Teresa Wonto-Cichy of the Research Center at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum explains how medical care was organised for those who were unfit to join in the death marches and so remained in the camp.
Many recall the freezing winter and heavy snow years ago. Joy was mixed with uncertainty about the future. It was easy to be shot and killed by a random – German or Soviet – bullet.
In an article for the paper, long-standing editor of “Echo Chełmka” Rudolf Iwanek described the end of the war in Chełmek.
– And finally, that unforgettable day arrived. The 25th January 1945. Canon booms had got louder and louder and increasingly terrible the entire previous night. They were interspersed with the crack of machine guns. Everybody knows that liberation is coming. Few slept that night, the last night under occupation. Everyone is plagued with uncertainty about how the retreating Germans will behave.
He described how three heavy German tanks arrived from Libiąż in the afternoon. They took up defence positions with their gun barrels facing east. The German soldiers also set machine gun platforms. By evening, there wasn’t a single tank or soldier. At the very end, the Germans blew up the bridge over the Przemsza.
Halina Skrzypczyk of Stare Stawy was six years old in January 1945. She tells how the Russians entering her village nearly shot her two brothers, Ludwik and Adam. They thought the brothers were German. The misunderstanding was caused by a portrait of Hitler which had remained on the wall of their home from the time when Volksdeutsche had occupied it.
Approximately 7,000 prisoners were found in KL Auschwitz-Birkenau at liberation – men, women and children. Several days earlier, the Germans had led over 50,000 prisoners out of the camp and its sub-camps deep into Third Reich territory.
Janina Stawowy of Brzeszcze witnessed one of the death marches.
– I remember how the Germans led the prisoners out of the camp. They didn’t take the people who couldn’t walk with them. I happened to be in the park in Brzeszcze when the prisoners were walking along the road by the mine. They were walking in those clogs, or in bare feet, in their camp uniforms. It was cold. It was January and cold. It was freezing. They would hold one another up if they had the strength, they were lagging behind. And the SSmen – I don’t know, every few metres, they followed on. And the people were walking slowly, slowly, they were trudging along in those wooden shoes. And by the side of the road, obviously, every so often there was a dead body. In Brzeszcze’s cemetery there is a grave of those who died here.
The 600 prisoners who were killed as the Germans were evacuating KL Auschwitz and those who died of exhaustion and disease were buried in a mass grave in the proximity of the camp. Thousands of people took part in the solemn funeral.
With the German retreat and the arrival of the Red Army came the end of the war for the residents of the Land of Oświęcim. Shortly afterwards, people from Brzezinka, Harmęże, Pławy, Bor, Rajsko, Babice and Broszkowice began to return to their homes from which they had been evicted in 1941. The areas had been designated for the expansion of KL Auschwitz and their homes were often damaged or completely razed to the ground after their goods had been plundered. In terrible, post-war poverty, they had to begin to build up their lives from nothing.