70 years after the Soviet Vistula-Oder-Offensive and liberation of Auschwitz
by Olivia Kroth
On the 12th of January 1945, the Red Army began its Vistula-Oder-Operation between the Vistula river and Oder river, on a territory that today belongs to Poland. During this successful offensive, the Soviets were able to defeat the Wehrmacht and destroy their Fourth Panzer Army. The Soviets freed the surviving prisoners of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp in Auschwitz, while marching westwards towards the German capital of Berlin. On the 2nd of February 1945, this Soviet offensive reached Küstrin on the Oder river, 40 miles east of Berlin. It was their last stop before the capture of Berlin.
The Vistula-Oder-Offensive was carried out by the 1st Belorussian Front under Field Marshal Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (1896-1974) and the 1st Ukrainian Front with Field Marshal Ivan Stepanovich Konev (1897-1973). More than 2.2 million Soviet troops participated. Over 43.000 men were killed, 150.000 were wounded or became ill.
On the 12th of January 1945, the 1st Ukrainian Front started the Offensive in the Baranov bridgehead with an intense bombardment of the Wehrmacht 4th Panzer Army. On the 17th of January, Marshal Konev and his troops reached the city of Breslau, and two days later Krakau in Upper Silesia. The Soviets encircled and entered the city without damaging it. On the 22nd of January, the 1st Ukrainian Front secured the bridgehead Steinau on the Oder river.
The 1st Belorussian Front also proceeded fast towards the west. On the 17th of January 1945, the Soviets took Warsaw. On the 19th, they reached Lodz, on the 25th, Poznan (Posen). Field Marshal Zhukov secured the region of the Obra river with his troops and advanced to Küstrin on the Oder river. The military historian Earl Ziemke described this march: “On the 25th, Zhukov’s main force passed Poznan heading west towards Küstrin on the Oder, 40 miles east of Berlin. The path of the Soviet advance looked like the work of a gigantic snowplough.”
On the 2nd of February 1945, Stavka declared the Vistula-Oder-Offensive completed. It was a huge success for the Red Army. The Soviets had advanced hundreds of kilometres westward, liberated Poland from Nazi troops and shattered their Army Group A.
Liberation of Auschwitz
The concentration camp in Auschwitz had been set up by the German fascists in 1933 to exterminate Communists, Jews, Roma and Sinti. More than 1.5 million people were cruelly tortured and murdered in this camp. Most of the victims were Jews from different parts of Europe. Since 1949, the Nazi SS under camp commander Rudolf Höss had used Zyklon B to gas the prisoners. It was a cyanide-based pesticide, invented in Germany in the early 1920s.
In January 1945, the Nazi SS began to evacuate all concentration camps in Eastern Europe, forcing the prisoners to walk to the west, away from the advancing Soviet Offensive. These death marches took place over hundreds of kilometres in icy weather, so large numbers of the prisoners died on the way.
When Field Marshal Konev and his soldiers from the 1st Ukrainian Front reached the concentration camp Auschwitz, on the 27th of January 1945, they found 7.000 living inmates and 650 corpses. They furthermore discovered 843.000 men’s suits, 837.000 ladies’ dresses, 44.000 pairs of shoes, 14.000 tons of carpets and 7.7 tons of human hair in the storage rooms.
Liberation of Auschwitz:
After 70 years, it is time to remember that the Soviet Union saved Europe from Nazi fascism. The Red Army bore the brunt of most liberation operations during World War II. Soviet soldiers put an end to the Nazi torture and murder of millions. Today’s generation in Germany should never forget that their forefathers were involved in the gigantic Nazi machinery of destruction throughout Europe. After 1945, most of them said they had “known nothing”.
In 2015, it is high time to break the deep silence and put an end to hypocritical amnesia. The government of Germany should know what ghosts of the past it is invoking by sending money and relief supplies to the fascist government of Ukraine. The German press would be well advised not to bow to dictates from Washington but publish their own opinion after having pondered at depth Germany’s inglorious past during Hitler’s “Thousand-Year-Empire”.
Olivia Kroth: The journalist and author of four books lives in Moscow.