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On Holocaust Remembrance Day: 'The Children of Belsen'

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U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
A flame burns at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

In April 1945, a 15-year-old Dutch-Jewish girl, Hetty Werkendam, was interviewed by the BBC in the Nazi concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen shortly after its liberation by the British.

For this BBC World Service program, reporter Mike Lanchin travels to the site of Bergen-Belsen in Germany with the now 89-year-old Hetty — now with her married name Verolme — and her daughter and grandson. It is probably the last time she will make the trip.

Listening back to the original 1945 recordings of her teenage self, Hetty vividly recalls the deprivations of the camp, and of seeing the dead bodies piling up outside the children's barracks. But she says, "The past doesn't help you. It has happened. And you must live on." 

She also recalls the joy of liberation when she joined the other children singing for the British troops, special moments that were also recorded by the BBC.

"It is not a sad story I am telling you," Hetty said on her return visit to Belsen. "It is the story of experience, and plenty of hope and courage — because once you give up hope, that you wouldn't make it, you were dead within two days."

Her parting words in this documentary are "I'm sometimes surprised that young people don't know what the Holocaust is. And you have to explain it to them. And I do that. I go to many schools. But when I'm not there anymore, I hope that somebody will — like you — will remind the world that it did happen. It did happen." 

Hetty Verolme is the author of two books, "Hetty: A True Story," and "The Children's House of Belsen." She grew up in Amsterdam and now lives in Australia.