A New Guide to the Route of the Death Marches
The Auschwitz Preservation Society has published a revised version of a guidebook following the route of one of the “Death Marches” along which Auschwitz prisoners were marched from the camp to the town of Wodzisław Sląski in January 1945.
The author of Przewodnika wzdłuż trasy ewakuacyjnej więźniów KL Auschwitz-Birkenau z Oświęcimia do Wodzisławia Śląskiego [A guide to the evacuation route of Auschwitz-Birkenau prisoners from Oświęcim to Wodzisław Śląski] is Irena Pająk, a member of the Katowice branch of the Society.
The publishers note that the “guide . . . is a tribute to the children, women, and men marched out of the camp as freedom approached,” adding that “it is dedicated to the memory of those who succumbed to the nightmarish conditions of the march and were left along the roadside, killed in a brutal manner.”
The guidebook, 134 pages long, is divided into chapters for each of the localities the prisoners passed through during the murderous ordeal. It features numerous eyewitness accounts, both by former prisoners and by witnesses to the tragic events. There are also maps and contemporary photographs of commemoration sites.
The first guidebook to this route appeared 20 years ago. Andrzej Strzelecki, a Museum historian, was the author. The new publication reflects the changes that have occurred in the intervening years in the appearance of the monuments and burial sites, and the new commemorative plaques that have been erected.
The book is published with the financial support of the Council for the Commemoration of Combat and Sacrifice.
The Death Marches
Shortly before the arrival of the Red Army, the Germans marched some 56 thousand prisoners out of Auschwitz and its sub-camps. In view of the conditions and the number of victims, this event is known as the Death Marches.
The first column of prisoners left the Neu-Dachs sub-camps in Jaworzno and Sosnowiec on January 17; the last marched out of the Blechhammer sub-camp in Blachownia Sląska on January 21.
The routes led from Oświęcim through Pszczyna to Wodzisław Śląski, or from Oświęcim through Tychy and Mikołów to Gliwice. 3,200 prisoners from the sub-camp in Jaworzno, whose destination was Gross-Rosen Concentration Camp in Lower Silesia, covered the longest distance, approximately 250 kilometers.
Armed SS men escorted the prisoners in the marching columns. At least 9 thousand Auschwitz prisoners lost their lives during the Death Marches, and the true figure may well be as high as 15 thousand.
The Auschwitz Preservation Society
The Society is made up of former Auschwitz prisoners, their children, and people interested in the history of this largest of the Nazi German concentration camps. The members, numbering in the thousands, come from all over Poland. The purpose of the Society is to convey the memory of Auschwitz to future generations.
Irena Pająk was born in Dwory, near Oświęcim, and lived there until October 1943. Her father was a teacher; he perished in Gusen, a German concentration camp, in 1940.
After the war, she graduated from the Mining and Metallurgy Academy and joined the research staff of the Non-Ferrous Metals Institute in Gliwice. Her husband, Willibald Pająk, worked in the same institute. He had been imprisoned in Auschwitz from March 1942, and was one of the prisoners evacuated on foot to Wodzisław Śląski in January 1945; he was liberated from Ebensee concentration camp on May 6, 1945.
Irena Pająk joined the Katowice branch of the Auschwitz Preservation Society in 1984. She is the author of the Memorial Book Mieszkańcy Śląska, Podbeskidzia, Zagłębia Dąbrowskiego w KL Auschwitz [Inhabitants of Silesia, the Sub-Beskid Region, and the Dąbrowski Basin in Auschwitz Concentration Camp, 1988], and numerous articles including “Nauczyciele Polscy w KL Gusen” [Polish teachers in Gusen Concentration Camp, containing the names 0f 635 teachers who died there], “Dzieci polskie w Hitlerowskich Obozach Koncentracyjnych” [Polish children in Nazi concentration camps, written with Willibald Pająk, listing 1,279 child prisoners aged 16 or under], “KL Auschwitz – kilka dni w listopadzie 1941” [Auschwitz—several days in November 1941, dedicated to the 441 Polish prisoners whom the Germans shot in the camp from November 10-14, 1941], “Pierwsze ofiary Ostatecznego Rozwiązania Kwestii Żydowskiej” [The first victims of the Final Solution of the Jewish Question, on the first trial run with Zyklon-B, in which 250 Polish Auschwitz prisoners and 600 Soviet POWs were killed], “Mogiła więźniów KL Mauthausen na cmentarzu urnowym Steyer,” [The mass grave of Mauthausen Concentration Camp prisoners at the Steyer urn cemetery], and “Pamięci więźniów zamęczonych w KL Auschwitz w Żwirowisku przy bramie Arbeit Macht Frei” [In memory of the prisoners tortured to death in the gravel pit adjacent to the Arbeit macht frei gate at Auschwitz].
Irena Pająk also took part in the survey of the routes of the Auschwitz evacuation marches, carried out in Silesia province from 1994 to 2003, and wrote up reports on the surveys.