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March 29, 2014

What was the purpose of the death marches out of the concentration camps?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: — furtherglory @ 12:58 pm

Last night, during a conversation with a teen-aged visitor to my home, the subject of the “death marches” out of the Nazi concentration camps came up.  My young visitor had noticed that, on my library shelf, I have a copy of a huge book which gives the several versions of the Anne Frank diary side by side.

The sight of this book prompted my young visitor to mention that she had studied the Anne Frank Diary in school, and that a Holocaust survivor, who had a number tattooed on the inside of her left arm, had recently given a talk at her school.

At this point, I told her that the tattoo was an indication that the survivor had been a prisoner at Auschwitz, because the Auschwitz camp was the only place where the prisoners were tattooed.  This was news to her; the Holocaust survivor had not mentioned this.

Then my young visitor told me that the Holocaust survivor, who spoke at her school, had said that she had been taken on a march out of Auschwitz.  On the march, she had been forced to walk for miles, barefoot through the snow.  When the march ended, the prisoners were allowed to escape, running through the snow, into the arms of soldiers who liberated them.

The story of marching barefoot through the snow resonated with me because many other survivors of Auschwitz have told stories about how the German soldiers, who led the marches out of Auschwitz, walked ahead of the prisoners, tramping down the two feet of snow, so that the women and children could walk better.  The women and children were given a head start, so that they would not have to keep up with the men, who could walk faster.

I have also heard stories about how the women were taken to the clothing warehouses, known as Canada, where they were allowed to select a nice pair of boots for the march.

This is the first time that I have heard that the prisoners were marched barefoot out of Auschwitz.  The women were wearing shoes, while they were prisoners at Auschwitz, but according to this survivor, they were apparently told to take off their shoes so that they could march barefoot through the snow.

Some Holocaust survivors say that the purpose of a “death march” was to kill the prisoners by marching them to death.  Holocaust deniers say that the purpose was to take the prisoners to other camps, where they could be put to work.

I decided to look it up on Wikipedia, where I found a page entitled Death marches (Holocaust).

This quote is from Wikipedia:

Death marches (Todesmärsche in German) refer to the forcible movements of prisoners in Nazi Germany. They occurred at various points during the Holocaust, including in 1939 in the Lublin province of Poland, in 1942 in Ukraine, and between Autumn 1944 and late April 1945 from Nazi concentration camps and prisoner of war camps near the front, to camps inside Germany away from front lines and Allied forces to remove evidence from concentration camps and to prevent the repatriation

The photo below is on the page entitled “Deach marches.” The caption on the photo is this:

Dachau concentration camp inmates on a death march, April 1945, photographed walking through a German village, heading in the direction of Wolfratshausen, Bavaria.


Were the prisoners, shown in the photo above, really marched out of the Dachau camp to “to remove evidence from concentration camps and to prevent the repatriation”? In the photo, it appears that the prisoners are walking through the rain, wearing shoes and some kind of rain gear.

Would marching the prisoners out of Dachau remove the evidence of the Dachau gas chamber?  Wouldn’t it have been easier to blow up the gas chamber inside the Dachau camp?

Why take a chance on one of these prisoners escaping the march, and living to tell about the gas chamber and other atrocities committed at Dachau?

Other sources, including my website, claim that these prisoners were marched out of Dachau to prevent them from killing Germany civilians in the vicinity of the town of Dachau.

Holocaust deniers claim that prisoners were marched out of Auschwitz, not for the purpose of killing them by marching them to death, but for the purpose of taking them to camps in Germany to work.

I wrote about the prisoners being marched out of Dachau on this page of my website:


March 28, 2013

Why did the Jews at Auschwitz march out of the camp with the Nazis instead of waiting for the Soviet liberators?

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 8:29 am
Prisoners on a death march out of Dachau

Prisoners on a death march out of Dachau on April 26, 1945

The photo above shows some of the 6,887 Jewish prisoners and Russian POWs, who were marched out of the Dachau concentration camp on April 26, 1945.  Today’s students are taught that the purpose of this “death march” was to kill the prisoners before the camp could be liberated by the Allies.  Note the two German soldiers who are marching with them.  There is no photo of the march out of Auschwitz, but the photo above will give you an idea of how the Auschwitz march might have taken place.

On a similar march out of Auschwitz-Birkenau, on January 18, 1945, the German soldiers marched at the head of the column, tramping down two feet of snow to make it easier for the Jews to march.

I am on the e-mail list of Bradley Smith, a famous Holocaust denier, and today I received an e-mail from him, which included a letter which he had recently sent to Kent State University, where Elie Wiesel was expected to give a talk to the students.

As you may know, Elie Wiesel and his father were allegedly on the death march out of Auschwitz on January 18, 1945.  Elie wrote, in his book Night, that they were given a choice of either marching or staying behind to be liberated by Soviet soldiers.  The Dachau prisoners, shown in the photo above, were not given a choice.  They were marched out of Dachau, so that they could not attack civilians in the town of Dachau, after they were liberated.

I love Bradley Smith and I am a great admirer of his writing.  I read the copy of Bradley’s letter to the University and laughed out loud.  I am quoting from the letter, so as to share it with those who may not be on Bradley’s e-mail list.

Quote from letter written by Bradley Smith to Kent State University:

In his autobiographical book Night, Elie Wiesel writes that in January 1945, when he and his father were both prisoners of the murderous German Nazis at Auschwitz, they were asked by their captors if they would prefer to remain in that death camp, where countless Jews had already been murdered in gas chambers, to await the imminent arrival of their Soviet liberators, or would they rather leave with the Nazi Jew-killers who were abandoning the camp. Elie Wiesel and his dad, talking it over, agreed they would prefer to leave on the death-march retreat with German Nazis dedicated to exterminating Jews as a race rather than wait for their Soviet liberators.

Is there one professor at Kent State University who thinks it might be worthwhile that students consider the significance of this confession? Why not?

I don’t think that Bradley Smith will get an answer to his letter, so I am going to explain to him and to the students, the purpose of the death march out of Auschwitz.

I learned the reason for the death marches from Professor Harold Marcuse, who teaches the history of the Holocaust at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Professor Marcuse wrote the following in a comment on my blog several years ago:

In any case the death marches in 1945 were a largely futile attempt to keep human evidence of and witnesses to atrocities from falling into Allied hands. That rationale hinged on the illusory notion that the Germans would ultimately defend some territory and in some bizarre way “win” the war. When some responsible German officials realized beyond doubt that the war was lost, they drew the “logical” conclusion and burned the marching prisoners alive, as happened at Ohrdruf, Gardelegen and numerous other places. For them apparently, dead evidence was better than alive evidence.

I am assuming that the professors at Kent State University teach the students the same story that is taught at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Elie Wiesel and his father trusted the Nazis not to burn them alive on the march, so they didn’t stay behind at Auschwitz, when given a choice. If you have ever read Elie Wiesel’s book, you know that Elie and his father survived the burning ditches at Auschwitz on the Night that they arrived.  They expected to survive the burning of the prisoners on the march out of the camp.  They didn’t know what the Soviets might do, so they chose the Nazis instead.

Children were burned alive in a burning ditch at Auschwitz on the night Elie Wiesel arrived

Children were being burned alive at Auschwitz on the night Elie Wiesel arrived

The Jews who stayed behind at Auschwitz found out that they had made the wrong choice because the Soviets didn’t take care of them at all.

After the three Auschwitz camps were liberated, the survivors were on their own. Unlike the concentration camps in Germany, where the liberated prisoners remained in the camps as Displaced Persons and were cared for by the Americans or the British, the Auschwitz prisoners from 29 countries were released to find their own way home.

Primo Levi was an Auschwitz survivor who wrote a book, later made into a movie, about his long journey home to Italy which took him many months. He described how the Jewish prisoners were greeted with hostility in every country along the way.  (Primo Levi was forced to stay behind because he was sick at the time of the death march out of the camp.)

Binjamin Wilkomirski, who falsely claimed to be a child survivor of Auschwitz, wrote in his fake book, entitled Fragments, that there was no liberation. “We just ran away without permission,” he wrote. “No joyous celebration. I never heard the word ‘liberation’ back then, I didn’t even know there was such a word.” Binjamin Wilkomirski also describes this in his book, Fragments: “And the people outside the camp, in the countryside and the nearby town — they didn’t celebrate when they saw us.”

Wilkomirski’s fake book is still being taught in American schools, but it is now called a novel.  Elie Wiesel’s fake book was at one time classified as a novel, but is now being taught in American schools as the Gospel truth.

February 15, 2011

Holocaust survivor awarded Medal of Freedom

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 2:03 pm

I was watching TV today when President Obama was giving out the Medal of Freedom awards to 14 people.  As soon as I heard him say the name Gerda Weissmann Klein, I immediately thought that she must be a “Holocaust survivor” and I was right.  President Obama gave a short speech about her story, including the fact that she had survived “a 350 mile march.”  He didn’t say where the march started, nor where it ended, but he did call it a “death march.”

Here are the exact words that President Obama used to introduce Gerda Weissmann Klein:

By the time she was 21, Gerda Klein had spent six years living under Nazi rule — three of them in concentration camps.  Her parents and brother had been taken away.  Her best friend had died in her arms during a 350-mile death march.  And she weighed only 68 pounds when she was found by American forces in an abandoned bicycle factory.  But Gerda survived.  She married the soldier who rescued her.  And ever since — as an author, a historian and a crusader for tolerance — she has taught the world that it is often in our most hopeless moments that we discover the extent of our strength and the depth of our love.

“I pray you never stand at any crossroads in your own lives,” she says, “but if you do, if the darkness seems so total, if you think there is no way out, remember, never ever give up.”     (more…)

January 10, 2011

Primo Levi — The Story of Ten Days (Jan. 18th to Jan. 27th, 1945)

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 4:51 am

Auschwitz was abandoned by the German SS guards on January 18, 1945 and it was ten days before Soviet troops arrived to rescue the prisoners.  Primo Levi was an Italian Jew, who was a prisoner at the Monowitz labor camp in the Auschwitz complex.  In 1947, Levi wrote a poem entitled “If this is a man,” which is included in a book published in America under the title Survival in Auschwitz, the Nazi Assault on Humanity.

Chapter 17 of the book is entitled, “The Story of Ten Days.”  This is the story of what happened during the ten days that the prisoners were on their own, without the Germans to keep order and feed them.  There are some surprising revelations in this chapter.

Primo Levi had come down with scarlet fever on January 11, 1945 and he had been put into the hospital at Monowitz, so he was not able to join the march out of the camp on January 18, 1945.  He wrote that he was being treated in the hospital with sulpha drugs.

There has been a lot of speculation about why some of the prisoners stayed in the three Auschwitz camps (Auschwitz I, Birkenau and Monowitz) instead of following the fleeing Germans on January 18, 1945. The Holocaust experts believe that the prisoners were marched out of the camp for the purpose of killing them so that they could not testify about the gassing of the prisoners.  They believe that the prisoners joined the march for fear that they would be killed if they stayed behind.

Levi wrote that there were “rumours which had been circulating for some days: that the Russians were at Censtochowa sixty miles to the north; [...] that at Buna (Monowitz) the Germans were already preparing to sabotage mines.”

Strangely, Levi did not mention anything about the Germans blowing up the gas chambers at Birkenau.  Levi was a prisoner at Monowitz and perhaps he didn’t know what was going on at Birkenau.

In the “Author’s Preface” to the book, the first sentence reads: “It was my good fortune to be deported to Auschwitz only in 1944, that is, after the German Government had decided, owing to the growing scarcity of labour, to lengthen the average life-span of the prisoners destined for elimination…”  Primo Levi was never in the Birkenau camp, so he apparently never knew that 450,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed and burned there in only 10 weeks, starting in May 1944.

Levi had arrived in Auschwitz in January 1944.  He had been captured by the Italian Fascist Militia on 13 December 1943, according to his book. He  wrote that he had fled into the mountains to help set up what “should have become a partisan band affiliated with the Resistance movement Justice and Liberty.”  Levi thought that “the admission of my political activity would have meant torture and certain death.”  Remarkably, he wrote that he “preferred to admit my status of Italian citizen of Jewish race.”

So on the first page of Chapter 1 in his book, Levy reveals that he thought he would be killed if he admitted to being a partisan, but not if he admitted to being a Jew.  Yet on page 20, he wrote, with regard to the selections for the gas chamber, that “later a simpler method was often adopted of merely opening both of the doors of the wagon without warning or instructions to the new arrivals.  Those who by chance climbed down on one side of the convoy entered the camp; the others went to the gas chamber.”

Levi wrote in Chapter 17 that the day before the Monowitz camp was to be evacuated, a Greek doctor who was a prisoner himself came to the hospital and told the prisoners that “all patients able to walk would be given shoes and clothes and would leave the following day with the healthy ones on a twelve mile march.” The others would remain in the hospital with assistants to be chosen from the patients who were the least sick.  When Levi asked the doctor what would happen to the sick prisoners, the doctor said that “probably the Germans would leave us to our fate: no, he did not think that they would kill us.”

Levi did not believe the doctor. He wrote that the doctor “made no effort to hide the fact that he thought otherwise. His very cheerfulness boded ill.”

Levi himself had no choice; he was too sick with scarlet fever to join the march.  He was in the ward for patients with infectious diseases.  Even if he had wanted to go on the death march, he would probably not have been allowed to go, for fear of infecting the other prisoners with scarlet fever.  Elie Wiesel was also in the hospital in Monowitz and he chose to go on the march out of the camp.

After the Germans left with 60,000 of the prisoners on the night of January 18th, the last distribution of soup was given to the sick prisoners the next morning.  After that, the prisoners were on their own with no one to cook for them and no one to take care of the central heating plant.  It was 5 degrees below zero.

On page 157 of the paperback edition, Levi wrote that around 11 p.m. on Jan. 18th, “One could hear the roar of the aeroplanes. Then the bombardment began.”  I knew that Monowitz had been bombed several times, but I didn’t know that there were bombs dropped on the very night that the march out of the camp began.

Here is a quote from page 157:

After a few minutes it was obvious that the camp had been struck. Two huts were burning fiercely, another two had been pulverized, but they were all empty. [...] The Germans were no longer there.  The towers were empty.

This quote describes the situation after the air raid:

“No more water, or electricity, broken windows and doors slamming to in the wind, loose iron sheets from the roofs screeching, ashes from the fire drifting high, afar. The work of the bombs had been completed by the work of man: ragged, decrepit, skeleton-like patients at all able to move dragged themselves everywhere on the frozen soil, like an invasion of worms.”

After the Germans left, the prisoners in the hospital had nothing to eat except potatoes and turnips.  There were no Germans to bake the bread and cook the soup. There was no clean water and the prisoners had to drink melted snow.

On Jan. 22, the hospital patients went exploring in the SS camp that was immediately outside the electric barbed wire fence.  Levi wrote that the camp guards must have left in a great hurry because the prisoners found plates half full of by-now frozen soup, and mugs full of frozen beer, along with a chess board with an unfinished game.

Throughout the book, Levi had written that there were constant selections made in the hospital.  The patients who didn’t get well in a hurry were sent to the gas chambers.  In Chapter 17, Levi wrote about a seventeen year old Dutch Jew who “had been in bed for three months; I have no idea how he managed  to survive the selections.”  This was Levi’s second time in the camp hospital; he had previously been hospitalized for an injured foot.  In his book, Levi didn’t speculate on why he had not been selected for the gas chamber while he was hospitalized.

By Jan. 23rd, all the potatoes had been eaten.  The next day, Jan. 24, the prisoners in hut 14 of the hospital “organized an expedition to the English prisoner of war camp.”  There they found “margarine, custard powders, lard, soya bean flour, whiskey.”  It was a mile to the English POW camp and Levi and the other sick prisoners were not strong enough to walk there, even though they were starving and were desperate for food.

The Soviet soldiers finally arrived at Auschwitz on Jan. 27th and set up a temporary hospital. There were 12 prisoners in the infectious ward at Monowitz and only one of them died during the ten days after the Germans left.  Another prisoner in this ward died a few weeks later in the Russian hospital.

Here is Levi’s famous poem, “If this is a man”:

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find, returning in the evening,
Hot food and friendly faces:
Consider if this is a man
Who works in the mud
Who does not know peace
Who fights for a scrap of bread
Who dies because of a yes or a no.
Consider if this is a woman,
Without hair and without name
With no more strength to remember,
Her eyes empty and her womb cold
Like a frog in winter.
Meditate that this came about:
I commend these words to you.
Carve them in your hearts
At home, in the street,
Going to bed, rising;
Repeat them to your children,
Or may your house fall apart,
May illness impede you,
May your children turn their faces from you.

In conclusion: This is not a book review, but I must say that I found Levi’s attitude about his imprisonment to be very arrogant.  He criticizes the smallest details about his treatment.  He couldn’t stand the “infernal” German music.  The playing of the German song “Rosamunda” particularly irritated him. Regarding the playing of music, he wrote “the Germans created this monstrous rite.”

Levi didn’t like “that curt, barbaric barking of Germans.”  He refers to “the degenerate German engineer” of the train that was taking him to Auschwitz.  Why was the engineer of the train “degenerate?”  He had allowed water to be drawn from the engine to bathe a three year old girl who was on the train.

Levi had been arrested because he was a member of the Resistance.  As an illegal combatant, he could have been executed under the rules of the Geneva Convention.  There was a war going on.  Yet Levi expected to be treated as if he were at a resort.

At one point, Levi asked if the new arrivals would be given back their toothbrushes.   The prisoner, whom he had asked, told him in French: “you are not at home.”  Levi wrote “And it is this refrain that we hear repeated by everyone: you are not at home, this is not a sanatorium, the only exit is by way of the Chimney.”

He is critical of the signs and pictures showing the prisoners how to keep themselves clean.  He doesn’t like it when he is repeatedly warned not to drink the tap water.  His general attitude is that he hates the Germans even though he was treated well under the circumstances.

I learned from the Wikipedia entry about him that when Levi began to write this book, he wrote the chapter about the Ten Days first.  Apparently, his most vivid memory of his time in the camp was when he had scarlet fever and there were no German doctors to take care of him, and no Germans to keep order and hand out food to the prisoners.  He then began to understand the reason for the strict discipline in the camp.

The place where Primo Levi was imprisoned was the Auschwitz III labor camp, known as Monowitz; it was near a factory called the Buna Werke because it was a factory for making synthetic rubber.

The Monowitz industrial complex was built by Auschwitz inmates, beginning in April 1941. Initially, the workers walked from the Auschwitz main camp to the building site, a distance of 4 to 6 kilometers each way. By 1942, barracks had been built for the prisoners at Monowitz.

The Buna Werke was built in May 1942, six kilometers from the main Auschwitz camp, by the German company called IG Farbenindustrie. At first, it was one of the 40 sub-camps of the main camp, but in November 1943, the Buna sub-camp became Auschwitz III with its own sub-camps.

Monument in honor of the prisoners who died at Monowtiz

The monument to the prisoners who died at Monowitz, shown in the photo above, is located across the street from the ice hockey rink on the eastern side of the town of Oswiecim. According to a book entitled “Auschwitz 1940 – 1945″ which I purchased at the Auschwitz Museum, there were 30,000 prisoners employed by the IG-Farbenindustrie factories at Monowitz, who died during a 3-year period.

Bomb shelter for the SS guards at Monowitz

The photo above shows the ruins of a bomb shelter which the Nazis built near the Monowitz factories. The people on the left in the photo are Polish residents, not tourists. Note the street sign on the left; this building is on an ordinary city street in the town of Monowitz.   The Allies began bombing Monowitz in August 1944.

The barracks where the prisoners lived at Monowitz have all been torn down and replaced by houses.

Barracks at Monowitz, July 1944

In the photograph above, Heinrich Himmler is on the far right; the man in civilian clothes, who is shaking hands, is Max Faust. The barracks for the prisoners are shown in the background; prisoners from the main Auschwitz camp were transferred to the Monowitz barracks at the end of October 1942.

The Polish village of Monowice, which was called Monowitz by the Germans, is 4 kilometers from the site of the factories. Some of the old factory buildings are still standing, although now abandoned, while others are still in use as factories. The concrete wall around the factories, with its distinctive curved posts, can still be seen along the road from Oswiecim to the Krakow airport.

The Monowitz sub-camp was known as Bunalager (Buna Camp) until November 1943 when it became the KL Auschwitz III camp with its own administrative headquarters. Auschwitz III consisted of 28 sub-camps which were built between 1942 and 1944. This area of Upper Silesia was known as the “Black Triangle” because of its coal deposits. The Buna plant attracted the attention of the Allies, and there were several bombing raids on the factories.

When you enter the town of Oswiecim, coming from the Krakow airport, the fence is the first thing you see that tells you that the area around this town was once the home of Nazi forced labor camps, where the Jews worked as slave laborers. The fence stretches for miles and behind it are some factories, built by the Germans, that are still being used today. The factories and the ruins are off limits to visitors; the tour groups do not visit the ruins, and even the private tour guides refuse to take visitors there.

While he was a prisoner at Monowitz, Primo Levi met Lorenzo, an Italian who was a worker at the camp, not a prisoner. For six months, Lorenzo gave Primo extra bread each day, patched up shirts and even wrote a postcard for him to Italy.

Primo Levi as a young man

Regarding his survival at Auschwitz III, Levi wrote on page 132 of his book:

“If there is any point in trying to understand why I should be the one to be saved, out of so many thousands of others, I believe that it was primarily because of Lorenzo. And not necessarily because of his material help. It was much more because his treatment of me, his simple behavior and kindness, reminded me every day that there is still a humane and just world on the other side of the barbed wire fence; that outside the camp there are people with a heart, and that there are pure values; that not everything is corrupt and cruel; that a world without hatred and fear exists out there. It is true that all those are vague at the moment, distant and incomprehensible, but it is worth making the effort to survive in order to get back there.”

January 7, 2011

The Reader — is it a pernicious book and movie?

On her blog, Deborah Lipstadt gives a review of the movie, The Reader, which she labels “A Pernicious Book and Movie.”  You can read her review here.

My opinion of the movie is the compete opposite.  The movie is quite educational; it brings up the subject of the “death march” out of Auschwitz in January, 1945 which I have been blogging about recently.    (more…)

December 31, 2010

I have unwittingly opened up a can of worms

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 12:16 am

Until just recently, I was not aware of the significance of the evacuation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp and the so-called “death march” out of the camp.  When I previously blogged about the “death march” out of Auschwitz, this generated a lot of comments with strong opinions.

A “death march” is usually defined as a long hike from one place to another with the stragglers being shot.  The most famous “death march” during World War II was the Bataan Death March which you can read about here(more…)

The Silver is the New Black Theme. Blog at


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