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World marks Holocaust Memorial Day, recalling the liberation of Auschwitz

27.01.2024 14:30
As the world commemorates Holocaust Memorial Day, we remember the pivotal moment on January 27, 1945, when the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, freeing approximately 7,000 prisoners, including hundreds of children, from the horrors of one of history's darkest chapters.
The gate of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp in Oświęcim.
The gate of the former Auschwitz II-Birkenau camp in Oświęcim. Photo: PAP/Łukasz Gągulski

The liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army marked a pivotal point in the history of World War II, bringing to light the horrors faced by prisoners in one of the most notorious concentration camps.

As the Red Army approached, the Germans had initiated a mass evacuation, leading to the so-called "death marches." Approximately 65,000 prisoners, including Poles, Russians, and Czechs, were forced to leave the camp in mid-January 1945.

In preparation for the Soviet arrival, the Germans attempted to erase evidence of their atrocities. They destroyed documents, dismantled crematoria, and buried evidence of mass killings. Historical accounts note that the order to occupy Auschwitz was issued to the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front, advancing from Kraków toward Upper Silesia. On January 26, the Red Army crossed the Vistula River, and by the following day, they had liberated Auschwitz I and II-Birkenau, overcoming German resistance.

The liberation led to the survival of about 7,000 prisoners in Auschwitz and its sub-camps. However, the path to liberation was marked by significant loss, with 231 Red Army soldiers killed in the effort.

Auschwitz, initially established in 1940 to imprison Poles and later expanded to include the extermination of Jews and others, became a symbol of the Holocaust's horrors. The liberation of the camp was a crucial step in revealing the extent of the genocide committed there, which claimed some 1.1 million victims out of a total of 1.3 million inmates during its nearly five-year existence. About 90% of them were Jews, coming from all over Europe. At least 70,000 Poles, 20,000 Roma, 15,000 Soviet POWs and 10,000-15,000 prisoners of other nationalities also died in the camp.

Source: PAP, Polskie Radio