Observations on the outbreak of louse-borne typhus fever at Belsen Concentratrion Camp, April, 1945
Peterkin, Douglas Brock
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The difficulties of finding original material in general practice on which to write a Thesis made the author review his Service experience and choose the aforementioned subject. Whilst serving with the 11th Light Field Ambulance the author had the dubious privilege of working in the huts of Belsen Camp from the day of liberation onwards until the last hut was burned down by the British after complete evacuation of the camp. Few people who worked there can at any time have seen a greater wealth of clinical material. The death rate whilst evacuation was proceeding between April 20th, 1945 and May 17th, 1945, numbered some thirteen thousand in Camp 1 alone. In perusing the small amount of literature existing on the subject it is surprising that no real intensive clinical investigations seem to have been carried out at the Camp. The reasons for this are not far to seek. The magnitude of the problem which existed and smallness of resources of the liberating forces in men and material made the problem largely an administrative one of extreme urgency. Everyone in the area was employed in providing the daily wants of an average community to the internees. Food, water and clothing had to be provided. Some semblance of hygiene and order had to be brought to the Camp and an attempt made to evacuate the seriously ill estimated at some twenty eight thousand in Camp I and three thousand in Camp II. Along with another officer the author was responsible for the collection and evacuation of the sick from Camp I to Casualty Clearing Stations and General Hospitals in the neighbourhood. The appalling conditions of filth and squalor in the camp and a death rate of five hundred a day at the outset made speed in evacuation the prime consideration. Under these circumstances and because of language difficulties it was impossible to carry out a detailed examination of all patients, nor was it possible to keep clinical records. Many cases were examined in detail however end several visits were paid by the author to general hospitals where conditions were considerably more suitable for examination. Naturally no special investigations could be carried out by the author and cases were examined solely by clinical means.