chapter  8
19 Pages

The death marches and the final phase of Nazi genocide


The history of the violent and murderous eruption that occurred in the last period of the war, in which hundreds of thousands of camps prisoners, POWs, and forced labourers were evacuated from thousands of concentration camps or other incarceration and labour facilities along the retreat of the collapsing Reich, leaves many question marks and much confusion. In January 1945, according to Nazi records, some 714,000 prisoners were languishing in the concentrationcamp network. One may confidently assume that the actual numbers were much larger, because even the administrators and operators of this camp universe could not gauge its enormous magnitude with any precision.1 The denizens of this universe were a special microcosm of the victims of the Nazi terror. They included members of all European nationalities and some who had fallen into the snare from countries that had not been under Nazi control or that had fought against Germany. Each of these prisoners had reached his or her camp as a result of persecution, whether racial, political, religious or social. Some four months later, when the tumult of the war in Europe ceased and the Third Reich tumbled off the stage of history, at least 250,000 of them were no longer among the living. Many others perished shortly after the liberation as a result of their desperate physical condition. The final phase of the war was viciously murderous even by the horrifying standards of the Nazi genocide.