David Dushman was a 21-year-old serviceman with the Red Army when he took part in the liberation of Auschwitz. The last surviving Soviet soldier to take part in the military operation, he passed away on June 5, 2021, at the age of 98.
The death of a war hero
Dushman’s death was confirmed by Charlotte Knobloch, President of the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria. In a statement shared on the community’s website, Knobloch announced the “hero of Auschwitz” died at a Munich hospital.
“It is with great sadness that I learned of David Dushman’s death,” Knobloch, herself a Holocaust survivor, wrote. “Every contemporary witness that leaves us is a loss, but saying goodbye to David Dushman is particularly painful.
“With him we lose a brave, honest and sincere man and an honorary member of our religious community,” she continued. “We remain deeply grateful to him and will keep him an honorable memory.”
The Liberation of Auschwitz
The Auschwitz concentration camp was the largest under Hitler’s Nazi regime. Located in Poland, it was responsible for the deaths of over a million people, primarily Jews, through the use of gas chambers, medical experiments, systemic starvation, disease, and forced labor.
On the early afternoon of January 27, 1945, Dushman drove his T-34 tank over the electric fence at Auschwitz. Once the fence was down, ground soldiers with the 332nd Soviet Rifle Division were able to enter, initiating the camp’s liberation.
During a later interview, Dushman recalled that they weren’t aware of Auschwitz’s existence and didn’t immediately realize the scope of the horrors that had taken place there. “They stumbled out of the barracks, they sat and lay among the dead,” he said, adding troops offered food before moving on “to hunt fascists.”
Not long after arriving at Auschwitz, Dushman was ordered to leave and make his way to Berlin. This was just one of the many significant military events he took part in during the conflict, along with the Battles of Stalingrad and Kursk.
At the end of the war, he was one of only 69 members of his division to survive. This was despite being severely injured three times, with one injury requiring the removal of part of his lung. For his service, he was awarded more than 40 decorations and distinctions, including the Order of the Patriotic War.
David Dushman’s life after the war
Dushman became a professional fencer for the Soviet Union after the war. From 1952 to 1988, he coached the country’s women’s national fencing team. His involvement resulted in him being present at the 1972 Munich Olympics, which saw an event that later became known as the Munich Massacre.
On September 5, 1972, eight armed members of the Palestinian group Black September broke into the Olympic compound, killed two members of the Israeli team, and abducted nine more. During the rescue attempt, the remaining hostages were killed, along with five Black September members and a police officer from West Germany. The remaining three members were taken into custody.
During his later life, Dushman lived in Austria before moving to Munich-Neuperlach in 1996 with his wife, Zoja. He visited schools to educate students about the war and the events of the Holocaust, and often attended veterans gatherings.