Navigation Links
Bergen-Belsen lessons underline vital role that nurses can play in patient feeding

Nurses can play a key role in feeding people and restoring their humanity in times of great crisis and this was very evident during their little-known involvement in the liberation of Bergen-Belsen at the end of World War Two. That is the key finding of a historical research paper published in the October issue of the Journal of Clinical Nursing.

"Much has been written about the role of the armed forces and medical teams during this distressing time in our history, but the contribution of nurses is rarely mentioned when it comes to the liberation of this concentration camp" says Dr Jane Brooks from the UK Centre for the History of Nursing and Midwifery, part of the University of Manchester's School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work.

"This was partly because of government policy, partly because the liberation was seen as an unsuitable place for women and partly because of the desire of many nurses to hide their memories.

"However, valuable lessons can be learnt about the role of nurses from history and Bergen-Belsen demonstrates that the role of nurses in emergency feeding can be essential for patient care and, in some cases, even more vital for patient survival than medical care."

When the British Army and medical teams entered the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Northern Germany in 1945 they found 40,000 survivors and 10,000 unburied bodies.

Unlike those interned in death camps such as Auschwitz, the Belsen inmates - who included Anne Frank and her sister Margot - died from starvation, disease and despair rather than gas chambers. In the months leading up to the liberation, their typical diet of less than 800 calories a day consisted of 200 grams of rye bread and varying amounts of soup containing mangold-wurzel, a beet vegetable grown mainly for cattle fodder.

Nearly 50,000 people died in Belsen over the course of two months, with 18,000 dying in the two weeks leading up to liberation. By the time the Army arrived they had been without any food or water for seven days.

Over the next six weeks, the British Army, Red Cross, St John Ambulance and Society of Friends remained in the camp, saving those they could, burying the dead and ultimately burning the camp.

The emergency medical teams included nursing sisters from the British Army's Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service and its Reservists, as well as nurses from Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Tragically, initial attempts to feed the starving inmates resulted in a further 2,000 deaths as they were unable to cope with the rich food they were given. Special diets were ordered, but these took days to arrive.

Gastric and nasal tubes required more supervision than was possible with the limited numbers of medical staff and it was soon noted that medical skills were of secondary importance and the most important resource requirement was nurses. This cast real doubt on the decision to send medical students in preference to nurses.

The nurses also had to cope with the psychological fears of the patients when it came to injections and intravenous and intra-nasal fluids. It is thought that many identified these methods with experiments carried out by Nazi doctors and were terrified of such interventions.

Despite the many challenges the nurses faced, they patiently fed the former inmates to the best of their abilities and with the resources available, despite the fact that they knew that many would die.

This was a huge task as there were 150 patients to each nursing sister, speaking many unfamiliar languages. Hoarding of food was common as the patients were terrified of hunger and this led to fights, vermin risks and infections.

Some patients were angry with the care they received as they did not understand that providing large rations straight away could kill them. And their physical condition, including severe mouth ulcers that often created holes in their cheeks, made feeding very hard.

"The range of the problems that the nursing sisters were required to overcome to ensure adequate feeding of their patients was unprecedented" says Dr Brooks. "It was not just the physical aspects of feeding the patients that the nurses needed to focus on. They clearly required substantial skills, patience and a well-developed understanding of the human condition.

"Liberating the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp was an unimaginable task for all concerned. The work of the nurses was vital, not only in saving the physical lives of the inmates, but also in restoring their humanity. Despite this, little credit has been given to these women.

"I hope that my research will encourage nurses in clinical practice to take ownership of the vital role of feeding and that patient nutrition will improve as its worth is acknowledged.

"However, they can not do it alone. During times of restricted resources, such as the global downturn, this is more of a challenge than ever. But it is clearly an essential part of the nursing role and it is vital that those who manage nursing resources realise its importance."


Contact: Annette Whibley

Related biology news :

1. Woolly mammoth extinction has lessons for modern climate change
2. Climate and drought lessons from ancient Egypt
3. Lessons from Bangladesh
4. Biodiversity conservation depends on scale: Lessons from the sience-policy dialogue
5. Biodiversity conservation depends on scale: Lessons from the science-policy dialogue
6. EU-funded study underlines importance of Congo Basin for global climate and biodiversity
7. Computing advances vital to sustainability efforts; new report recommends problem-focused, iterative approach to research
8. University of Alberta medical scientists first in the world to look at structure of vital molecule
9. Reproductive health providers should discuss environmental exposure risks with patients
10. Low-calorie diet may be harmful for bowel disease patients
11. Cell therapy using patients own bone marrow may present option for heart disease
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/12/2015)... LONDON , Nov. 11, 2015   ... and reliable analytical tools has been paving the ... and qualitative determination of discrete analytes in clinical, ... sensors are being predominantly used in medical applications, ... and environmental sectors due to continuous emphasis on ...
(Date:11/9/2015)... , Nov. 09, 2015 ... addition of the "Global Law Enforcement ... offering. --> ) has ... Law Enforcement Biometrics Market 2015-2019" report ... and Markets ( ) has announced ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... , Oct. 29, 2015   MedNet Solutions , ... entire spectrum of clinical research, is pleased to announce ... Tech Association (MHTA) as one of only three finalists ... "Software – Small and Growing" category. The Tekne Awards honor ... have shown superior technology innovation and leadership. ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/24/2015)... QUEBEC CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - ... the request of IIROC on behalf of the Toronto ... this news release there are no corporate developments that ... price. --> --> ... --> . --> Aeterna Zentaris ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... The Academy of Model Aeronautics ... (SIG), MultiGP, also known as Multirotor Grand Prix, to represent the First–Person View (FPV) ... Many AMA members have embraced this type of racing and several new model aviation ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... CITY , Nov. 24, 2015 /PRNewswire/ - ... "Company") announced today that the remaining 11,000 post-share ... Share Purchase Warrants (the "Series B Warrants") subject ... were exercised on November 23, 2015, which will ... Shares.  After giving effect to the issuance of ...
(Date:11/24/2015)... ... November 24, 2015 , ... Creation Technologies would like ... to Deloitte's 2015 Technology Fast 500 list of the fastest growing companies in ... Class II medical device that speeds up orthodontic tooth movement by as much ...
Breaking Biology Technology: