A Collection of Historical and Contemporary PhotographsRon Greene
The Death March of 1945
(Click photographs to enlarge.)
The Nazis exterminated six million Jews during World War II. They also murdered homosexuals, Gypsies, Jehovah's Witnesses, the mentally and physically handicapped, and political prisoners. Perhaps a total of 11 million innocent adults and children were killed on Hitler's orders. Those who survived have accounts of their experiences that the rest of us will never fully understand. As difficult as it is, we need to stop, and listen, and finally learn.
These photographs concern one small group of survivors who returned to Germany in the summer of 1995.
April 30th,1995 was the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau, Hitler's first concentration camp. Between March 1933 and April 1945, an estimated 200,000 prisoners were interred at Dachau and its outer camps. Over 32,000 died through torture, execution, starvation, or sickness. Those who survived migrated to many parts of the world, but few have been able to leave their experiences completely behind. Over the years the healing process has taken many forms. For some, walking on German soil again has been part of this process.
As the liberation anniversary approached, thousands survivors returned to Germany and the scenes of their torment. They came to remember the past, renew old friendships, and honor fallen comrades. One group, The Association of Survivors, Landsberg/Kaufering (Outer Camps of Dachau), also came to commemorate the Death March of 1945. Uri Chanoch and Solly Ganor have been friends and neighbors for years in Israel, and lead the group together.
Most of the men in The Association of Survivors were born in Lithuania, and many have know each other since childhood. They are old now, and have come a long way together. As a result of their shared past, they exhibit a closeness few men experience. They have been through the worst there is, and somehow survived. They live is Israel for many reasons, one of the most important being their belief that a strong Jewish state will make another Holocaust impossible.
Most of the men spent the last months of the war in forced labor camps on the outskirts of Dachau. They lived in primitive semicircular arching shelters resembling Quonset huts. Food and other necessities of life were almost nonexistent. They suffered terribly throughout their imprisonment, but some of their strongest memories center on the final hours before liberation.
During the last days of the war these men were among the 8,000 prisoners forced from Dachau and its outer camps and marched toward the Bavarian Alps. Some believed they were to be part of a prisoner exchange arranged by the Red Cross. Other prisoners thought the plan was to kill them out of sight of the rapidly advancing U.S. military. It is possible the Nazis planned to use the prisoners to build fortifications in the mountains of Tyrol for a last-ditch defence. Whatever the reasons, German guards forced a brutal pace, and thousands of marchers died in just a few short days. Fortunately, the march never reached its final destination.
In the last days of April 1945, the American army swept through southern Germany. General Patton's troops were credited with liberating the main camp of Dachau, but there were other forces in the area. Elements of the Japanese American 522nd Field Artillery Battalion were heading toward Hitler's headquarters in Berchtesgarden. In the early morning, forward observers came upon strangely shaped mounds in the snow near the resort town of Bad Toelz. When the soldiers looked closer, they discovered thinly dressed creatures under the thin layer of snow. Some had been shot, some had frozen to death. Those who were alive looked like starved and beaten skeletons. The men of the Association of Survivors remember this scene vividly even after 50 years. They were among those found in the snow.
The Death March passed directly through many towns near Dachau, including Allach, Pasing, Graefelfing, Planegg, Krailling, Gauting, Berg, Icking, Wolfratshausen, Geretsried, Bad Toelz, Waakirchen, Fuerstenfeldbruck, and Gruenwald. Many marchers literally died at the front doors of townspeople. There might have been a temptation to forget this awful part of local history, but after numerous discussions and a good deal of soul searching, citizens chose another course.
The towns, lead by the mayor and citizens of Gauting, decided to mark the march route so that people passing by will know what once happened there. A competition was held, and Professor Hubertus von Pilgrim was selected to create the monuments to the victims of Nazism. The bronze statues were in place by the spring of 1995, in time for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau. Although the final chapter on Germany's Nazi past hasn't been written, it appears we are moving nearer to closure.
At dedication ceremonies in 1995, townspeople and survivors led by Uri Chanoch and Solly Ganor joined in their pledge to the future: Never Again. Genocide is still very much with us today, for example the recent slaughters in Africa and the Balkans. But hopefully in Germany, lessons have been learned.
I first met Solly Ganor in 1992 when my wife and I visiting Israel with former members of the 442nd regimental combat team, the segregated Japanese American unit that played a role in the liberation of Dachau. The evening we met was also the night Solly was reunited with Clarence Matsumura, Solly's liberator. Watching these two men embrace after losing contact for 47 years was one of the most moving moments in my life, and I'm pleased that Solly and his wife Pola have become our dearest friends.
Meeting Clarence that night in Jerusalem opened a floodgate of memories for Solly, resulting in his wonderful book, Light One Candle. Solly now has his own website were his latest thoughts are posted.
Reviews have been oustanding, for example the following, written by George Cohen for BookList, November 15, 1995.
On June 22, 1941, 13-year-old Solly Ganor and his family fled their home in Kaunas, Lithuania, when the German Luftwaffe attacked. Two months later, they were forced to enter the Kaunas ghetto, where they suffered from hunger, backbreaking labor, beatings, disease, cold, fear, and humiliation. Many of the Jews were murdered by the Germans and Lithuanians. In June, 1944, the author and his father were sent to Dachau, from which they were rescued by Japanese American soldiers on May 2, 1945. The author's father and sister survived the war; his mother and brother perished. Forty-seven years later, Ganor was reunited with his rescuer in Israel. "Light One Candle" is an extraordinary memoir, an incredible story of hope and faith in the face of evil. Copyright 1995, American Library Association
You can easily order a copy of Light One Candle from Amazon.com, the Internet bookstore.
Responses to The Holocaust Album
Your responses to The Holocaust Album have been interesting, instructive, and sometimes provocative. If you have a thought or reaction you would like considered for posting, please contact me. (this portion of my website has been inactive for some time)
The mayor of Gauting, Dr. Ekkehart Knobloch, has provided information about his community's role in Germany's preparations for the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Dachau.
The Internet is rich with educational materials about the Holocaust, too many for me to list. This Resource Site will guide you to a comprehensive collection of information.
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Copyright © 1995-2000 Ron Greene
Death March photographs by Ron Greene. All rights reserved.
Revised: June 2000