Recipient of the Soviet Red Army’s Order of the Patriotic War David Dushman, the last surviving liberator of the Auschwitz concentration camp and an honorary member of the Israelite Religious Community in Munich (IKG), died on Saturday night at the age of 98.
The son of a Jewish general, sports physician, and military doctor in the Red Army, Dushman witnessed his father’s deporting in 1938 to a Gulag north of the Arctic Circle where he perished during Joseph Stalin’s Great Purge. In WW2, Dushman became a volunteer tank driver in the Red Army and participated in the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. In addition to the Order of the Patriotic War, he received more than forty decorations and distinctions.
In the early afternoon of January 27, 1945, Dushman drove his T-34 tank over the electric fence of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in occupied Poland, thereby initiating the liberation of the camp. In the camp, he witnessed starving people, piles of dead bodies, and later recalled, “We threw them all our canned food and immediately went on to hunt down the fascists,” but admitted that he was not aware at the time of the real purpose of the camp or the scale of the atrocities that had been committed there.
Dushman suffered severe injuries on three separate occasions during the war and was one of 69 soldiers out of 12,000 in his Red Army division to survive the war.
After the war, Dushman became a professional fencer and served as the trainer of the national women’s fencing team of the Soviet Union from 1952 to 1988. He stayed right across the street from the residence of the Israeli athletes in the 1972 Munich Olympics and witnessed the Munich massacre. He recalled being “horrified” by the events, which made him very conscious of his Jewish background.
IKG President Dr. Charlotte Knobloch released a statement saying: “It was with great sadness that I learned of David Dushman’s death. Every contemporary witness that passes away is a loss, but saying goodbye to David Dushman is particularly painful. Dushman was at the forefront when the Nazi murder machinery was smashed in 1945; as the “Hero of Auschwitz,” he was one of the liberators of the concentration camp and saved countless lives. He was one of the last to report from his own experience of this event. After the war, he successfully went his way and, as the national coach of Soviet female fencers, paved the way for countless world championships and Olympic medals. We lost a brave, honest and sincere man and an honorary member of our religious community. We remain deeply grateful to him and will keep an honorable place for him in our memory.”