A World War II veteran who was one of the first Allied soldiers to enter the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp at its liberation, and likely one of the last still living, died on May 4 at the age of 95.
According to The Daily Mail, British veteran John Gardiner saw heavy combat during the battle for Europe, as made he made his way from Normandy to the heart of Germany.
Of the D-Day landings, the Birmingham Mail reported that he said during an interview three years ago, “I didn’t know what I was going to see when I got there. When we arrived, there were lots of bodies in the sea. I had never seen anything like that before.”
In April 1945, he and an officer found themselves at the gates of Bergen-Belsen.
Gardiner’s daughter Terina Worrall said the gates were opened for them by an emaciated prisoner who then showed them the horrors of the camp.
“At Belsen he found the camp all but empty of people apart from a German/Jewish guy who spoke a little English,” she recalled.
“He showed him around and one can only imagine how traumatic it must have been to find bodies in a pit with lime spread over them,” she added.
The experience, Worrall said, along with witnessing the death of his best friend in combat, led her father to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in later life.
“Today I would say his experiences left him with PTSD, but like so many of that era they just got on with it,” she said.
What Gardiner saw at Belsen, she stated, “contributed to his quiet demeanor.”
As a person, Worrell said, he was “a quiet, gentle, kind, generous, and helpful gentleman.”
“He was always happy to help others,” she noted, saying he sent money to his deceased best friend’s family for years.
She described her father as “a very humble person with a quiet humor.”
“He enjoyed gardening and had a collection of tortoises in the garden too,” Worrell said.
Gardiner received the Legion d’honneur from France in 2017 for his actions during the war.
Bergen-Belsen was the first large concentration camp liberated by Allied forces. It is believed approximately 50,000 people died there of starvation and disease, including the famous teenage diarist Anne Frank.
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