This incessant marching continued
every day for about six weeks. after several hours of walking, a
truck with food rations would stop and I would be given the
usual piece of bread or soup, provided the food supply lasted
until it was my turn.
At night we stopped in barns, bombed out houses, and schools.
after storms we sunk ankle-deep into the soft mud. Pulling our
feet out was such an effort, only to sink down on it again, that
I thought the heavens were cooperating with the Nazis. Some days
new faces appeared alongside me. They might have been recent
arrivals from new transports or inmates who became visible as
people fell during the day.
As time went by and we became weaker
and the weather colder, the nights were endured by huddling
together to benefit from our collective body heat. Some men were
so frail and feeble that the pressure of bodies during the night
suffocated them. I remember leaving behind several men who were
either too weak to move or had died during the night. Pyres were
constructed and dead and near-dead men were burnt to ashes. The
blood-chilling screams of the walking dead who died in the
flames are still with me.
Kapos patrolled the march,
beating anyone who wobbled or slowed down. You had to be
constantly on guard, for if someone fell and you tripped over
him, you could easily be trampled to death.
How much worse can it get?
This was already beyond my
imagination....How could I know the end to such terror? Was it
my destiny to walk until I died?
Choices were made every morning
about where to enter the lines. If you chose the outside it was
easier to see those who had dropped, but you were more exposed
to the elements and it was colder. Men fell like sacks. The
corpses were loaded onto trucks that reeked of the sour smell of
death. On the inside of the file it was warmer, but the fallen
were not as visible and you risked tripping over the dead, which
would result in sure death.
I don't remember days individually.
The entire march became a hazy time of anguish and constant
hunger. I don't know exactly how long I marched but I think it
was about six weeks. The last image I can recall occurred as I
looked up from a valley and saw a castle on top of a hill; the
town of Flossenbürg. I remember wondering if I would be strong
enough to climb the hill to the castle. The lines had dwindled
so much that both the front and the end of the file was visible.
This was the castle in the town of Flossenbürg. It reminded me
of the castle in Munkács
where my father was interrogated, and I was overcome with fear
that this would happen to me too.
I lost the constant dialogue between
past and present; of experience and meaning. This is what
consciousness and inner life meant for most of us. I lacked the
excitement of the next experience. I could only fear it. The
eager and anxious tension of anticipation, of intention, that
normally drives us through life is what I lost forever as a
result of this Nazi experience.
Peter retracing the death march he was on from
Gross-Rosen to Flossenbürg, September through
October 1944. Thousands of marchers trekked through
the villages of Gross-Rosen. In freezing
temperatures, the emaciated prisoners, clad only in
a prisoner's uniform, endured all weather
conditions. Those who survived a day's grueling
march collapsed for a few hours nightly in barns,
open fields, and abandoned buildings, such as this
one located in the Polish countryside.
(Photo: Naomi Kramer)