My grandfather and the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp

Rev E O Sutton (on the left) – 11th Armoured Divison

I don’t usually share this kind of story, but it’s a special occasion today – it’s the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

My grandfather Edwin Oliver Sutton was born in Hankow, China (a district of Wuhan) in 1902. He was a Methodist minister and served as a chaplain in the British Army in the second world war. He joined the newly formed 11th Armoured Division – known as the ‘Black Bull’ – under Field Marshal Montgomery, and he was one of the first Allied soldiers to participate in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp 75 years ago today. Apparently, one of his main tasks was assisting with burying the bodies and helping to mark the graves of those who died in that camp.

I didn’t know him very well, but I do know that he didn’t like to talk about what he saw. Of course, I’m very proud that his role has been featured by the Holocaust Education Trust as part of its ‘Belsen 75th Anniversary’.

In some ways, his life connects various aspects of mine – including Germany (I studied German law in Saarbruecken as part of a European law degree, worked in Hamburg before completing my legal training, and have very much enjoyed working with German-speaking clients) and China (my wife Xiaofang and I met 10 years ago, and I’m privileged to have spent time with her family in Henan province).

To bring this story back to the present day: one of the things which makes our current experience of coronavirus totally different to outbreaks of disease and other forms of suffering in previous ages is our ability to communicate with each other in real time. It feels more important than ever to use that power of communication to honour the sacrifices made by those who are protecting us, to tell the truth about what’s happening, and to treat each other with compassion.

 

Many thanks to my cousin Anne Buckland for sharing this family story on her blog.