Army liberators recall shock of
With additional reporting by Ron Popeski
Dated: 26 Jan 2005
KRAKOW, Poland, Jan
26 (Reuters) -- When 60 years ago Anatoly Shapiro
commanded his Red Army troops to secure a concentration
camp complex in Auschwitz, he had no idea he was about to
discover the biggest Nazi killing machine.
"We came upon
groups of people in striped uniforms. They were no more
than skeletons. They were unable to talk. They had a
blank look in their eyes," the 92-year-old told
"We told them we
were the Red Army and had come to free them. They began
to feel our uniforms as if they didn't believe us. We
washed and clothed them and began to feed them," said
Shapiro, whose speech will be aired in Krakow during
Thursday's commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the
When the advancing
Soviet army reached Auschwitz -- the Nazi death camp in
what is now southern Poland where 1.5 million people,
mostly Jews, perished -- only about 7,000 prisoners
remained in its wooden barracks.
The rest were
already marched out or dispatched by train in a desperate
attempt by the Nazis to cover up evidence of the mass
"We saw everything.
The chambers used to gas the prisoners, ovens where the
bodies were burned. We saw the piles of ash. Some of my
men approached me and said 'Major, we cannot stand this.
Let's move on.'," Shapiro said in a phone interview from
his New York home.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, alongside 40 leaders
including France's Jacques Chirac and U.S. Vice President
Dick Cheney, take part in ceremonies in Auschwitz, 70 km
(40 miles) from Krakow.
elected President Viktor Yushchenko, son of an Auschwitz
prisoner, will also attend.
Koptev Gomolov, who
was 18 when his division liberated Auschwitz, recalls
that among the "starved and exhausted" prisoners he saw
one waving a makeshift red flag.
"First we didn't
understand. Later we found out people had sewn it from
pieces of red material and cloths they found. When they
heard explosions from the cannons they guessed the Red
Army is coming," said Gomolov.
At a tragic cost
for Russia and the Soviet Union as a whole, the Red Army
liberated Auschwitz, the Holocaust's deadliest death
camp, and most of Nazi-occupied Eastern
later, Moscow's sphere of influence over its liberated
lands is diminishing, with eight post-communist states in
the European Union and NATO and now Ukraine, after
Yushchenko's hard-fought election victory, leaning
"The role of the
Soviet army changed quite clearly at the end of the war
from that of liberator to instrument in maintaining
Moscow's influence," said Vadim Krushinsky, a historian
and professor at Kiev's Institute of International
But with 9 million
Red Army soldiers killed in World War Two, Shapiro said
history was clear: "I can say with conviction that the
Red Army was an army of liberation. No one can deny that
or take that distinction away."