“At Belsen DP Camp there was none of the apathy, none of the hopelessness or feeling they were living on charity, that corrupter of morale, for all they received was only a small part of what was taken from them.” - Simon Bloomberg
“Finally, despite official orders, ‘We are full’, dad refused to close the gates of the Belsen DP Camp to starving refugees and was forced to resign.” – Norah Bloomberg
“Although the camp was officially known as ‘Hohne’ the people refused to call it anything but ‘Belsen’, and all efforts to dissociate it from the horror camp failed.” – Simon Bloomberg
“Dad led an international team handling the many problems at Bergen-Belsen. There were over 10,000 people, mostly the only surviving member of their family. The children didn’t have names, only numbers, and didn’t know which country they belonged to. ” – Norah Bloomberg
“The situation improved with a change of UNRRA directors. Bloomberg had been an officer in the British Colonial Service. He knew the official mind and could talk on equal terms with military and civil authorities. There was soon a different atmosphere at Belsen." – Angelika Konigseder and Juliane Wetzel
“I was sorry to go for many reasons. Although I had no illusions about my importance at Belsen, which would go on as before, I wanted to carry on as I had so many friends who came to discuss their problems, hopes, and dreams.” – Simon Bloomberg
“Belsen DP Camp was so different from the other camps in which I had served. The many activities, mental, physical, recreational and spiritual all bore witness to the urge of the people to fit themselves for the future.” – Simon Bloomberg
MAGAZINE ARTICLE BY AL GIBSON
Belsen – ‘An opportunity to serve my people’
Simon Bloomberg joined UNRRA shortly after the Liberation of Belsen in 1945 as a Field Director. His first year serving the Displaced People of Europe after the War was in France and Germany, working amongst Polish and Ukrainian DPs. However, in 1946 he became the UNRRA Director at Hohne, the DP Camp at Bergen-Belsen.
The original extermination camp had been destroyed and its occupants transferred to Hohne, but they refused to call it anything but Belsen.It was here that about 11,000 Polish DPs were housed along with about the same number of Jewish DPs. Bloomberg was quick to take the post at Belsen as he felt it gave him an opportunity to serve his own people, the Jews.
Shortly after he arrived, the Poles were repatriated and his major work became caring for Jewish Survivors of the Holocaust. The majority wanted to go to their ancient Jewish homeland, ‘Eretz Yisrael’ but were not permitted to do so under the strict British immigration policy. The Camp at Belsen was the only home they knew and it was people like Simon who offered them hope.
Insights into life at Belsen DP Camp
As UNRRA Director of Belsen, Simon worked closely with the Jewish Committee led by Josef Rosensaft, known as ‘Yossel’ and though they often clashed, both men had a healthy respect for each other. Together they had to face many challenges including a mass influx of Jewish refugees fleeing Eastern Europe and the Iron Curtain.
It was during this period that Simon was accepted by the Jewish Committee, first for improving living conditions and secondly for refusing to go along with the official line that Jews from Eastern Europe could not be registered as DPs. Simon did all he could to assist them, allowing them to stay at Belsen where they could be reunited with long lost family members and providing them with the same rations as the other DPs. When the authorities would not allow this, he resigned from UNRRA in protest. His Letter of Resignation explains the appalling conditions these Jews were subjected to. Although this brought Simon’s time at UNRRA to an end, he remained at Belsen as a Field Worker with the Jewish Relief Unit, continuing to serve the Holocaust survivors.
Belsen – ‘Waiting for Hope’
German historians, Angelika Konigseder and Juliane Wetzel wrote about Simon’s contribution to Belsen DP Camp in their book, Waiting For Hope, published by Northwestern University Press:
“The situation improved further with a change of UNRRA directors in the Summer of 1946: on 8 July 1946 Simon Bloomberg replaced Wheatman, Bloomberg had been an officer in the British Colonial Service. He knew the official mind and could talk on equal terms with the military and civil authorities. There was soon a different atmosphere at Belsen. The change was manifested in concrete terms in the distribution of clothes and other goods in quantities previously unseen in the camp. The newly appointed supply officer was soon a very popular person with the camp residents. Bloomberg identified so closely with the Belsen DPs that he resigned his position as UNRRA director of the camp in protest against the authorities refusal to recognise the Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe as displaced persons and grant them rations. However, he continued to serve the interests of the survivors, for he was soon appointed field director for Europe of the Jewish Committee for Relief Abroad.”
It was in Simon’s work with this Jewish Relief Unit that he would deal with the plight of the ‘Exodus Jews’ who were turned back from the shores of Israel. At that time Palestine was still under the British Mandate and many had to wait until Israel became a sovereign nation in May 1948 before they could leave. The ‘Exodus Jews’ had set off from France on the ship, ‘The Exodus’ and were sent back in three different vessels. They refused to disembark in France and were finally forced off these vessels at Hamburg in Germany. Tragically 4,000 of these ‘Exodus Jews’ were put back behind barbed wire in former German concentration camps. Simon was there to assist with the disembarkation and later wrote about the appalling conditions they faced. No matter what they refused to give up and kept their ‘Exodus spirit’. Most would ultimately find their way to Israel, however, this took time and the Belsen DP Camp only closed in 1951.
Life After Belsen – the book
Simon’s two years at Belsen are well documented in his book Life After Belsen where he paints a vivid picture of what DP camp life was like, warts and all. He does not romanticise the people or detract from the harshness of the situation and is sometimes critical, though in a forgiving way. In today’s politically-correct world this seems out of place, but Life After Belsen is often raw, yet life-giving. Perhaps because it includes funny stories about some of the shenanigans that went on, to which he turned a blind eye. Read Simon’s Book, and be inspired by the story of a Jewish boy growing up in the UK, fighting in World War I, overcoming anti-Semitism in the Colonial Office and then, in what seemed to be the fulfilment of his life calling, caring for his people in their hour of greatest need.
The British launch of Life After Belsen took place on 2 November 2017 to commemorate the Balfour Centenary. The global launch of Life After Belsen took place on World Holocaust Day, 27 January 2018.