned for the remainder of the sentence originally imposed by the Nazi court.

My first ever story on AwesomeDude, Remember ( http://awesomedude.com/nigel_gordon/remember.htm), was based on Henk and what he told me about camps he was in. Don't let us ever forget the Holocaust was not just about the persecution of the Jews. It was also about the persecution of the Roma, Sinti, Jehovah Witnesses, and many other groups, including LGBTQ. 

The gays may not have been sent directly to the gas chambers (though some were). They were though worked to death, and those that survived the labour camps found their way to places like Belsen where they were just left to die.

If you want to know more about conditions in Belsen listen to Richard Dimbleby's report on it:

Above all, let us not forget the horror that he saw there or gay men and women who suffered there.

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I barely made it through the watching of this.  It brought back so many memories of these and other similar discoveries after the war.  We must never forget such horrors; they color our present, they foreshadow our future—unless we can somehow learn to transcend the brutality that seems to lie dormant within us all.

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