“Dear Leonard, I wept through much of your account of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. Minutes after I reached the end, I felt the urge to start again from the beginning.

I understood then why your writing made such an impact on me. I have known about the Holocaust for so long as I can remember, yet through your account we experience what it was like to encounter the Holocaust for the first time – the moment on April 15 when you walked into an evil that you never before imagined possible.

When I rushed back to the beginning, I realised I was grieving that tragic loss of innocence, mourning for a world in which human beings had not yet imagined such horrors.

By describing the final moment before you discovered that such evil exists, and by describing the collapse of that illusion, you led me to grieve the fact that a world without genocide is, for now, fantasy – and this only strengthened my conviction that we must fight fiercely out impulse to look away and forget.

Joshua Oppenheimer March, 2015.”

These words, written by the Oscar nominated film director, are part of the introduction of a new work entitled Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp by former Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard Berney, who, after the D-Day landings, was part of the Allied invasion force pushing its way through Germany which came face to face with the horrors of the infamous Nazi death camp which was freed by British soldiers 70 years ago.

The book does not make for an easy read as the author, perhaps used to writing military documents, lays bare the inhumanity and suffering human beings can inflict on fellow man, including up to 500 children, and each chapter is headed by a simple phrase: “The Liberation”, “Water”, “Food”, and “Burials” which seems to underline even further the barbaric conditions the liberators found when they opened up the gates at Bergen-Belsen.

Daily Echo:

Now the author, among the first to step inside the camp, is sharing his wartime experiences with the organisation behind the government’s planned new £50million National Memorial and world-class learning centre which will use the latest digital technology to commemorate and educate about the Holocaust.

The cross-party Holocaust Commission set up by the Prime Minister has spent the last year investigating how the country should ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is preserved and that the lessons it teaches are never forgotten.

As part of this preparation the author was in Southampton to meet up with television newsreader and presenter Natasha Kaplinsky, a member of the Holocaust Commission, many of whose own family perished under the Nazis.

In the book the author recalls the ghastly first impressions which have remained indelibly imprinted on his memory for decades: “As we drove along the camp’s main road we saw dead bodies lying beside the road, and many hundreds of emaciated men and women prisoners still mostly behind barbed wire.

“We saw many long huts with corpses littering the ground between them. In open areas at the rear of the huts, more piles of corpses.

“At the end of the road, we saw a large open mass grave containing hundreds of corpses. The sights, the stench, the sheer horror of the place, were indescribable.

“After fighting our way from Normandy for the last ten months, we were used to seeing battle casualties, but we had no warning of what we were about to see.

“I had never experienced anything remotely like it before. I remember being completely shattered. We did not go into any of the huts - that was a horror to come.”

Leonard Berney goes on to describe how he helped to re-establish a water supply to the camp, and to bring food supplies to the ravenous prisoners.

“Many who were emaciated and starving bolted down this rich food and that sadly caused their deaths.

It was estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 died because the food we gave them. But who, given the circumstances we faced, could have foreseen that? We compensated with the thought that those poor people were so near death that, whether we had fed them or not, they probably would have died anyway.”

As the days passed a 15,000-bed hospital was developed in nearby empty German Panzer barracks by the British army and the author was given the job of taking charge of the evacuation of 25,000 camp inmates.

“The procedure at the concentration camp was this: First, each ex-prisoner was registered, then given some soap and a towel to take a hot shower. After the shower they were thoroughly sprayed with DDT to kill and lice. Finally they were helped into the trucks to be ferried to the Transit Camp in the barracks.”

Leonard Berney, who now lectures on the Holocaust, is determined to ensure this dark period in history is never forgotten.

“In the last few years I have become aware that there were people in the UK and elsewhere who deny that the Holocaust ever happened; they assert it is all a lie. It was not a lie. I know what Nazism did: I was there!”

  • “Liberating Belsen Concentration Camp” by former Lieutenant-Colonel Leonard Berney, published by the author, costs £10.50.