BERLIN – David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier who was involved in the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Auschwitz, has died. He was 98.
The Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria announced on Sunday that Dushman died on Saturday in a Munich hospital.
“Every witness of history who dies is a loss, but saying goodbye to David Dushman is particularly painful,” said Charlotte Knobloch, former chairwoman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “Dushman was right on the front lines when the Nazi murder machinery was destroyed.”
As a young soldier in the Red Army on January 27, 1945, Dushman flattened the deterrent electric fence around the infamous Nazi extermination camp with his T-34 tank.
He admitted that he and his comrades did not immediately realize the full extent of what was happening in Auschwitz.
“Everywhere skeletons,” he recalled in 2015 in an interview with the Münchner Süddeutsche Zeitung. “They stumbled out of the barracks, they sat and lay among the dead. Dreadful. We threw them all our canned food and immediately drove on to hunt down fascists. “
Between 1940 and 1945 more than a million people, most of them Jews deported from all over Europe, were murdered by the Nazis in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Dushman previously participated in some of the bloodiest military encounters of World War II, including the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. He was seriously wounded three times, but survived the war as one of only 69 soldiers in his 12,000-strong division.
His father, a former military doctor, was imprisoned in the meantime and later died in a Soviet penal camp after falling victim to a purge of Joseph Stalin.
After the war, Dushman helped train the Soviet Union’s national fencing team for four decades and witnessed the attack by eight Palestinian terrorists on the Israeli team at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, in which eleven Israelis, five of the Palestinians and another German policeman died .
Later in life, Dushman attended schools to tell students about the war and the horrors of the Holocaust. He also regularly dusted his military medals to attend veterans gatherings.
“Dushman was a legendary fencing coach and the last living liberator of the Auschwitz concentration camp,” said a statement from the International Olympic Committee.
IOC President Thomas Bach paid tribute to Dushman and told how, as a young fencer for what was then West Germany in 1970, he was offered “friendship and advice” by the experienced coach “despite Mr Dushman’s personal experience with World War II and Auschwitz, and he was a man of Jewish origin to be.”
“That was such a deep human gesture that I will never forget,” said Bach in a statement.
Dushman trained some of the Soviet Union’s most successful fencers, including Valentina Sidorova, and taught well into his 90s, the IOC said.
Details of the funeral arrangements were initially not known. Dushman’s wife Zoja died a few years ago.