British Columbia

Holocaust survivor shares nightmares of Bergen-Belsen, 70 years on

It's 70 years since Dr. Peter Gary was freed from Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, but he is still haunted by the atrocities he witnessed as a prisoner there.

Dr. Peter Gary spent 3 years as a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp, where more than 50,000 people died

This file photo from April 1945 shows some of the concentration camp inmates liberated from Bergen-Belsen by the British. They were suffering from typhus, starvation and dysentery. (Associated Press)

It's 70 years since Dr. Peter Gary was freed from Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, but he is still haunted by the atrocities he witnessed during three years as a prisoner there.

"I have my nightmares, at least once every four weeks and it's always the children," said Gary, who shared his experiences of the Holocaust with the B.C. Legislature on Thursday.

Now living in Victoria, Gary remembers British Forces arriving on April 15, 1945 — the same day as his 21st birthday —only to find 60,000 half-starved prisoners inside, and 13,000 unburied bodies.

"We shall not forget....This was a terrible blot on western civilization. Not in medieval times, not in the times of the inquisition, but in the 20th century... that this could happen — systematically taking people from all countries."

'This way I defeated Hitler'

Since moving to Vancouver Island, Gary has founded the Victoria Holocaust Remembrance and Education Society and shared his story of life during the Holocaust with thousands of students. 

During the 1970s, he even wrote an oratorio he called 'A 20th Century Passion' to honour the innocent children murdered in Nazi concentration camps.

Gary says many people questioned why he was writing about the Holocaust, concerned it may be too difficult a topic to broach.

"People asked me while I was writing it, 'Aren't you afraid you may vulgarise it?' I said, 'My God, after three years, it is mine. Why would I vulgarise it?'"

Gary's musical composition has never been performed due to costs and logistics, but there is a small group in Victoria trying to raise $50,000 for a live performance.

He says he's still writing new music and for him, it symbolizes his triumph over a tragic past.

"This way I defeated Hitler. Those that still live it, unfortunately too many of the few that are still alive, they have lost to Hitler. Hitler may have gotten my body...but never my spirit."


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