What the Holocaust was, and what the soldiers found, in 1945 and before:
“More than a million children, including uncounted thousands of newborn infants, were killed by the Germans; most of them could have been saved had the countries of the world been determined to save them. But the doors remained closed. The children were taken away from their parents and sent, crowded in the death trains, and alone, to the crematoria of Auschwitz and Treblinka, or to the mass graves of Poland and Western Russia.
The German method of burying people in communal pits was a great improvement on the old system, once considered to be inhuman, of making each condemned man dig his own grave. The shooting of about two million people, whose bodies could not be left lying about, presented a difficult problem, owing to the shortage of labor. Jewish women and children, weakened by torture and by long internment in concentration camps, were physically incapable of digging; and the men, when put on the list for ‘special treatment,’ were, as a rule, reduced to such a condition by hard labor on meager rations that they could hardly walk. The mass grave was an obvious necessity; but the German stroke of genius was the idea of making their victims get into the grave before they were shot, thus saving the labor of lifting two million dead bodies and throwing them in. Many hundreds of these death pits were dug in Central Europe until the Germans began to apply to extermination their well-known scientific efficiency. One of the largest pits, at Kerch, was examined in 1942 by officials of the Russian army:
‘It was discovered that this trench, one kilometer in length, four meters wide, and two meters deep, was filled to overflowing with bodies of women, children, old men, and boys and girls in their teens. Near the trench were frozen pools of blood. Children’s caps, toys, ribbons, torn off buttons, gloves, milk bottles and rubber comforters, small shoes, galoshes, together with torn off hands and feet, and other parts of human bodies, were lying nearby. Everything was spattered with blood and brains.'”
[Two paragraphs and an interior quotation from Malcolm Hay, Europe and the Jews (Beacon Press, 1950; rpt. 1992; e-book), Chapter 1.]