Liberation Of The Camps
On May 8, 1945, the Allies celebrated their victory over Nazi Germany, but for the majority of Concentration Camp prisoners and many others this victory was a dream that had come too late. On that date David Ben-Gurion wrote a single sentence in his usually voluminous diary: "Victory day - sad, very sad".
The Concentration Camps were liberated only a short time before the end of the war. In January 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz. The retreating German Army continued a stubborn resistance on German soil and so the Concentration Camps in Germany and Austria were only liberated by the Allies in April-May 1945. At the same time, the Allies liberated hundreds of thousands of Concentration Camp prisoners, who had been forced-marched by the Nazis on the infamous "Death Marches".
The Red Army's concerted thrust from the East and the Normandy landings of the Allies in the West, in the Spring and Summer of 1944, forced the Germans to accelerate the evacuation of the Concentration Camps in Eastern Europe. The prisoners were marched towards Germany and Austria, over distances of hundreds of kilometers without food or water. Tens of thousands of Jews were shot to death on the way, and thousands of others died of hunger, of exposure to cold and from disease. With the advance of the Allied Armies into Germany, the Germans began evacuating the Concentration Camps there, moving the prisoners into areas still under their control. The Death Marches from Sachsenhausen, Mauthausen, Dachau and other camps continued right up to the day of capitulation. From the end of 1944 about a quarter of a million prisoners had been slaughtered on these marches.
The liberation of the camps was a major trauma for the Allied Armies. The sight of hundreds of bodies spread around in the open and survivors looking like walking skeletons - was enough to nauseate even the most battle-inured soldiers. A Jewish commander of one of the regiments which liberated Auschwitz, wrote that he nearly went out of his mind at the repulsive sights, a revulsion which led to a deep identity of feeling with the victims.
But it turned out that neither the Army nor UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration), was prepared for relief work on the scale required, and had not taken into consideration the necessary physical and mental rehabilitation of the survivors. Tens of thousands of ravenous survivors, were gripped with an overwhelming obsession to eat without limitation, and paid for this with their lives. UNRRA, like the military, did not grasp the need to distinguish between Jewish refugees and the millions of other prisoners and forced workers, including Nazi collaborators, who should have been speedily returned to their countries of origin. In the first stage they all remained in the same camps, which became DP (displaced persons) camps.
Immediately after the liberation of the Camps, Jewish soldiers serving in the Allied Forces, made contact with the survivors. American Rabbis and members of the Jewish Brigade Group came to the camps on their own initiative and tried to make things easier for the survivors. The criticism leveled at the grave condition of the displaced Jews, led to the establishment of an American Commission of Inquiry, which condemned the military policies in the camps and recommended the setting up of separate camps for displaced Jews. This made possible the organization of the survivors as an independent Jewish entity.
The liberation of the camps by the Allies was not just a supreme humanitarian act but was of major historical importance in the fight, which continues to this day, against those who deny that the Holocaust ever took place.
Here, Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Western Allied Forces in Europe, envisioned the future. In his book "Crusade in Europe" he wrote: " I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at firsthand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that 'the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda'."
The stamp was issued in 1995. Designer: A. Van Ooijen.