67 Years Ago Today The Soviets Liberated Auschwitz

Photo: Flickr/Rana Sinha

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.


On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began. A ghetto was soon established in Warsaw.

The ghetto was enclosed by 10-foot high wall, topped with barbed wire and closely guarded. Over 400,000 Jews lived in an area of 1.3 square miles, averaging 7.2 persons per room.


Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) shot almost 60,000 Jews in four months in 1941. A year later, mass deportations began.

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.


More than 1.2 million Jews were deported to concentration camps all over Europe in 1942 alone.

At the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, German officials met to coordinate the deportation of European Jews to 'extermination camps

Auschwitz in Oswiecim, Poland, was the biggest Nazi concentration camp during World War II.

It was established in 1940 for Polish political prisoners, but soon it was occupied by Jews, Russians, Czechs, Yugoslavs, Austrians, and Germans.

It included three main camps, all of which deployed incarcerated prisoners at forced labour. One of them also functioned for an extended period as a killing centre.


In total, approximately 1.1 million Jews were deported to Auschwitz.

From 1942, Auschwitz became the biggest centre for the mass extermination of Jews. Figures vary, but at least 960,000 Jews were killed in Auschwitz. Other victims included approximately 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma (Gypsies), 15,000 Soviet PoWs, and 10,000-15,000 people of other nationalities.


Everything from forced labour, to scientific experiments on inmates, and gassing prisoners happened at Auschwitz.

Between the crematorium and the medical-experiments barrack stood the 'Black Wall,' where SS guards executed thousands of prisoners.


New arrivals at concentration camps underwent selection to determine their fate.

The SS staff determined the majority to be unfit for forced labour and sent them immediately to the gas chambers. Those that managed to survive were forced to work gruelling hours while being systematically starved.


Most of the killing centres were in Poland, the country with the largest Jewish population at the time.

Heydrich's final pronouncement on the destiny of Jews who survived the camps' harsh life was chilling: 'They must be dealt with appropriately, since, representing the fruit of natural selection, they are to be regarded as the core of a new Jewish revival.'

The Nazis did this with the use of gas chambers. The bones of the dead were burned.


The Chelmno camp was the first killing centre to be built.

In 1942, systematic mass killing in stationary gas chambers (with carbon monoxide) began. The Nazis later switched to the more efficient nerve gas Zyklon B, whose empty canisters you see here. The tighter the gas chambers were packed, the faster the victims suffocated.


At the height of the deportations, up to 6,000 Jews were gassed each day at Auschwitz.

As victims were 'unloaded' from cattle cars, they were told that they had to be disinfected in 'showers'. Their bags and other belongings were taken away as they were stripped naked and forced into the gas chambers.


The Nazis kept everything the prisoners owned.

Before being sent to the gas chambers, women were shorn of their hair, which was used to make socks for U-boat crews. After the victims had been gassed, SS officials pried off gold teeth and any other jewellery on the bodies.


The camps were finally liberated in 1945.

While Soviet troops freed Auschwitz on January 27, Dachau was liberated on April 29 by American soldiers. In order to hide what they had done, the SS officers in charge of the camps attempted to burn the bodies and destroy buildings before the Allies got there.

But they didn't get everything. Allied troops in Auschwitz found hundreds of thousands of men's suits and women's outfits, and more than 14,000 pounds of human hair.


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