Bergen-Belsen 1945 A Medical Student’s Journal (2013) (PDF) Michael John Hargrave



Basic Information:

  • Year: 2013
  • Page Number: 150
  • File Type: PDF
  • File Size: 45.66 MB
  • Authors/ Editiors: Michael John Hargrave


Between 1941 and 1945 as many as 70,000 inmates died at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in northwestern Germany. The exact number will never be known. A large number of these deaths were caused by malnutrition and disease, mainly typhus, shortly before and after liberation. It was at this time, in April of 1945, that Michael Hargrave answered a notice at the Westminster Hospital Medical School for ‘volunteers’. On the day of his departure the 21-year-old learned that he was being sent to Bergen-Belsen, liberated only two weeks before. This firsthand account, a diary written for his mother, details Michael’s month-long experience at the camp. He compassionately relates the horrendous living conditions suffered by the prisoners, describing the sickness and disease he encountered and his desperate, often fruitless, struggle to save as many lives as possible. Amidst immeasurable horrors, his descriptions of the banalities of everyday life and diagrams of the camp’s layout take on a new poignancy, while anatomic line drawings detail the medical conditions and his efforts to treat them. Original newspaper cuttings and photographs of the camp, many previously unpublished, add a further layer of texture to the endeavors of an inexperienced medical student faced with extreme human suffering.

User’s Review:

Truly moving, the story of the 22 medical students from Kings College London who volunteered to give assistance in Holland at the end of WW2. However they weren’t told they weren’t going to Holland they were going to Bergen Belsen to “Clean Up”. They had to pull out the bodies from the camp they thought they could feed and leave the others to die. They set up makeshift hospitals and cleaning systems as TB was rife. The real motive of,the Germans in asking for this assistance was not to save lives but to prevent TB spreading to the rest of Germany and preventing postwar reconstruction. One never recovers from a task like that, especially as they had no preparation for this and were very traumatised. Field Marshall Montgomery commended them publicly for professionalism and team work and they were awarded medals. Fascinating photos and an important story. Well done Dr Hargrove for keeping this diary.

My grandfather was one of the medical students sent to Belsen so I found this fascinating and was thrilled to spot him in one of the group photos. He wouldn’t talk of his experience as found it too harrowing so this has helped me understand some of what he saw and went through.


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