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How the events of the 1945 Auschwitz liberation unfolded

On January 27, 1945, a few months before the end of World War Two, Russian soldiers freed thousands of starving and dangerously ill prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp in south-west Poland.

Auschwitz was the largest of the Nazi camp systems used during the Holocaust and was made up of forced labour camps, a concentration camp and a killing centre.

The Nazis had fled just a few days before the liberation, forcing around 60,000 prisoners to walk to other camps, and leaving behind the few thousand of those who were too ill to walk.

Thousands of prisoners had been killed in the days before the Nazis fled, and more than 15,000 died on the three-day ‘death march’ to other camps. Many of these were either shot for falling behind or were killed by the cold weather and starvation.

Although Auschwitz had already gained notoriety as one of the most deadly concentration camps in Poland, it wasn’t until the camp was liberated and the remaining survivors interviewed that the full horrors came to light.

Around 1.1 million men, women and children, most of them Jewish, died at Auschwitz in the space of four years. Many were either shot, hanged, starved to death or gassed.

The Nazis could gas up to 6,000 people a day in gas chambers – many of which were burned before the Germans fled the camp in an attempt to hide their crimes.

According to the BBC, Russian soldiers also found ‘seven tons of women’s hair, human teeth, from which gold fillings had been extracted and tens of thousands of children’s outfits’ in the grounds of the camp.

In the following months, other Nazi concentration camps were liberated by US and British troops including Buchenwald, Flossenburg, Dachau, Mauthausen and Bergen-Belsen.

Diseases like typhoid were quickly spreading throughout the camps so many had to be burnt down to stop the surrounding areas being infected.

The Nazis killed over 6million people in total during the Holocaust, many of whom died or were killed in the camps.

Today, a memorial and museum stand among Auschwitz’s remains. The site has become a symbol of the Nazis’ crimes against humanity during WW2 and visitors can take tours around the site.


MORE : It wasn’t until my mum’s passing in 2010 that I felt able to research her Holocaust story


MORE : Holocaust Memorial Day: What is it and how many lives have been lost to genocide?

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