Around occupied Europe, the Germans established concentration camps and other types of camps. One purpose of these camps was to use the prisoners as slave workers, mainly in the war industry. When the German military successes were turned to adversity and the German armies were forced to retreat and abandon occupied land, these camps were threatened by the enemy. From the German side, the prisoners were valuable labor and did not want them to fall into the hands of the enemy. The prisoners who were not too sick were therefore forced out on so-called death marches and forced to march to other camps further from the front. There was the idea that they would again be put to work.

Because of the living and working conditions that the prisoners lived under, most were emaciated and sick when they were evacuated. Many were therefore unable to march, but died along the way. Those prisoners who were unable to march were shot by the SS guards or died of exhaustion or illness. The corpses after these were usually left at the roadside. In some cases, the evacuation could take place by train and then in unheated wagons or open wagons and was then exposed to the weather. Most major evacuations of the camps began in the fall of 1944 to culminate in the spring of 1945. Many death marches went through towns and villages and it was associated with the death penalty for civilians to help evacuated prisoners.

At the end of March 1945, the front began to approach Dachau and the SS decided to evacuate the prisoners in the camp who were not already dead or too sick. At this time, the number of prisoners in Dachau had increased because prisoners from among others. Auschwitz, Natzweiler-Struthof, Flossenburg and Buchenwald arrived at the camp. The drastic increase in prisoners contributed to deteriorating conditions in the camp even more. On March 26, the SS forced about 7,000 prisoners on a death march south with Austria as an intended destination. The evacuation went through several villages and smaller towns and thousands of prisoners died along the way.

On May 2nd, American troops approached the city of Waakirchen, about sixty kilometres south of Munich. About two kilometers west of the Waakirchen, the Americans found hundreds of prisoners, both living and dead, scattered on a field lightly covered with freshly fallen snow. These prisoners had been abandoned by the SS and left to their fate. For two days, the prisoners were taken into custody by the troops before more advanced medical personnel arrived and took over. Far from all survived their liberation.

Current status: Monument (2020).

Location: 47°46' 05.97" N 11°38' 55.61" E

Get there: Car.

My comment:

There are, to my knowledge, 22 more or less identical monuments along the road from Dachau to Waakirchen. All are placed in places where the prisoners passed during the march. The primary thing about the monuments is the prisoners’ facial expressions that convey a feeling that they are in a borderland between life and death. Rarely do I reflect on monuments but these made me stop and closely observe the expressionless faces in a way I rarely do.

Follow up in books: Daniel Blatman, Chaya Galai’s: The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide (2010).