Laurence Rees: Raped by their saviours ... How the survivors of Auschwitz escaped one nightmare only to face another

Roundup: Talking About History

[Laurence Rees wrote Auschwitz: The Nazis And The Final Solution, and wrote and produced the BBC TV documentary series of the same name.]

When liberation came, it came quickly. One night in January 1945, as ten-year-old Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister Miriam lay in their bunks at Auschwitz-Birkenau, they were suddenly awoken by a huge explosion.

Outside, the winter sky was red with flames.

The Nazis had blown up the crematoria where the bodies of hundreds of thousands of Jews had been burned, for fear that the approaching Soviet Army would discover them

Moments later, Eva and Miriam were forced by guards out of their barracks with all the other young twins in Birkenau and marched by the SS down the road to the main camp at Auschwitz, one-and-a-half miles away.

It was a miracle that any of them were alive, for all had been subject to Dr Mengele's evil medical experiments in 'hereditary biology'.

In one experiment, Eva had been injected with a disease that Mengele wanted to study. She had become extremely ill - but kept telling herself she must survive.

'If I had died, my twin sister Miriam would have been killed with an injection to the heart and then Mengele would have done the comparative autopsies,' she explained later.

Yet now Eva was enduring another nightmare as the twins were frog-marched towards the main Auschwitz camp in the dark, their gaunt expressions occasionally illuminated by the flames and flashes of the artillery of the Red Army.

Those children who could not continue were shot, their bodies left by the roadside.

Eva made it to Auschwitz. And it was there, shortly afterwards, that she realised her suffering might finally be over when one of the women in the barracks started shouting: 'We're free! We're free!'

Eva ran to the door of her hut, but could see nothing in the snow. Only after some minutes could she make out Red Army soldiers dressed in white camouflage coats.

'We ran up to them, and they gave us hugs, cookies and chocolates,' she remembers.

'Being so alone, a hug meant more than anybody could imagine because that replaced the human warmth we were starving for.
'We were not only starved for food but we were starved for human kindness, and the Soviet Army did provide some of that.'
For the several thousands of weakened, emaciated prisoners who had survived Auschwitz, the Red Army soldiers of the First Ukrainian Front who liberated the camp of death on January 27, 1945, were the first friendly faces they had seen for years.

Undoubtedly, it was a moment for celebration.

Just as the anniversary this week, 65 years on, is reason to rejoice that the unimaginable horror of Auschwitz and one of the darkest chapters in mankind's history had finally come to an end.

Yet while we acknowledge the liberation, we should also pause to consider what happened afterwards to those who survived the camp's appalling regime.

Although some Holocaust survivors truly found joy after being freed from Auschwitz, for many it was a very different story - and one that most definitely does not offer us a happy ending.

A story of abuse, rape, theft and terrible betrayal...

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