Survival and legacy

8.1A1 YV 386_02 Death March, Dachau to Tolz,1945 Hellmut Bachrach-Baree(1898-1969).jpg
Death March, Dachau to Tolz, (1945) a pencil drawing by Hellmut Bachrach-Baree (1898-1969)
© 2011 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.

On 6 June 1944, American, British, Canadian and Free French forces invaded German-occupied Normandy in northern France. We now know this as D-Day. In less than a month more than 850,000 troops had landed in Normandy. The objective was to defeat Hitler’s German forces, and liberate the conquered people of Europe from the Nazi occupation.

Just a few days later, on 22 June 1944 Soviet forces began a major offensive in the East. By August 1944, they had succeeded in gaining control of Central Poland.

As the Soviet army fought their way westwards they uncovered many hundreds of Nazi concentration camps. On 23 July 1944, the Soviet army liberated the death camp of Majdanek, near Lublin in Poland.

The SS had already evacuated the majority of the prisoners to the west. However, they had not destroyed all evidence of mass murder.

Knowing that the Soviet army was advancing, those prisoners who were fit enough to walk were evacuated West. Starting on foot, they were then placed on railway wagons and sent back to Germany. Thousands of people died in what became known as the 'death marches'.

On 27 January 1945 the Soviet army liberated the largest camp of all, Auschwitz-Birkenau. When the Soviets finally arrived they found only 7,650 people alive in Auschwitz. Many of these were young children.

In the West, as the Allies fought their way towards Berlin, they uncovered many hundreds of Nazi camps. The main ones included Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen and Bergen-Belsen. Allied broadcasters filmed the situation of the surviving inmates. When these films were shown in cinemas across Europe and the Americas the world was shocked. This was the first time that mass media was used to show the horror of genocide.

On 30 April 1945 Adolf Hitler committed suicide. On 8 May 1945 the Nazis surrendered.

  • This section will highlight the key events of the liberation. It will consider how people had survived and what happened to them after liberation. It will also examine how the world subsequently treated the perpetrators.

    Finally, this section will look at the legacy of the Holocaust, memorialisation and ask the key question as to whether we can ever learn the lessons of history.