Death Marches from Auschwitz Begin, 1945
#OTDJH: January 18th,
The death marches from the Auschwitz concentration camp system begin. The death marches began to occur towards the end of the war, as Germany’s army began to collapse at the same time as the Allies closed in on the concentration camps. The Germans, not wanting the true nature of the camps to be revealed, began to move the prisoners out of camps close to the front and towards concentration camps inside Germany. The first prisoners were taken by train, and then by foot. They were made to march in unbearable conditions; outside in the bitter cold, with hardly any food, water or rest. The prisoners were often abused by the accompanying guards. The largest death marches occurred in 1944-45 when the Soviets began to liberate Poland. Just 9 days before the Soviet army arrived at Auschwitz, the Germans began to evacuate the camp.
The SS quickly evacuated Auschwitz and its satellite camps, forcing around 60,000 prisoners, mainly Jews, to march to the city of Wodzisław. Anyone who was unable to keep up or who fell ill was shot dead. Over 15,000 died from the death marches alone. Once in Wodzisław, the prisoners were put on freight trains and sent to different concentration camps further west in Germany, such as Flossenbürg, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen and Gross-Rosen. Following the marches from Auschwitz, other concentration camps in Poland also began to be evacuated. On January 21, the Blechhammer camp was evacuated, sending 4,000 prisoners off. This pattern of evacuating the camps continued into March and April of 1945, as the official end of the war drew closer.
At least 250,000 prisoners were sent on death marches as camp after camp was evacuated. Thousands of deaths occurred along the highways of Austria and central Germany. The marches lasted until the Nazis surrender on May 7 1945. An estimated 200,000-150,000 prisoners were murdered or died on the death marches that occurred during the last 10 months of the war. Nearly one-third of them were Jews.
The term death march began to be used widely amongst prisoners and is now used by Holocaust historians worldwide. On January 27, 1945, the Soviets entered Auschwitz and liberated the few surviving prisoners, marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. May we never forget those who were sent on the death marches and may the memory of those who perished always be a blessing.
David Friedmann's "Death March" Painting was included in our instagram post commemorating this event.