Death Marches

On 18 January 1945, as Soviet forces approached, the SS began evacuating Auschwitz and its satellite camps. Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced to march in the freezing winter to the city of Wodzislaw in western Poland. SS guards shot anyone who fell behind or could not continue, and more than 15,000 died. The survivors were put in open cattle trucks and sent to concentration camps in a collapsing Germany. On 27 January 1945, the Soviet army entered Auschwitz and liberated 7,000 remaining prisoners.

On 25 January 1945 nearly 50,000 prisoners from the Stutthof camp system in northern Poland were marched to the Baltic Sea coast, and over 25,000 died. Some were forced into the water and machine-gunned, and others were marched to eastern Germany. Soviet forces entered Stutthof on 9 May 1945.

On 7 April 1945, as American forces approached Buchenwald, 30,000 prisoners were forced on death marches and about 10,000 died. On 11 April 1945, the Americans liberated the camp and found 21,000 prisoners. On 26 April a similar march left Dachau, and 32,000 prisoners were liberated three days later. In the final weeks of the war, death marches of Jews remaining in the camps occurred throughout Germany.

Death march
Clandestine photograph of prisoners marching to Dachau
Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum