A Holocaust survivor recalls the evacuation of Auschwitz (1945)

Filip Muller was an inmate and Sonderkommando in Auschwitz-Birkenau for almost three years. Here he recalls the SS evacuation of Auschwitz in early 1945:

“A few days later, the camp was evacuated. Before we left, everyone was given a bread ration. And then we set out on our march, in a cloud of dust and escorted by large numbers of SS guards. We had not been told where we were making for, but judging from the position of the sun we were marching in a southwesterly direction.

After only a few kilometres the first few collapsed. Anybody unable to get up was immediately shot. Even now, when their time was so obviously almost up, the SS took care to remove every last trace of their crimes. After the first few corpses had been flung onto the side of the road, an SS-Unterfuhrer ordered ten men, including me, to step aside. We were told to wait by the roadside.

Meanwhile, the last stragglers in the column had dragged themselves past the spot where we were still waiting in the company of the Unterfuhrer, who did not deign to speak to us. After an hour a horse-drawn vehicle appeared from the direction in which the column had disappeared. The driver, an elderly member of the Volkssturm, reversed and stopped. We were ordered to load the corpses on his vehicle. With his cart piled high with bodies, he drove to the cemetery in the next town. There a largish grave had been dug in the meantime into which we threw the nameless corpses. Then we continued on our way in the wake of the marching column. I mused wryly on the strange fate which had once more put me in a team whose job was the removal of corpses.

As we passed through a village or hamlet with our giant hearse the inhabitants, as soon as they set eyes on its grisly load, turned away in horror and disappeared into their houses. One could see that many felt sorry for us and would have liked to help. Outside a few of the houses, small heaps of apples, carrots, and bread had been placed which we picked up and devoured ravenously. When I had eaten my fill I decided to lay in a small store. From a barn, I took a piece of cord which I tied around my waist. Then I stuffed anything edible I could find inside my shirt so that nothing could fall out. The next few days were to prove that I had done the right thing.

Our march ended in a wood not far from Gunskirchen near Wels, inside a few wooden barracks surrounded by watchtowers. There was not an SS man in sight. We had no roll-call, did not work. Now and then a few cauldrons of soup appeared. Of discipline, there was not a trace. Lying on the barracks’ floors were hundreds of emaciated forms, apathetically drowsing and looking as if the last spark of life had departed from them.

I had taken up residence in one of the barracks, perched on a narrow rafter, strapping myself in with a belt so as not to have to keep holding my balance, and covering myself with a blanket. There was, needless to say, never any question of proper sleep. Below me, the moaning and groaning continued day and night. Dead bodies lay strewn all over the place, no one concerning themselves with their removal: the stench took one’s breath away. Besides, I had to take care not to make a wrong movement or else I might have fallen three metres.

It was here that the wisdom of hoarding food inside my shirt became apparent. Of course, if the others had discovered my secret supplies I should have been lost. Thus I only dared to eat in the dark, chewing my precious food slowly and, most importantly, noiselessly. With alarm I watched my little hoard getting smaller every day… My physical and spiritual state of health was deteriorating rapidly. Still lying precariously perched on my rafter, I watched rather impassively as scores of lice were walking all over my blanket. I scarcely any longer noticed the moaning and groaning in the barracks below me. I felt somnolent, as though I was just about to drop off to sleep.

Then all of a sudden from all around us there came the noise of fighting. The chattering of machine guns and the bursting of shells made me feel wide awake. Before long people burst into the barrack, their arms raised, and shouting exuberantly: “We are free! Comrades, we are free!” It was, incredibly, a complete anti-climax. This moment, on which all my thought and secret wishes had been concentrated for three years, evoked neither gladness nor, for that matter, any other feelings inside me. I let myself drop down from my rafter and crawled on all fours to the door.

Outside I struggled along a little further, but then I simply stretched out on a woodland ground and fell fast asleep. I awoke to the monotonous noise of vehicles rumbling past. Walking across to the nearby road I saw a long column of American tanks clanking along in the direction of Wels. As I stared after the convoy of steel giants I realized that the hideous Nazi terror had ended at last.”