Liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp
On 27 January 1945, Auschwitz concentration camp—a Nazi concentration camp where more than a million people were murdered—was liberated by the Red Army during the Vistula–Oder Offensive. Although most of the prisoners had been forced onto a death march, about 7,000 had been left behind. The Soviet soldiers attempted to help the survivors and were shocked at the scale of Nazi crimes. The date is recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Between 1940 and 1945, about 1.3 million people (mostly Jews) were deported to Auschwitz by Nazi Germany; 1.1 million were murdered. In August 1944, there were more than 135,000 prisoners across the complex. In January 1945, after the Red Army launched the Vistula–Oder Offensive and approached the camp, almost 60,000 prisoners were forced to leave on a death march westward. Inmates were marched to Loslau and Gleiwitz, where they were forced into Holocaust trains and transported to concentration camps in Germany. However, the liberation of the camp was not a specific goal of the Red Army and happened as a consequence of their advance westward across Poland. The Red Army had already liberated concentration camps in the Baltic area in early- to mid-1944, and other concentration camps continued to be liberated until the German surrender and the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945.
Red Army soldiers from the 322nd Rifle Division arrived at Auschwitz on 27 January 1945 at 15:00. Two hundred and thirty-one Red Army soldiers died in the fighting around Monowitz concentration camp, Birkenau, and Auschwitz I, as well as the towns of Oświęcim and Brzezinka. For most of the survivors, there was no definite moment of liberation. After the death march away from the camp, the SS-TV guards had left.
About 7,000 prisoners had been left behind, most of whom were seriously ill due to the effects of their imprisonment. Most of those left behind were middle-aged adults or children younger than 15. Red Army soldiers also found 600 corpses, 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 articles of women's clothing, and seven tonnes (7.7 tons) of human hair. At Monowitz camp, there were about 800 survivors and the camp was liberated also on 27 January by the Soviet 60th Army, part of the 1st Ukrainian Front.
Battle-hardened soldiers who were used to death were shocked by the Nazis' treatment of prisoners. Red Army general Vasily Petrenko, commander of the 107th Infantry Division, remarked, "I who saw people dying every day was shocked by the Nazis' indescribable hatred toward the inmates who had turned into living skeletons. I read about the Nazis' treatment of Jews in various leaflets, but there was nothing about the Nazis' treatment of women, children, and old men. It was in Auschwitz that I found out about the fate of the Jews." In a few articles in Soviet newspapers such as Pravda, following Soviet propaganda, failed to mention Jews in their articles on the liberation.
As soon as they arrived, the liberating forces (assisted by the Polish Red Cross) tried to help survivors by organizing medical care and food; Red Army hospitals cared for 4,500 survivors. There were also efforts to document the camp. As late as June 1945, there were still 300 survivors at the camp who were too weak to be moved.
The date of the liberation (27 January) is recognized by the United Nations and the European Union as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On the 75th anniversary (2020), a forum of world leaders—the World Holocaust Forum—was held in Israel, hosted by President Reuven Rivlin. Among the attendees were United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, President of Russia Vladimir Putin, Charles, Prince of Wales, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky.
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