On this day: January 1945
It has been 5 months since the inhabitants of the Secret Annex were arrested. After being deported first to Westerbork transit camp in the Netherlands they arrived at Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany on 2 September 1944. One month later Anne Frank and her sister Margot were selected for transport to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Their mother, Edith, is left behind.
Edith Frank dies today from poor health, starvation, and exhaustion in Auschwitz-Birkenau – 10 days before her 45th birthday and 20 days before the Soviet Army liberates the camp.
In an attempt to hide German crimes from the advancing Soviet Army, the gas chambers of Birkenau are blown up by the SS. Evacuation of Auschwitz begins. Nearly 60,000 prisoners are forced to march toward the interior of the German Reich. These forced evacuations come to be called “death marches.” Those too weak or sick to walk are left behind. These remaining 7,500 are ordered for execution by the SS, but in the chaos of the Nazi retreat the order was never carried out.
Peter van Pels goes to Anne’s father, Otto, who is in the infirmary, telling him he must join them in the evacuation. Otto refuses, not knowing that this resignation to stay at Auschwitz and die actually ends up saving his life. Peter joins the death march out of Auschwitz.
Peter is registered at Mauthausen forced labor and concentration camp in Austria.
Auschwitz is liberated by Soviet troops.
In their advance towards Germnay from the east, the Soviet Red Army had been the first Allied force to encounter camps established by the Nazis. Beginning in July 1944, the camps they found had been demolished or dismantled by the SS in order to hide evidence of their crimes. However, when the Soviets reached Auschwitz, what they found was undeniable evidence of the lengths to which the Nazis' had gone in carrying out the mission of their racial ideology: hundreds of thousands of men's suits, more than 8000,000 women's outfits, and more than 14,000 pounds of human hair.
An approximate 7,650 prisoners are found at the camp, most of whom are ill or dying. Otto is still in the sick barracks. He weighs less than 115 pounds. Of the Russian soldiers and their snow-white uniforms, Otto later recalls,
They were good men. We didn't care that they were Communists. We weren't concerned about their politics, we were interested in being liberated.
It is estimated that the SS and police deported at a minimum 1.3 million people to Auschwitz complex between 1940 and 1945. Of these, the camp authorities murdered 1.1 million Jews. Other victims included between 70,000 and 74,000 Poles, 21,000 Roma, and about 15,000 Soviet prisoners of war.