19 January, 2012

19 January 1945


438th AAA AW BN
APO 230 % Postmaster, N.Y.
19 January, 1945        1130

Dearest sweetheart –

Talk about your New England blizzards! We’re having one helluva storm right now, dear, and it’s the first one I’ve seen in several winters. I had to go out this morning and just got back. I’m going to try to stay around this p.m. but it will depend on a couple of factors.

I got two letters yesterday – the best combination, too: one from you and one from my folks. Yours was dated 19 November and theirs 24th November – so you see, sweetheart, what mail service we’ve been getting. But they were plenty welcome and I’ll take as many as come along. I haven’t had a recent one from either you or the folks in some time. I hope everything is going along well, darling, and that you’re less discouraged and worried than you were when you wrote me during the week of the breakthrough.

News these days is scant and slow but the over-all picture is encouraging, dear – and we’re all expecting to hit Berlin one of these days – after all. Nothing more for now, Sweetheart. Will try to write more tomorrow. Love to the folks and to you –
All my everlasting love


about the Death Marches

Death March from Dachau

The following was taken directly from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's Holocaust Encyclopedia's web page called "Death Marches":
A massive Soviet 1944 summer offensive in eastern Belarus annihilated German Army Group Center and permitted Soviet forces to overrun the first of the major Nazi concentration camps, Lublin/Majdanek. Shortly after that offensive, SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered that prisoners in all concentration camps and subcamps be evacuated toward the interior of the Reich. Due to the rapid Soviet advance, the SS had not had time to complete the evacuation of Majdanek. Soviet and western media widely publicized SS atrocities at the camp, using both footage of the camp at liberation and interviews with some of the surviving prisoners. The evacuations of the concentration camps had three purposes:
(1) SS authorities did not want prisoners to fall into enemy hands alive to tell their stories to Allied and Soviet liberators,

(2) the SS thought they needed prisoners to maintain production of armaments wherever possible, and

(3) some SS leaders, including Himmler, believed irrationally that they could use Jewish concentration camp prisoners as hostages to bargain for a separate peace in the west that would guarantee the survival of the Nazi regime.
In the summer and early autumn months of 1944, most of the evacuations were carried out by train or, in the case of German positions cut off in the Baltic States, by ship. 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.

By January 1945, the Third Reich stood on the verge of military defeat. Most of German East Prussia was already under Soviet occupation. Soviet forces besieged Warsaw, Poland, and Budapest, Hungary, as they prepared to push German forces back toward the interior of the Reich. After the failure of the surprise German Ardennes offensive in December 1944, Anglo-American forces in the west were ready to invade Germany.

The SS guards had strict orders to kill prisoners who could no longer walk or travel. As evacuations depended increasingly on forced marches and travel by open rail car or small craft in the Baltic Sea in the brutal winter of 1944-1945, the number who died of exhaustion and exposure along the routes increased dramatically. This encouraged an understandable perception among the prisoners that the Germans intended them all to die on the march. The term death march was probably coined by concentration camp prisoners.

During these death marches, the SS guards brutally mistreated the prisoners. 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. Major evacuation operations moved prisoners out of Auschwitz, Stutthof, and Gross-Rosen westward to Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen in winter 1944-1945; from Buchenwald and Flossenbürg to Dachau and Mauthausen in spring 1945; and from Sachsenhausen and Neuengamme northwards to the Baltic Sea in the last weeks of the war.

Major Death Marches

Auschwitz was the largest camp established by the Germans. A complex of camps, Auschwitz included a concentration, extermination, and forced-labor camp. It was located 37 miles west of Krakow, near the prewar German-Polish border. In mid-January 1945, as Soviet forces approached the Auschwitz camp complex, the SS began evacuating Auschwitz and its satellite camps. On 19 January 1945 the last large transport, with 2,500 prisoners, left the Auschwitz main camp at 1:00 am under the supervision of SS First Lieutenant Wilhelm Reischenbeck. Near Rajsko the last column joined 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.

Nearly 60,000 prisoners were forced to march west from the Auschwitz camp system. Thousands had been killed in the camps in the days before these death marches began. Tens of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, were forced to march to the city of Wodzislaw in the western part of Upper Silesia. SS guards shot anyone who fell behind or could not continue. Prisoners also suffered from the cold weather, starvation, and exposure on these marches. More than 15,000 died during the death marches from Auschwitz.
Death Marches from Auschwitz

CLICK HERE to read personal histories and see videos of the following transcripts recorded by four death march survivors as shown on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum web site. The last transcript below was recorded by a collector of evidence following the marches.

Fritzie Weiss Fritzshall
Born: 1929, Klucarky, Czechoslovakia
We knew that it was the last days of the war, we knew because of the bombings and we knew because of the way the Germans soldiers were pushing us and pulling us already and emptying the camps and whatever. They took us all and put us together, all of the people from camps, and they had us march through towns and through fields. They didn't know where to put us anymore and they didn't know what to do with us and there was no food because the Germans were losing the war. Oftentimes as they marched us through a town, a window would open and a shutter would open and either a potato or a loaf of bread would come flying out and the shutter would close after. And we would all pounce on this potato or this whatever this piece of food was that came at us. And of course they would shoot at us, but we didn't care at that point because we were hungry. The streets were literally covered with bodies as we marched. We would pass bodies, body after body after body, people that were dropping dead from hunger, from disease, from dysentery, because they did not have the strength or because they gave up.
Lilly Appelbaum Malnik
Born: 1928, Antwerp, Belgium
Word came to us that we were going to evacuate Auschwitz. Why were we evacuating Auschwitz? It is because the Russians were coming close by. And so we...we all walked out Auschwitz and we started walking. And we started walking, we walked for days. I'll never forget it. I don't know how many days we walked. We walked and then we took cattle cars and then we walked again. And as we walked we heard gun shots and they told us to keep on marching. We heard gun shots and they were shooting people in the back who couldn't keep up with the walking. It ended up being called the death march because the ravines and the gutters, they were all red from blood. From people, some people who spoke Polish, we were walking through Poland, and some people who thought they could escape would try and escape. Some people who couldn't keep up with the walking anymore, they got weak, they threw all their bundles away and they walked until they couldn't keep up anymore, they fell behind and the Germans just shot them. We saw people being shot in the front in their chests, in their back. They were laying all over, on top of hills, behind trees. It was really like a war zone. And this is how we finally arrived in a camp called Bergen-Belsen.
Lily Mazur Margules
Born: 1924, Vilna
And we knew the only way we can survive if we will stay in the front. Because if you were standing in the back and you couldn't walk with the column, you were just shot. And then I saw young girls walk and walk and all of a sudden they became like frozen, straightened their legs instead and they were just frozen mummies falling right with their face on the snow. The German didn't have to shoot them. This is how they fell. One of my friends started to feel bad, and we took her and I was from one side, and another of my friend, and we were dragging her, practically dragging her, she couldn't, her legs were frozen. So the guard noticed it. He, he, he told the column to stop, he took her to a turnip field, and we heard a shot. He shot her right there.
Sam Itzkowitz
Born: 1925, Makow, Poland
They decided to march us towards the Bavarian mountains, to the Alps. 'Til today I don't know what the reason was. Either they wanted to destroy us in, in those mountains or they were going to trade us off through Switzerland. There was the death march. Well, I was already so weak that I could barely walk. That march was, took about ten to two... ten days to two weeks. Snow in the daytime, snow at night, every... it was March, and the weather in, in March in Germany is just worse than here. Every hour we had a different... And we had to sleep outside... er we always... they always camped us out somewhere in an open field. And we just huddled together like animals in the street, in the... in the in the wilderness. And tried to, just tried to stay alive. And on top of it we saw planes coming over us every... And we were praying, hoping, we says, "Come on, drop them, get it over with." Well I don't know. I think the pilots saw that we were prisoners and they dropped bombs all around us, but never on us. See we were wearing those striped uh uniforms. And they didn't fly too high to start with because they were bombing in the daytime. So probably this is the only thing that saved us.
Benjamin (Beryl) Ferencz
Born: 1920, Transylvania, Romania
As the camps were about to be liberated, the Germans tried to move the inmates out, those who were still able to walk or to work. They left those behind to be killed or to die who were too sick. But they marched them out. And they were marching, I think it was from Flossenbürg to march to Dachau, or one of the camps. And, they took them through the woods and they marched at night, and if anybody faltered on the way, they were immediately shot; if anybody paused to try to pick up a potato or to eat a root or something, they were shot. And I was able to follow this trail through the woods, uh, of mass graves --10, 20, 30, 50 killed, you know. And I would get the nearest farmer to say, "Dig them up." They would say, "Oh yes, we heard firing there last night, there was shooting going on." "Where was it?" "Over there in the woods." And, uh, I would say, "Let's go." And we'd go out to the woods and there would be a newly dug-up place, and I'd say, "Get some shovels," and I'd stop some Germans on the street, "Take those shovels, dig 'em up," and we'd dig up the bodies of, uh, people who'd been obviously shot through the head. Usually the top of the skull is blown off, uh, shot probably kneeling from the back, uh, some of them were tied still, uh, you know, just lightly covered over with, uh, you know, six inches of dirt, something like that. So I could follow the trail of crime being committed all along the way.
There are 497 personal videos containing testimonies relating to the Holocaust recorded on The United States Holocaust Memorial web site. To see more, CLICK HERE.

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