TOWARDS the end of the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of prisoners held within the Nazi camp system were forcibly evacuated under heavy guard. These brutal, chaotic evacuations became known as ‘death marches’.

They form the last ruthless chapter of the Nazi genocide - one that is little-known.

“The real suffering started then. After three days of marching, we arrived in Gleiwitz. The next day we were taken to Buchenwald. It took us 11 days to get there and we had to face indescribable ordeals.” This is from a report by a Hungarian survivor, István Klauber, on August 13, 1945. He survived two more marches, from Buchenwald to Flossenbürg and onward to Dachau.

The death marches resulted in tens of thousands of people dying at the roadside of exhaustion, being shot for failing to keep up, or murdered at the whim of the guards.

These ‘mobile concentration camps’ overturn the idea that the brutality of the camps was kept separate from the German population. No one could fail to observe the emaciated inmates, the dead bodies littering the roads, and the brutality of the SS guards. According to survivor accounts, some German civilians shot evacuated prisoners, others refused them food. And some handed over those who escaped from marches to the SS. While there are cases of civilians helping inmates by sheltering them in their homes, it seems resistance was rare.

These brutal evacuations are the focus of an exhibition, Death Marches: Evidence and Memory, organised by the Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association. Co-curated by Professor Dan Stone of the Holocaust Research Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London, and Dr Christine Schmidt of the Wiener Holocaust Library in London, it brings to light this often overlooked aspect of the Holocaust and uncovers how forensic and other evidence about the death marches has been gathered since the end of the Second World War.

The exhibition has opened at the Association’s Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre on the University of Huddersfield campus.

Launched in partnership with the university in 2018, the centre includes in its collection a recording of the Hebrew mourning prayer El Male Rachamim by Rudi Leavor, chairman of Bradford Synagogue, who is a member of the Leeds-based Holocaust Survivors’ Friendship Association.

The Association started out in 1996 as a small group of survivors and refugees providing friendship and support to each other. Over the past 25 years, HSFA members have worked with tens of thousands of people, “sharing their most harrowing and distressing experiences so that future generations can learn about the dangers of intolerance and the ease with which prejudice can lead to genocide”.

Death Marches: Evidence and Memory is part of the new Holocaust and Genocide Research Partnership, a leading voice in the UK for research-led public engagement about the history and memory of the Holocaust and genocide.

Starting in the mid-1950s Dr Eva Reichmann, former Director of Research for The Wiener Holocaust Library, led an effort to record eyewitness accounts of survivors. Among the accounts she and the interviewers recorded were many describing death marches. Hungarian survivor Gertrude Deak recounts her experiences of a march from Leipzig-Thekla, and the terrible conditions and ill treatment, including inferences of sexual violence by Soviet troops.

The exhibition includes eye witness accounts from death march survivors. They include Iby Knill, an Auschwitz survivor who endured a death march at the end of the war. Iby’s memoir, The Woman Without A Number, recalls these horrors as well as her experiences fighting Nazis in the Hungarian resistance and helping British airmen. Now 97, she has given talks at schools and events in the Bradford district. In 2010 Iby met pupils at Guiseley School and stressed the importance of remembering the millions who lost their lives to the Holocaust - not just Jewish people, but also homosexuals, people with disabilities and those who were opposed to the regime.

She told students: “We are the living witnesses, and we tell you how it really was. However painful it is for us to bring back these memories they need to be told. They need to be heard. I am putting my faith in you, that you will listen to us and learn.”

Another witness account is from Eugene Black, who was a teenager in 1944 when he was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz, where he was separated from his family, and never saw them again. Eugene endured death marches in 1945 and was liberated in Bergen-Belsen in April that year.

John Chillag was deported from Hungary to Auschwitz-Birkenau in May 1944. He was then moved to Bochum, outside Düsseldorf, to work in a steel forging press. In March 1945, as Allied forces approached, John was forced on a march with 1,300 other prisoners to Buchenwald concentration camp. He was liberated by the US Army in April 1945. John became an engineer in the North of England and died in 2009.

Images on display include the Flossenbürg to Cham death march, the first to be investigated by the UNRRA Bureau of Documents and Tracing. Sites of atrocity and grave sites were identified in every locality along the way.

Clandestine images taken by Maria Seidenberger show a forced march from Buchenwald to Dachau passing by her home in Hebertshausen in Bavaria. Maria’s mother distributed potatoes to prisoners while Maria took the images secretly from a window of their home.

Also on display is a photograph of police and forensic workers carrying out an exhumation at Neuenkirchen, where human bones were discovered in 1949. The bodies were identified as those of inmates of Neuengamme concentration camp.

l Death Marches: Evidence and Memory runs until September 1 at the Holocaust Exhibition and Learning Centre, the University of Huddersfield. It is currently open on Tuesdays, 10am-5pm, and from July 27 Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 10am-5pm. Pre-booking is essential. Visit or call (01484) 365301.