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“We must remember”: how the world learned the truth about the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz


75 years ago, Soviet troops liberated the Nazi death camp Auschwitz (Auschwitz), which experts consider the site of the most massive extermination of people in the history of mankind. More than 1 million prisoners who were tested on lethal gas were killed here, and Joseph Mengele set up monstrous medical experiments. In an interview with RT, the co-chair of the Holocaust Center and Foundation, a professor at the Russian State Humanitarian University, Ilya Altman, spoke about how the Nazi death factory worked and how it was stopped by Soviet troops.

- Nazi concentration camps differed in their purpose. What was and for what purpose was Auschwitz created, or, as the Germans called it, Auschwitz?

- We are talking about the most terrible place of extermination of people of various nationalities, especially Jews, in the territory of occupied Poland. The first victims of the destruction in 1941 were Soviet prisoners of war, about 10 thousand people, on whom the Cyclone B gas was tested.

Auschwitz is a death factory with a destruction center in the village of Brzezinka, which the Germans renamed Birkenau, and a whole network of industries, mainly the chemical industry, where people from 27 states worked. This was the fourth, most terrible category camp, where the conditions of detention were designed to maximize the use of human resources, and no one was interested in human life or death.

It was Birkenau that became the center for the extermination of Jews in Europe. Since the spring of 1942, every day, sometimes in five trains, people were brought there: women, children, the elderly and men for almost immediate destruction.

The path to the gas chamber from the train sometimes took only a couple of hours. Some of the prisoners remained to serve this death camp. Rarely did anyone withstand more than two to three months. They also went to the furnace of the crematorium.

  • Auschwitz concentration camp prisoners
  • RIA News
  • © B. Borisov

“To whom did Auschwitz obey?” What tasks did his leadership face?

- Auschwitz camp, like other concentration camps and death camps, was run by the SS, led by Himmler, the architect of the Holocaust, as he is often called. It was a well-thought-out system of using prisoners' labor. Because those industrial enterprises that used the labor of prisoners paid exactly the labor of a prisoner of the SS. That is, it was also a system of making money for the SS. It was a little money, and it was very profitable for entrepreneurs - the shameful use of labor of people doomed to death.

“How did the truth about Auschwitz reveal itself?” What role did the Red Army play in this?

- When the Nazi crimes were investigated, starting in February 1945, a Soviet emergency commission worked in Auschwitz. Its representatives carefully studied all the archives - what they managed to save. And these archives were kept thanks to Soviet correspondents. Literally on the second day after the release of Auschwitz, the correspondent of Komsomolskaya Pravda Sergey Krushinsky not only sent a report to Moscow about this terrible camp, but also wrote a special note to the highest party bodies, where he mentioned several very important facts about which he had learned from prisoners.

He raised the question that it is necessary to keep the Auschwitz archive, that prisoners should be immediately given medical assistance. One of the main feats of the Red Army was that it managed to transfer a special hospital, headed by the major of the Zhilinskaya medical service, with experience in treating patients from dystrophy in besieged Leningrad.

Here is the role of one person. A journalist who managed to attract the attention of our authorities in order, firstly, to save the prisoners, and secondly, to create the very film that was shown at the Nuremberg trials.

“How did the Nazis kill people, how did this terrible system work?”

- It all started with the fact that people got into transport, and not always it was filled with heating pots. Sometimes these were reasonably suitable reserved seat wagons. They were offered to take with them all valuables, warm clothes, regardless of the time of year when they were transported. Some kind of food.

There was a complete illusion that people were being taken for resettlement. This was done in order to blunt people's consciousness. For example, the Treblinka death camp - there was an illusion of a railway station, where there were direction signs to various European cities. In fact, it was a stop. There were no further railway tracks. The only road that was to destruction.

After a long journey, people were required to undergo disinfection. Therefore, they had to pack all their belongings and undergo sanitation in the shower. Who could have imagined that when you enter this crowded room, not water, but suffocating gas will go from above? Everything was thought out so that people would not resist, so that until the last moment they would not understand what was happening to them.

  • Destruction of the body of a concentration camp prisoner
  • © dpa

“People were killed before the end of the war?”

- What particularly struck me was the deportation, which was in the spring and summer of 1944. A second front has already opened, the Nazis no longer have enough trains for ammunition, transporting the wounded. And from Hungary, trains with Jews continue to go, which must be destroyed in the gas chamber. It was a state program, it was the policy of the Nazis in the Holocaust. It was an attempt to destroy an entire nation: from an infant to an old man. And destroy using the latest technology. Auschwitz still amazes both researchers and everyone who comes there as a visitor to the museum. This very destruction technology, the most modern for that time. The most modern crematoriums, the use of special devices to kill people with gas. Special devices so that the bodies of people killed on special trolleys were delivered to the crematorium.

Another very important detail, which can not be said: many, those who were to be destroyed, had golden teeth, crowns. Nothing was supposed to be gone. This is a complete recycling of everything. Some valuable things, clothes. Even hair - it all came together. This most of all struck our soldiers when they ended up here - these are these bags with female hair. Carefully selected - blondes, brunettes ... Piles of shoes, children's worn shoes. Why did they stay here? Because the Nazis thought of even that. You could take it somewhere, you could try to destroy it somewhere. But then others would know about it.

“How long have you managed to keep the camp's existence secret?”

- Just imagine, before the beginning of the 44th year, it was possible to hide the existence of this death camp. There was an escape of two Slovak Jews who managed to transmit this information to the West. And then they did not believe that there could be such a center of destruction.

- How can you characterize the decision of the Soviet command to change the plan of the Wisla-Oder operation in order to quickly release Auschwitz?

- Why do we really say that it was a feat in the liberation and salvation of prisoners? Because when the commander of the 1st Ukrainian Front, Marshal Konev, from the reports of political agencies learned about the existence of this terrible extermination camp, he changed the plan of the Vistula-Oder operation to liberate the Auschwitz settlement and the adjacent concentration camp system for several days. Auschwitz was released two days earlier than planned.

- What happened to the prisoners of Auschwitz during the liberation of the camp?

- About 60 thousand people were in Auschwitz in mid-January 1945. The Nazis understand: labor is needed. And they are all who at that moment still survived, including the Jews, are driven deep into Germany. And there are 7 thousand people who are simply in the huts. Without food, without any medical help, because, according to the Nazis, they still can not live.

The Red Army comes. Both our journalists and our soldiers, when they see these people, understand that they need help. So comes the medical help. A hospital with experience in treating patients with dystrophy in besieged Leningrad - and for 7 thousand prisoners it was a real salvation.

  • Auschwitz
  • AFP

- Did you manage to save many people?

- On the site of the American Holocaust Museum, a very reputable scientific center, you can read in the story about the history of liberation that the vast majority of these prisoners died. This is not true. Dozens died there. That is, in percentage terms, most people were cured. Thanks to the Soviet hospital, which operated in conjunction with Polish doctors, some of whom were themselves prisoners of this camp.

For each of these 7 thousand prisoners, a meeting with the liberators, their impressions - this was the very image of the Red Army that they will carry through their whole lives.

There is a Holocaust museum in Japan. And when I visited him, on the wall I suddenly saw a document completely unknown to historians - a letter from Otto Frank, the father of that very famous girl, Anne Frank, whose diary is called the brightest document of the Holocaust. And the first line of the letter: "I was released and the Russians went out." This one phrase of one of the 7 thousand people saved there - it says a lot. Would Anne Frank's diary be found if not for the father, who returned to the shelter and found it? And if someone had found someone else, he would have published it like this, would this diary in the 1950s and 1960s become the most piercing account of what the victims of Nazism were experiencing? I am sure that this feat of doctors was extremely important.

Otto Frank's adopted daughter Eva Schloss was also released in Auschwitz and wrote several memory books, each of which tells about a meeting with Soviet liberating soldiers. In one of her books there is such a striking episode: when the gates of the barracks opened, the women suddenly saw a figure in a sheepskin coat. And the one that lay closest to the entrance shouted: “Bear! Bear! ”They could have imagined anything at that moment. But the man in the sheepskin coat seemed to them a bear. This “bear” just gave Eva Schloss, whose clothes were worn out, her gymnast. She keeps this gymnast all her life. It was this image of the first soldier that they saw that they carried through life.

  • Soviet soldiers with children released from a concentration camp
  • © Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

- Tell us, what preceded the liberation of the camp?

- I first heard about this in Moscow, when we had an evening, in 1995. At the evening, the commander of the artillery guns spoke. I remembered his story forever. He said: “You know, it was a day, the only day when my gun did not fire. We were ordered not to open fire on the camp where people were. ”

Our soldiers were walking. SS units fired. When we talk about January 27, we must always remember that 231 Soviet soldiers and officers died in battles for the city of Auschwitz and at its approaches.

- What did the Red Army see when they entered the camp?

- I had a lot of communication with General Vasily Yakovlevich Petrenko. He was the commander of one of the divisions that freed the branches of Auschwitz. He told me a lot about the preparations for this offensive. As he unexpectedly received an order to change the direction of the main blow, in order to free the prisoners. This is the real story that our army, having learned about this camp, managed to make sure that the help to the prisoners remaining there still managed to arrive on time. And only a few of them died. And he said that when another general, Krasavin, the commander of another division, invited him to go there, the first thing that struck him was, of course, these are the very things that he saw. Carefully stocked, sorted. And the people who spoke to them in different languages. Few spoke Russian. When they saw the Soviet military leaders, they had tears of joy. Then it was an extremely important shock for him.

Relatives of General Krasavin said that on the day when he saw this camp, he just turned gray. A general who went through a lot. So many people who came there, they saw a lot of different tragedies, but what they saw in Auschwitz could not be compared.

  • Concentration camp fencing
  • Reuters
  • © Axel Schmidt

- How do you react to the fact that in some countries the monuments to Soviet soldiers are demolished or desecrated?

- When I travel around the countries of Europe with the exhibition, I always come to the monuments of our soldiers. And I see - it is very important to say - that in many countries the attitude towards them is the most careful. In most places, normal people understand everything perfectly. You can’t fight with monuments, you can’t fight with memory.

- Today, historians often argue about the number of victims of World War II. Can we say with confidence how many people died in Auschwitz?

- In Auschwitz, more than 1 million people were killed, nine tenths of whom were Jews. 150 thousand Polish citizens, not Jews. These are mainly members of the resistance and members of their families. 23 thousand gypsies. About 15 thousand Soviet prisoners of war. For the first time, the deadly gas Cyclone B was tested on them. There were representatives of other nationalities who most often died of hunger and disease. So many people in one place, like in Auschwitz, were not destroyed anywhere else. And we must remember this.

Source: russiart

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