One of the few British-Jewish soldiers who liberated Nazi concentration camps at the end of World War Two has died, aged 96.
Bernard Maurice Levy was a 19-year-old corporal when he entered Bergen Belsen in northern Germany in April 1945. He had a key role in the relief operation, spraying survivors with disinfectant as they were moved out of the camp.
Overcrowding, starvation and poor sanitary conditions meant typhus, dysentery and other diseases were common throughout the camp where more than 50,000 people, including Anne Frank and her sister Margot, perished between 1941 and 1945. The British army cared for more than 60,000 survivors on arrival and had to bury approximately 13,000 corpses.
Bernard was also responsible for processing Germans suspected of war crimes, sending some back to their families and others to face the consequences of their crimes against humanity at the Luneberg Trials in 1945 (also know as the Belsen Trials), which he attended as a scribe. He once memorably described a truck load of Nazi camp guards who were being taken for execution as looking “a bit glum”.
After the war Bernard returned to his home town of Hull where worked for his father’s menswear company.
Speaking in 2015, when he returned to Bergen Belsen to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation in the company of the Queen, Bernard recalled: “There was barbed wire everywhere. Chaos and bodies. They looked like skeletons. There were great white clouds of DDT (disinfectant), because everybody coming out was being deloused, so my greatest memory is standing there, doing what we can.”
He added: “I think the initial shock was so enormous that I blocked it out. I’m glad I’m returned because, if you like, it’s the last time I’ll be here. I just feel like I’ve come to say goodbye to all that, and I hope that they all rest in peace.”
Bernard’s niece Lynda Seymour told Jewish News: “Bernard was an especially kind and caring man, to all who knew him. He was unique, modest and well loved.”
Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, told Jewish News: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Bernard Levy. Following the liberation of Belsen by the British army, sorting the living from the dead became Bernard’s responsibility. The experience stayed with him and he didn’t speak about the horrors he saw for 70 years.
“In April 2015, he joined Her Majesty the Queen to mark the 70th anniversary of liberation at the site of the former camp. Bernard was gentle, kind and unassuming. He was a true gentleman who never wanted the appreciation he deserved. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. May his memory be a blessing.”
• A full tribute to Bernard Levy will be published in next week’s Jewish News.
Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.
Unlike other Jewish media, we do not charge for content. That won’t change. Because we are free, we rely on advertising to cover our costs. This vital lifeline, which has dropped in recent years, has fallen further due to coronavirus.
For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.
Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.
You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.
100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...
Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.
There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.
In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.
Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.
In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.
Voice of our community to wider society
The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.
We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.