Today in History: January 27,1945 the Soviet Army entered the Auschwitz camp complex and liberated 7,000 prisoners, including children.
Auschwitz concentration camp was a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by the Third Reich in Polish areas annexed by Nazi Germany during World War II. It was the largest of the German concentration camps, consisting of Auschwitz I (the base camp); Auschwitz II–Birkenau (the extermination camp); Auschwitz III–Monowitz (a labor camp); and 45 satellite camps.
Auschwitz II–Birkenau was designated by the Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler as the place of the “final solution of the Jewish question in Europe”. From early 1942 until late 1944, transport trains delivered Jews to the camp’s gas chambers from all over German-occupied Europe. Those not killed in the gas chambers died of starvation, forced labor, infectious disease, individual executions, and medical experiments.
On January 27, 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops, a day commemorated around the world as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Vasily Gromadsky, a Russian officer with the 60th Army liberating Auschwitz recalls what happened.
They [the prisoners] began rushing towards us, in a big crowd. They were weeping, embracing us and kissing us. I felt a grievance on behalf of mankind that these fascists had made such a mockery of us. It roused me and all the soldiers to go and quickly destroy them and send them to hell.
As the Allies learned more about the severity of the Nazis’ crimes at Auschwitz, they realized that Rudolf Höss was still alive and hiding in Germany. His wife told her husband’s whereabouts, and British soldiers captured him on the farm where he was hiding. Höss was incarcerated and then moved to Nuremberg as part of the war crimes trial.
Whitney Harris, a member of the prosecuting team at the Nuremberg trials, recalls what Rudolf Höss was like:
He struck me as a normal person, that was the horrible thing about it. He was cool, objective, matter of fact. ‘This is my war duty. I did my war duty.’ It was like I had to go out and cut down so many trees. So I went out and took my saw and cut the trees down. He was just acting like a normal, unimportant individual.
He simply answered the questions, and as far as I could tell, told what happened without emotion. Without emotion. Without a sense of guilt. Not in the slightest apologetic, not in the remotest degree was he apologetic. In a sense, I think he showed a certain pride in accomplishment.
On April 16, 1947, he was hanged on a specially constructed gallows in Auschwitz, the site of his crimes.
Overall, 1.3 million, around 90 percent of them Jewish, were killed in Auschwitz. Others include 150,000 Poles, 23,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, some 400 Jehovah’s Witnesses and tens of thousands of people of diverse nationalities