In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces approached the Auschwitz camp complex, the Nazi SS began evacuating Auschwitz and its satellite camps. Thousands had been killed in the camps in the days before these death marches began. Nearly 60,000 prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march west from the Auschwitz camp system to the city of Wodzislaw in the western part of Upper Silesia. SS guards shot anyone who fell behind or could not continue. Prisoners also suffered from the cold weather, starvation, and exposure on these marches. More than 15,000 died during the death marches from Auschwitz.
On today’s date, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated more than 7,000 remaining prisoners, who were mostly ill and dying. It is estimated that at minimum 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz between 1940 and 1945; of these, at least 1.1 million were murdered.
Today Auschwitz is considered a World Heritage Site, and its grounds and structures, still mostly intact, serve as a living holocaust museum. In 2005, the UN General Assembly designated January 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this annual day of commemoration, every member state of the UN has an obligation to honor the victims of the Nazi era and to develop educational programs to help prevent future genocides.