David Dushman, Last Surviving Soldier Who Liberated Auschwitz, Dies at 98: 'Particularly Painful'

Dushman was a soldier in the Red Army who helped free prisoners from the Nazi concentration camp on Jan. 27, 1945

David Dushman
David Dushman. Photo: Markus Heine/NurPhoto via Getty

David Dushman, the last surviving Soviet soldier who helped liberate Auschwitz, has died. He was 98.

Dushman's death was confirmed in a statement on Sunday by the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria, according to NPR and CNN.

In their statement, the Jewish Community of Munich and Upper Bavaria said Dushman — who, as a Red Army soldier, helped free prisoners from the notorious Nazi concentration camp on Jan. 27, 1945 — died at a hospital in Munich on Saturday, NPR reported.

"Every witness to history who passes on is a loss, but saying farewell to David Dushman is particularly painful," Charlotte Knobloch, a former head of Germany's Central Council of Jews, said in the statement.

"Dushman was right on the front lines when the National Socialists' machinery of murder was destroyed," Knobloch added. "He was one of the last who could tell about this event from his own experience."

David Dushman
David Dushman. Markus Heine/NurPhoto via Getty

During a 2015 interview with Munich newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Dushman spoke about liberating the prisoners from Auschwitz-Birkenau, NPR reported.

Auschwitz-Birkenau was the largest concentration camp under Hitler's regime, according to Auschwitz.org. An estimated 1.1 million people, mostly Jews from across Europe, were killed there, in gas chambers or from systematic starvation, forced labor, disease and medical experiments.

"Skeletons everywhere," Dushman recalled in the interview, per NPR. "They stumbled out of the barracks, they sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all of our canned food and immediately drove on, to hunt fascists."

Dushman also spoke to Reuters last year and recalled how his unit had to use tanks to knock down the concentration camp's electric fences.

"When we arrived we saw the fence and these unfortunate people," Dushman explained. "They were standing there, all of them in [prisoner] uniforms, only eyes, only eyes, very narrow — that was very terrible, very terrible. We had not known that Auschwitz existed."

Dushman ultimately survived World War II, despite getting wounded three times in combat and having a part of his lung removed, according to Reuters. He was one of 69 soldiers to survive out of his 12,000-member division, the outlet reported.

Following the war, and after overcoming his injuries, Dushman went on to become a professional fencer, according to Reuters.

"I couldn't walk at all because I got out of breath," he said, per the outlet. "I made up my own workout routine for one minute per day. So very, very gradually, slowly, slowly I reached a point where, in 1951, I became the champion of Russia [in fencing]."

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From 1952 to 1988, Dushman coached the Soviet Union's women's national fencing team and trained some of their top-class female athletes, including Valentina Sidorova, according to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"The death of David Dushman has deeply saddened me," Thomas Bach, the IOC president who is of German descent and a former fencer, said in a statement. "When we met in 1970, he immediately offered me friendship and counsel, despite Mr. Dushman's personal experience with World War II and Auschwitz, and he being a man of Jewish origin. This was such a deep human gesture that I will never ever forget it."

Later in his life, Dushman spent time speaking at schools about the atrocities of the war and the Holocaust, NPR reported. He also frequently participated in veterans gatherings, according to the outlet.

At this time, no funeral arrangements have been publicly announced, according to NPR.

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