On July 22, the world should have remembered the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Majdanek, the first of Hitler’s infamous extermination camps to be captured and shut down. But of course the brave Russian – and Ukrainian, Kazakh and other Soviet nationalities – soldiers of the Red Army got no credit across the West for doing so.
It was one of the most important liberations of World War II. On that day in 1944, troops of the Soviet Second Tank Army liberated the notorious 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. Probably close to a quarter of a million people were killed there. First estimates at the time put the figure as high as 1.5 million. (Current conventional estimates of 78,000 victims are simply ludicrously low, as respected Polish historian Czeslaw Rajca has rightly pointed out)
The horrific facts of Majdanek were reported around the world almost immediately. Alexander Werth of the British Broadcasting Corporation, one of the greatest of Western war correspondents 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, as late as 2014, Nazi hunters in modern democratic Germany were still hunting at least 17 former guards at the camp.
However, 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. In recent days, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a man who himself has never raised a single objection to any US, British or NATO bombing campaign that killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians, or the unleashing of uprisings and civil wars that cost millions of lives, made the same allegation.
Far worse, Johnson shamefully compared Russia hosting the 2018 World Cup in soccer – a notable success deeply enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of visiting fans – with Hitler hosting the notorious 1936 Olympic Games with his hateful racism.
Yet visitors to Moscow today can – and should – visit the state-backed Museum to the Millions of Victims of Communism. And in July 1944, the Red Army did not occupy Majdanek to keep it running. As they did half a year later on liberating Auschwitz, the Soviet forces shut it down at once and its medical units worked day and night in desperate, often miraculous efforts to save the survivors. It is a repulsive lie of Russian-hating racists to say these policies were morally equivalent to Nazi extermination.
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 great British military historian Michael K. 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 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.
Yet two decades into the 21st century, this proud and crucial record has been entirely forgotten in the West.
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 Nazi 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.
It is shameful that from the hysterical London of Boris Johnson to the militaristic globe-strutting arrogance of neoconservative Washington, this simple sanity is no longer recognized.