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Remembrance

Rewriting history: Red Army’s role in liberating Europe censored in the West

When the Red Army approached Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, the survivors met their liberators with shouts of “the Russians have come.” The first words of Major Anatoly Shapiro, who was in command of the unit that entered the death camp, were: “The Red Army came to set you free.”

Surprisingly, nowadays, on a tour of the notorious extermination camp, you would never hear Polish guides mention that Russians liberated Auschwitz. Instead, you would be told that World War II was started by Stalin, jointly with Hitler.

Today, the whole story of how the Red Army saved Europe from the Nazis is being wiped from Western history books, with Russian soldiers increasingly being portrayed as oppressors and occupiers rather than saviours. Poland’s lower house of parliament even approved a bill to demolish Soviet-era statues, including monuments to Red Army soldiers. The law was proposed by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance, whose professor has said: “I can say with confidence that here the Red Army is seen as invaders that occupied our lands.”

However, the people in the middle of the conflict were perfectly aware of the sacrifices the Red Army made to beat the Nazis. During August 1942, President Roosevelt wrote to Stalin “The United States understands that the Soviet Union is bearing the brunt of the war.”

Today’s generation is widely under the impression it was the US that won World War II, as that’s what their textbooks generally tell them. Very few Westerners know that, while United States military deaths in the European theatre amounted to some 300,000, the Soviet Union suffered well over 25 times that number. Moreover, the Red Army fighting in the east killed more than four times as many German soldiers as the US and its allies did on the Western Front. In fact, the famous D-Day invasion, which opened the second front in Europe, was only launched in June of 1944, after it was already clear the Red Army could achieve complete victory over the Nazis on its own.

However, not everyone has forgotten the heroism of the Red Army soldiers that stopped Hitler’s war machine in Stalingrad and then pushed it back to Berlin. Some Europeans and members of memorial societies still actively document and maintain the graves of Soviet soldiers and preserve monuments to them. Often, they are elderly survivors of the war or descendants of those who were shown kindness by the liberating Soviet soldiers. One such activist is Polish Army Reserve Colonel Tadeusz Kowalczyk, who said “in fifty years Polish kids will think that it wasn’t the Red Army that liberated Poland... but the American one. But we won’t allow it!”

For a closer look at the battle over World War II history, watch Remembrance on RTD Documentaries.

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