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Anatoly Shapiro, A Name to Remember

Anatoly Shapiro, A Name to Remember

He led his troops in the liberation of Auschwitz

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we revisit the story of Anatoly Shapiro.

Major Anatoly Shapiro was a Jewish officer in the Red Army who led his troupes to liberate Auschwitz concentration camp on January 27, 1945.  He enlisted in the Red Army at the onset of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, was wounded in Kursk in 1943, but it’s what he saw 71 years ago at Auschwitz that left the most indelible mark.

Shapiro recalled additional details of the day of the liberation in this remarkable interview given shortly before his death in 2005 at the age of 94 to an Israeli radio host Tovia Singer.  This was during the second intifada, and Shapiro spoke to that too:

His story is an incredible one:

Anatoly Shapiro, 92, has never forgotten what he saw at Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945. That was the day Shapiro, who says he is the first Russian officer to enter the infamous concentration camp, led his battalion to liberate it.

In an interview Saturday in his apartment in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, where he sits alongside his wife, Vita, his tall, thin form is upright and his eyes are clear as he describes, through a translator, the things he says he still sees in nightmares 60 years later.

“We saw German soldiers, and when we opened the gate, we saw one barrack, then the next, on and on for a hundred barracks,” he recalled.

“When I saw the people, it was skin and bones. They had no shoes, and it was freezing. They couldn’t even turn their heads, they stood like dead people.”

“I told them, ‘The Russian army liberates you!’ They couldn’t understand. Some few who could touched our arms and said, ‘Is it true? Is it real?’ “

As a commanding officer, his task was to direct his men. Half his battalion — originally 900 men — had died in battle. But nothing they had endured had prepared them for what they found inside Auschwitz.

His men pleaded with him to let them leave.

“The general told me, ‘Have the soldiers go from barrack to barrack. Let them see what happened to the people,’ ” he recalled.

He ordered them to accompany him, and they went from barrack to barrack. He remembers, “In German, it said, ‘damas,’ — women. When I opened the barrack, I saw blood, dead people, and in between them, women still alive and naked.

“It stank; you couldn’t stay a second. No one took the dead to a grave. It was unbelievable. The soldiers from my battalion asked me, ‘Let us go. We can’t stay. This is unbelievable.’

“We went to the barracks for men; it was the same as the barracks for the women.

“People in the barracks were naked, or [had] just thin clothes, no shoes, in the freezing cold; it was January. Only a few people could talk; they didn’t have energy. But a few people were able to talk, so slowly. [They told us] once a day they got a little water, no bread, no anything. If someone died, they took the clothes, to get a little warmth, anywhere. They died from hunger and cold.

“I was shocked, devastated.”

Shapiro remembers two barracks for children.

“Outside it said, ‘kinder.’ Inside one, there were only two children alive; all the others had been killed in gas chambers, or were in the ‘hospital’ where the Nazis performed medical experiments on them. When we went in, the children were screaming, ‘We are not Jews!’ “

It turned out that they really were Jewish children and were afraid they were about to be taken to the gas chambers.

He remembers the Russian Red Cross trying to feed the people. “Immediately they started cooking chicken soup, vegetable soup, but the people couldn’t eat because their stomachs were like” — instead of using words, he shows his clenched fist.

Soviet writers Ilya Ehrenburg and Alexey Tolstoy toured Auschwitz immediately after liberation. They put together a testimony later used in Nuremberg Trial, but their discoveries weren’t widely publicized in the Soviet Union.  Only a brief note about the concentration camp appeared the following day in Pravda.

The Holocaust wasn’t a part of history lessons when I attended Soviet school in the 80’s — I learned about it from my family.  Anatoly Shapiro, the man who lead his troupes to storm the gates of Auschwitz, learned about the scope of the Holocaust when, already in his 80’s, he came to the US.

Because of the repression of Judaism in the former Soviet Union, Shapiro says he did not know how many Jews the Nazis had killed until he learned that the figure was 6 million when he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1992.

shapiro

Anatoly Shapiro and his wife Vita in their New York apartment

About 500,000 Jews fought in the Red Army in World War II, 40% did not come home, either killed in action or murdered in POW camps.  150 were designated the highest honor “Hero of the Soviet Union”.

——————–

The author writes the blog Sitting on the Edge of the Sandbox, Biting My Tongue and occasionally posts at Legal Insurrection. She is an American citizen and a native of Kharkov, a Russian-speaking city in what was, when she was growing up, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

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Comments

“Shapiro says he did not know how many Jews the Nazis had killed until he learned that the figure was 6 million when he and his family immigrated to the United States in 1992.”

Given that the director of the Auschwitz State Museum has revised the camp’s death toll down to 1.1 million from the original Soviet estimate of 4 million, why has the 6 million estimate for the entire Holocaust not been revised down to 3 million? Three million dead Jews is still a Holocaust. Has someone discovered evidence for an extra 3 million deaths that were not included in the original estimate?


     
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    gibbie in reply to Skookum. | January 27, 2016 at 10:59 pm

    Is that all you can think of to say?


     
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    Walker Evans in reply to Skookum. | January 27, 2016 at 11:30 pm

    You seem to be presuming that all of the so-called inferior races killed by the Nazis and their collaborators died in the camps. If you are very young I can see how you might have reached that conclusion as the camps are usually all that are spoken of when the Holocaust is discussed, but that is far from the truth. The camps are the focus of so much of the discussion because they are the most graphic proof that the slaughter was not incidental to certain areas but were in fact highly organized, being carried out on a massive scale, mandated by the highest Nazi echelons. It was genocide of a type never seen before, death on what can be described as an industrial basis.

    As to whether or not the revision of the Auschwitz numbers mandate a decrease of the total numbers of people murdered, this site will help you get a truer picture:

    http://chgs.umn.edu/museum/memorials/auschwitz/


       
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      Skookum in reply to Walker Evans. | January 30, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      “You seem to be presuming that all of the so-called inferior races killed by the Nazis and their collaborators died in the camps.”

      No such assumption. It’s just that it seems like an overestimate of 3 million from one source when the total death count is 6 million either needs to be countered by deaths from an overlooked source or the total needs to be revised downward.

      This is important given the rise in Holocaust denialism, and, more disturbing to me, Nazi revisionism. I cannot abide the idea that Adolf was really a good guy who was unjustly abused by the Allied Powers.

      “As to whether or not the revision of the Auschwitz numbers mandate a decrease of the total numbers of people murdered, this site will help you get a truer picture:

      http://chgs.umn.edu/museum/memorials/auschwitz/

      Thanks for the link.


     
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    American Human in reply to Skookum. | January 28, 2016 at 6:49 am

    The Soviet estimate of 4 million killed there was never used in the official estimates because it was unreliable as were just about all other estimates from the Soviets on just about anything.
    In the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the author uses the 1.1 million estimate but most of that came only in the last few months prior to liberation. Auschwitz was also a labor camp. The other camps in Poland were set up as simply extermination camps. Also, included in the 6 million number are the Eastern European Jews who were rounded up and killed by the Einzatzgruppen SS whose job it was to follow the combat troops in operation Barbarossa.
    It is worth noting that the Russian army ultimately did not do much for the people of these camps that were liberated. they eventually just turned them loose to find their way home. Many were the further subject to the ferocious raping frenzy that consumed the Russian troops as they headed west.
    I’ve read a lot about both the Nazis and the Russians in their battles in the east. Sometimes I have a difficult time deciding who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.


       
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      Skookum in reply to American Human. | January 30, 2016 at 8:34 pm

      “The Soviet estimate of 4 million killed there was never used in the official estimates because it was unreliable as were just about all other estimates from the Soviets on just about anything.

      “In the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the author uses the 1.1 million estimate but most of that came only in the last few months prior to liberation. Auschwitz was also a labor camp.”

      So the revised estimate for Auschwitz, the official estimate posted at the museum, is just an acknowledgement of the western European estimate and a rejection of the Soviet estimate? That makes sense.

      Killing a million people in a few months at one location seems like a huge task, but I understand most died of disease and starvation rather than gassing. I don’t see one form of death being necessarily worse than the other.

      “I’ve read a lot about both the Nazis and the Russians in their battles in the east. Sometimes I have a difficult time deciding who were the good guys and who were the bad guys”

      The cultural Marxists who infested the Western academy pushed the myth that National Socialism was a right-wing ideology, a myth that remains in effect today. The fact is national socialism is very similar to international socialism. Both are thuggish tyrannies of the Left.

    Because 6 million Jews were nowhere to be found after the war’s end.

These Camps are something to be remembered in the history of man’s inhumanity to Man. How any country, can murder a group because of their Religious beliefs, must be remembered, and sworn never to allow to happen again. The extent of the Hate to any one group is so inhumane, and must never be repeated again.


     
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    Skookum in reply to bobgood1. | January 30, 2016 at 8:43 pm

    The Nazis did not kill Jews specifically because of their religion, but because of supposed cultural incompatibilties (not all of which can be directly attributable to religion as I understand it), disproportionate success, and the perception that Jews betrayed Germany in WWI.


 
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Sammy Finkelman | January 28, 2016 at 7:44 pm

The Holocaust wasn’t a part of history lessons when I attended Soviet school in the 80’s — I learned about it from my family.

Many years ago, I saw a book in the Donnell branch of the New York Public Library. It was a translation of Russia histiory textbook for children , published in 1976.

It said that 6 million Jews were killed, 4 million in Auschwitz and 2 million in Maidenek.

This was highly inaccurate, of course, but since when did the Soviet Union respect truth, even when the truth was oin their side? Those two concentration camps had been liberated by the Red Army. By placing all the deaths there, they attributed the liberation only to the Red Army.

The way that book had it, there wasn’t even any room for Treblinka!

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