HUNDREDS of people gathered to remember the horrors of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and pay tribute to its liberators.

Durham Cathedral was near-packed as stars Dame Esther Rantzen and Kevin Whately joined musicians, singers, veterans and children in marking the 70th anniversary of the Nazi camp being freed by Allied forces including the Durham Light Infantry (DLI).

InterOpera’s Darkness to Light on Saturday evening featured classical music and first-hand accounts of the inhumanity which claimed the lives of around 70,000 people.

Dame Esther read from the account of her godmother Jane E Leverson, a Jew who joined the Quaker relief effort and was among the first civilians into Belsen, on April 21, 1945.

It was impossible to tell whether the survivors were men or women, she said, they were “skeleton-like” people.

Mr Whately, best known for playing Nev in Auf Wiedersehen Pet and Lewis in Inspector Morse and Lewis, read of the plan for the camp, the conditions within and from anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemoller’s moving ‘First they came for the Communists’.

Lilian Black read the words of her father Eugene, a Hungarian survivor of Belsen, who was sadly unable to attend due to ill health.

He and his fellow prisoners as being just skin and bone when liberated, he said, “no longer human beings”.

He paid tribute to the British soldiers, saying they did “everything”.

“If they hadn’t arrived, we would have all been dead,” he surmised.

There was a parade of DLI veterans, followed by primary school pupils carrying the names of child victims of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Mark Solomon sang a Jewish memorial prayer and, with Darlington Youth Choir, a mourner’s prayer.

Stunning performances were given by soprano Penelope Randall-Davis, tenor James Edwards, the Apollo Male Voice Choir, the Reg Vardy Ensemble and others, with conductor Alistair Dawes leading it all.

Perhaps most touching was the show opening. In darkness, the sounds of Jews being transported to Belsen echoed around the 900-year-old cathedral and a young child could be heard coughing – and crying.

Canon Rosalind Brown, from the cathedral, described Belsen as one of the most harrowing chapters of the Second World War, a horror “beyond imagining”.

Audience members made charitable donations of shoes, a reminder of the mountain of children’s shoes found at Belsen; their owners having died at the camp.

But the title of the evening was Darkness to Light and there was some hope to be found.

Mr Black, who married an English girl and moved to Northumberland in 1949, said: “I will be forever in the debt of the British Army who saved me.”

And Dame Esther, reflecting on the evening, said: “This was the most extraordinary way of marking the passing from darkness to light in this wonderful cathedral.

“It was so moving. When the veterans walked past with the children, I was reduced to tears. It was so moving and inspiring.

“If there was ever a way of bringing home the message that this must not happen again, this was it – a perfect way for us all to share in the experience and the aspiration.”