The liberation of the concentration camps
The victories of the Red Army in the East and the advances of the American and British (and other Allied forces) Armies in the West brought home to the Germans that defeat was near. They therefore began to take steps to hide their crimes, to destroy the gas chambers and furnaces where they had murdered millions of people, mainly Jews, and to evacuate the concentration camps in Poland. They began moving the concentration camp inmates to camps in Germany and Austria. Tens of thousands were shot on the way or died of exhaustion on the long death marches which were carried out in conditions of extreme cold and starvation.
24th July 1944-The Red Army freed the Maidanek extermination camp.
19th January 1945-The Red Army Liberated Lodj and its ghetto where about 900 Jews survived
27th January 1945- Auschwitz concentration camp was liberated by the 322nd Infantry Regiment of the Red Army commanded by Jewish Major Anatoly Shapiro belonging to the 60TH Army under the command of General Koniev. Approximately 1,500,0000 people were murdered there of which some 1,300,000 were Jews. At the time of the liberation there were about 7650 sick and exhausted Jewish survivors.
13th February 1945 - the Red Army liberated the Gross Rosen concentration camp.
4th April 1945 - liberation of the Orderf concentration camp by the American forces.
11th April 1945-the American Army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp where 238,000 prisoners were held captive during its existence and where 43,000 were exterminated.
15th April 1945-the British army freed Bergen Belsen concentration camp where they found 13,000 corpses, 58,000 barely-alive inmates (mostly Jews). 14,000 died in the first few weeks following the liberation due to illness and under - nourishment. One of the soldiers who took part in the liberation of the camp was Haim Herzog – later President of Israel.(and father of the present President )
22nd April 1945 - the Red Army liberated Sachsenhausen in which 100,000 prisoners died. At the time of its liberation there were about 3,000 very weak and starving survivors.
23rd April 1945 - the American Army liberated the Flossenburg concentration camp in which more than 30,000 people were murdered.
29th April 1945-Dachau concentration camp was liberated by the 3rd Battalion of the 157th Regiment of the 45th Division of the US 7th Army.in the proximity of the camp were found more than 30 train wagons full of concentration camp inmate corpses which had been sent for extermination.
2nd May 1945 - liberation of prisoners on the “death train“ in the township of Seehaupt in Bavaria. Amongst the prisoners was Moshe Zanbar later Governor of the Bank of Israel. The train was liberated by the 743rd Tank Battalion of the 30th Infantry Division of the US 9th Army. Commanding officer of the unit was Jewish Major Clarence Benjamin, with Major Frank Towers and Sergeant George Gross being members of the unit taking part in the action.
3rd May 1945 - the Germans handed over to the Red Cross management of the Theresensdtat concentration camp in Czechoslovakia in which 33,000 Jews died .Five days later the Red Army captured the camp and found 19,000 survivors.
5th May 1945 - liberation by the American Army of Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Approximately 119,000 prisoners were murdered there.
8th May 1945-Victory in Europe Day celebrated by the Allies.
Liberation found the Jewish Holocaust survivors in a very low physical and moral state .They were more like “the walking dead” than living human beings. They could not enjoy the feeling of freedom represented by the return to their homes, to their families. This was denied them. Their families had been exterminated, their homes destroyed, plundered and confiscated. Fear of the Nazis was replaced by anti-Semitic attacks by their former neighbours. The possibility of leaving Europe was limited. The gates of Palestine were closed by the British Mandate. Many were forced to live in refugee and Displaced Persons camps. The process of returning to normal life was long and difficult, including coping with traumas due to their experiences in the camps and in hiding, searching for their families and relatives and the beginning of a new life. A Jewish force presented itself to aid them—10,000 Jewish soldiers (5000 soldiers serving in British Army transport units and 5000 members of the Jewish Brigade. These were serving in Europe at the end of the War with one third of them having relatives in Europe. The contact which was made with the Holocaust survivors by the soldiers was critical—the key to all the continuation of Zionist history. This contact changed the direction of all these survivors scattered in Europe. These survivors had not heard about Palestine during the war (except for the members of the Zionist youth movements)—and the main orientation was to go to the United States. The sudden appearance of a Jewish Army with as badge and a flag came as a surprise to many and many changed their mind as to where to go. “In May 1945 a soldier arrived in our camp at Judenburg with a badge on his sleeve with the word “Palestine“ on it. I thought he was an Englishman who lived in Palestine. Suddenly I heard the soldier speaking Russian. I couldn’t believe my ears and I asked him “Are you Jewish, do you speak Hebrew? And he answered “yes, I am a Palestinian Jew“. I fainted from over excitement. The Jewish soldier helped me a lot. He told me about Eretz Yisrael and about the Jewish Brigade. After a few days a car with Magen David insignia appeared in the camp, several soldiers emerged from it. We were transferred by the Brigade soldiers to a proper house where we met other refugees from Hungary. Many of the Brigade soldiers began to come to us bringing clothes, food, and sweets. It was difficult for us art first to get used to all the good things. We were brought to Milano and from there to Naples via Rome. The Jewish unit which was there escorted us until we embarked onto the ship “(from a letter written by survivor Hanna H. which was published in “letter to the draftee “15 August 1945) .At that time the British mandate forbade emigration to Palestine and made it illegal.