David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier to take part in the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz, has died. He was 98.
The Jewish community in Munich and Upper Bavaria said Sunday that Dushman died at a hospital in Munich on Saturday.
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“Every witness to the story that betrays is a loss, but saying goodbye to David Dushman is especially painful,” said Charlotte Knobloch, a former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “The enemy was right at the front when the machine for killing the National Socialists was destroyed.”
As a young Red Army soldier, Dushman leveled the banning electric fence around the infamous Nazi death camp with his T-34 tank on January 27, 1945.
He admitted that he and his comrades did not immediately understand the full extent of what happened at Auschwitz.
“Skeletons everywhere,” he recalled in an interview with the Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung in 2015. “They emerged from the barracks, sat down and lay down among the dead. Terrible. We threw all our cans at them and immediately set off to hunt down fascists.”
More than a million people, most of them Jews deported there from all over Europe, were killed by the Nazis in Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945.
Earlier, Dushman took part in some of the bloodiest military meetings of World War II, including the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. He was severely wounded three times, but survived the war, one of only 69 soldiers in his 12,000-strong division.
His father, a former military doctor, was meanwhile imprisoned and later died in a Soviet camp after falling victim to one of Joseph Stalin’s purges.
After the war, Dushman helped train the women’s national fencing team of the Soviet Union for four decades and witnessed the attack of eight Palestinian terrorists on the Israeli team during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, which resulted in the death of 11 Israelis, five Palestinians and a German policeman.
Later in life, Dushman attended schools to tell students about the war and the horrors of the Holocaust. He also regularly asked for military medals to attend veterans’ rallies.
“Dushman was a legendary fencing coach and the last living liberator of the Auschwitz concentration camp,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement.
IOC President Thomas Bach paid tribute to Dushman, saying that as a young fencer for what was then West Germany, he had been offered “friendship and advice” by a veteran coach in 1970 “despite Mr Dushman’s personal experience with World War II and Auschwitz, and he as a man of Jewish descent. “
“It was such a profound human gesture that I will never forget it,” Bach said in a statement.
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Dushman trained some of the Soviet Union’s most successful fencers, including Valentina Sidorova, and continued to teach in the 1990s, the IOC said.
Enemy’s wife, Zoe, died a few years ago.
Details of the funeral were not immediately known.