As Allied forces, especially the Red Army, were to move closer to the concentration camps, the “evacuation” of prisoners from the German concentration camps began. Under the threat of death, the Nazis forced the extremely exhausted prisoners to travel in extreme winter conditions. The prisoners of the camps, without adequate supplies, were led by the Germans deep into the Third Reich, where they were to continue to serve as free labor for the needs of the German arms industry.
The poor condition of prisoners, lack of supplies, bad weather conditions and mass executions resulted in high death rates among the victims of the march – hence the name.
The first death marches on the Polish lands started in 1944 from Majdanek. The most famous are the Marches of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gross-Rosen and Stutthof. 3,200 people from the Jaworzno sub-camp had to travel the longest distance. They went from the KL Auschwitz sub-camp in Jaworzno to KL Gross-Rosen. This route was about 250 km long. The female prisoners of the Stutthof subcamps were led to Palmnicken (now Jantarnyj), where about 3,000 people were shot on the beach.
January 17, 1945 – death march from Auschwitz-Birkenau
When the front line approached the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp (on January 16, the Allied forces captured Częstochowa, 100 km away).
On January 17, 1945, about 56,000 prisoners were ordered to leave the camp. At that time, the winter was very snowy and frosty, and the prisoners were unprepared. Often dressed in rags that did not protect against the cold, they received a poor ration in the form of a loaf of bread and canned food. They had to walk about 60 km – to Włodzisław Śląski, from where they were to be transported deep into the Reich by trains.
Due to the terrible conditions and the extraordinary brutality of the Germans, around 600 victims were counted on the route itself, and these are only those whose bodies were lying on the path of the march. A huge number of prisoners were murdered in executions organized during stops and buried in mass graves. Prisoners also died at the very end of the march, locked in carriages that had been used to bring them from Włodzisław. The prisoners arrived at the railway station in Loslau (German name Wodzisław Śląski) on January 19-23, 1945.
Then they were loaded into open coal wagons. In the cold outside and crowded inside, they set off deeper into the Third Reich, towards Moravia and Austria, to the concentration camps located there.
As a result of frost, exhausting march, transport and execution carried out by the Nazis, about 15,000 prisoners died.
Many of those who reached their destination later died in the “new” camps.
Prisoners who stayed in the camp. Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau
The Nazis appointed only those prisoners who, in their opinion, were fit for further work. When the evacuation order came to the camp on January 17, there were less than 70,000 people in Auschwitz. The camp commandant ordered them to be gathered at the appeal.
As a result of a short selection, approximately 56,000 people were selected for the march. However, among them there were many old and sick people whose condition from the very beginning made it impossible to survive the journey. Many of them made every effort to join the march. It was because of the fear of the execution of the remaining prisoners in the camp.
Almost until the last moment, the Nazis tried to cover up the crimes that took place in the camps. Documents were burned, “Canada” warehouses was set on fire after an earlier plunder (the warehouses where the Nazis kept the property stolen from the victims – 348,820 men’s clothes, 836,525 women’s clothes and other items were found in the surviving barracks). The crematoria were blown up, II-IV were blown up before evacuation just began. Crematorium no. V worked until the very end, it was blown up on January 26, 1945 – the day before the Red Army entered the camp.
In the main camps of Auschwitz (Auschwitz, Birkenau and Monowitz. About 7,000 prisoners lived to see the liberation. On the site, Soviet soldiers found over 600 corpses of prisoners, many of them were shot by the SS, others died of cold and exhaustion. Many survivors also died shortly after being liberated from wasting and disease.
International March of the Living
The Marches of the Living have been organized since 1988. It is an annual educational program that attracts students from all over the world to Poland, where they learn about the Holocaust. The highlight of the program are the celebrations in Oświęcim.
The marches are traditionally carried out according to the Jewish calendar on the Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah). Yom Hashoah always falls on the 27th of the month of Nisan (March-April in the Gregorian calendar). On that day, thousands of participants march in silence from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
This way, the young people want to honor the memory of all those who were murdered in the camps.
The name is a paraphrase of the Death March. The March of the Living, unlike the death marches (symbols of oppression and extermination), serves to manifest the continuity of the Jewish Nation, despite the Nazis efforts to destroy it.