Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Key Nazi personalities in
the Camp System
The Labor &
The Labor Camps
The Auschwitz – Birkenau and Sub-Camps
Evacuation and the Death Marches – January 1945
17 January 1945
Units of the Red Army advance on the outlying areas of Krakow from the north and the northwest and surprise the German positions, which do not expect an attack from this flank.
The last official meeting of the General Governor Hans Frank takes place at 12.0 o’clock, barely two hours later Hans Frank leaves Krakow in the direction of Silesia.
On this day 178 female prisoners and two boys were transferred from the Plaszow concentration camp in Krakow to the women’s camp in Birkenau.
The male and female prisoners fall in for their last roll call. The number of prisoners incarcerated in the main camps and sub-camps are as follows:
In the wake of the decision to remove the prisoners from Auschwitz, Commandant Baer personally chooses the leaders of the evacuation columns from among the members of the guard companies and orders them to liquidate ruthlessly all prisoners who attempt to escape during the evacuation or drag their feet.
Among the SS guards who were chosen to lead the evacuation columns were the notorious SS- Oberscharfuhrer Wilhelm Boger, who was a feared member of the Politische – Abteilung, SS-Unterscharfuhrer Oswald Kaduk, Rapportfuhrer, who was also considered one of the more brutal members of the SS guards.
In the auxiliary camps that belong to Monowitz, formerly Auschwitz lll, are the following number of male prisoners:
The prisoners in Sosnowitz sub –camp are evacuated, food leftovers found in the kitchen are divided among the prisoners and at about 4.00pm they depart on foot in the direction of Gleiwitz and continue on to Ratibor and Troppau.
At Troppau they are loaded into freight cars and transported to Mauthausen concentration camp. The evacuation lasts 16 days, of which 12 are on foot.
The prisoners have to pull handcarts with the luggage of the SS, who with zeal set about to kill the weak and those unable to keep up. The food ration is pitiful each prisoner only receives three potatoes and two pieces of cheese, many die during this evacuation.
Approximately 3,200 prisoners who are fit enough are led out of the Neu-Dachs sub-camp, with the usual SS escorts, they pass through Konigshutte, Beuthen, and Gleiwitz to the Blechhammer sub-camp. From Blechhammer on the 21 January 1945 they are transferred to Gross Rosen Concentration Camp.
18 January 1945
The departure of the female prisoners from the Birkenau women’s camp begins towards morning. At short intervals columns of 500 women and children each leave the camp, escorted by SS men.
A total of 5,345 female prisoners leave the camp on this day, among them 176 from Plaszow, 1,169 from Camp B-IIc and 4,000 from Camps B-ll b and B-ll e. They are taken to Auschwitz and wait there for the formation of the evacuation columns, whilst approximately 4,500 prisoners remain in the women’s infirmary located in B-ll e.
800 prisoners are led out of the Janinagrube sub- camp and are forced – marched to Gross Rosen. The prisoners have no protection against the cold. They receive small portions of dry food for the 18-day march. Of the 800 prisoners who leave Janinagrube sub–camp, approximately only 200 persons reach the Gross Rosen Concentration camp, in a state of complete exhaustion.
Columns of prisoners leave Birkenau at specific intervals. The last column with approximately 1,500 prisoners leave Camp B-II d in the afternoon, some 400 prisoners join this column to escape certain death in Birkenau.
Among them are some youthful prisoners from the Penal Company (Strafkompanie), 70 prisoners from the squad which demolished the crematoria. Also joining the march are 30 members from the Sonderkommando, who take advantage of an unguarded moment in Crematorium V to escape certain death.
The route of this column of prisoners marched through Auschwitz, Rajsko, Brzeszcze, Gora, Miedzna, Cwiklice, Pszczyna, Kobelice, Kryry, Suszec, Rudziczka, Kleszczow, Zory, Rogozne, Roj, Rybnik, Swierklany, Dolne, and Marklowice to Wlodzislaw, along the way 172 prisoners are buried in mass graves.
In the evening the female prisoners in the Auschwitz women’s camp were formed into columns, including the female prisoners who were transferred from Birkenau, and driven out in the direction of Rajsko. The female prisoners of the gardening and plant breeding squads from the Rajsko sub-camp join the procession of the male and female prisoners evacuated from Auschwitz- Birkenau and bring up the rear.
They march through the communities of Pszczyna, Poreba, Wielka, and Jastrzebie Gorna to Wodzislaw in Silesia. Only Eugenia Halbreich (No 29700), who had hidden herself in the attic of a dwelling next to the house of SS man Grell, remains in the Rajsko sub-camp.
All the prisoners of the Monowitz sub-camp, the camp near the I.G. Farben works, are assembled on the parade ground in the evening. They are formed into columns of 1,000 prisoners each. Divisions of nurses were placed among the individual columns. The columns lead through Bierun, Mikolow, Mokre Slaskie and Przyszowice to Gleiwitz, 850 prisoners remain in the prisoners infirmary, among them are assistant doctors, and 18 doctors, including Dr Czeslaw Jaworski.
The prisoners are evacuated from the Trzebinia sub-camp and those able to march are led to Auschwitz, those that cannot remain there. Those still alive upon their arrival in Rybnik are loaded into open freight cars.
After four days they arrive in the Gross Rosen Concentration Camp stiff from the cold. Because of overcrowding at the camp the transport is refused and is directed onto Sachsenhausen, but after remaining there for two weeks, it was sent to Bergen-Belsen. Arnost Tauber, Abraham Piasecki and Karl Broszio escape during the march.
Those unable to march are sent to the secondary railway track of the Trzebinia refinery, where they are crammed into four freight cars which set off for an unknown destination.
Raizl Kibel recalled after the war, the death march from the Union factory, “In a frost, half barefoot, or entirely barefoot, with light rags upon their emaciated and exhausted bodies, tens of thousands of human creatures drag themselves along in the snow. Only that great, strong striving for life and the light of imminent liberation, keep them on their feet.
But woe is to them whose physical strength abandons them. They are shot on the spot. In such a way were thousands who had endured camp life up to the last minute murdered, a moment before liberation.
Even today I still cannot understand with what sort of strength and how I was able to endure the “death march” and drag myself to Ravensbruck camp, and from there, after resting a week, or two, to Neustadt, where I was liberated by the Red Army.” In Gleiwitz l sub-camp the camp management conduct a selection during which several dozen sick, lame and weak prisoners are singled out. The SS guards lead those selected behind the barracks and murder them by shooting.
The remaining prisoners were warned that everyone who cannot keep up will be shot to death. Each of the prisoners receives a loaf of bread when they leave the camp. Some are forced to pull handcarts loaded with luggage and weapons of the SS, the SS men kept their word, weak prisoners were shot to death during the march.
After three days and two nights on the march, they spend the nights in barns they passed on the way, they arrive in the Blechhammer sub-camp, which is also on the verge of being dissolved.
Some of the prisoners from Gleiwitz l succeed in remaining in Blechhhammer and thus avoided further deportation. Some of the prisoners die when the SS men burst into the prisoner’s barracks, firing their machine pistols, some prisoners escape.
On the 21 January 1945 the remaining prisoners from Gleiwitz l are led under SS guard from Blechhammer to Gross Rosen Concentration Camp, where they arrive at the beginning of February. After a short stay of a few days they are transferred in freight cars from there to Buchenwald, Nordhausen and Sachsenhausen Concentration Camps.
After the prisoners were marched off, Gleiwitz l, like Gleiwitz ll, lll and IV becomes a temporary concentration point for thousands of prisoners from other sub-camps of Auschwitz, particularly from Monowitz. The male and female prisoners of Gleiwitz ll receive the order to prepare themselves to leave the camp. The director of the Deutsche Gasrusswerke, Schenk intervenes, so that the female prisoners receive additional clothing.
All prisoners, male and female, are given a blanket and a loaf of bread for the trip. The columns of prisoners marching on foot are escorted by numerous SS guards under the direction of SS Technical Sergeant Bernhard Rackers.
After a march of approximately 13 miles the prisoners were driven into a barn to spend the night. The next morning three prisoners who were no longer able to march were shot and killed in the barn. In view of the approaching Red Army the prisoners were sent back to Gleiwitz, to spend the night near the city. The next day they were led to the railway ramp in Gleiwitz where they were loaded into open freight cars.
The transport travels through Moravia and reaches Orainienburg approximately ten days later. The men were sent to Sachsenhausen and the women to Ravensbruck. Several women prisoners escape from this transport, among them Anna Markowiecka, who climbs up the wall of the freight car, jumps from the train into the undergrowth, dodging the bullets fired by the SS guards.
The prisoners of the Bismarckhutte sub-camp are marched off in typical Concentration Camp prisoner garb, and in wooden clogs, although some were bare-footed. They have to pull sledges behind them loaded with things the SS thought essential, the prisoners were led by SS Staff Sergeant Klemann from Hamburg and the columns reach Gleiwitz on the 20 January 1945, where they wait for other columns of prisoners to join them.
The labour squads of the Gunthergrube sub-camp work a normal day and begin preparing for departure that evening. At about 10:00pm, 560 prisoners begin the march under the supervision of 40 SS men. The column is led towards the village of Kosztowo using the side roads. In the morning hours of the 19 January near the village of Mikolow the prisoners from the Gunthergrube sub-camp joins the columns of prisoners coming from Monowitz.
A two hour rest pause is ordered at the edge of Mikolow, after this rest those prisoners who cannot continue were shot and killed by the SS guards. The rest of the prisoners reach Gleiwitz in the evening and are sheltered in the sub-camp.
They spend two days nights there, without receiving any food, on the 21 January they are loaded in open freight cars with other prisoners from Auschwitz who had also arrived in Gleiwitz.
The train stopped often and by the next day they are only several dozen kilometres from Gleiwitz, many of the prisoners died of hunger and exhaustion. On the 22 January the train halted next to the train station in Rzedowka.
The SS men under the direction of SS man Kurpanik ordered the prisoners to throw the dead out of the freight cars, following this, the remaining prisoners are led off into the forest, at which point some of the prisoners attempt to escape.
Some escape into the forest, but 331 were shot and killed, but the exact fate of the rest of the prisoners is unknown, although probably they were shot and killed in the stadium at Rybnik, since 292 bodies of prisoners was discovered after the war.
Approximately 450 prisoners leave the Tschechowitz sub-camp at 7pm guarded by heavily armed SS men. On the 20 January 1945 the prisoners reach Wodzislaw in Silesia via Dziedzice, Goczalkowice and Pszcyna.
Those who cannot keep up the fast pace of the march are shot and killed, at the train station in Wodzislaw they meet thousands of other prisoners from Auschwitz who had been forced – marched from the Auschwitz main camp and other sub-camps.
The prisoners are transported to Buchenwald Concentration camp in open freight cars full of snow. Of the 450 prisoners who leave the Tscechowitz – Vacuum sub-camp, nearly 300 survived the transfer.
In the evening a column numbering several hundred prisoners from the Golleschau sub-camp, started their march. A second column of equal size leaves the camp the next day. Approximately 100 prisoners who are unable to march are left behind.
Both columns arrive by foot in Wodzislaw in Silesia, from there they are taken to Sachsenhausen and Flossenburg Concentration Camps in Germany, in open freight cars, normally used for transporting coal. Almost half of the prisoners die on the way of hunger, of exhaustion and the freezing weather.
During the day columns of 100 prisoners each leave the Auschwitz main camp at regular intervals. One of these heavily guarded columns consists of male and female civilian prisoners who have been detained in Block 11 by order of the Police Court –martial of the Kattowitz Gestapo.
19 January 1945
The last large transport with 2,500 prisoners leaves the Auschwitz main camp at 1:00 am under the supervision of SS First Lieutenant Wilhelm Reischenbeck. Near Rajsko the last column joins up with 1,000 prisoners from Birkenau. Behind the village of Brzeszcze the procession joined with a column of 1,948 prisoners from the Jawischowitz sub-camp.
The route of this last, very large column of prisoners is led to Wodzislaw, during the march the columns of the prisoners combined to form a very large mass of people. On the route of the march and at the side of the road lie the corpses of the prisoners, who could not keep up.
After the arrival in Wodzislaw the prisoners are loaded into open freight cars and transferred to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria, where they arrive on the 26 January 1945.
At 4:00 am the last group with 30 prisoner functionaries left Auschwitz, they follow the familiar route to Wodzislaw and join the prisoners being loaded into open freight cars.
The Gleiwitz lll sub-camp is dissolved. SS men lead the prisoners westward in columns. The march lasts several days, when they reached the left bank of the Oder River, they turn around and are led through Cosel to the Blechhammer sub-camp. From there, part of the column, are transferred to Gross Rosen Concentration Camp.
380 prisoners were taken from the Gleiwitz IV sub-camp and led in the direction of the village of Sosnicowice. After, a few miles, however, they were ordered back to Gleiwitz and taken to the Blechhammer sub-camp.
From here some of the prisoners were transferred to Gross Rosen and some to Buchenwald. 57 prisoners who were unable to march remained behind in the sick-bay of the sub-camp.
After several hours the Commander of the Gleiwitz IV sub-camp SS –Corporal Otto Latsch returned to the camp with Gustav Gunther, a member of the Todt Organisation. These two men set fire to the sick bay, with the 57 sick prisoners inside.
The prisoners who jump out of the windows of the burning building are shot to death by SS men. Only two prisoners Dabrowski and Rosenfeld, were able to save themselves, by hiding amongst their fallen comrades.
In the early morning hours 202 prisoners leave the Hubertushutte sub-camp under SS guard. Before being marched off the prisoners received bread and margarine. They are led through Chropaczow and Lipiny to Gleiwitz, where they arrived at around 3:00pm to join other columns of prisoners waiting for transport westward.
In the Hindenburg sub-camp SS- Supervisor Joanna Bormann ordered the women returning from work to prepare to leave, each woman is allowed to take a blanket and bread.
Approximately 470 female prisoners arrive in the Gleiwitz ll sub-camp in the evening on foot. Here they are loaded into open freight cars used to carry coal and brought to Gross Rosen. Because of over-crowding the prisoners cannot be accommodated and are transferred to Bergen-Belsen, in a journey that lasts two weeks.
833 prisoners begin the march from the Charlottengrube sub-camp, as with all the other columns, those who cannot keep up are shot, they spend the night in a farm near the Oder River.
The next day they are marched back to Rydultowy and on the 22 January to Wodzislaw, where they are loaded onto open freight cars and are transported to Mauthausen, along with other prisoners from Auschwitz.
The liquidation of the Althammer sub-camp and evacuation is personally supervised by Commandant Heinrich Schwartz of Monowitz. All prisoners able to march at around 10:00 am to Gleiwitz.
Approximately 150 prisoners remain behind, at around 4:00pm an SS division arrives in the Althammer sub-camp. The SS commander called for a prisoner roll call, selects a new Camp Senior, but this only is a short lived regime.
On the 25 January the SS leave the camp taking around a dozen prisoners with them, those who remained are guarded by local self-defence unit, until the Russians liberate the camp, among those liberated are Mieczyslaw Francuz, Alexander Gelermann and the Lejbisz brothers.
The Neustadt sub-camp is dissolved, the female prisoners were marched to Gross Rosen and from there to Bergen-Belsen. Approximately 1,000 prisoners were removed from the Furstengrube sub-camp, the evacuation being supervised by Camp Commander Max Schimdt. In the early morning hours the columns passed through Mikolow and joined the columns from Monowitz.
The journey from Mikolow to Gleiwitz a mere 15 miles takes 12 hours, in the evening the prisoners from Furstengrube and other sub-camps are accommodated in the Gleiwitz ll sub-camp.
In the evening the prisoners in the last column from Auschwitz – Birkenau and Jawischowitz stop in the village of Poremba and Brzeszcze. Some of the prisoners find shelter in barns, the remainder are forced to spend the night in the open air, at below zero temperatures
20 January 1945
At 6:00 am the columns of prisoners leave Poremba and Brzeszcze, the SS men search through the straw and hay piles in the sheds and barns. They shoot to death several prisoners who attempted to hide, but nevertheless 36 prisoners succeed in escaping from Poremba.
21 January 1945
The evacuation of the Golleschau sub-camp is completed, the last group of 96 sick and exhausted and 4 corpses are put in a freight car which is sealed and sent to the Freudenthal sub-camp in Czechoslovakia.
But on the 29 January 1945 the station supervisor at Zwittau informs the director Oskar Schindler (once of Krakow) of the munitions factory in Brussen- Brunnlitz that a wagon with Jewish prisoners has arrived at his station.
Schindler orders that the wagon be shunted to Brussen- Brunnlitz, where the frozen hinges and locks are opened by force. Half of the transport are no longer among the living, either they have starved or frozen to death. Schindler takes the survivors into his care, more than a dozen die after several days but the rest survive.
In the Gleiwitz sub –camps, prisoners from Auschwitz and other sub-camps wait to be transported farther. The prisoners are divided into several transport groups and taken to the ramp and are loaded into open freight cars and are taken to Buchenwald, Gross Rosen, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen.
The prisoners are evacuated from the Laurahutte sub-camp. On the railroad track near the foundry a train is prepared into which were the prisoners were loaded. The civilian personnel were evacuated in the same train.
During the trip through Silesia the train stopped in a forest near the train station in Rzedowka. Corpses in the typical striped prison clothing lie along the track. The prisoners are ordered by the escort unit to remove the striped clothing from the corpses, collect the scattered camp bowls, and load them into the train. The dead are probably prisoners from the Gunthergrube sub-camp.
The transport travels through Kattowitz, Mahrisch- Ostrava and Vienna. The trip lasts five days and nights, 134 prisoners die en route. Over 1,200 are led out of the Eintrachthutte sub-camp, they spend the night on the railroad platform waiting for a train in Schwientochlowitz to be made ready. Toward morning they were loaded into several cattle cars, whose floors were thick with animal feces.
A good dozen prisoners die during the journey to Mauthausen which lasts several days, arriving in the camp on the 29 January 1945.
Auschwitz Chronicle – Danuta Czech,published by Henry Holt New York 1990
The Holocaust, by Sir Martin Gilbert, published by Collins London 1986
Wiesel, Elie. Night. New York:Hill & Wang, 1960. Originally published as La Nuit by Les Editions de Minuit, 1958
The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial, 1963–1965 Genocide, History and the Limits of the Law Devin O. Pendas Boston College, Massachusetts
Holocaust Historical Society
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