May 1945, Bergen Belsen and an image of Vermeer-like beauty by Sergeant Charles H Hewitt

Richard Maddox

LIGHT TRICKLES INTO A BUILDING AT BERGEN-BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP in northern Germany.

It gently falls on a group of women and children preparing to bathe and then – to underline the fact that this is not a painting by Johannes Vermeer or Caravaggio or William Russell Flint – it picks out the stripes of their prison camp uniforms.

A soldier stands almost hidden in the shadows.

AT BERGEN-BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP a group of women and children prepare to bathe. Image by Sergeant Charles Hewitt. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference BU 5460. Original source http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205215297

AT BERGEN-BELSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP a group of women and children prepare to bathe. Image by Sergeant Charles Hewitt. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference BU 5460. Original source http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205215297

He is not watching them. He is guarding them.

His eyes are on the photographer Sergeant Charles H Hewitt from the British Army’s No.5 Army Film and Photographic Unit.

And now 75 years later that same soldier seems to watch us.

The camp had been liberated on 15 April by troops of the British Second Army.

They found some 60,000 prisoners suffering from starvation, typhus, typhoid and dysentry. Huts with a capacity for thirty individuals held as many as 500. Unburied dead littered the huge camp and hundreds were dying each day. (1)

A BRITISH SOLDIER STANDS IN FRONT OF A SIGN erected at the entrance to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany, 29 May 1945 by Britsh military forces. A similar sign in German was also erected. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference BU 6955. Image by Sergeant Charles H Hewitt, No.5 AFPU, British Army. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196979.

A BRITISH SOLDIER STANDS IN FRONT OF A SIGN erected at the entrance to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany, 29 May 1945 by Britsh military forces. A similar sign in German was also erected. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference BU 6955. Image by Sergeant Charles H Hewitt, No.5 AFPU, British Army. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205196979.

In an effort to control infection the liberators burnt much of the camp. (2)

For many of the prisoners this will be a familiar routine with just the language and the uniforms of the soldiers being different.

For some it will be the start of a journey that will see them travel across continent, struggle with almost unbelievable loss as they regain the Nazi regime tried to take from them.

And perhaps for at least a few of those pictured above this day in May 1945 will have felt a little different and a little hope will have warmed them together with the sunshine.

After the war Charles Hewitt worked for Picture Post – a British magazine specialising in photojournalism. When Picture Post folded in 1957 Hewitt found employment with the BBC contributing to its current affairs television programmes. (3)

He died in 1987 aged 72.

In May 2019 some three hundred of his photographs owned by his daughter were sold by an English auction house. (4)

Sources

(1) https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205229738 – retrieved 7 July 2019

(2) https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/the-liberation-of-bergen-belsen – retrieved 7 July 2019

(3) https://antique-collecting.co.uk/2019/05/10/rare-photos-capture-hidden-london – retrieved 7 July 2019

(4) https://www.mutualart.com/Artist/C–H–Hewitt/98329D97A6B936A0/AuctionResults?Type=Sold_Unsold – retrieved 7 July 2019-

 

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