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David Dushman had no idea what he would discover when his tank plowed through the fence of what appeared to be a prison camp just outside of Krakow, Poland, on Jan. 27, 1945, as he and his unit were pushing the Nazi army back through Europe.
It was the moment the soldier became a liberator.
Dushman, who died last week at the age of 98 at his home near Munich, Germany, was likely the last surviving member of the Russian unit that liberated Auschwitz, the notorious Nazi concentration camp where 1.1 million men, women, and children, most of them Jewish, were murdered as part of Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.”
The president of the local Jewish community near where Dushman, a Russian Jew himself, lived in Germany, called him the “Hero of Auschwitz.”
“Every contemporary witness who passes away is a loss, but the farewell of David Dushman is particularly painful,” Charlotte Knobloch told CNN over the weekend. “He was one of the last who could tell about this event from his own experience.”
“Dushman didn’t enter the death camp through the notorious gate emblazoned with the words ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (Work sets you free),” the Washington Post added. “His tank plowed right through the electrified, barbed-wire fence — a fence many prisoners had intentionally jumped into to end their torture.”
In an interview with Reuters to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, Dushman said, humbly, that he, like many of the soldiers who made their way through Europe to Germany, driving back the Nazi army as they went, had no idea the death camp was even there, and after making a hole in the fence, he and his unit stayed only a short time before they had to roll on.
“We had not known that Auschwitz existed,” he said.
“When we arrived, we saw the fence and these unfortunate people. We broke through the fence with our tanks. We gave food to the prisoners and continued,” Dushman said in 2020, noting that his tank unit left a pathway for the Soviet 322nd Rifle Division to follow them through. He continued on to “hunt down the fascists.”
“They were standing there,” he said. “All of them in (prisoner) uniforms, only eyes, only eyes, very narrow — that was very terrible, very terrible.”
By the time Dushman’s unit arrived at the death camp, the German guards had cleared out, taking 60,000 of Auschwitz’s strongest prisoners with them on a “death march” to other camps. Those left behind were the weak, the sick, and children, many of whom, the Washington Post noted, were victims of “Angel of Death” Josef Mengele’s horrific experiments. Also left behind were the clothes of the many victims and tons of human hair.
“Skeletons everywhere,” Dushman told Reuters, recalling images burned into his memory. “From the barracks, they staggered, between the dead they sat and lay.”
Dushman was “one of just 69 men in his 12,000-person unit to survive the war,” according to CNN, and even he was so severely wounded that a part of his lung had to be removed, leaving him debilitated. That did not stop the Russian soldier who, after the war, became an international fencer and fencing coach, coaching the USSR’s women’s team for more than three decades before retiring from the sport in 1988. Under his tutelage, the Soviet women’s team racked up seven Olympic medals, including two golds.
With Dushman’s death, the living memory of the liberation of Auschwitz also passes, but Dushman’s legacy may be more about peace than the horrors of war. In 1970, he met, personally, with Thomas Bach, the German president of the International Olympic Committee.
“When we met in 1970, he immediately offered me friendship and counsel, despite Mr. Dushman’s personal experience with World War II and Auschwitz, and he being a man of Jewish origin,” Bach recalled in his own statement, issued last week. “This was such a deep human gesture that I will never ever forget it.”
Emily Zanotti is the senior editor of the Daily Wire.
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Original Author: Emily Zanotti
Original Location: David Dushman, 1923-2021