Russia remembers liberation of Auschwitz

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Ivan Martynushkin is a rare surviving witness to the horrors of the Holocaust, and only one of a handful still living who liberated the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.
But the 86-year-old remembers the events of January 27, 1945 with great clarity. As the former lieutenant in the Soviet army told me about the atrocities he witnessed, it was clear how precious his memories were.

"We saw emaciated, tortured, impoverished people," he recalled. "Those were the people I first encountered... We could tell from their eyes that they were happy to be saved from this hell. Happy that now they weren't threatened by death in a crematorium. Happy to be freed. And we had the feeling of doing a good deed -- liberating these people from this hell."

As the Soviets approached the Auschwitz concentration camp complex, in occupied Poland, in mid-January 1945, Nazi SS officers forced nearly 60,000 prisoners to march west.

About 7,000 too weak or sick to move stayed behind. In total, historians say more than 1 million Jews, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war and Poles were murdered there....

Recently in Russia, officials including President Dmitry Medvedev have defended the Soviet Union's role in World War II after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe passed a resolution that, in Medvedev's words, "grouped together Germany and the Soviet Union, pronouncing them to be equally responsible for World War II."...

Addressing Martynushkin and other veterans at the ceremony, [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin emphasized how harrowing the experience was for those who fought. "While some people today may have the impression that Soviet troops got here quite easily, opened the gates and said 'hello,' it was not like this at all.

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