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1/27/22 OT: Liberation

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.

Red Army soldiers from the 322nd Rifle Division arrived at Auschwitz on 27 January 1945 at 15:00.[8][9] 231 Red Army soldiers died in the fighting around Monowitz concentration camp, Birkenau, and Auschwitz I, as well as the towns of Oświęcim and Brzezinka.[10][11] 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.[12]

About 7,000 prisoners had been left behind, most of whom were seriously ill due to the effects of their imprisonment.[1] Most of those left behind were middle-aged adults or children younger than 15.[13] 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.[8] 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.[14]

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."[6] In a few articles in Soviet newspapers such as Pravda, following Soviet propaganda, the writers failed to mention Jews in their articles on the liberation.[6][15]

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.[16] As late as June 1945, there were still 300 survivors at the camp who were too weak to be moved.[17]