As the Nazis were losing the war, the thought about what the world would say about the awful truth of the concentration
camps. It was decided to hide the evidence by destroying the camps. But what could they do with the thousands of inmates.
In August 1944, a BBC reporter described what the Russian army had found at Majdanek, Poland. Gigantic crematoria able
to burn 2,000 bodies a day, warehouses full, with 850,000 pairs of shoes, store rooms full of clothes and huge piles of childrens
toys. The BBC were not willing to believe their reporter, even the New York Herald refused to believe it.
Himmler had made it plain, the Final Solution was to remain secret, a page of glory in our history that shall never
be written. By 1945, 750,000 people were still alive in the camps, between 250,000 and 500,000 were to die in the last 6 months
of the war. Victims of executions or the denial of food and medical care.
By early 1945, the evidence of the holocaust was becoming clear, even to people who could not believe this would go
on in the 20th century. On the 21st April, at Sachenshausen camp, 40,000 inmates were assembled because
the commandant had orders not to let the camp fall into allied hands.
The emaciated prisoners were driven on to the road and marched away. Those unable to keep up were shot.
Hitler went into a rage when he found out that Bergen-Belsen and Buchenwald were overrun without being evacuated. Himmler
was terrified of him. The death marches continued until the last day of the war.
Even if Himmler had kept his word about stopping the marches, the commandants of the camps did not obey.
Alois Dorr was in charge of Helmbrechts, a off shoot of the Flossenburg camp near Hof in Upper Franconia. The prisoners
were all women, mostly Poles and Russians. About half were Jews. They were made to work in the nearby armaments factory. On
April 13th the camp was evacuated, 1,100 prisoners marched south-east. The column struggled along at an average
9 miles a day. A handful of dry bread, half-cooked potatoes or soup was given out once a day. Already half starved, the women
were eating rotten animal fodder.
The reaction of German people varied. In Ahornberg they were offered food but the guards stopped it. The bread was
fed to chickens in front of the starving people. At Volary, with the US army closing in the people were stopped from giving
them anything and those who did get some were beaten with truncheons or whips.
At other places, the ragged prisoners were stoned by local children when they found out they were Jews. They spent
some nights in unheated barns, others in the open. The combination of no food and rags to wear, meant that many were found
dead in the mornings.
If this was not enough, reports of several outright massacres were told, done by both male and female guards. Sometimes
the bodies were buried and others
were left by the roadside. On at least one occasion the women were buried alive.
By May 5th, they had been marching for 3 weeks. The Nazi chain of command had disintegrated and they were
left without orders. The Russians were coming from the north and east and the US troops from the west and would link up in
24 hours. Dorr gave identity cards to the remaining prisoners and set them free. Most were close to death, but the ones who
could still run, were told to run up the hill but if they stopped they would be shot. If they made it to the top, they were
The women were saved by the US medical team. They were amazed to find that the skeleton women who they thought were
in their 70,s were in fact only 25-30 years old.
The SS men were retreating from the failure of the war. Knowing full well the war was lost, their evil regime finished,
they slaughtered the Jews with sadistic relish.
The death marches began with the aim of hiding the evidence of the holocaust.
But they continued even after the photos of Belsen were sent round the world. They continued after the collapse of the Nazi
administration. Many senior officers made their escape, going underground with false papers or trying to flee abroad. Left
unattended the holocaust continued to function until it was shut down by the allied forces.
Even then, some of the guards left it so late that their idea of escape was to dress in prison rags, but were spotted
when they were seen to be well fed against the others who were skeletons.
Ernest Wolf, a death march survivor said Our guards deliberately dropped bread in the road, anyone bending down to
pick it up, were shot in the head. We were so hungry that we ate pieces of flesh from those who had died
The camps were to disappear too, Treblinka, where almost the entire Jewish population of Warsaw had been murdered,
the gas ovens were blown up, the buildings levelled and the whole site turfed over before the Russians approached.