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In January 1945, Red Army tank driver David Dushman saw Auschwitz survivors stagger out of the concentration camp, amidst the dead victims of Nazi terror. He passed away in Munich, aged 98.
"Skeletons everywhere," was how Dushman in 2015 recalled Auschwitz, the Nazi German death camp liberated on January 27, 1945, by Red Army troops including his tank unit.
At 98, Dushman, died in a Munich clinic on Friday night, the Bavarian city's Jewish IKG cultural community announced in a press statement on Sunday, describing him as a liberating "Hero of Auschwitz."
Driving a Soviet T-34 tank in 1945, the-then 21-year-old Dushman mowed down an electric fence at Auschwitz in then-Nazi-occupied Poland, helping to set surviving inmates free.
"They staggered out of the barracks, sat and lay among the dead," Dushman told the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) newspaper six years ago.
"We threw them all our canned food and immediately went on to hunt down the fascists," said Dushman, referring to the Nazi perpetrators.
Only after World War Two did he learn about the scale of atrocities, said Dushman. "I only learned that after the war," he told the SZ.
Of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust, more than one million were murdered at Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with tens of thousands of others, including homosexuals, Roma and Soviet soldiers captured by the Nazis as war prisoners.
One of only 69 soldiers in his Red Army division to survive the war, Bushman became a top Soviet Union fencing athlete and women's team coach after the war.
That drew a tribute Sunday from International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Thomas Bach of Germany, who described Dushman as "a man of Jewish origin."
"When we met in 1970, he immediately offered me friendship and counsel," said Bach, a West German Olympic fencing champion in the 1970s.
"This was such a deep human gesture that I will never ever forget it, said Bach.
Dushman, whose sports physician father died as a victim to Stalinist purges, moved to Austria in the 1990s for several years before relocating to Munich in Germany's southern state of Bavaria.
Honoring him during his 95th birthday in 2018, Munich IKG community president Charlotte Knobloch said Dushman, who also survived the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, had endured enough "for three lives."
"Every contemporary witness who passes away is a loss, but the departure of David Dushman is particularly painful," Knobloch added in Sunday's IKG press statement about its honorary member.
"Dushman was on the front line when the Nazi murder machinery was smashed in 1945," said Knobloch.
As the "Hero of Auschwitz," he was one of the liberators of the concentration camp and saved countless lives. "He was one of the last to be able to tell of this event from his own experience," she emphasized.
ipj/mm (AFP, dpa)