heinrich himmler

heinrich himmler

27th January 1945: Auschwitz-Birkenau liberated by Soviet forces

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On the 27th January 1945, Soviet soldiers from the 322nd Rifle Division liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp near the Polish city of Oświęcim. They met some resistance from the remaining Nazi troops in the city, but by 3pm had captured the Main Camp and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. By the end of 1944, the Soviet Union was making significant gains against the Nazis on the Eastern Front. As a result SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of gassings across the Reich, and the systematic destruction of written records. Approximately 65,000 prisoners were evacuated deeper into the Reich between August 1944 and January 1945 but tens of thousands of prisoners still remained in Auschwitz. Therefore, on the 17th January, at least another 58,000 inmates were sent on a death march under armed guard; of those who departed around 20,000 made it to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany. More than 7,000 prisoners were left behind in the camp because they were deemed too weak or sick to complete the march. Meanwhile, the Nazis continued to destroy evidence of the crimes committed in the camps by blowing up or burning many remaining buildings including the crematoria. Remaining SS troops were ordered to kill the remaining inmates, murdering over 600 of them before the Soviet forces arrived. However, due to the quick progress of the Red Army some buildings – as well as thousands of inmates – survived. After the liberation, hospital facilities were established at the camp to provide medical treatment for the survivors. On the 2nd July 1947, the Polish parliament passed an act that turned the camp in to a museum.