‘Uninterested in anything except food’: the work of nurses feeding the liberated inmates of Bergen-Belsen


  • Jane Brooks

    1. Author: Jane Brooks, RN, PhD, Lecturer, UK Centre for the History of Nursing and Midwifery, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
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Jane Brooks, Lecturer, School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, Jean McFarlane Building, University Place, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL, UK. Telephone: +44 0161 306 7636; +44 0777 160 6226.


Aims and objectives.  The aim of this article is to explore the work of nurses feeding and helping liberate the inmates of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in the spring of 1945.

Background.  A considerable amount has been published on the relief of Belsen, but the majority of the research has focused on the medical staff and the army in general. The exception to this is an article published by Ellen Ben-Sefer, but its analysis of the actual work of the nurses is limited.

Design.  The data are explored through the medium of nurses' work, especially feeding work and its place in the historiography.

Methods.  This article will offer an analysis of archival material, including official reports and personal testimony and published primary sources.

Results.  Nurses were very much hidden from the liberation picture, partly through government policy, partly because of gendered ideologies and partly because of the desire of many to hide their memories. However, the data identify the pivotal role of nurses in the saving of lives and rehabilitation of inmates. This article demonstrates this role through the work of feeding.

Conclusion.  The nurses had to continually negotiate and renegotiate their place in the liberation. As women, their place at Belsen was problematic and often thwarted by the ideologies of the day. Nevertheless, the services of registered nurses during the war had proved indispensible. The Allied governments and Royal Army Medical Corps were ultimately to rely on their professional expertise. The nurses’ work in the feeding of starving inmates demonstrates their value.

Relevance to clinical practice.  This article demonstrates the importance of nurses’ feeding work and their role in the caring of people’s humanity.