On This Day: January 18, 1945

Death Marches

The Death Marches from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp begin; 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. @onthisdayinjewishhistory

On January 18, 1945, the death marches from the Auschwitz concentration camp began. These marches occurred towards the end of the war, as Germany’s army began to collapse and the Allies closed in on the concentration camps. The Germans, intent on hiding the true nature of the camps, forcibly moved prisoners from camps near the front to those inside Germany.

The first prisoners were transported by train, then by foot, in unbearable conditions: bitter cold, scarce food, water, and rest. Accompanying guards frequently abused the prisoners. The largest death marches took place in 1944-45 when the Soviets began liberating Poland.

Just 9 days before the Soviet army arrived at Auschwitz, the Germans started evacuating the camp. The SS rapidly emptied Auschwitz and its satellite camps, forcing about 60,000 prisoners, mainly Jews, to march to Wodzislaw. Those who could not keep up or fell ill were executed.

Over 15,000 died from the death marches alone. Survivors in Wodzislaw were crammed into freight trains and sent to other concentration camps in western Germany, such as Flossenbürg, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, and Gross-Rosen. Following Auschwitz, other Polish camps were also liquidated.

By the war’s end, at least 250,000 prisoners had been forced on death marches. Thousands died on Austria and central Germany’s highways. The marches continued until the Nazis’ surrender on May 7, 1945. An estimated 200,000-150,000 prisoners, nearly one-third Jews, died during these marches. The term “death march” is now commonly used by Holocaust historians.

Each year, the March of the Living, an international Holocaust remembrance trip, commemorates these events. It marks January 27, 1945, when the Soviets entered Auschwitz and liberated the remaining survivors, now observed as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

May we never forget those sent on the death marches, and may the memory of those who perished always be a blessing.

References and Further Reading:

David Friedmann’s “Death March” Painting was included in our Instagram post commemorating this event.