In a marathon effort Al and Mike walked 30 miles from their campsite in the Sudety Mountains to the former Nazi concentration camp of Gross-Rosen. Icy mountain roads and strong winds in the open terrain made the going difficult. Temperatures hovered in the mid 30s but with windchill it was considerable colder. They started before sunrise at 7:08am and walked into the former concentration camp after nightfall at 6:13pm.
Scenes from the walk | Day Ten
The SS-run Gross-Rosen Concentration camp was established in August 1940 and used prisoners to mine granite for Nazi profiteers. During the massive evacuation of German concentration camps in Poland in January 1945, Gross-Rosen became a transportation hub for the tens of thousands of prisoners marching westward in front of the Soviet offensive. These became known as Death Marches.
120,000 prisoners labored in the granite quarry or transitioned through Gross-Rosen. 40,000 died there.
75 years ago, Al's father, Eddie Willner, along with the surviving prisoners from Blechhammer and Auschwitz area concentration camps evacuations arrived during the night in early February. They were made to stand in mud in the appel platz for much of the night. Many perished.
Eddie Willner describes his arrival at Gross-Rosen |
"Then we had to stand in the what they called the Appellplatz, its the square where people are counted, are assembled. We arrived there late at night, and we were left standing there all night. People actually disappeared in the mud. The mud was knee-deep, and whoever fell down, sort of fell down and couldn’t get up anymore, was suffocated by the mud. I actually saw this. Then prisoners were killed, beaten to death. They just went on a rampage, because some guys didn’t do what they were supposed to be doing."
Eddie Willner was evacuated from Gross-Rosen concentration camp and put in an open cattle car and transported to Buchenwald concentration camp. He arrived there on February 10th 1945. The Russian Army arrived at the empty Gross-Rosen camp on February 13th 1945.