It was January 27th 1945 a day that will make history. I was called Vik for short but my real name was Viktor Agapov and I was a member of the 332nd Rifle Division of the Soviet Army who had discovered the Auschwitz concentration camp along with my close peers Vladislav and Alexei.
The Soviet Army had broken through the German defences and had began to approach Krakow not realising that they would stumble upon something that they would later forever remember. By the time we had got there, the place was deserted and had been mostly destroyed by the SS. A few of the buildings had been burnt down and was still slightly smoking.
The place looked enormous with a double electric, barbed wire fence that surrounded the barracks. Watch towers were attached to parts of the electric fence holding abandoned Karabiner 98k’s. Only one watch tower held a MP3008 submachine gun which faced into the camp. The place was full of mud, grime and decay. A horrible smell emitted from the camp making me feel nauseous as we approached.
“Shall we continue Comandarm?” Vladislav asked.
“Yes I think we should. Go forward men!” Belsky replied.
We continued on through the mesh double gates that led onto the camp complex and was welcomed by a hoard of very exhausted and starved men and women wearing strange looking pyjama type clothing. They all had numbers which had been scruffily sewn on the front with a yellow Jewish star. Looking at their faces which were gaunt and ghostly, their eyes betrayed their horrible ordeal of what had happened here.
They had noticed our uniform and rushed straight towards us with open arms. They got onto their knees and started to kiss the flaps of our long overcoats whilst crying out with joy and relief.
“What is going on here?” What is this place?” Comandarm Belsky demanded.
“This is a concentration camp.” One of them spoke up.
The group got up off of the floor and took a step back, opening up a gap large enough for us to walk through and inspect the place.
They all looked nervous yet relieved at the same time. They all had short hair and it was very difficult to tell the difference between the men and the women. They all looked the same, skinny and half starved. Their eyes were sunken in but you could see a little glimmer of hope in them.
“Secure the place. Make sure there are no SS still lurking around.” The Comandarm ordered.
“I have a horrible feeling about this place.” I whispered as we made our way to the first building.
Alexei Nodded and pulled out his Tokarev SVT-38 (Rifle) from underneath his arm. He cocked it back and then pulled it up to his face to aim.
The sign above the first building stated ‘Medizinisches Labor’ (Medical laboratory) and looked half destroyed. We walked into the first room and saw a station full of bottles of different coloured liquids. Syringes littered the floor along with paper work. Cabinets lined the wall with their draws hanging open. Everything had all been ripped open with the contents pulled out, which had been scattered across the floor. Some of the paper work had even been set on fire and the remnants left everywhere.
“Check the paperwork. I will take a look out the back.” I said noticing another door in the far corner.
I opened the other door and walked through leaving the other two to sort through the documents. It led back outside onto the compound but onto the other side of the camp. There was a huge pit a few feet away from me emitting a horrible smell. Curiosity got the better of me and I walked towards it not knowing what I was about to witness. The smell got worse with every step that I took.
The whole pit was full up with naked bodies that were decomposing at a rapid rate. Motionless eyes stared at me from the pit full of pain and despair. A low scream escaped my lips as the horrific scene burned its way into my memory. I turned around and rushed back inside not wanting to see anymore.
“Do not go out there.” I muttered as I wiped a tear from my cheek.
“I suggest that you do not read this either.” Vladislav replied.
“What is this place?” I asked.
“These are documents of children that they experimented on and the outcome of the experiment. The experiments are horrific and inhumane so I recommend that you do not read them.” Alexei looked at me with sorrow. “We need to move on to inspect more.”
We left through the same way we had come in and walked across the compound to the next building. This building was on the far left of the camp and looked like a factory. It had a large chimney in the middle and big wooden doors which had been left open.
“We need to check it out even if we don’t want to. The others are checking out some of the other barracks.” Sokolov said appearing beside me. “Belsky wants to know what is taking so long.”
“If there was a hell on earth then this is the place.” Alexei murmured.
“Come on we best check the place out properly.” Sokolov said.
We entered into the building even though my whole body screamed at me to turn around and get out as fast as I could.
Inside the building there were hundreds of piles. Piles of clothes, shoes, suitcases, glasses and even piles of human hair ready to be stuffed into what looked like empty pillow cases. Behind the piles of objects were five big three-muffle ovens with metal doors that had large handles on.
“Alexei go and get one of the detainees and bring them here to explain to us what this place is as I do not understand.” Vladislav ordered.
Alexei nodded and ran off toward the group, returning quickly with one of the half starved detainees.
The detainee looked scared as we asked him what this building was used for. He twiddled with his thumbs not knowing what to say.
“You need to tell us.” Sokolov ordered.
“The ovens were used to burn bodies.” The detainee said quietly whilst pointing to one of the large ovens.
“Alive or dead?” I asked.
“Some were alive. Some were dead. This place was called The Crematoria.” He explained in a matter of fact tone as if it did not matter to him anymore.
“I don’t think that I can go any further.” I murmured whilst looking at my peers.
We all had the same look in our eyes, Sorrow and despair. I had to refrain myself from crying as Solokov picked up a pair of women’s shoes from one of the massive piles that covered most of the space of the floor.
“There are so many belongings here.” Solokov whispered to himself and threw the shoes back onto the pile.
He then opened one of the ovens, revealing a pile of human ashes unidentifiable to whoever did not know what this place was.
“My wife was taken here a few months back.” The detainee spoke quietly. “I never saw her again.”
I placed my hand upon his shoulder trying to give him a little comfort. “I am so sorry.”
“We need to check the barracks out the back.” Alexei said.
We all nodded and let the detainee lead us to the barracks which held their sleeping quarters.
Outside one of the barracks was a pool of dirty water mixed with blood. There was a large stain which also looked like blood splattered up the front of the barracks door. A bullet hole was in the centre of the stain. The detainee did not look bothered and walked past it, heading straight into the barrack which looked more like a stable than sleeping quarters.
“This is where we sleep.” He said. “There used to be about a thousand of us in here at one time.”
I looked around shocked to only see mattresses full of rotting straw. You could not see the floor underneath as the whole place was full of these small and thin mattresses.
“Don’t go in there Solokov as there are rats.” I said noticing that a lot of the mattresses were moving slightly.
“Are all your sleeping quarters like this?” Alexei asked.
The detainee nodded and headed back out into the cold open air. He then pointed at a building which stated ‘Block 11’.
“I shall take you there next.” He stated and walked off towards the building with us in tow. Another three barracks stood side by side besides the building with another wired fence surrounding them.
There were steps that led down into the building with an iron door which had also been left open. The windows had wired mesh across the front as if it was to stop the detainees from escaping.
We walked through into the building which only had two rooms. One room was filled with more piles of clothes and the other looked like a shower room with a very strong chemical smell. A sign on the door stated ‘Der Waschraum’ (Wash Room).
“What is this room?” Vladislav asked the prisoner.
“It was used as a gas chamber to kill the people that were too unfit to work.” He stated.
“What was used to gas them?” Solokov asked bewildered.
“I was told that it was called Zyklon B gas and it was being experimented on us to see how effective it was.” He sighed.
There were hundreds of scratch marks across every inch of the walls of the room. Deeply embedded finger nail marks, some of the marks still had a few finger nails left in them. A shiver ran down my spine as I imagined the screams that must have echoed across the compound from this building.
“I think we have seen enough. I don’t want to see anymore.” I begged the others.
They all nodded and retreated back outside into the cold. The grey winter clouds above loomed up ahead casting a dark shadow over the camp as we made our way back to the group.
As we walked back I could see another pile of naked bodies outside the perimeter of the camp which had been half burnt. I could see smoke still emitting from the pile. Another violent shudder ran through my body.
Alexei was right in what he said. This was hell on earth. From the amount of clothes and bodies we had witnessed seeing, it looked as if thousands or even more had been murdered here.
“What is going to happen to us now?” The detainee asked quietly.
“We will get you the help that you need.” I replied.
It took days for some of the Red Cross staff and local volunteers to respond to the survivors of the camp needs. Helping to diagnose them as most of the survivors were suffering from malnutrition, gangrene, typhus, tuberculosis and other ailments. A lot of the survivors had forgotten their own names entirely due to the amount of suffering they had endured.
Forty-four thousand pairs of shoes of men, women and children were discovered at the camp along with eighty-eight pounds of eye glasses, and hundreds of prosthetic limbs. But that was not all of them. A lot of the detainees belongings had either been stolen or burnt by the SS to hide the barbaric things that they had done here.
I don’t think anyone will ever forget what had happened at Auschwitz and the other surrounding concentration camps and it was a stroke of luck that we had stumbled upon the camp otherwise the remaining survivors probably would have died if they had waited an extra few days for help.
I remember asking one of the detainees why didn’t they just leave and she replied back with something that I will always remember.
“We had nowhere else to go.”
In just four-and-a-half years, the Nazi’s murdered 1.1 million people at Auschwitz.