Liberation

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Between May 1940 and the liberation of the camp in January 1945, the Nazis transported more than 1.3 million prisoners to Auschwitz. Of this number 1.1 million were murdered; around 90 per cent were selected for death on arrival.

In January 2000, 44 governments from around the world met in Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, to discuss the importance of Holocaust education, remembrance and research.

It was decided that 27 January; the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, should become International Holocaust Memorial Day. 

On 27 January 2001, the UK held the inaugural HMD.

Each annual HMD is commemorated with a UK event and over 2,000 local activities taking place on or around 27 January each year.

Click here to find out about how you can become involved in HMD events near your school or college.

Liberation

On 27 January 1945, the 60th Army of the First Ukrainian Front, a unit of the Soviet Army, opened the gates and entered the Auschwitz camp complex.

The liberators discovered around 7,000 surviving prisoners across the three main camps of Auschwitz 1, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buna Monowitz. Amongst the survivors were 180 children; 52 of them under eight years of age. 

Many of these survivors had been deemed unfit to join the final evacuation of thousands of prisoners by the SS just 10 days earlier on what would become known as the ‘death marches’. 

Whilst carrying out this final evacuation the SS had set about removing evidence of their crimes. Many thousands of documents were set alight. Between 21 and 26 January 1945, the Germans blew up  and partially dismantled the gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau. Kanada II, the warehouse in which property plundered from victims of the gas chambers was stored and sorted, was also looted and set alight. Members of the Wehrmacht joined in the looting.

On entering the camp, Soviet soldiers discovered the bodies of around 600 prisoners, many of whom had been shot by the SS during the evacuation. Others had died due to the conditions and treatment within the camp. 

Soviet army medics gave immediate first aid to the survivors. Two military field hospitals were assisted by members of the Polish Red Cross and volunteers from the town of Oświęcim.

Recovery

It took many years before survivors of Auschwitz began to recover from their ordeal. However, many suffered the effects of the physical or mental trauma throughout their lives.

Over the coming months they began to leave the camp in search of surviving relatives and a place to rebuild their lives.

Many refugees found themselves living in temporary Displaced Persons Camps before emigrating to countries across western Europe, the United States or seeking to travel to Palestine.