In the wake of Death March
Monuments, Memorial Plaques, and Graves along the Route of the “Death March” from Auschwitz and its Sub-camps, from Oświęcim to Wodzisław Śląski by way of Pszczyna, and to Gliwice by way of Mikołów
In the face of the approaching Red Army offensive in the second half of 1944, the SS authorities began systematically evacuating Auschwitz prisoners and sending them to camps in the depths of Germany. In January 1945 came the order for the final evacuation and liquidation of the camp.
About 56 thousand prisoners of both sexes were led out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps under the escort of heavily armed SS troops from January 17-21, 1945.
This tragic evacuation, known as the “Death March,” cost many of them their lives.
Brzeszcze and Jawiszowice
More than a dozen prisoners perished in the town of Brzeszcze, near Oświęcim, and their remains were transferred to the local cemetery on ulica Ofiar Oświęcimia. On the monument commemorating these prisoners there is a marble tablet carved with the inscription: “Here lie the corpses of 18 victims of terror at the former concentration camp in Oświęcim 1940-1945 shot during the evacuation of the camp on January 18, 1945 Names unknown Honor to their memory”. Pupils from Elementary School No. 1 in Brzeszcze care for this location. There are also individual graves of eight male prisoners and four female child prisoners in this cemetery; they died in the Polish Red Cross hospital.
A collective grave for 42 victims of the Oświęcim-Wodzisław death march, including 29 women and several children, is located in the cemetery that surrounds the landmark wooden church in the village of Miedźna, about one kilometer from the Brzeszcze – Pszczyna road. Many residents of the village and the vicinity took part in a memorial ceremony at the grave on September 2, 1945. A Civic Committee for Honoring the Murdered was formed earlier, and erected a wooden cross at the grave with a tablet bearing an inscription similar to the one erected several years ago through contributions from local residents: “The collective grave of 42 victims done to death within the boundaries of the village community of Miedźna on January 18 1945 by Hitlerite SS henchmen in the course of the evacuation of the concentration camp in Oświęcim. May the Polish soil lie lightly upon them.” Pupils from the elementary school look after the site.
The evacuation route led through the village of Ćwiklice, where there were rudimentary graves of Auschwitz prisoners in the form of small, symbolic earthen mounds and an ironwork cross. This was a remembrance of the victims—26 female and 16 male prisoners, including two children, whose corpses were buried near the route where it ran through the village. In the early 1950s, these remains were exhumed and transferred to the Holy Cross cemetery in Pszczyna.
The next place on the “death march” route was Pszczyna—the locality from which prisoners, including those from the sub-camp in nearby Czechowice-Dziedzice, were evacuated westward in the direction of Poręba and Jastrzębie Zdrój, as well as in the direction of Żory and Świerklany. At the Holy Cross cemetery on ulica Żorska in Pszczyna there is a grave (consolidated from several graves in 1965) that is the resting place of victims of the events of January 1945, including some who were shot while attempting to escape from the evacuation transport. On the marker erected at the initiative of local residents in 1952, an inscription reads: “In honor of the memory of victims of Hitlerite fascism prisoners of the death camp in Oświęcim murdered within the boundaries of Pszczyna in January 1945. [From the] local community of the city of Pszczyna.” The Municipal Renovation and Construction Enterprise in Pszczyna cares for the site.
The evacuation route divided in Pszczyna. One branch led from there through Poręba, Pawłowice, Jastrzębie Zdrój, and Mszana. In Poręba, along the route towards Jastrzębie Zdrój, evacuated prisoners are buried in many places:
• a grave in the woods known as Bażantarnia, where about 17 male and female Auschwitz prisoners are buried
• the grave of several prisoners who hid from the escorts on the grounds of the State Machinery Center, where there once was a grange farm,
• the grave of a three-week-old infant born to a woman prisoner in hiding near the evacuation route; the remains were exhumed in the 1950s and reinterred at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Pszczyna.
About 20 Auschwitz prisoners, who were shot by the SS on January 19, 1945, are buried in the parish cemetery next to the local church in the village of Brzeźce. The plaque paid for by local residents in 1972 reads: “The grave of 18 prisoners of the Auschwitz camp who perished on the Pszczyna-Brzeźce route.” The local Farmers’ Circle and the elementary school in Brzeźce take care of the site.
Entries made in the 1945 register of deaths by the undertaker, Woźniak, suggest that 14 victims were buried there, most of them Jews of Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Western European origins, and a woman who was Belorussian or Russian (on the basis of camp records). A memorial ceremony for these victims was held at the burial site on August 30, 1945 with local residents and local government officials, led by the senior administrator from Pszczyna, in attendance.
A grave with a marker in the parish cemetery in the village of Studzionka, near Pszczyna on the road to Wodzisław Śląskie, covers the remains of 18 prisoners who were shot along the stretch of the route between Brzeźce and Pawłowice. The marble tablet erected in 1973 reads: “The collective grave of 18 Oświęcim prisoners 1945.” At a later date, the grave was altered. This place is under the care of local schoolchildren.
Eleven evacuated Auschwitz prisoners met their deaths at the hands of the Nazis on the road from Pawłowice to Jastrzębie Zdrój, 3 km. from the village of Bzie Zameckie. Their remains lie in the local cemetery. A cemetery bell is suspended between two trees above their grave. On it we read: “Eternal glory. To the unknown victims of the Oświęcim concentration camp who died on the road through Bzie on the death march in January 1945.” The site is under the protection of the local scout troop and the ZBoWiD [the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, a veteran’s organization founded in 1949 – trans.] circle in Bzie Zamecki.
Prisoners evacuated during the “death march” are buried in several places in Jastrzębie Zdrój. The first is a monument in the cemetery on ulica Pszczyńska to 35 victims who died in transit to Wodzisław Śląski train station. It bears an inscription reading: “In honor of the murdered heroes from the death transport from Oświęcim in January 1945 Polish Union of Former Political Prisoners circle in Jastrzębie Zdrój—the people of Silesia.” The site is cared for by the scout troop from Elementary School No. 1.
On the grounds of the grange farm in Jastrzębie Zdrój stands a monument unveiled on January 19, 1980, at the initiative of the local ZBoWiD circle and the Jastrzębie Social-Cultural Association and dedicated to 15 victims of the evacuation march who were shot or died of exposure. A stone block bears an image of a striped camp uniform with an identification triangle, with an inscription reading: “Place of commemoration for the martyrs’ death of 15 prisoners of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp during the evacuation of the camp from Oświęcim to Wodzisław on January 19-20, 1945.”
A third site in Jastrzębie is a plaque dedicated to 36 victims of the evacuation march, on which we read: “Aurelia Piękosz born 1914 [and] Włodzimiera Sawicka born 1911 passed on foot through inhuman torments from the death camp to a free and independent Poland In homage to 36 victims of the death march from Oświęcim in January 1945 [from the] People of Jastrzębie Zdrój.”
26 prisoners evacuated from Auschwitz are thought to have died at the hands of the Nazis in the village of Mszana on the road from Jastrzębie Zdrój to Wodzisław Śląski. The local populace erected a gravestone monument in 1949 at the collective grave. It features a sculpted emblem of the Polish state and the words: “In homage to the prisoners of Oświęcim who perished on the Oświęcim-Wodzisław death trail in January 1945.” Members of the local ZBoWID circle assigned their membership dues to erect the monument commemorating the prisoners who died here of exhaustion and starvation. The monument is in the cemetery on ulica Mickiewicza in Mszana.
Five people died along the road through Wilchwy, a district of Wodzisław Sląskie. They were buried in a roadside mound. In 1958, the remains of the victims were reinterred in the parish cemetery on ulica Parkowa. A monumental gravestone near the entrance to the cemetery bears the text: “To the Oświęcim prisoners murdered by the occupier in 1945. Honor to their memory.” Next to it is a tablet with the information that the site is under the protection of the local elementary school, with additional help from the members of ZBoWIDu in the Wilchwy district.
The stage of their journey that exhausted prisoners of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp made on foot ended in Wodzisław Śląskie. More than 20 thousand people were put on trains that departed from the Wodzisław train station from January 21-23 for Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Mathausen, Ravensbrück, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. About two thousand evacuees were sent further west on foot. About 1,600 prisoners from Auschwitz sub-camps were also sent onwards by rail.
Various sites commemorating the evacuated prisoners may be found within the city limits. One of them is the memorial plaque at the train station, paid for by contributions from local residents and unveiled on June 4, 1972. It bears the legend: “The Hitlerites murdered 30 Oświęcim prisoners on the rail route in Wodzisław Śląski during the tragic evacuation of the prisoners of the concentration camp in Oświęcim in January 1945. Honor to their memory”.
Care of the site is in the hands of Polish State Railways employees and the scout troop from Elementary School No. 7 in Wodzisław.
A tablet commemorating 10 prisoners murdered there is located on ulica Michalskiego at the headquarters of the Prodryn Wodzisław Territorial Industrial Plant, not far from the Municipal House of Culture. It was paid for by donations from local residents. The ceremonial unveiling took place in 1962.
It is cared for by employees at the plant and scouts from Elementary School No. 6. We read: “In January 1945, Hitlerite Fascists murdered 10 prisoners deported from the Oświęcim camp on the grounds of this plant Honor to their memory Wodzisław 25.03.1962.”
At the place known as Góra Piaskowa in Wodzisław Śląski there is a memorial mound commemorating victims of the evacuation march. The following text is inscribed on the plaque there: “Here lie 43 political prisoners bestially murdered by Hitlerite thugs during the evacuation of the Oświęcim camp on the road to Wodzisław17.1.1945 Honor to their memory”.
A monument located on ulica Więźniów Oświęcimia is under the protection of scouts from Elementary School No. 1 in Wodzisław Śląski.
From Pszczyna to Wodzisławia Śląskiego by way of Żory.
Suszec - Branica
Along the Pszczyna-Żory road between Suszec and Branicą, in what is known as the Łęg forest, there is a monument commemorating the martyrs’ death of prisoners from the Oświęcim camp. The ceremonial unveiling took place in September 1965 according to Jan Kantyka, or in 1967 according to Andrzej Strzelecki.
On this monument is an inscription reading: “Political prisoners from the concentration camp in Oświęcim were murdered here by Hitlerite henchmen during the evacuation of the camp on January 19 and 20, 1945. Honor to their memory.”
The monument was funded by the Communal Peasant Self-Help Cooperative in Suszec, and is looked after by schoolchildren.
At the communal cemetery on ulica Osińska in the center of town there is a monument commemorating the victims of the evacuation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, in the form of a stone block with a cross and the inscription: “To the victims of the Oświęcim torture site—from their friends.” Next to the monument stands a grave with a marble plaque bearing the inscription: ”Here lie 23 prisoners murdered during the evacuation Death March in January 1945 We remember. The residents of Żory.”
It has been established that the approximately 40 prisoners buried in this place were murdered on the streets of Żory, and that they
included Jews from Hungary, Bohemia, Poland, The Netherlands, France, and other European countries.
The bodies of approximately 16 men and women who died or were murdered during the evacuation march are buried on the grounds of the parish cemetery in Świerklany Dolne. In 1948, the inhabitants of the village erected a stone grave marker inscribed with the camp numbers of ten of the victims, “A- 24091, A-24177, 47581, 47564, 50380, 75287, 62509, B-12365, 95828,” as noted by local undertaker Konstanty Dolnik.
The numbers indicate that these were Jewish women prisoners and men deported from the Terezin ghetto-camp and from Cracow or Tarnów.
In the village of Marklowice Dolne (now a district of Wodzisław Śląski), there is a monument with a memorial tablet commemorating 7 murdered Death March prisoners. The collective grave is located on the main street, not far from the local cemetery. The old headstone has been replaced by an impressive obelisk with an inscription stating that the place is hallowed with the blood of Oświęcim prisoners.
From Goleszów to Zebrzydowic by way of Kończyce
In Goleszów, where the Golleschau Auschwitz sub-camp was located, there is a plaque commemorating 19 prisoners evacuated from the sub-camp in January 1945. It was unveiled in the Dębowiec forest on February 22, 1949. It bears an inscription reading: “Here lie 19 nameless victims of Hitlerite terror murdered on the road after the evacuation of the Oświęcim torture center 22.2.1949.”
In the village of Kończyce Wielkie is a burial mound for 120 victims of the camp in Zebrzydowice and Goleszów. The plaque bears the text: “The resting place of about 120 victims of Hitlerite crime in the years 1939-1945 From their martyrdom and blood grows our freedom Honor to their memory”.
From Oświęcim to Gliwice by Way of Mikołów
In the parish cemetery in Bieruń Stary, not far from Oświęcim, the grave of 10 prisoners shot on January 19, 1945 has a memorial tablet reading: “For the glory of the heroes of the generation of 1939-1945 as a warning Here lie 10 unknown political prisoners murdered in 1945 by the Hitlerite occupier within the boundaries of Bieruń Stary during the evacuation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.”
The plaque was paid for by local residents and ZBoWID, and is under the care of schoolchildren.
In the forecourt of the Jewish cemetery on ulica Konstytucji 3 Maja in Mikołów there is a collective grave for members of the resistance movement shot in January 1945 and Auschwitz prisoners executed during the “death march.” Thanks to the efforts of the local community and members of ZBoWID, an obelisk was erected on the grave in 1965, bearing the inscription: “In honor of the memory of 14 heroes from the resistance movement shot in this place by the Hitlerites in 1945, and 60 prisoners of the Oświęcim camp.”
The place is under the protection of Elementary School no. 3 and the Wiromet Mining and Energy Industry Mechanization Plant.
There is a grave containing the remains of 13 Oświęcim prisoners in the Hanus woods in the village of Mokre, near Mikołów, on the road to Gliwice. The memorial tablet there reads: “Place of execution of 13 prisoners from the Oświęcim camp executed by the Hitlerites on January 22, 1945. Honor to their memory.”
Thirty-one Auschwitz prisoners died in Borowa Wieś. A monument erected at their grave bears the legend: “Here lie 31 Oświęcim prisoners murdered by the Hitlerites in January 1945 in the course of the march through Borowa Wieś.”
There are two places in Gliwice commemorating the victims of the death march.” The first is a monument erected in the Central Cemetery on ulica Kozielska, near the grave where the remains of victims of the events of January 1945 were reinterred in 1948. The ceremonial unveiling was held in 1970. The monument is inscribed: “In homage to the victims of fascist barbarity, for the remembrance of the generations. Residents of Gliwice [and] TRZZ [Society for the Development of the Western Territories] 1 IX 1970.”
The monument has been placed under the care of students from Secondary School No. 1.
The second place where victims of January 1945 lie is the Jewish cemetery at 14 ulica Poniatowskiego. The memorial plaque bears an inscription in Polish and Hebrew: “They died martyrs’ deaths at the hands of the Hitlerite myrmidons. To the eternal shame of German fascism.”
The monument-gravestone was erected at the spot where 79 Auschwitz prisoners were buried in 1945. The memorial plaque, paid for by the Social-Cultural Association of Jews in Poland, is under the protection of the donor Association and students from Górnośląskie Centrum Edukacyjne im. Marii Skłodowskiej-Curie in Gliwice.
From Gliwice to Gross-Rosen by Way of Rybnik
In Leszczyny-Rzędówka, there is a monument with a plaque commemorating Oświęcim victims. It bears an inscription reading: “On January 22, 1945, 350 Oświęcim prisoners of various nationalities reached the end of their journey to martyrdom under the bullets of German henchmen. May their memory be a guiding light to all guardians of peace for mankind around the world.”
At the Leszczyny housing project, there is a cross commemorating 447 victims who were shot in the vicinity of the train station in January 1945.
Another memorial site in Leszczyny-Rzędówka is the monument honoring 288 victims of the Auschwitz evacuation march near the place where they were buried in 1945, and from which their remains were transferred to eight collective graves in the Gliwice Central Cemetery in 1948.
At the cemetery on Father Adam Pójda street in Książenice, there is a grave with a plaque commemorating 45 prisoners who died in terrible agony or were killed in the course of the evacuation march. It bears an inscription reading: “To those who fulfilled their faith in the victory over fascism.” Its erection in 1965 was funded by the employees of the Rymer coal mine. It lists the camp numbers of the victims.
In May 2008 other commemorative plaques were unveiled there, thanks to the efforts of Yad Vashem and the parish in Książenice. One of the plaques contains a short history of the site in Polish, English and Hebrew, while the other displays the names of people who were identified thanks to the research of recorded camp numbers.
In a small woods behind the Ruda swimming pool at the KS Górnik stadium in Rybnik, a monument marks the grave of 385 Auschwitz prisoners and patients from the Hospital for Nervous and Mental Disorders who were shot in January 1945. An urn containing the remains of the deceased is immured in the monument, which reads: “Monument to 446 victims of international fascism. Honor and eternal glory to the freedom fighters 1945. Your bones will give strength to the centuries and their presence shall endure. A great path toward the future. The traces of blood. M. Konopnicka.”
Local residents paid for its erection, and it is cared for by the Rybnik Municipal Parks Board.
In a field in Raszczyce along the road leading to Będzin stands a monument with the inscription “Here lie 9 political prisoners murdered during the evacuation of the Oświęcim camp in January 1945. Honor to their memory.” It was erected in 1945.
Górki Śląskie - Nędza
The village of Górki Śląskie lies in the commune of Nędza. In 1972, the Powiat People’s Council of Racibórz erected a monument to 17 Auschwitz prisoners at the local cemetery. It reads: “From the boundlessness of contempt suffering and hope eternal glory and memory. To the prisoners of the Oświęcim camp murdered in January 1945.”
The site is under the care of the ZBoWID circle in Nędza and pupils from the elementary school in Górki Śląskie.