July 23 marks the 70th anniversary of one of the most important liberations of World War II. On that day in 1944, troops of the Soviet Second Tank Army liberated the Majdanek death camp near Lublin in Poland.
What happened at Majdanek dwarfed the future discoveries of at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and the other well-publicized German concentration camps uncovered by the Western allies. At least a quarter of a million people were killed there. First estimates at the time put the figure as high as 1.5 million.
The horrific facts of Majdanek were reported around the world almost immediately. Alexander Werth of the British Broadcasting Corporation sent graphic reports which ran on BBC News. But they were virtually totally ignored in the West as (supposedly) communist propaganda.
Almost no living survivors of Majdanek remain to testify to its particular horrors. However, Nazi hunters in modern democratic Germany are still hunting at least 17 former Nazi guards at the camp.
The anniversary of the liberation and the true facts surrounding it need to be remembered. They contain crucially important lessons essential for the preservation of world peace in the 21st century.
In recent years, Western historians have increasingly embraced a doctrine of moral equivalency between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It is perfectly true that the total death toll in Stalin’s terror, repressions and catastrophically bungled economic policies ran into the scores of millions. But an enormously important distinction needs to be made: The Red Army eye-witnesses from the lowest combat soldier to top ranking generals at the liberation Majdanek all shared the appalling horror and reacted in the most decent and admirable way to the unimaginable evil they confronted. The record of Red Army medical services in trying to cope with a health crisis no one had imagined possible among the survivors was exemplary.
The great British military historian Michael Jones in his 2011 work Total War: From Stalingrad to Berlin documents this vital and untold story with vivid accounts from the eye-witnesses. “When we saw what (Majdanek) contained, we felt dangerously close to going insane,” recalled Vasily Yeremenko of the Second Tank Army.
Captain Andrey Mereshenko of the Eighth Guards Army never forgot that when he arrived at Majdanek, “the ovens were still warm.”
War correspondent Konstantin Simonov wrote in the newspaper Red Star that his mind refused to recognize the reality of what he had seen with his own eyes.
The Soviet soldiers and senior officers who liberated Majdanek reacted with horror at what they found: Many of them feared they were going insane. But they were not: They were retaining their humanity in its most precious forms.
“When death camp prisoners “realize we want to help them,” some moan with joy,” Col. Georgi Elizavetsky wrote to his wife Nina. “And when they see bread, others literally howl, kiss our feet and become quite delirious. … There is a children’s barracks in the camp. When we entered I just could not stand it anymore.”
In recent decades, as only a handful of combat war veterans from the three great Allied nations remain alive; this crucial truth has been lost: There was no moral equivalence. The soldiers of the Red Army suffered vastly more casualties than the Western Allies. They inflicted 90 percent of combat losses on the Nazi armies. They did more to win the war against the Nazi evils than anyone else.
They also deserve primary credit for ending the Holocaust. On September 23, 1944, the same day the Second Tank Army liberated Majdanek, troops of the Soviet First Belorussian Front also liberated the extermination camps at Sobibor and Treblinka. On January 27, 1945, they liberated the biggest and most diabolical murder factory of them all – Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Almost halfway through the second decade of this 21st century, this proud and crucial record has been entirely forgotten in the West. No senior Western leader took part in any ceremonies to commemorate the liberation of Majdanek. No major Western leaders currently plan to honor the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army next January.
Instead, the United States and its NATO allies continue to encourage new Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his ultra-nationalist allies, some of whom openly identify with the World War II Nazis, in their use of lethal military force to kill hundreds of civilians in Eastern Ukraine.
The bravery and sheer decency of the millions of ordinary Russian, Ukrainian and other nationalities in the Red Army who won the war and liberated the worst death camps needs to be remembered and honored, not forgotten in the West, or swept under the carpet. Their achievements should be the lasting foundation for a new generation of understanding and mutual respect between the thermonuclear superpowers.
Martin Sieff for RT
Martin Sieff is chief global analyst at The Globalist and a senior fellow of the American University in Moscow.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.