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15 October 2014
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First woman into liberated Belsen?

by reigatedavidthomas

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People in story: 
Senior Sister Russell
Location of story: 
Belsen concentration Camp
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 October 2005

Sen Sister Russell on the occasion of my brother's wedding 1946. Notice her decorations

Sister Russell was a friend to my mother since before the 1st World war. During WW2 she became the Sister in charge of the medical facilities with Montgomery's HQ. She was with him during the African campaign and spoke very highly of him.
I visited her at her home in Leamington Spa during the winter of 1945(?). She told how she was the first woman into the camp when it was liberated by Monty's troops. She said how she was approached by the camp orderlies who pleaded with her to give the inmates a decent meal. She refused and told the orderlies that they would have milk diluted withwater until they were fit enough to take more substantial food. She seemed very proud of the fact almost all of the inmates in her charge recovered.
She wouls say almost nothing about the conditions she found but in the corner of her room she had a beutifully made lamp shade made of human skin. When she turned on the light you could see the tatoo number. She mentioned a purse also made of human skin but I cannot be sure she showed that to me. She felt that this object said it all. It occurred to me just recently the hope that the skin was taken from a dead body.
I was 15 at the time and thinking to myself, this was what the war was about- the complete dehumanising of human beings.

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Message 1 - First woman into liberated Belsen?

Posted on: 13 October 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Dear reigatedavidthomas

You say that your aunt was possibly the first woman to enter Belsen and that "in the corner of her room she had a beutifully made lamp shade made of human skin. When she turned on the light you could see the tatoo number. She mentioned a purse also made of human skin but I cannot be sure she showed that to me".

Why did she have these gruesome items? Why did she want them, and more importantly, how did she get them? Certainly not at Belsen.

A lampshade, book covers, and gloves made of human tattooed skin were made in Buchenwald (not Belsen). They were collected by Ilse Koch the sadistic wife of Karl Koch, the Camp Commandant. Poles who had the most decorative tattoos were killed by injection by Karl Beigs, one of the Kapos. The corpse was then handed over to the pathological department where the skin was removed and treated.

Buchenwald was liberated by the American 80th Division on 10 April 1945, not by the British forces.



Message 2 - First woman into liberated Belsen?

Posted on: 23 October 2005 by reigatedavidthomas

Dear Peter,
Sister Russell was not my aunt only a great family friend who my mother got to know during the Ist World War.
I can only report on what she had told me and showed me. She was a very tough character but she would not tell me about what she saw except about how she treated the inmates given to her care. I assumed she obtained the lampshade at Belsen but I was only 15-16 and I did not think to question her closely about her reasons for having the item. Nevertheless the object was there in her house and it made a much greater impression on me than any verbal description which I might not have believed. There was not sense of showing off of the object, just, there it is!
Later I got to know a Dutch family well who looked after my brother's grave at Arnhem.(He was with the Border regiment and was killed three days into the battle).The family told me of their experinces in a Japanese civilian war camp and this only confirmed the terrible inhumanity which occurs in war.

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