Bergen-Belsen’s Information Centre

Suzanne Bardgett, director of the Holocaust Exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, reports on this ambitious new facility which opened in October.

Bergen-Belsen was a prisoner of war camp for Russian POWs; an ‘exchange camp’ where privileged Jews were held pending possible exchanges; a reception camp for thousands of concentration camp prisoners from the East who were force-marched or transported out of the path of the Russian troops in 1945; and finally a DP (Displaced Persons) Camp in the German Wehrmacht barracks in the immediate vicinity for Jewish survivors from 1945 until 1950.

The project team’s aim was to explain the history of the site and to restore to it the memory of those who had suffered there. The finished product suggests that in the creative tussle which often accompanies such endeavours, it was the historians, rather than the designers, who retained the upper hand. The display is austere in the extreme – almost clinical – but somehow right for the situation: at the very place where so many died, anything overly didactic or ‘design-heavy’ would not have been right.

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