Objective The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) has justly regarded its relief of the appalling conditions found in the liberated Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen in April 1945 as one of its more glorious achievements. This view has, in the last decade, come under attack from historians who have, inter alia, criticised the nature and speed of the medical measures employed by the British. This has focused particularly on the management of the typhus epidemic, erroneously claimed to be the major disease killer of the survivors, and which was the catalyst for the premature German surrender of the camp to the approaching Allies about 3 weeks before the end of the war. This review examines the veracity of this statement and the nature of the evidence on which it was based.
Methods Review of all the relevant extant primary source written evidence both published and archived in major collections in London, Washington and Belsen, in addition to the relevant subsequent secondary evidence.
Results Disprove the ill-considered and scientifically flawed attempts to discredit the RAMC and demonstrate that the RAMC can be shown to have made the correct prioritising decisions in relieving starvation as well as in implementing the appropriate public health anti-typhus measures and to have acquitted itself honourably.
Discussion Underlines the pitfalls of basing sweeping conclusions on an imperfectly understood inadequate selection of the available evidence.
- MEDICAL HISTORY
- PUBLIC HEALTH
- INFECTIOUS DISEASES
- Received February 3, 2015.
- Revision received March 5, 2015.
- Accepted March 8, 2015.
- Published by the BMJ Publishing Group Limited. For permission to use (where not already granted under a licence) please go to http://group.bmj.com/group/rights-licensing/permissions
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