Commentary: By January 1945 the SS here at Auschwitz knew that Red Army soldiers were near. So they decided to try and escape by leaving the camp and travelling west, further into the Reich. But before they went, they blew up the gas chambers and crematoria here at Birkenau. These are the remains. A sign, of course, that they wanted to try and hide from the world the murders they’d committed here. The SS assembled all of the prisoners they considered still healthy and made them begin the long journey out of Auschwitz. Nearly sixty thousand prisoners were forced to march through the snow. Many of the survivors remember this as the worst part of their experience at the hands of the Nazis.
Words of Ibi Mann (Auschwitz prisoner): If anyone even dared to bend down to get muddy snow off their shoes they were shot. We weren’t allowed to bend over. We could only walk quickly, quickly. On both sides of the roads there were ditches, big ditches. And the ditches were full of bodies.
Commentary: A few days later, on January 27th 1945, Red Army soldiers reached Auschwitz.
Words of Vasily Gromadsky (Soviet 6th Army): All of these prisoners were so emaciated. They told me that so many of them had been exterminated. Dreadful things, simply hearing that as a soldier. Walking along and thinking that people could do such things to other people. I felt a grievance on behalf of mankind that these fascists had made such a mockery of us.
Commentary: The Nazis had created a cold and efficient murder factory here. The prisoners, malnourished and appallingly mistreated, were liable for regular selection. And when the Nazis no longer considered them useful, they were killed. Of the one million three hundred thousand people the Nazis sent to Auschwitz – one million one hundred thousand died. Amongst them, tens of homosexuals, hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses, ten thousand Soviet prisoners of war, twenty thousand gypsies, seventy thousand Polish political prisoners, and around a million Jews. Racism, contempt for human ideals like kindness and compassion, hatred of people not like yourself. These were some of the core principles of Nazism, just as they were the core principles on which this place, Auschwitz, was built.