David Duchmann, the last surviving soldier who took part in the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz in 1945, died at the age of 98.
The International Olympic Committee said in a brief statement that Duchmann, a soldier in the Red Army who later became an international fencer, died yesterday.
On January 27, 1945, he used his Soviet T-34 tank to cut the electric fence of Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, helping to free prisoners in the death camp.
“We hardly know anything about Auschwitz,” he said in an interview in 2015 with the daily Sueddeutsche.
But he saw “skeletons everywhere”.
“They came out of the barracks dangling and sat and lay among the dead. Terrible. We threw them all our canned food and immediately went after the fascists,” he said.
Only after the end of the war did he learn about the scale of the atrocities in the camp.
Of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, more than a million were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau, mostly in the notorious gas chambers, along with tens of thousands more including homosexuals, Gypsies, and Soviet prisoners of war.
Duchman was one of 69 soldiers in his division who survived the war, but was seriously wounded.
Despite this, he became a great fencer in the Soviet Union, and later became one of the greatest fencing coaches in the world, the IOC said.
The President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, expressed his grief over the death of Duchmann.
“When we met in 1970, he immediately offered me friendship and advice, despite Mr. Duchmann’s personal experience with World War II and Auschwitz, and being a man of Jewish descent,” said Mr. Bach, a German.
“This was such a profound humanitarian gesture that I will never forget it,” the IOC president added.
Duchmann lived for several years in the 1990s in Austria before later moving to Munich, where German media said he had died.
The IOC said that four years ago, he still went almost daily to his fencing club to give lessons.