As WWII was coming to a close, Soviet troops were about to liberate several of the concentration camps located in Poland. On January 18, 1945, the German high command ordered the evacuation of Auschwitz, Birkenhau, and Monowitz. Inmates were forced to march in mid-winter, either to a nearby railway junction from which they would be taken to sub-camps in western Germany or for hundreds of miles—on foot—to other destinations.
Those who were too weak to march away were shot in the camps prior to evacuation. Testimonies from survivors indicate that tens of thousands were shot and killed along the way. During the Eichmann trial, Israel Gutman stated that, "anybody who had to sit down for a few minutes, was shot at." (Gilbert, The Holocaust, p.772)
Both my parents were in Auschwitz and survived "The Death March." My father, deceased since 1979, never spoke about his experiences. My mother, on the other hand, continuously made references to the "miracle" of her survival and recounted in vivid detail what it was like to walk for miles in the bitter cold with just a blanket and a pair of wooden shoes, Trepches. She tells a story of how one night when the entire column of inmates took a rest at a nearby farm, she found a small sack of sugar cubes in a hay loft, which kept her and a companion alive for several days. She recalls how the German soldiers would confront a weakened inmate who paused for a moment's rest with the following shout: "Kanst du lofen?" ("Can you walk?") If the reply was negative or not forthcoming, she would be shot on the spot.
To date, I've made six films which reflect on how the Holocaust affected my parents, our evolving relationship, and my own psychological and emotional response to their experiences. The March continues this cinematic exploration by detailing one woman's recollections of that experience. It also serves as a meditation on time elapsed and the fragility of personal memory.
Utilizing a series of recorded film interviews conducted with my mother over thirteen year period (1984-1997), I ask the following question each time: "Mom, what do you remember about the March?" The complexity of her responses, the visible emotional toll experienced with each reply, and the ensuing portrait of her aging process, form the core of this twenty five minute, 16mm film.
Available on the Three Films DVD.