Auschwitz Liberation Day commemorates Nazi crimes worldwide. On January 27 in 1945, prisoners held captive by the Nazis in Auschwitz were liberated by the Soviet soldiers. What they found was fathomable. A pile of eyeglasses weighing over 80 pounds, hundreds of prosthetic limbs, thousands of kitchen utensils including pots and pans, human hair, and more than 40,000 pairs of prisoners’ shoes all make up some of the items found at the site.
Most of the owners of these properties died, many murdered by the German forces in the Holocaust’s largest extermination and concentration camp. Even though the camp seemed abandoned by the Nazis, it was still filled with thousands of people who survived the inhumane living conditions. These survivors breathe a sigh of relief as they saw the Soviet soldiers approached.
Auschwitz: Genesis of Death Camps
At the start of the Second World War, Adolf Hitler implemented a policy known as the Final Solution. The German warlord was determined not just to exterminate the Jewish people but also his detractors and those who he deemed unfit for his survival policy. To actualize his dream, Hitler built death camps. Unlike concentration camps that served as detention centers for prisoners and detractors, death camps were built solely to terminate Jews in his domain and others perceived to be enemies of the state.
Of all the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz is the largest and, without a doubt, the most notorious. Located within proximity to Krakow, on a former military-based outside Oswiecim, Auschwitz camp was built in 1940. During the construction of the camp, properties and factories within the area were forcibly taken over from locals and destroyed by the Nazis, leaving locals with nothing to fall back on.
Despite being a death camp, not all prisoners in Auschwitz were immediately killed. Many prisoners were forced into slave labor, assisting with the production of armory and other items used by the German forces to advance their mission.
What Was the Holocaust?
After the Nazis took over power in 1933, they came all out against the Jewish population, stripping them of all their properties and rights. After the Nazis occupied Poland in 1939, all Jewish people held captive were taken down to Poland, where they built ghettos specially designed to accommodate the Jews. This was more of racial cleansing than an actual war itself.
In 1941, the German forces made known their motive to exterminate prisoners of war, including the Jewish people, Slavic populace, and the Roma. Einsatzgruppen, a group of German soldiers, set out to lands invaded by the Nazis to exterminate locals. Between 1941 and 1945, the soldiers had massacred about two million people, out of which 1.3 million were Jewish.
Top ranks in the German forces were brainstorming on ways to kill prisoners en masse. Killing by firing squad will take a toll on their soldiers, given the number of prisoners in the camp, so they came up with a more innovative approach – building gas chambers in Auschwitz. The airtight gas chambers get filled with poisonous gas, which suffocates those who inhale it.
Victims of the Massacre
The German forces sought ways not to leak their secrets as the Soviet troops drew closer, so they did everything possible to destroy prisoner records in their custody.
It is believed that more than 1.3 million people were held captive at Auschwitz camp, amongst which 1.1 million people lost their lives there. Jews from different European lands controlled by the Nazis made up the vast majority of the victims. The Nazis exterminated more than one million Jews at Auschwitz.
A perfect example was the population of Hungarian Jewish people that made up the numbers. Between May and July 1944, more than 400,000 Hungarian Jewish people were transported to Auschwitz. Many died within a short period, and their bodies burnt to ashes in a massive pit located close to the camp. Thousands of Hungarian Jews lost their lives almost every day on arrival at the camp.
Other people who made up the numbers include 75,000 Poles, 25,000 Roma and Sinti, 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war, and many more. The Auschwitz concentration camp is a place to pay tribute to the millions of people who lost their souls here.
The liberation of Auschwitz: 1945
The German had it all planned out right from the onset. They knew they might have to abandon Auschwitz at a future date, not any sooner. In a bid to cover up their crimes, the German forces destroyed evidence of the horror that had taken place there, including a number of gas chambers and crematoria.
They killed most of the Jews who worked at the killing sites. They tore down many buildings and ordered prisoners to destroy all personal records of camp life. As the Soviet troops advanced towards their location, they fled the scene but not without shipping all looted valuables to Germany. They burnt and destroyed almost every piece of evidence left behind.
At the time, the camp still had more than 56,000 detainees. Hell-bent on not leaving any evidence behind, the Nazi forces ordered the remaining prisoners to march west to the Polish towns of Gliwice or Wodzislaw.
The weak and sick who couldn’t make the march were left behind. Any prisoners who fell behind on the match were shot dead; those who made it to the sites were sent on trains to concentration camps in Germany. Soviet troops were greeted by a few thousand survivors when they took over the camp on January 27, 1945 – popularly known as the Auschwitz Liberation Day.
Along with the prisoners found at the camp, the liberators found items such as shoes, clothes, and several tonnes of human hair that had been shaved from prisoners before their death. It took a lot on the part of the soldiers to convince survivors that the German forces had fled.
Things You Didn’t Know About the Holocaust.
It may surprise you to know that racial discrimination against the Jews had been in existence several years before the construction of Auschwitz concentration camps. Here are some of the things you probably didn’t know about the Holocaust
1. It was a state-sponsored mass murder of millions of Jews, disabled people, homosexuals, and political prisoners. The word Holocaust was coined from the Greek word “holokauston,” literally meaning a sacrifice by fire.
2. Though millions of Jewish people were murdered between 1941 and 1945, the Jewish race has been under persecution since Adolf Hitler, the commanding officer of the German forces, took control of power in 1933
3. The Jewish population was stripped of their rights to freedom and public life in 1935 when the Nuremberg Laws were passed. The law excluded German Jews from fundamental human rights and marrying Germans
4. In 1938, the Night of Broken Glass, known locally as Kristallnacht, was recorded. Nazis destroyed businesses owned by Jewish people, and Jewish people across Europe, including Austria and Germany, were attacked. More than 30,000 Jewish people were incarcerated.
5. In 1939, the government of the day ordered Jews to put on a yellow Star of David on their clothing. This way, they became easy targets and isolated from the rest of the population.
6. At the start of the Second World War, when the Jewish invaded and occupied Poland, the Jewish people were made to live in ghettos, a segregated area sealed off using barbed wires. They had access to limited food, healthcare and were always scared of deportation to concentration camps. They lived a life of fear.
7. The Nazis built more than 44,000 prison sites used to perpetrate their heinous crimes. Not a day goes by without at least one prisoner tortured or murdered at these concentration sites.
8. The first people to be gassed were a group of Polish and Soviet prisoners in September 1941.
9. The Holocaust accounted for the death of about 6 million Jewish people, with the vast majority losing their lives within just three months. More than half of the Jewish population living in Europe during the Second World War lost their lives when Adolf Hitler ruled.
10. January 27 was designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations. The date marks the liberation of prisoners held captive by Nazis at the Auschwitz concentration camp by Soviet troops. More than 1 million people were murdered, and over 90% of them were Jewish.
Located 30 miles west of Krakow and sitting just on the borders of the small town of Oswiecim, Auschwitz Concentration Camp serves as a state museum and memorial. Apart from the main extermination camp, the complex also features three main camps and sub and external camps of different sizes.
Since its opening to the general public in 1947, millions of people from different parts of the world visit the memorial site at the former Auschwitz concentration camp annually to learn more about the largest mass murder in history.
For a chance to get the most of your time at the Auschwitz concentration camps, book your trip well in advance.