At the end of the second world war the allies and soviets were closing in on the concentration camps. This resulted in death marches for the concentration camp inmates. The nazis wanted to keep their crimes hidden and decided to march their prisoners towards the center of Germany. A second reason is that they wanted to preserve their slave labourers to be used in the armaments industry. In the summer of 1944 the soviets liberated the concentration camp of madjanek, exposing many of the crimes committed there. That was the moment that the nazis decided that if the allies were close to concentration camps the prisoners were to be evacuated by train or foot or killed. Also any documentation or structures related to the crimes committed were to be destroyed.
Most of the evacuations were hastily organized during the winter of 1944-1945. No logistical preparations were made and also the SS guards were in a state of panic. Prisoners were organized in column and send on speed marches lasting for days. The prisoners often did not have any shoes or coats, freezing to death. Whoever wasn’t able to keep up was executed by the gaurds at the back of the group. It is estimated that a total of 250.000 people passed away during the death marches. Bodies were left behind on the roadside since there was no time to bury them. Many of the germans were confronted with the horrors of the holocaust during this period.
Not only the deathmarches themselves were horrific, also the camp were the prisoners were send to became overpopulated and many diseases broke out.
Death marches displayed in the map
In red the evacuation of Auschwitz. After the Russian started the winter offensive the frontline was closing in on Auschwitz. Between 17 and 21 Januari 1944 roughly 56.000 people were send on marches towards the train station of wodzislaw and Gliwice. Roughly 9.000 to 15.000 people died on there marches. At the train station they were put on trains towards Mauthausen, dachau, Buchenwald and sachenhausen.
In orange you can see the evacuation of the Stutthof concentration camp begin januari. At first an evacuation by land was tried. Roughly 50.000 prisoners were marched of towards the west, but cut of by soviet forces near lebork. At this moment the prisoners were forced to march back to the concentration camp were they were shipped into ships. In these ship the conditions were appaling and many died because of malnutrition. The ship were evacuated towards the cities of klintholm and Neustadt and the Neuengamme concentration camp. It is estimated that roughly half of the prisoners, 25.000, died during these evacuations.
In brown you can see the evacuation of Buchenwald beginning of April 1945. Roughly 30.000 people are send on marched as long as 300 km towards Bergen belsen, dachau and Theresienstadt. It is estimated that 1/3, 10.000, of the people died during these marches. Roughly 20.000 people were left in the Buchenwald camp and liberated by the American at the 11th of April.
In olive you can see the evacuation of Dachau. Just before the end of the war the germans decided to make an “fortress”in the alps. To help build these fortification roughly 7.000 prisoners were marched of towards the alps. In green you can see the evacuation of sachenhausen and in blue the death marches from gross-rosen into central germany.