Death march

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For other uses, see Death march (disambiguation).
Arab slave traders and their captives along the Ruvuma river (in today's Tanzania and Mozambique), 19th-century engraving.

A death march is a forced march of prisoners of war or other captives or deportees with the intent to kill, brutalize, weaken and/or demoralize as many of the captives as possible along the way. It is distinguished in this way from simple prisoner transport via foot march. Death marches usually feature harsh physical labor and abuse, neglect of prisoner injury and illness, deliberate starvation and dehydration, humiliation and torture, and execution of those unable to keep up the marching pace. The march may end at a prisoner-of-war camp or internment camp, or it may continue until all the prisoners are dead (a form of "execution by labor", as seen in the Armenian genocide among other examples).

The signing of the Fourth Geneva Convention[1] made death marches a form of war crime.


Before World War II[edit]

We passed a slave woman shot or stabbed through the body and lying on the path. [Onlookers] said an Arab who passed early that morning had done it in anger at losing the price he had given for her, because she was unable to walk any longer.[2]

  • As part of Indian removal in the United States, in 1831, approximately 6000 Choctaw were forced to leave Mississippi for Oklahoma, and only about 4000 arrived in 1832.[3]
  • In 1836, after the Creek War, the United States Army deported 2,500 Muskogee from Alabama in chains as prisoners of war.[4] The rest of the tribe (12,000) followed, deported by the Army. Upon arrival in Oklahoma, 3,500 died of infection.[5]
  • In 1838, the Cherokee nation were forced under Andrew Jackson to march westward towards Oklahoma. This march became known as the Trail of Tears: an estimated 4,000 men, women, and children died during relocation.[6]
  • The Armenian Genocide resulted in the death of up to 1,500,000 people from 1915–1918. Under the cover of World War One, the Young Turks sought to cleanse Anatolia of its Armenian population. As a result much of the Armenian population was exiled from large parts of Eastern Anatolia and forced to march to the Syrian Desert.[7] Many were raped, tortured, and killed on the way to the 25 concentration camps set up in the Syrian Desert. The most famous camp was that of Der Zor where an estimated 150,000 Armenians were killed. The Turkish government denies these events.

During World War II[edit]

May 11, 1945 German civilians are forced to walk past bodies of 30 Jewish women starved to death by German SS troops in a 500-kilometre (300 mi) march across Czechoslovakia.

The term "death march" was used in the context of the World War II history by victims and then by historians to refer to the forcible movement between fall 1944 and April 1945 by Nazi Germany of thousands of prisoners, from Nazi concentration camps near the advancing war fronts to camps inside Germany.

  • An infamous death march occurred in January 1945, as the Soviet Red Army advanced on occupied Poland. Nine days before the Soviets arrived at the death camp at Auschwitz, the SS marched nearly 60,000 prisoners out of the camp toward Wodzisław Śląski (German: Loslau), 35 miles away, where they were put on freight trains to other camps. Approximately 15,000 prisoners died on the way.[8][9]
Dead soldiers on the Bataan Death March
  • The Brno death march began late on the night of 30 May 1945, when the ethnic German minority in Brno, capital of the Czechoslovak province Moravia, was expelled to nearby Austria.

After World War II[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War". International Committee of the Red Cross. Geneva: International Committee of the Red Cross. 12 August 1949. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  2. ^ Livingstone, David (2006). The Last Journals of David Livingstone, in Central Africa, from 1865 to His Death. Echo Library. p. 46. ISBN 1-84637-555-X. 
  3. ^ "Trail of Tears". Choctaw Nation. 
  4. ^ Foreman, Grant (1974) [1932]. Indian Removal: The Emigration of the Five Civilized Tribes of Indians. University of Oklahoma Press. [dead link]
  5. ^ "Creeks". 
  6. ^ Marshall, Ian (1998). Story line: exploring the literature of the Appalachian Trail (Illustrated ed.). University of Virginia Press. ISBN 978-0-8139-1798-6. 
  7. ^ "Exiled Armenians Starve in the Desert". The New York Times (Boston). August 8, 1916. 
  8. ^ "Death marches". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 
  9. ^ Gilbert, Martin (May 1993). Atlas of the Holocaust (Revised and Updated ed.). William Morrow & Company. ISBN 0688123643.  (map of forced marches)
  10. ^ Holmes, Richard; Strachan, Hew; Bellamy, Chris; Bicheno, Hugh (2001). The Oxford companion to military history (Illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. p. 64. ISBN 9780198662099. On 12 July, the Arab inhabitants of the Lydda-Ramle area, amounting to some 70,000, were expelled in what became known as the 'Lydda Death March'. 
  11. ^ Terence Roehrig (2001). Prosecution of Former Military Leaders in Newly Democratic Nations: The Cases of Argentina, Greece, and South Korea. McFarland & Company. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-7864-1091-0. 
  12. ^ Lewis H Carlson (2002). Remembered Prisoners of a Forgotten War: An Oral History of Korean War POWs. St Martin's Press. pp. 49–50, 60–62. ISBN 0-312-28684-8.