Programme six - Liberation
"Question: You were part of the largest killing factory in history;
don't you think you should have stood trial? Answer: No. You [are wrong
to] assume that just being a member of a large group of people who lived
in a garrison where Jews were killed is enough to make them criminals."
Oskar Gröning, SS garrison, Auschwitz
On 27 January 1945 Red Army soldiers liberate the concentration camp
at Auschwitz- Birkenau.
They are not warned about its existence in advance, so when they enter
it, they are utterly shocked by the walking skeletons, the remains of
the gas chambers and the piles of human hair.
But it is not only Auschwitz-Birkenau that horrifies the world. A few
months later other concentration camps are liberated - among them Bergen-Belsen,
where thousands of unburied bodies are strewn over the ground.
The British are horrified and unprepared for how to deal with the situation
- 14,000 prisoners die in the first five days following their liberation;
another 14,000 succumb in the following weeks.
Tragically, life for many liberated prisoners continues to be appalling.
Women are raped by the advancing Soviet soldiers.
When Jewish survivors return to their homes in countries such as Slovakia
or Poland, they find that their property has been confiscated and they
are told by their neighbours to return to where they came from.
Some face pogroms in their home cities. Others decide to leave for
Palestine, but many are stopped on their way by British patrols and
placed in British camps in Cyprus.
Whilst Hitler and Himmler commit suicide, frustratingly large numbers
of perpetrators manage to remain hidden.
Ex-Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss is captured by the British but
they do not recognise him. He is subsequently freed and finds work on
a farm in northern Germany.
Adolf Eichmann becomes a lumberjack in the same region, while Josef
Mengele works as a farmhand in Bavaria where he writes self-pitying
poems about his long and hard-working days.
Groups of avengers are created by Jews who wish to take revenge into
their own hands. In the chaos of post-war Europe, they track down Nazis
and murder some of them.
Höss is hunted down by the British, tried in Poland and eventually
hanged at Auschwitz.
Eichmann and Mengele escape to Argentina.
In May 1960 Eichmann is finally captured by the Israelis, brought to
trial and executed a year later.
Mengele successfully evades capture and dies of natural causes in 1979.
Overall only a small percentage of the SS men from Auschwitz are ever
put on trial.
The problem is that they can only be convicted if there is sufficient
evidence of personal involvement in the crimes committed in the camp.
Many of the perpetrators have never confronted their role in the 'Final
In contrast, those they persecuted are unable ever to forget.
Liberation and Revenge hears from a member of the
SS garrison at Auschwitz who, towards the end of his life, decides to
confront the Holocaust deniers.
The programme also follows individual stories of former prisoners who
did not find peace after returning home, as well as the story of a Jewish
avenger who admits to the murder of several Nazis and gives a first-hand
description of Adolf Eichmann's capture.