When the 322nd Rifle Division of the Red Army liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945, the soldiers found 7,500 prisoners alive and over 600 corpses. Auschwitz II-Birkenau was liberated at around 3:30 p.m., and the main camp (Auschwitz I) two hours later. Items found by the Soviet soldiers included 370,000 men's suits, 837,000 women's garments, and 7.7 tonnes (8.5 short tons) of human hair. Primo Levi described seeing the first four Russian soldiers on horseback approach the camp at Monowitz, where he had been in the sick bay. The soldiers threw "strangely embarrassed glances at the sprawling bodies, at the battered huts and at us few still alive ...":
The Germans turned again, fighting their way north to secure the coastal ports and annihilate the trapped armies. Miraculously, the German high command called a halt to the advance. The reprieve lasted 48 hours, long enough for the British to defend Dunkirk and evacuate what they could of the Allied armies. The Germans entered Paris on June 14. In a humiliating ceremony on June 22, France signed an armistice with Germany, leaving Britain to carry on the fight alone.
Auschwitz inmates were employed on huge farms, including the experimental agricultural station at Rajsko. They were also forced to work in coal mines, in stone quarries, in fisheries, and especially in armaments industries such as the SS-owned German Equipment Works (established in 1941). Periodically, prisoners underwent selection. If the SS judged them too weak or sick to continue working, they were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and killed.
According to Polish historian Andrzej Strzelecki, the evacuation of the prisoners by the SS in January 1945 was one of the camp's "most tragic chapters". In mid-1944, about 130,000 prisoners were in Auschwitz when the SS moved around half of them to other concentration camps. In November 1944, with the Soviet Red Army approaching through Poland, Himmler ordered gassing operations to cease. The crematorium IV building was dismantled, and the Sonderkommando was ordered to remove evidence of the killings, including the mass graves. The SS destroyed written records, and in the final week before the camp's liberation, burned or demolished many of its buildings. The plundered goods from the "Canada" barracks at Birkenau, together with building supplies, were transported to the German interior. On 20 January, the overflowing warehouses were set ablaze. Crematoria II and III at Birkenau were blown up on 20 January and crematorium V six days later, just one day ahead of the Soviet attack.
Having achieved a breakthrough into the enemy's rear areas, German forces attempted to paralyze the enemy's decision making and implementation process. Moving faster than enemy forces, mobile forces exploited weaknesses and acted before opposing forces could formulate a response. Guderian wrote that "Success must be exploited without respite and with every ounce of strength, even by night. The defeated enemy must be given no peace."
Anti-Jewish measures were introduced in Slovakia, which would later deport its Jews to German concentration and extermination camps. Bulgaria introduced anti-Jewish measures in 1940 and 1941, including the requirement to wear a yellow star, the banning of mixed marriages, and the loss of property. Bulgaria annexed Thrace and Macedonia, and in February 1943 agreed to deport 20,000 Jews to Treblinka; all 11,000 Jews from the annexed territories were sent to their deaths, and plans were made to deport an additional 6,000–8,000 Bulgarian Jews from Sofia to meet the quota. When the plans became public, the Orthodox Church and many Bulgarians protested, and King Boris III canceled the deportation of Jews native to Bulgaria. Instead, they were expelled to the interior pending further decision. Although Hungary expelled Jews who were not citizens from its newly annexed lands in 1941, it did not deport most of its Jews until the German invasion of Hungary in March 1944. Between 15 May and 9 July 1944, 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz. In late 1944 in Budapest, nearly 80,000 Jews were killed by the Hungarian Arrow Cross battalions.
Schindler grew up in Svitavy, Moravia, and worked in several trades until he joined the Abwehr, the military intelligence service of Nazi Germany, in 1936. He joined the Nazi Party in 1939. Prior to the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938, he collected information on railways and troop movements for the German government. He was arrested for espionage by the Czechoslovak government but was released under the terms of the Munich Agreement in 1938. Schindler continued to collect information for the Nazis, working in Poland in 1939 before the invasion of Poland at the start of World War II. In 1939, Schindler acquired an enamelware factory in Kraków, Poland, which employed at the factory's peak in 1944 about 1,750 workers, of whom 1,000 were Jews. His Abwehr connections helped Schindler protect his Jewish workers from deportation and death in the Nazi concentration camps. As time went on, Schindler had to give Nazi officials ever larger bribes and gifts of luxury items obtainable only on the black market to keep his workers safe.