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April 24: Hadassah Bimko, Witness and Life-Saver

April 24, 2013

Rosensaft-HadassahOne week after the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, on this date in 1945, British Movietone News arrived at the camp to film evidence of the Nazis' crimes. Dr. Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft (1912-1997), a dental surgeon who spent twenty months at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen and saved hundreds of lives at both camps, spoke to the camera in fluent German and became one of the world's first public witnesses to the Holocaust. Bimko lost her husband, child, parents, and sister at Auschwitz, but endured thanks to her medical training: Nazi doctor Joseph Mengele assigned her to the Jewish infirmary at Birkenau, where her interventions saved scores from the gas chambers. At Bergen-Belsen, a slave-labor and POW camp, she had established a kinderheim (children's home) with several nurses, which housed 150 ranging from infants to teenagers during the bitter winter from December 1944 until their liberation on April 15th, 1945. All but one of the children survived. Bimko worked alongside the British military to try to save the lives of thousands of critically ill survivors (14,000 of 58,000 survivors died after the camp's liberation) and became a leader of the Jewish Displaced Persons Camp at Bergen-Belsen, where she married and lived for five years after the war. In September 1945, she was a principal witnesses for the prosecution at the first trial of Nazi war criminals by a British tribunal in Lüneburg, Germany. Between 1978 and 1994, she played a key role in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

"For the greater part of the liberated Jews of Bergen-Belsen, there was no ecstasy, no joy at our liberation. We had lost our families, our homes. We had no place to go, nobody to hug. Nobody was waiting for us anywhere. We had been liberated from the fear of death, but we were not free from the fear of life.” —Hadassah Bimko Rosensaft, 1981