[January 27, 2020] It’s hard to imagine today that 75 years ago, a Nazi concentration camp called Auschwitz is liberated by the Soviet army. What is impossible to believe is the horror of these death camps, that humans could be so evil, and that today people still deny it ever happened. Leadership means rallying people to a cause and Adolf Hitler did that exactly.
I won’t be recounting the horrors in today’s article or how many died or how. And I won’t be telling the story of the thousands of camps throughout Germany and the territories it controlled from 1933 to 1945. Unlike some Holocaust scholars, I don’t distinguish concentration camps and extermination camps because often they were the same.
Concentration camps began as a place to concentrate political adversaries of the Nazi political party. Dachau was the first camp founded in Germany in March 1933 and housed all Communists “where necessary” and those who “endanger state security of the Reichsbanner and Social Democratic functionaries.”1
“There our troops found sights, sounds, and stenches horrible beyond belief, cruelties so enormous as to be incomprehensible to the normal mind.” – U.S. Army Colonel William W. Quinn, 7th Army speaking about the Dachau liberation
In most camps that were liberated by the Soviets, almost all the prisoners had already been removed, leaving only a few thousand alive. Nearly 7,000 inmates were found in Auschwitz, including 180 children who had been experimented on by doctors.
The three Auschwitz camps, called Auschwitz I, II (aka Birkenau), and III, and 40 satellite camps, had been abandoned by the Germans just before the Soviet troops arrived. The evacuation of the prisoners had begun months before.2 Of special attention is the fact that when the Soviets liberated camps (not yet in Germany), the survivors were on their own. Unlike the camps liberated in German where liberated prisoners remained in the camps and were cared for by the Americans and British.
Primo Levi was one of those survivors who wrote a book. His long journey home to Italy took him many months. He describes how the Jewish prisoners were greeted with hostility in every country along the way. Levi wrote that “the people outside the camp, in the countryside and the nearby town – they didn’t celebrate when they saw us.”3,4
“We just ran away without permission. No joyous celebration. I never heard the word ‘liberation’ back then, I didn’t even know there was such a word.” – Binjamin Wilkomirski, in his book “Fragments.”
The day that Auschwitz was liberated, January 27, 1945, is now an International Day of Commemoration of the Holocaust.
- Anne Frank and her sister were on one of the first transports out of Auschwitz, which took them to Bergen-Belsen, where they both died of typhus.
|4. This reference is a good source on these camps. “Auschwitz-Birkenau: History of a man-made Hell, Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, January 27, 1945|