27 January 1944: Leningrad siege ends after 900 days. The Soviet Army has lifted the blockade of Leningrad that has been besieged since German forces cut the land link to the city on 8 July 1941. Soviet soldiers broke through the German line of defence at key points and recaptured hundreds of towns and villages in the region, according to a Russian communique issued by General Leonid Govorov, commander of the Leningrad front. It is believed that hundreds of thousands of Leningrad’s population of 2.5 million have died of starvation, exposure, disease or enemy action since 1 September 1941. The German army reached Leningrad soon after invading Russia on 22 June 1941 but stopped short of taking Russia’s second city after facing fierce resistance and decided instead on a blockade.
‘We were all issued with arctic clothing, fur-lined coats, sea boots and so on, and a list of instructions on how to avoid frostbite.’ All land communication was cut off and the city subjected to air and artillery bombardment. The harshest winter in decades added to the suffering of Leningrad’s starving inhabitants but this was partially eased when Lake Ladoga froze, opening a truck route to bring in food and fuel over the ice. All able-bodied citizens did their bit to defend the city by working in munitions factories, digging defences and serving in the front line. Now, one year after General Govorov managed to open a corridor into the besieged city, the blockade has been totally lifted. “A task of historical importance has been completed,” said General Govorov. “The city of Leningrad has been completely freed of the enemy blockade and of the barbaric artillery shelling.” He thanked the troops of the Leningrad front and the sailors of the Red Banner Baltic Fleet and praised the citizens of the city for their “heroic work and steel-like steadiness” in enduring the siege that lasted 872 days. A salute of 24 salvos from 324 guns was fired in Leningrad to mark the occasion. The Red Army is advancing further south-west from Leningrad and has taken back the important towns of Krasnogvardeisk, Volosovo and Tosno, according to the Russian High Command. It said its troops disabled or destroyed 82 German tanks and shot down 16 enemy aircraft yesterday. But in the fight to recapture the town of Pushkin, some 17th and 18th century buildings of the Imperial Summer Palace were seriously damaged. (Source: BBC)
27 January 1945: Auschwitz death camp liberated. The Red Army has liberated the Nazis’ biggest concentration camp at Auschwitz in south-western Poland. According to reports, hundreds of thousands of Polish people, as well as Jews from a number of other European countries, have been held prisoner there in appalling conditions and many have been killed in the gas chambers. Few details have emerged of the capture of Auschwitz, which has gained a reputation as the most notorious of the Nazi death camps. Some reports say the German guards were given orders several days ago to destroy the crematoria and gas chambers. Tens of thousands of prisoners – those who were able to walk – have been moved out of the prison and forced to march to other camps in Germany. ‘Little did we know that we had arrived at a place, the name of which would become as well known and remembered as any battle in the war.’ Details of what went on at the camp have been released previously by the Polish Government in exile in London and from prisoners who have escaped. In July 1944 details were revealed of more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews who were sent to Poland many of whom ended up in Auschwitz. They were loaded onto trains and taken to the camp where many were put to death in the gas chambers. Before they went they were told they were being exchanged in Poland for prisoners of war and made to write cheerful letters to relatives at home telling them what was happening. According to the Polish Ministry of Information, the gas chambers are capable of killing 6,000 people a day. Another report