Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

Prisoners liberated from Auschwitz I camp

Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by soldiers of the Soviet Union in the First Army of the Ukrainian Front, under the command of Marshal Koniev, on January 27, 1945. The photo above shows a few of the 1200 survivors in the Auschwitz main camp, standing near the "Arbeit Macht Frei" gate. One prisoner has his arms around the neck of Soviet soldier who is wearing a fur hat.

Child survivors of Birkenau

There were 5,800 prisoners, including 611 children, left behind by the Nazis at Birkenau, and 1,200 prisoners abandoned at the Auschwitz main camp. Shown in the photo above are some of the Jewish children in the Birkenau camp when it was liberated. The girl on the far right is one of the twins who were forced to be the subjects of medical experiments done by Dr. Joseph Mengele.

On January 18, 1945, the Nazis had marched approximately 60,000 of the prisoners in the three Auschwitz camps to other camps farther west. This was a "death march" with those who couldn't keep up being shot and left alongside the road, including SS guards, according to a survivor. Those who were too young, too old or too sick to march were left in the camp.

The VIP prisoners, a group of famous scientists and intellectuals, were also left behind. According to Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank who was a prisoner at the Auschwitz I camp, the prisoners were given the choice of whether to join the march or stay in the camp. Otto Frank chose to stay and he was the only member of his family who survived.

Women survivors in the barracks at Birkenau

The photograph above is a still shot from a film made by the Soviet Union after Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. The photo shows two women in the foreground who are lying on the brick stove down the center of the barrack, as they huddle under blankets trying to keep warm. These women had chosen to stay behind when the camp was evacuated on January 18, 1945.

Women marching out of Birkenau after being liberated

Photo Credit: USHMM

The last roll call, taken on January 17, 1945, showed that there was a total of 16,226 prisoners in the main camp, called Auschwitz I. Of this number, there were 10,030 men and 6,196 women. The Nazi records from the camp were turned over to the International Red Cross Tracing Service by the Soviet Union after the fall of Communism. The total count from the last roll call was 67,012 prisoners in the three Auschwitz camps, according to Danuta Czech's book entitled "Auschwitz Kalendarium."

The last roll call showed that there was a total of 15,668 prisoners at Birkenau and four nearby sub-camps. The following figures were published in "Auschwitz Kalendarium":

Babitz 159
Budy 313
Plawy 138
Wirtschaftshof-Birkenau 204
Birkenau Men's Camp 4,473
Birkenau Women's Camp 10,381
Total 15,668