Soviet soldiers were the first to liberate concentration camp prisoners on July 23, 1944, when they liberated the Majdanek camp in Poland. On January 27, 1945, they entered Auschwitz. The Germans had taken many prisoners with them when they retreated from the camp, but they were forced to leave behind hundreds of weak and sick prisoners.

The Americans liberated Buchenwald and Dachau, while British forces liberated Bergen-Belsen. Although the Germans had attempted to move out all surviving prisoners and hide any evidence of their crimes, the Allied soldiers found thousands of dead bodies “stacked up like cordwood.”

Survivors had mixed reactions to their newfound freedom. Many didn’t know if other family members had survived. Some felt guilty for surviving when most of their relatives and friends had died. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist, said: “Timidly, we looked around and glanced at each other questioningly. Then we ventured a few steps out of the camp. This time no orders were shouted at us, nor was there any need to duck quickly to avoid a blow or a kick. ‘Freedom,’ we repeated to ourselves, and yet we could not grasp it.”

Source: Liberation
Copyright © United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC

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