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New Center for Reflection Planned for Bergen-belsen

Plans are being finalized for a non-denominational sanctuary space to be built on the grounds of the former Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The building, called the House of Quiet, will serve as a site where visitors to the camp memorial site can retreat for private reflection, according to Rolf Wernstedt, president of the state Parliament of Lower Saxony.

The planned center will augment an exhibition space built after World War II on the former concentration camp grounds. After it liberated the camp in March 1945, the British army destroyed the buildings on the site, to reduce the spread of infectious diseases rampant among prisoners due to the lack of food, clothes and hygienic facilities.

An estimated 100,000 prisoners died at Bergen-Belsen, including 50,000 Soviet prisoners of war. Some 50,000 people, including Jews and political prisoners, died from hunger and disease before and shortly after the camp was liberated by the British army.

Anne Frank, whose diaries later became one of the best-read documents on the Holocaust, died at the camp several weeks before its liberation.

In 1987, then Israeli President Chaim Herzog, who helped liberate Bergen-Belsen as a member of the British army, dedicated a monument on the grounds in memory of the Jewish prisoners. The inscription from Psalms, “My sorrow is continually before me,” is engraved in three languages on the memorial, whose stone came from the Jerusalem hills.

There has been discussion since the mid-1990s of erecting a building in Bergen- Belsen for silent reflection and prayer, according to Wernstedt. He says local Christian and Jewish leaders support the idea.

Several artists have been asked to submit designs for the planned sanctuary space.

Wernstedt expects the project to be finalized by early next year. He hopes the building will be finished by the summer of 2000, when a large increase in visitors to Bergen-Belsen is expected as a result of Expo 2000, the international fair that will be held in the nearby city of Hanover.

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