On January 27, 1945, soldiers of the Red Army opened the gates of the German Auschwitz camp. The approximately 7,000 surviving prisoners, including 500 children, greeted them as liberators.
The Germans began preparations to liquidate Auschwitz in August 1944, gradually evacuating prisoners to the heart of the Reich. By mid-January 1945, they had dispatched around 65,000 individuals, including almost all Poles, Russians, and Czechs. Despite the advancing Soviet forces, they continued killing Jews. The gas chambers were last used in November 1944.
Towards the end of 1944, the Germans burned documents and obliterated evidence of their crimes, burying human ashes and demolishing crematorium IV. They destroyed the remaining three just before leaving the camp.
On January 17, 1945, the last roll call took place in Auschwitz, with 67,012 inmates, including 31,894 in Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau and 35,118 in sub-camps.
The final liquidation began as the Soviet offensive approached. The Germans initiated the evacuation with “death marches,” leading 58,000 prisoners from the main camp Auschwitz I and sub-camps.
The walking columns reached Wodzisław Śląski and Gliwice, where they were transported in open wagons to camps in the interior of the Reich. At least 9,000 prisoners died during these actions.
About 9,000 prisoners, including 500 children, remained in Auschwitz and Birkenau. The SS intended to eliminate them as they were considered unfit for evacuation. Approximately 700 of them were killed.
On January 26, most of the SS staff left the camp. Despite being fired upon by the remaining guards, the prisoners searched for food and clothing. Many perished, either from gunfire or by consuming excessive amounts of food. Some, mainly hospital staff, attempted to organize life in the camp and help the severely ill.
Historian Andrzej Strzelecki revealed that the order to occupy Oświęcim was given to the 60th Army of the 1st Ukrainian Front, advancing from Krakow towards Upper Silesia. The objective was to partially encircle the Germans and force them to withdraw from the strategically significant industrial region.
On January 26, the Red Army crossed the Vistula. The next day, scouts from the 100th Lviv Infantry Division entered the Monowitz sub-camp. By midday, they reached the center of Oświęcim and shortly thereafter headed towards the main Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau camps. They encountered resistance from withdrawing Germans at the first camp but overcame it. The camps were liberated around 3 p.m.
In the fights around Auschwitz I, Auschwitz II-Birkenau, the Monowitz sub-camp, and the city of Oświęcim, 231 Red Army soldiers perished, with 66 in the camp zone.
Approximately 7,000 prisoners, including 500 in sub-camps such as Stara Kuźnia, Blachownia Śląska, Świętochłowice, Wesoła, Libiąż, Jawiszowice, and Jaworzno, witnessed their liberation.
According to historians from the Auschwitz Museum, the Red Army couldn’t reach Auschwitz earlier as they received more detailed information about the camp after capturing Krakow on January 18.
Some former prisoners returned home shortly after liberation, while others were placed in hospitals organized in former camps by Soviet medical services and local residents. Over 4,500 former prisoners from more than 20 countries, mostly Jews, were treated in these hospitals, including over 200 children. The majority left hospitals within three to four months after liberation.
The Germans established Auschwitz in 1940 to imprison Poles, and Auschwitz II-Birkenau was established two years later, becoming a site of the Holocaust. At least 1.1 million people, primarily Jews but also Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war, and individuals of other nationalities, were murdered in the Auschwitz complex.