I am amazed and equally appalled that so little is known about this awful event which took place only a few days before Hitler’s suicide, and less than a month before the end of WWII in Europe. Maybe that is why it is only a footnote in history.
Prisoners, 2,862 Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Dutch, and French nationals, from the Salzgitter-Drütte and Salzgitter-Bad satellite camps of the Neuengamme concentration camp were loaded onto goods cars on 7 April 1945 and transported north. This transport had joined others the day before, making the total count around 3,420 men and women.
At the goods station in Celle on the night of 8 April 1945, the train carrying 3,420 prisoners was hit by American bombs. Several hundred prisoners died from the resulting explosion of a nearby munitions train and because they were unable to leave the train cars in which they had been locked.
Those who were able to escape from the train were hunted down by the SS, the police, members of the Wehrmacht and the Volkssturm, the local Hitler Youth and some residents of Celle. 200 to 300 prisoners were shot or beaten to death.
The prisoners who were caught and survived were detained on the spot near the Neustadt wood. Some 30 persons were executed on suspicion of looting. Most of the surviving prisoners were marched to Bergen-Belsen, while others were detained at the army’s Heide barracks. Of the approximately 3,420 prisoners who had been in Celle on 8 April only 487 survivors reached Bergen-Belsen on the morning of 10 April — the same day British forces entered Celle. Some prisoners may have been shot on the 25 km march to the camp, some died at Heidekaserne military barracks nearby, left to die with no food, water or medication. They were discovered by 15th Infantry Division, British 2nd Army, on 10 April.
Bergen Belsen was liberated on April 15,1945.
Only 14 military and police personnel and political leaders were tried in the Celle Massacre Trial, which began in December 1947. Seven were acquitted of murder or accessory to murder because of insufficient evidence, whereas four were found guilty as perpetrators and sentenced to between four and ten years in prison. In addition, three were sentenced to death. One of the death sentences was overturned on appeal and the other two were reduced to 15–20 years’ imprisonment as part of a clemency issued by the British military governor. All those imprisoned were released by October 1952 for good behaviour.
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