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WWII veteran: "I didn't hate the Germans"

He wanted to defend his homeland against the Nazis: fought aboard his tank David Dushman as a soldier in the Red Army against the Wehrmacht. In 1945 he helped liberate Auschwitz.

There is a special day in David Dushman's calendar: May 9th, the anniversary of the Red Army's victory over the Wehrmacht. Dushman saw with his own eyes the crimes committed in the name of National Socialism in 1945 in Auschwitz. He knocked down the camp fence with his T-34 tank.

Today Dushman remembers in an interview with why he went to war back then, where he fought and why he never felt hatred of the Germans. Mr. Dushman, what does 9th May mean for you, the day on which the German Wehrmacht unconditionally surrendered to the Red Army?

David Dushman: For me, May 9th is the holiest holiday ever! On this day, the whole world remembers that the Red Army helped defeat the brown plague. I wish that May 9th will never be forgotten.

On January 27, 1945 you were involved in the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. You are one of the last eyewitnesses to report about it. What did you experience that day?

We were ordered to go to Auschwitz. It was said that we should liberate a camp. You must know that I was on the crew of a tank, a T-34, at the time. When we got to Auschwitz, the first thing we did was drive down the electrically charged fence. And shelled the German positions to clear the way for the infantry.

Then what did you see in the camp?

In Auschwitz we saw the horror. Human skeletons staggered out of the barracks, dead everywhere. We weren't prepared for what to expect.

David Dushman, Born in 1923, first lived with his family in Minsk, then in Moscow. In 1941 Dushman volunteered for the Red Army after the German invasion of the Soviet Union. At the beginning of 1945 he was involved in the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. After the war, Dushman studied sports, among other things, became the Soviet fencing champion in 1951 and later coached the Soviet women's national fencing team. Today Dushman lives in Munich.

Then what did you do?

We gave the survivors all the food we had on board. Then we drove off to hunt down the fascists again. We didn't really belong there either, the 1st Ukrainian Front was responsible for taking Auschwitz. But I belonged to the 1st Belarusian Front.

You yourself come from a Jewish family. What does it mean for you to have helped liberate Auschwitz? The place where so many Jews were murdered by the SS?

It makes me proud. But you must know that it was only later that I found out what kind of death factory Auschwitz actually was.

Did you hate the Germans? In 1941 the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union and waged a war of extermination there. In 1945 you saw the horror in Auschwitz for yourself.

No, I didn't hate the Germans. We did not fight against the Germans, but against fascism! That's important to me.

Let's talk about the time before the war and your family: Your parents were medical professionals?

Yes, my father Alexander Dushman was a first-class military doctor, my mother Bronislawa a pediatrician. We lived in Minsk in what is now Belarus for some time, then in 1931 my father was transferred to Moscow as head of a medical unit. That was where the misfortune began.

David Dushman 2015: The veteran received numerous awards during World War II. (Source: Markus Heine / dpa)

What happened?

In 1938 we were searched by the secret police. And my father was taken away. It was a terrible time, for a year we didn't know where he is. We didn't hear anything. The other children stopped playing with me at school. Because they were afraid of the son of an enemy of the state.

Her father was a victim of the "Great Terror" that Joseph Stalin had unleashed in the Soviet Union.

Yes. Eventually my mother learned that my father was in the Vorkuta Forced Labor Camp. Far in the north of the Soviet Union.

Anti-Semitism was also widespread in the Soviet Union.

Anti-Semitism always existed there, but it didn't concern me that much. Because everyone knew I would use my fists right away. Jokes about Jews were never told in my presence.

In 1941 you volunteered for the Red Army after the German attack on your country on June 22nd. Why?

When the news of the war came on the radio, I immediately jumped on my motorcycle and drove to the military command. The attack came as a complete surprise to everyone. But I wanted to defend my country. On July 2nd I was already a soldier, I was 18 years old.

But they wanted to achieve another goal.

That's true. At the time I thought that I could get my father out of the camp. By proving that I am a good patriot.

Berlin 1945: Red Army soldiers patrol the streets. (Source: AKG / ullstein bild)

Did it work?

No. My father died in the camp after the war. He is buried somewhere in Vorkuta there.

They themselves were often in mortal danger during the war.

That's true. Actually, I wanted to work in a unit earlier that would be deployed in the rear of the enemy. But they didn't take me. As the son of an enemy of the state and a Jew on top of that. That hurt me a lot. I was later assigned to a tank unit.

On board the famous T-34.

Driving the T-34 requires tremendous strength! The driver or mechanic sat downstairs, the commander upstairs.

You were injured in the first battle.

Yes that's true. There was a serious wound in my stomach, I came to Karaganda to recover. Later I fought in the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk. But I was seriously injured shortly after the liberation of Auschwitz.

Please tell.

It was near Warsaw. Our tank was on fire, my comrades jumped out on a mine. My back was torn open, my lungs were injured. They saved my life with an operation.

Then where were you on May 9, 1945?

I was in Armenia for recreation. But everyone had felt for a long time that the day of victory was near.

Soviet soldiers on a T-34: With the help of this type of tank, the Red Army achieved great success in World War II. (Source: ITAR-TASS Moldova / imago images)

They have received many awards. You have been awarded more than 40 medals. Which are you particularly proud of?

For example, I received the Order of the Great Patriotic War, 1st degree. It was a great honor.

What did you do after World War II?

At the end of the war I was in the rank of captain. Then I started to study medicine.

Was that your dream subject?

I did not particularly enjoy studying medicine. But what do you not do for your parents, who wanted me to continue the family tradition as a doctor.

In fact, you had already discovered another passion.

Yes that's true. An old friend of my father's was a fencing teacher and he suggested that I study it when I was a child. It was then that my love for fencing began, which has lasted my whole life to this day. I later studied sport as a correspondence course. I was then a coach at Spartak Moscow.

You have achieved great success in this sport yourself and later as national coach.

I am very proud of that to this day.

Did you have to endure anti-Semitism even after the war?

Unfortunately yes. The Soviet Union was my home before the war. But later I saw the USSR more and more critically. And above all Stalin.

One last question: Are you still thinking about your experiences in World War II today?

I try not to remember the war. And luckily don't dream of him either. But I hope that it will not be forgotten what the war caused back then. I was in Buchenwald in the 1950s. The Nazis' will to annihilate is beyond imagination. I hope this never happens again.

Mr. Dushman, thank you for talking to us.

Translation from Russian: Alexandrina Belinska and Kurt Rippich

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  • Subjects:
  • News,
  • Science and Research,
  • History,
  • End of World War II,
  • Auschwitz,
  • Wehrmacht,
  • Soviet Union,
  • Second World War,
  • Anti-Semitism,
  • Joseph Stalin,
  • Nazis,
  • National Socialism,
  • Warsaw