Holocaust Death Marches

By Maxwell Adelman

General Information

The death marches began because of a massive Soviet offensive in eastern Belarus. The attack allowed Russian forces to overrun and liberate the Lublin and Majdanek concentration camps, resulting in the SS evacuating all the prisoners in nearby camps and bringing them into the center of Germany.

The evacuations had three purposes:

  • The SS didn't want the prisoners to be able to tell the Allies of the atrocities they had to live through
  • The SS believed that they needed prisoners to maintain their production of weapons everywhere
  • Some of the SS, Heinrich Himmler included, believed that they could use the prisoners as bargaining chips to guarantee the survival of the Nazi regime.

The evacuations could not all be carried out by train, because many of the outer camps had no trains attached to them. Therefore, the Germans had to evacuate the majority of the prisoners on foot.

Over 100,000 prisoners were forced into all the death marches combined. The soldiers had explicit orders to shoot anyone too weak to walk. Because of this, along with several other things, the death rate was often more than 50%, and sometimes only one in ten prisoners would survive.

Auschwitz-Wodzislaw March

On Janurary 18th, 1945, just a few days before the Russian Army reached Auschwitz, all 66,000 prisoners were marched out of the camp. The majority of these prisoners were marched to Wodzislaw, where they were divided even further and sent on trains to other camps. Along the ~200 km route, around 15,000 prisoners died, which is approximately one out of every four prisoners.
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