Final death marches

Surviving the death marches was mainly a matter of luck and strength. Camp SS killers, determined to evade the approaching Allies, shot many sick and exhausted prisoners, who had fallen behind and slowed down the treks. In his post-war testimony, the Belgian prisoner Raymond van Pée described SS murders on a death march from a Bremen satellite camp to Neuengamme in April 1945.

108 – The Belgian survivor Raymond van Pée on SS shootings during a death march

On our departure the SS announced that any attempt to escape would be punished by death […]. After one kilometre we could already see the first corpses lying in the grass to the left and right of the road. […]

​ our route was marked by dozens of corpses

Victims of death marches

The Wiener Library

I thought that they would use a lorry to collect those who were left behind. But no: they pushed and beat our comrade, who had fallen down, to get him going again. To no effect, because you can’t beat people into life if they are half dead already. SS men arrived and pushed our poor comrade out of the way. A shot rang out. Then a hefty kick and the corpse rolled into the ditch beside the road. And so our route was marked by dozens of corpses. […] While I marched on, mechanically placing one foot in front of the other, I often thought of the many comrades left behind who now lay buried under a thin layer of earth in a strange land far away from their loved ones. […]

Everyone had feelings of guilt about the comrades who had been shot. Should we have tried to drag them along with us until we ourselves collapsed alongside them? Or had we given up on them too soon? It was a matter of conscience for all of us.

Source: K. Hertz-Eichenrode (ed.), Ein KZ wird geräumt (Bremen, 2000), vol. 1, pp. 170–4

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes