Punctually at 1900 hours April 14, 1945,
the commander of Gardelegen's military garrison appeared on the
Estedt road. White flags flying from sedan and motorcycle escort,
the German colonel guided troops of CT405 into town where, with
arms stacked, the garrison stood neatly drawn up for surrender.
On this decorous, if not ceremonial note, the battle for Gardelegen
ended. What recriminations and accusations passed between the
German commander and the Gardelegen Kreisleiter (county supervisor)
will never be known. But certainly the surrender was ill-timed
from the latter's point of view because it interrupted ghoulish
activities in a barn on the outskirts of town.
There on Monday morning were found the
charred and smoking bodies of over 300 slave laborers, deliberately
burned to death by their Nazi captors. Freshly dug common graves
in nearby fields mutely emphasized the haste with which all evidence
of this atrocity was being concealed. Another day and no trace
would have remained.
Investigation disclosed that 1016 political
and military prisoners had perished here. Part of a larger group,
they were being driven west to escape the Russians when suddenly
their guards discovered the fall of Gardelegen was imminent.
Following well-recognized Nazi precedent, these men were murdered
to prevent any possibility of their turning on their captors
in the even of sudden liberation.
Seven prisoners escaped from the barn.
One of these, a Hungarian musician named Bondo Gaza, told his
story on a beautiful spring morning as the citizens of Gardelegen
buried the bodies of his former comrades.
Gaza said that the group originally had
a strength of over 2000. They had been making airplane parts
in a factory in eastern Germany. Then they were jammed into a
train and shunted around the country for seven days. They had
nothing but bread to eat. The train eventually reached Mieste,
some twelve kilometers from Gardelegen. There the 2000 began
their death march. But only 1200 reached Gardelegen. The lame
and halt were more fortunate. They were shot as they fell by
For a day the 1200 were housed in and
around a hospital. There some 300 of them, German political prisoners,
were drilled and placed as guards over their former comrades.
For their services they were promised freedom. Next day the group
marched to the barn on a little hill outside town. Again some
fell out and were shot.
It was 6 pm, Friday, April 13, when they
were herded into the barn, a large empty structure measuring
roughly 100 by 50 feet. The prisoners were ordered to sit down.
If they did not realize their fate at first they most certainly
must have feared the worst when they saw the gasoline-soaked
straw scattered knee-deep on the floor. At the last moment, after
machine guns had been emplaced, the 300 guards were also forced
into the building.
They had only five minutes to contemplate their fate before an
SS corporal opened a door and laughlingly struck a match to the
straw. He was all of 16 years of age. 50 or 60 prisoners rushed
to the opposite side of the building. A door gave way. There
was a dash for freedom, a short dash, ended by machine gun fire.
Meanwhile others had managed to beat out the flaming straw with