It was the scene of the largest mass murder in history. A place where around 1 and a half million men, women and children perished. Most of them were Jews. As Soviet troops closed in on Auschwitz, the Nazis fled – taking tens of thousands of their captives with them. Those left behind were finally liberated by Red Army soldiers on January 27, 1945. Yakov Vinnichenko, then a teenager, was one of those troops. He will never forget what he saw.
“Inmates were supporting each other so they did not fall,” he said. “Some were laughing, some crying. Some tried to touch us. “We continued on. We couldn’t stop. We had to go ahead. “Straight away, on the second day, a shower was organised and field kitchens to feed people. They were so weak. They couldn’t walk. So emaciated.” Once a quiet corner of southern Poland, Auschwitz has become a symbol of the Holocaust.
Now preserved as a museum, it is a permanent reminder of what man is capable of doing to his fellow man. Even sixty years on, Yakov can hardly believe the condition in which he and his comrades found the survivors of Auschwitz. “How could people be tortured to make them so frail, skin and bones, that they could hardly stand on their feet?” he asks. “The weather was damp. It was warm and there was no white snow to eat instead of water, only dirt. It is impossible to describe.” Evil, brutal, horrific – no words can describe what happened at Auschwitz, the Nazis’ largest and most notorious site of mass slaughter.