Markus Schreiber / AP
BERLIN – David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier involved in the liberation of the Nazi Auschwitz extermination camp, has died. He was 98 years old.
The Jewish community in Munich and Upper Bavaria said on Sunday that Dushman died in a Munich hospital on Saturday.
“Every witness to the passing of history is a loss, but saying goodbye to David Dushman is particularly painful,” said Charlotte Knobloch, former president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. “Dushman was on the front lines when the National Socialist murder machine was destroyed.”
As a young soldier in the Red Army, Dushman flattened the forbidden 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 realize the full extent of what had happened at Auschwitz.
“Skeletons everywhere,” he recalled in a 2015 interview with the Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung. “They stumbled out of the barracks, sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw all of our canned food at them and immediately continued to drive out the fascists.”
Over a million people, mostly Jews deported from all over Europe, were murdered by the Nazis at Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945.
Dushman has been to some of the bloodiest military encounters of WWII before, including the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. He was seriously wounded three times but survived the war, one of 69 soldiers in his 12,000-strong division.
His father, a former military doctor, was in the meantime imprisoned and later died in a Soviet punishment camp after falling victim to one of Josef Stalin’s purges.
After the war, Dushman helped form the Soviet Union’s Women’s National Fencing Team for four decades and witnessed the attack by eight Palestinian terrorists on the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics, which resulted in the deaths of 11 Israelis, five of the Palestinians and a German policeman.
Later in his life, Dushman visited schools to talk to students about war and the horrors of the Holocaust. He will also regularly dust off his military medals to participate in gatherings of veterans.
“Dushman was a legendary fencing trainer 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, recounting how, as a young fencer from what was then West Germany, he was offered “friendship and advice” from the veteran trainer in 1970 “despite M.’s personal experience being a male of Jewish descent.”
“It was such a deep human gesture that I will never forget it,” Bach said in a statement.
Dushman trained some of the Soviet Union’s most successful fencers, including Valentina Sidorova, and continued to teach until she was 90, the IOC said.
Details of the funeral arrangements were not immediately known. Dushman’s wife, Zoja, passed away several years ago.