ENCOUNTERS WITH FENCING
Born David Aleksandrovich Dushman in Danzig in 1923, his father was a Soviet General, sports physician and doctor in the Red Army. His mother was a pediatrician.
David spent his childhood in Minsk, but the family moved to Moscow when his father was appointed to lead the medical centre of the State Institute for Sport. His father was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.
In 1938, at the height of Stalin’s purges, his father was deported to a Gulag, where he was to die, ten years later.
During the Second World War, Dushman volunteered for the Red Army. He was trained as a tank driver.
He fought at the Battle of Stalingrad, the worst battle in history, and in the Battle of Kursk, the greatest tank battle ever. He was seriously wounded three times but kept returning to action. He won over 40 decorations including the ‘Order of the Patriotic War’.
Later on,David said that life in the Red Army was very tough. He received intense prejudice due to the fact he was Jewish and because his father was labelled an ‘Enemy of the State’.
On the 27th January 1945, when David was just 21, his unit arrived at Auschwitz camp in Poland. They had no idea what was behind the electrified fences. “In Russian it’s called ‘Osventsim’. We didn’t know much about it”.
It was Dushman’s T-34 tank that drove through the fencing, with him at the wheel. They were followed into the camp by Red Army soldiers. He remembered the horror of what he saw. “Skeletons everywhere.” He saw piles of the dead and hundreds of starving people. He remembered his team giving all their rations to the survivors.
“They (the prisoners) were standing there, all of them in prisoner uniforms, only eyes, only eyes, very narrow – that was terrible, very terrible. And I hope this will never happen again in life”.
He admitted that they didn’t realise the real implications of what they had seen, but nevertheless it made them, “determined to hunt down the fascists.”
It was a tough war for him. His unit started out with 12,000 men. Only 69 survived the war.
After the war, David became a professional fencer whilst staying in the Red Army. He represented the USSR.
He retired in 1952 and took up the position of coach to the Soviet Union’s women’s fencing team, a position he held until 1988.
Therefore, he was present at the 1972 Munich Olympics and witnessed first-hand the Black September attack on the Israeli athletes – the Munich massacre. It deeply upset him, not just because he was Jewish, but it brought back memories of Auschwitz.
His fencing team scored their best Olympic success that year, with 2 gold medals, three silvers and three bronzes. The star was Valentina Sidorova, who won a gold and silver (and who went on to be considered the Soviet Union’s greatest ever fencer). David said it all paled into insignificance, due to the massacre.
He lived with his wife Zoja. Three years after his retirement, the Soviet Union collapsed and they moved to Austria.
Zoja died a few years before him. He then moved to Munich. He was still giving fencing lessons at his local club up to the age of 94.
He also toured schools, telling children about the terrible things he had seen and educating them in the horrors of war.
When he died, he received a fulsome eulogy from the head of the IOC (International Olympic Committee), Thomas Bach, a German. They were close personal friends.
Bach had been a fencer for the German team and had met Dushman at a competition in 1970. He said, “David offered me immediate friendship and counsel, despite his personal experience with World War Two and Auschwitz – and he being a man of Jewish experience. It was such a deep human gesture that I will never ever forget it.”
It has been stated that David was the last surviving liberator of Auschwitz, but this is incorrect. Ivan Martynushkin, a machine gunner, aged 99, still survives.
Despite this, David’s death caused sadness. “Every witness to history who passes on, is a loss. But saying farewell to David Dushman is particularly painful”, said Charlotte Knobloch, former Head of the German Central Council of Jews.
RIP – Rescued Imprisoned People