Auschwitz camp liberator dies

2003-03-21 21:25

Moscow - A Red Army division commander who liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp in January 1945, Vasily Petrenko, died on Friday aged 91, the RIA Novosti news agency reported, quoting the Russian Holocaust Foundation.

General Petrenko was the last surviving commander of the four Soviet army divisions that surrounded and liberated the Nazi death camp in the closing months of World War II.

After the war Petrenko received numerous honours, including the Order of Lenin, the highest award of the Soviet Union.

He said years later that what he had seen at Auschwitz had changed his life, since he had never been able to come to terms with the depths of inhumanity that it revealed.

"I had seen many people hanged and burned," he said, speaking of his experiences as one of the Red Army's youngest generals in World War II. "But still I was unprepared for Auschwitz."

The Auschwitz concentration camp, along with its adjunct Birkenau, was liberated on January 27, 1945. The date has since been designated Holocaust Day in many countries, including Germany.

More than one million people, most of them Jews, are believed to have perished at the death camp at Oswiecim, near Krakow, in then German-occupied Poland.