Near the end of the Second World War, when Germany’s military force was collapsing, the Allied armies closed in on the Nazi concentration camps. The Soviets approached from the east, and the British, French, and Americans from the west. The Germans began to move the prisoners out of the camps near the front and take them to be used as forced labourers in camps inside Germany.
View additional maps and photographs held by the US Holocaust Memorial Museum
In the summer and early autumn months of 1944, most of the evacuations were carried out by train. As winter approached, however, and the Allies reached the German borders and assumed full control of German skies, SS authorities increasingly evacuated concentration camp prisoners from both east and west on foot.
During these death marches, the SS guards brutally mistreated the prisoners. Prisoners were forced to march long distances in bitter cold, with little or no food, water, or rest. Following their explicit orders, they shot hundreds of prisoners who collapsed or could not keep pace on the march, or who could no longer disembark from the trains or ships. Thousands of prisoners died of exposure, starvation, and exhaustion. Forced marches were especially common in late 1944 and 1945, as the SS evacuated prisoners to camps deeper within Germany..
The largest death marches took place in the winter of 1944-1945, when the Soviet army began its liberation of Poland. The Nazis often killed large groups of prisoners before, during, or after marches. During one march, 7,000 Jewish prisoners, 6,000 of them women, were moved from camps in the Danzig region bordered on the north by the Baltic Sea. On the ten-day march, 700 were murdered. Those still alive when the marchers reached the shores of the sea were driven into the water and shot.