Last week, Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain, visited Bergen-Belsen to pay her respects to the tens of thousands of prisoners who died there. Queen Elizabeth made her way there on the final day of a state visit to Germany; it was the first time the 89-year-old monarch had visited a former Nazi death camp.
The Queen was accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, 94, on the “personal and reflective” trip.
During her visit, the queen met with some of the veterans of the British Army who helped to liberate Bergen-Belsen in April 1945. She asked them what they found when they first arrived. According to The Guardian, one of these veterans is a former Navy captain named Eric “Winkle” Brown, who is now 96 years old.
He described to the queen his discoveries upon arriving at the concentration camp—how it was “littered” with bodies; how the survivors were “dehumanized” and forced to “urinat[e] and defecat[e] where they stood or lay.”
“They had lost all dignity,” he said. “They were dying. None of them looked as if they would live,” he said.
“It must have been horrific really,” the Queen replied.
During their visit, the Queen and the Prince walked somberly around the 13 “mounds that mark where the mass graves are,” reported the BBC. “There was no pomp or ceremony; just a couple from the wartime generation taking their time to reflect and to pay their respects.”
The Queen bowed her head at the memorial gravestones for Anne Frank and her sister Margot. The royal couple also stopped to lay a wreath at the memorial obelisk in the camp that remembers the thousands of Jews, Soviet and Roma prisoners who perished there.
One of the survivors present for the Queen’s visit was 89-year-old Anita Lasker Wallfisch, said that she was surprised when she learned it was the Queen’s very first visit to a concentration camp. “It was liberated by the British and it’s logical she would want to see it because of its very strong connection to Britain,” she told The Guardian. Despite the Queen’s apparent lateness, the UK’s Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis said that the trip would be considered to be deeply significant by Jews the world over.
The BBC reported that at the end of her visit, the Queen remarked about the camp’s tragic history: “It’s difficult to imagine isn’t it?”
Jas Chana is a former intern at Tablet.