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Introductory remarks at the screening of the film
“The Relief of Belsen”
2 May 2011, United Nations Headquarters


Delivered by Sir Mark Lyall Grant, UK Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the United Nations

Thank you for your very kind invitation to this event to mark the anniversary of the liberation of Bergen Belsen concentration camp.  I am honoured to be here on behalf of the UK government. And I am particularly honoured, and humbled, to be here in the presence of some of the brave survivors of that horrific place.  We shall never forget what you endured.

Screening “The Relief of Belsen” is a most appropriate way of marking the anniversary.  Films such as this help us to appreciate the tragic stories of people who experienced the Holocaust, and remind us of the need to prevent such genocides in future.

In the UK in the immediate aftermath of 1945, before the full horrors of Auschwitz had come to wider public attention, the name "Belsen" became synonymous with Nazi horrors in general.  When the camp was liberated on April 15, 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division, 60,000 prisoners were found inside, most of them seriously ill, and another 13,000 corpses lay around the camp, unburied.  The scenes greeting British troops were described by an accompanying BBC correspondent, Richard Dimbleby as follows:

“...Here over an acre of ground lay dead and dying people. You could not see which was which... The living lay with their heads against the corpses and around them moved the awful, ghostly procession of emaciated, aimless people, with nothing to do and with no hope of life, unable to move out of your way, unable to look at the terrible sights around them ... Babies had been born here, tiny wizened things that could not live ... A mother, driven mad, screamed at a British sentry to give her milk for her child, and thrust the tiny baby into his arms, then ran off, crying terribly. He opened the bundle and found the baby had been dead for several days.  This day at Belsen was the most horrible of my life”.

Of course, the liberation of Belsen was not the end of the story.   While it was catastrophic in humanitarian terms, it was also inspiring, as international teams of medical professionals set up, in almost impossibly challenging circumstances, the largest hospital in Europe.

I don’t want to spoil the film, however.  The film “The Relief of Belsen” and the book upon which it is based, "After Daybreak: The Liberation of Bergen Belsen, 1945" are part of a body of literature and films that ensure that the lives of all who were murdered in the Holocaust are never forgotten.  I know that the film is very well regarded and I am looking forward to seeing it.

Finally, I’d like to say a little about the role that the United Kingdom plays in promoting Holocaust education, remembrance and research, and in raising public awareness of the continuing relevance of the lessons and legacy of that terrible moment in European history.

As a signatory to the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust of January 2000, the United Kingdom recognises that the Holocaust fundamentally challenged the foundations of civilisation.

We have backed up that with action.  In June last year, my government appointed Sir Andrew Burns as the United Kingdom Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues.   The government’s work in this area includes:

  • driving forward implementation of the Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets;
  • resolving outstanding issues related to property and art restitution;
  • participation in the vital work of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research;
  • ensuring the accessibility and preservation of the Bad Arolsen archival record of the Nazi era and its aftermath;
  • and funding programmes for young people and teachers.
But this United Kingdom contribution is just one part of a global effort.  Hundreds of events were held across the world in January as part of Holocaust Memorial Day, and many others are held throughout the year to mark significant anniversaries such as this one.

Thank you very much.