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Soviets Liberate Auschwitz

Soviets Liberate Auschwitz

On January 27, 1945, Soviet troops enter Auschwitz, Poland, freeing the survivors of the network of concentration camps—and finally revealing to the world the depth of the horrors perpetrated there.

Auschwitz was really a group of camps, designated I, II, and III. There were also 40 smaller “satellite” camps. It was at Auschwitz II, at Birkenau, established in October 1941, that the SS created a complex, monstrously orchestrated killing ground: 300 prison barracks; four “bathhouses” in which prisoners were gassed; corpse cellars; and cremating ovens. Thousands of prisoners were also used for medical experiments overseen and performed by the camp doctor, Josef Mengele, the “Angel of Death.”

Listen to HISTORY This Week Podcast: Episode 4: January 27, 1945 Surviving Auschwitz

The Red Army had been advancing deeper into Poland since mid-January. Having liberated Warsaw and Krakow, Soviet troops headed for Auschwitz. In anticipation of the Soviet arrival, SS officers began a murder spree in the camps, shooting sick prisoners and blowing up crematoria in a desperate attempt to destroy the evidence of their crimes. When the Red Army finally broke through, Soviet soldiers encountered 648 corpses and more than 7,000 starving camp survivors. There were also six storehouses filled with hundreds of thousands of women’s dresses, men's suits and shoes that the Germans did not have time to burn.
















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This Day In History: The Soviets Liberate Auschwitz (1945)

On this day in 1945 the troops of the Red Army entered the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. They immediately freed all the inmates of the notorious concentration camp and saved countless lives by doing so. The majority of the Nazi guards had fled from the camp and had left the prisoners without any food. The Soviet liberation of Auschwitz was an important step in revealing to the world the full horrors of the Holocaust.

Auschwitz was a series of camps. There were three main camps in the complex, surrounded by over two dozen smaller camps. Auschwitz was built at Birkenau in the fall of 1941. Under the orders of Reinhard Heydrich, the SS built a complex for mass murder. At the heart of Auschwitz were several gas chambers that were euphemistically known as bath houses. The prisoners were mainly Jews who were transported by train to the complex. There, they separated into two groups those who were kept as slave laborers, and those who were sent to the gas chambers. It is estimated that up to two million people were killed at Auschwitz.

Female prisoners walk through the snow at Auschwitz after their liberation by Soviet troops. US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Those murdered in the camps were either burned or buried in mass graves. Auschwitz was also used by the Nazis for grisly experiments on human beings. The SS murdered not only Jews at Auschwitz, but also gypsies, political prisoners, and homosexuals. Many of the camp guards were collaborators from the occupied countries of Europe.

The Red Army had been advancing deeper into Poland since 1944 and they had already seized Warsaw. The German Army by this stage was on the verge of collapse and was retreating all over Poland. The SS guards knew that the Soviets would soon take the camp and they decided to eliminate all witnesses. They did not want the world to find out about the mass killings at Auschwitz and other camps. The Germans blew up the gas chambers and the crematoria, where the dead were incinerated. This proved futile, as they left behind more than enough evidence of their policy of mass murder.

The Red Army arrived on January 27 and discovered the bodies of hundreds of prisoners who had been shot by the SS. They also found several thousand survivors, nearly all starving and sick. Soon, news of the atrocities was relayed around the world and eventually, the name Auschwitz became synonymous with evil and genocide.


Day of liberation

Soldiers of the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front opened the gates of Auschwitz Concentration Camp on January 27, 1945. The prisoners greeted them as authentic liberators. It was a paradox of history that soldiers formally representing Stalinist totalitarianism brought freedom to the prisoners of Nazi totalitarianism.

The Red Army obtained detailed information about Auschwitz only after the liberation of Cracow, and was therefore unable to reach the gates of Auschwitz before January 27, 1945.

About 7 thousand prisoners awaited liberation in the Main Camp, Birkenau, and Monowitz. Before and soon after January 27, Soviet soldiers liberated about 500 prisoners in the Auschwitz sub-camps in Stara Kuźnia, Blachownia Śląska, Świętochłowice, Wesoła, Libiąż, Jawiszowice, and Jaworzno.

Over 230 Soviet soldiers, including the commander of the 472nd regiment, Col. Siemen Lvovich Besprozvanny, died in combat while liberating the Main Camp, Birkenau, Monowitz, and the city of Oświęcim. The majority of them are buried at the municipal cemetery in Oświęcim.

In the Main Camp and Birkenau, Soviet soldiers discovered the corpses of about 600 prisoners who had been shot by the withdrawing SS or who had succumbed to exhaustion.


The Soviet liberation of Auschwitz: firsthand memories & photos

Auschwitz prisoners were liberated by four Red Army infantry divisions. The vanguard was composed of fighters from the 107th and 100th divisions. Major Anatoly Shapiro served in the latter division. His shock troops were the first to open the camp's gates. He remembers:

In the second half of the day we entered the camp's territory and walked through the main gate, on which a slogan written with wire hung: "Work sets you free." Going inside the barracks without a gauze bandage was impossible. Corpses lay on the two-story bunk beds. From underneath the bunk beds skeletons that were barely alive would crawl out and swear that they were not Jews. No one could believe they were being liberated.

Soviet Red army soldiers with liberated prisoners of the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, 1945

There were about 7,000 prisoners in the camp at the time. Among them was a prisoner known by the number 74233 (the name has not been established):

Suddenly I saw silhouettes in a white and gray uniform walking on a road near the camp. It was about 17:00. First we thought that they were camp inmates who were returning. I ran out to see who it was. We were so happy to learn that it was the Soviet reconnaissance units. There was no end to the kisses and greetings. We were told to go away. They explained that we couldn't stay there because it still wasn't clear where the enemy was. We took several steps back and then returned.

Soviet Army soldiers chatting to the children just liberated from the Auschwitz concentration camp

Lieutenant General Vasily Petrenko, who in 1945 commanded the 107th infantry division, arrived on the camp's territory soon after Shapiro. In his memoirs Before and After Auschwitz he describes what he saw:

On Jan. 18 the Germans took everyone who could walk with them. The sick and the weak were left behind. The few who could still walk ran away when our army reached the camp. We immediately sent the sanitary units belonging to the 108th, 322nd and my 107th divisions into the camp. The field hospitals opened their washrooms. This was the decree. The field kitchens of these divisions were responsible for feeding the inmates.

Liberated prisoners exit the labor camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1945

Commander Vasily Gromadsky was one of the first to enter the &ldquodeath camp&rdquo:

There was a lock on the gate. I didn't know if it was the main entrance or what. I ordered men to break the lock. There wasn't anyone there. We walked another 200 meters and saw prisoners in striped shirts running towards us, about 300 of them.

We became wary, since we had been warned that the Germans could be in disguise. But they were real prisoners. They were crying, embracing us. They told us that millions of people had been killed there. I can still remember them telling us how the Germans had sent 12 wagons of baby carriages from Auschwitz.

Children behind the wire in the Auschwitz concentration camp

In 1945 Ivan Martynushkin was 21 years old. He was First Lieutenant Commander of the machine-gun unit of the 322nd infantry division. He remembers that up to the last moment he did not understand that he had been sent to liberate a concentration camp:

I came up to the fence with my unit, but it was already dark and we didn&rsquot enter the premises. We just occupied the guardroom outside the camp. I remember that it was very hot there, as if it had been heated.

We even thought that the Germans had prepared a heated place for themselves and then we came along. The following day we started sweeping up. There was an enormous settlement there - Bzhezinka, with impressive brick houses.

And as we went through it the Germans started shooting at us from some building. We hid and communicated with our commander, asking him to shell the building. I thought that if we destroyed it, we could move on. But suddenly the commander says that our artillery can't shell the building because there's a camp here, with people, and that we must avoid any crossfire. Only then did we understand what the fence was for.

Prisoner's of Auschwitz before they were freed by Soviet Army, 1945

Journalists from the 38th army Usher Margulis and Gennady Savin entered the camp after the soldiers. This what they remember:

We entered the brick building and looked inside the rooms. The doors weren't closed. In the first room there was a huge pile of children's clothes: little coats, jackets, sweaters, many of them with bloodstains. In the next room there were boxes filled with dental crowns and golden dentures. In the third room there were boxes with woman's hair. And then a woman [a prisoner &ndash Russia Beyond] brought us to a room filled with boxes with women's bags, lampshades, wallets, purses and other leather items. She said: "All this is made from human skin."

Bags with hair of dead prisoners

After Auschwitz was liberated, a new commandant was appointed to administer the town, Grigory Yelisavetinsky. On Feb. 4, 1945 he wrote to his wife:

There's a children's barrack in the camp. Jewish children of all ages (twins) were taken there. The Germans carried out experiments on them as if they were rabbits. I saw a 14-year-old boy whose veins had been injected with kerosene for some "scientific" purpose.

Then a piece of his body was cut off and sent to a laboratory in Berlin, while it was replaced with another piece of the body. Now he lies in a hospital all covered with deep rotting ulcers and nothing can be done to help him. There's a beautiful girl walking around the camp. She's mad. I'm surprised that not all the people here have gone mad.

Auschwitz prisoners: the first moments after the liberation

Meanwhile, former prisoners that were strong enough to walk left Auschwitz on their own. Number 74233 remembers:

On Feb. 5 we headed for Krakow. On one side of the road there were giant factories built by the prisoners that had died a long time ago from the exhausting work. On the other side was another big camp. We entered it and found some sick people who, like us, were alive only because they had not departed with the Germans on Jan. 18.

Then we continued walking. For a long while we were followed by electric wires on stone pillars. We were very familiar with them. They were symbols of slavery and death. It seemed that we would never leave the camp. Then, finally, we came out and reached the village of Vlosenyusha.

We stayed overnight there and on the following day, Feb. 6, moved on. On the way a car stopped and gave us a ride to Krakow. We are free, but we still don't know how to be happy. We lived through so much and we lost so many people.

Soviet doctors and the Red Cross representatives among the Auschwitz death camp prisoners soon after the camp was liberated

This material is based on documents from the Russian Holocaust Foundation and the following memoirs: "Before and After Auschwitz" by V. Petrenko, "I Survived Auschwitz" by K. Zhivulskaya and "The Black Book" by V. Grossman and I. Ehrenburg.

If using any of Russia Beyond's content, partly or in full, always provide an active hyperlink to the original material.


Samuel Pisar: Liberation From Auschwitz

Sixty-five years ago, to the day, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, while the Americans were approaching Dachau. For a survivor of these two infernos to be still alive and well, with a new and happy family that has resurrected for me the one I had lost seems almost unreal. When I entered Eichmann and Mengele’s gruesome universe at the age of 13, I measured my life expectancy in days, weeks at the most.

In the early winter of 1944, World War II was coming to an end. But we in the camps knew nothing. We were wondering: What is happening in the world outside? Where is God? Where is the pope? Does anyone out there know what is happening here to us? Do they care?

Russia was devastated. England was resisting, her back against the wall. And America? She was so far away, so divided. How could she be expected to save civilization from the seemingly invincible forces of darkness at this late stage? I was almost 16 now and I wanted to live.

Today we, the last living survivors of the greatest catastrophe ever perpetrated by man against man, are disappearing one by one. Soon, history will speak about Auschwitz at best with the impersonal voice of researchers and novelists, and at worst in the malevolent register of revisionists and falsifiers who call the Holocaust a “myth.” This process has already begun. That is why we feel a visceral duty to transmit to our fellow men the memory of what we have endured in body and soul to alert our children that the fanaticism and violence that is spreading again in our newly enflamed world could destroy their universe as it has once destroyed mine.

Meanwhile, we remain divided and confused, we hesitate, we vacillate, like sleepwalkers at the edge of the abyss. But the irrevocable has not yet happened. Our chances are still intact. Let us hope that mankind will somehow seize them and learn to live with its diversity in better harmony.


67 Years Ago Today The Soviets Liberated Auschwitz

Holocaust Memorial Day has been celebrated on January 27, for years. It is on this day in 1945 that the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, the most notorious of Nazi concentration camps. But while the Holocaust happened decades ago, anti-Semitism continues to exist in large parts of Europe. What’s worse, 21 per cent of Germans under 30 have never heard of Auschwitz, and 31 per cent do not know where it was built (Poland), according to Spiegel Online.

Although some in Europe may not give much thought to the Memorial, the day is marked across the world with services, talks, concerts, and vigils, and is observed in remembrance of not only those who died in World War II, but also the victims of genocides that have occurred since, the Guardian reports.

Hitler came to power in January 1933, and opened Dachau, the first concentration camp, two months later.

The entrance to the Dachau camp, built outside Munich in Germany. The words 'Arbeit Macht Frei' ('Work Brings Freedom') greeted new arrivals at the hundreds of concentration camps that dotted the Reich (German-occupied Europe).

In 1935, The Nuremberg Race Laws denied Jews German citizenship and closed Jewish businesses in Germany.

Jews were subject to various other humiliations. The yellow badge was a cloth patch Jews had to sew on their outer garments to mark them as Jews in public.

On November 9, 1938, 'Kristallnacht' ('Night of Broken Glass'), a pogrom against Jews, swept through Germany, and occupied Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Instigated primarily by Nazi Party officials and members of the SA (Storm Troopers) and Hitler Youth, Nazis destroyed and plundered synagogues, and Jewish homes and businesses.

German officials announced that Kristallnacht had been a spontaneous public outburst in response to the assassination of Ernst vom Rath, a German embassy official stationed in Paris, by a Polish Jew.


The Sachsenhausen camp, north of Berlin, held not only Jews, but also homosexuals , Jehovah's Witnesses , "asocials" , and, later, captured Soviets, including Stalin's son. The number of prisoners varied from 21 at the beginning of 1937 to 11,100 at the beginning of 1945.

At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, German officials met to coordinate the deportation of European Jews to "extermination camps” (like this one in Auschwitz-Birkenau) in German-occupied Poland, by rail. Many of the deportees died before the trains reached their destinations.

The Germans sought to portray the deportations as a "resettlement" of the Jewish population in labor camps in the "East."


Last of Soviet soldiers who liberated Auschwitz dies at 98

David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier involved in the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, has died. He was 98.

The Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria said Sunday that Dushman had died at a hospital in Munich, Germany on Saturday.

“Every witness to history who passes on is a loss, but saying farewell to David Dushman is particularly painful,” said Charlotte Knobloch, a former head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews. “Dushman was right on the front lines when the National Socialists’ machinery of murder was destroyed.”

As a young Red Army soldier, Dushman flattened the forbidding electric fence around the notorious Nazi death camp with his T-34 tank on Jan. 27, 1945.

He acknowledged that he and his comrades didn’t immediately realize the magnitude of what had happened in Auschwitz.

“Skeletons everywhere,” he recalled in a 2015 interview with Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “They stumbled out of the barracks, they sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all of our canned food and immediately drove on, to hunt fascists.”

More than a million people, most of them Jews deported there from all over Europe, were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945.

Dushman earlier took part in some of the bloodiest military encounters of World War II, including the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. He was seriously wounded three times but survived the war, one of just 69 soldiers in his 12,000-strong division.

His father — a former military doctor— was meanwhile imprisoned and later died in a Soviet punishment camp after falling victim to one of Josef Stalin’s purges.

After the war, Dushman helped train the Soviet Union’s women’s national fencing team for four decades and witnessed the attack by eight Palestinian terrorists on the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics, which resulted in the deaths of 11 Israelis, five of the Palestinians and a German policeman.

Later in life, Dushman visited schools to tell students about the war and the horrors of the Holocaust. He also regularly dusted off his military medals to participate in veterans gatherings.

“Dushman was a legendary fencing coach and the last living liberator of the Auschwitz concentration camp,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement.

IOC President Thomas Bach paid tribute to Dushman, recounting how as a young fencer for what was then West Germany he was offered “friendship and counsel” by the veteran coach in 1970 ”despite Mr Dushman’s personal experience with World War II and Auschwitz, and he being a man of Jewish origin.”

“This was such a deep human gesture that I will never ever forget it,” Bach said in a statement.

Dushman trained some of the Soviet Union’s most successful fencers, including Valentina Sidorova, and continued to give lessons well into his 90s, the IOC said.

Dushman’s wife, Zoja, died several years ago.

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David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier who helped liberate Auschwitz in World War II, died Saturday. He was 98.

The former soldier died at a hospital in Munich, Germany, according to the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria.

The Red Army soldier “was right on the front lines when the National Socialists’ machinery of murder was destroyed,” said Charlotte Knobloch, a former head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews.

“Every witness to history who passes on is a loss, but saying farewell to David Dushman is particularly painful,” said Knobloch.

Over a million people, mainly Jews, were killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945.

Dushman, riding in his T-34 tank on Jan. 27, 1945, flattened the electric fence surrounding the Nazi death camp.

“They stumbled out of the barracks, they sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all of our canned food and immediately drove on, to hunt fascists,” Dushman recounted in a 2015 interview with Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Children at Auschwitz on the day the camp was liberated. AP Photo/CAF David Dushman reportedly died at a Munich hospital. EPA

“Skeletons everywhere,” he said.

Following the war, Dushman trained the Soviet Union’s women’s national fencing team for four decades.

He also frequently visited schools to speak to students about the horrors of the Holocaust.


75 years ago, Auschwitz was liberated - here’s how the world is remembering

On January 27, 1945, the nightmare ended for some. 75 years ago Monday, the Soviets liberated Auschwitz. They found the camp unguarded, the Nazi guards having fled with the bulk of the prisoners ahead of the Red Army’s advance. Around 7,000 — most of whom were sick and dying — were released, by the Soviets. Of the 1.3 million people deported to Auschwitz, 1.1 million were murdered at the camp — the largest death toll of any of the Nazi concentration camps.

Now, as the number of survivors continues to decline and global awareness of the Holocaust follows that trend, the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation — International Holocaust Remembrance Day — is being commemorated by a host of cultural and government institutions. From art installations to lectures, here are some ways to remember on January 27.

THE MUSEUM OF JEWISH HERITAGE - A LIVING MEMORIAL TO THE HOLOCAUST

In Battery Park City, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, now home to the exhibition “Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away,” is holding a day of activities. At 9:00 AM, the museum’s Edmond J. Safra Hall will feature a simulcast of a ceremony being held at Auschwitz. At 11:00 AM, Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt, the curator of the museum’s Auschwitz exhibition, will hold a discussion about the liberation and Rabbi Eli Babich of Fifth Avenue Synagogue will sound a shofar that was secretly blown at the camp during the high holidays of 1944. Van Pelt will give another talk at 3 PM about many of the artifacts on display at the exhibit and his decision-making about the show’s content. From 10 AM to 6 PM, the museum will offer free admission.

TEMPLE EMANU-EL

At 7 PM, Temple Emanu-El in will host a concert with performances by violinist Itzhak Perlman, the Klezmer Conservatory Band, actress Tovah Felshuh, Cantor Yitzchak Meir Helfgot of the Park East Synagogue and the cast and orchestra of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s production of “Fiddler on the Roof,” among others. The evening will also feature a keynote address by Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.

BATTERY PARK CITY

Battery Park City has been presenting excerpts of poems written by people who were imprisoned at Auschwitz. The installation — part of the community’s “Raining Poetry” series – features quotes from the poems “Foamy Sky” and “Letter to my Wife” by Miklós Radnóti, “Buna” by Primo Levi and “Prayer to the Living to Forgive Them for Being Alive” by Charlotte Delbo.

UNESCO, PARIS

At UNESCO, which lists Auschwitz as a World Heritage Site, Director-General Audrey Azoulay will be joined by over 200 Auschwitz and Holocaust survivirs and heads of state in a ceremony commemorating the camp’s liberation.

THE UN

At the General Assembly Hall, Melissa Fleming, the UN under-secretary-general for Global Communications will preside over a commemoration with remarks from the secretary-general, president of the General Assembly, representatives from Germany, Israel, Russia and the United States and testimony from Holocaust survivors. Itzhak Perlman is also scheduled to perform.

The “Seeing Auschwitz” exhibition, featuring archival photos of the camp, will be presented at the UN’s visitors lobby from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM. Programs and exhibitions, including the “Lonka Project,” a photographic tribute to Holocaust survivors, continue until the end of January, culminating in a January 30 UN briefing, “Hate speech, Holocaust denial and distortian: why challenging it matters.”

AUSCHWITZ-BIRKENAU MEMORIAL AND MUSEUM, POLAND

The official commemoration of the liberation will occur at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, where a special tent will be erected above the “Gate of Death” of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp. Polish president Andrzej Duda will deliver a welcome address at 3:30 CET, followed by a main address by Auschwitz survivors, Ronald S. Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress and a word of thanks from Dr. Piotr M. A. Cywiński, Director of the Auschwitz Memorial and ecumenical prayers.


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