A death march is a forced march of prisoners of war or other captives or deportees in which individuals are left to die 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).
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.
In 1836, after the Creek War, the United States Army deported 2,500 Muskogee from Alabama in chains as prisoners of war. The rest of the tribe (12,000) followed, deported by the Army. Upon arrival in Oklahoma, 3,500 died of infection.
In 1838, the Cherokee nation was forced by order of President 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.
The Armenian Genocide resulted in the death of up to 1,500,000 people from 1915–1918. Under the cover of World War I, the Young Turks sought to cleanse Turkey of its Armenian population. As a result, much of the Armenian population was exiled from large parts of Western Armenia and forced to march to the Syrian Desert. Many were raped, tortured, and killed on their way to the 25 concentration camps set up in the Syrian Desert. The most famous camp was that of Der Zor where an estimated 300,000 Armenians were killed.
After the Battle of Stalingrad in February 1943, many German prisoners of war were left to die on march. After the initial captivity near Stalingrad they were sent on a "death march across the frozen steppe" to labor camps elsewhere in the Soviet Union.
In the Pacific Theatre, the Imperial Japanese Army conducted death marches of Allied POWs, including the infamous Bataan Death March (1942) and the Sandakan Death Marches (1945). The former forcibly transferred 60-80,000 POWs to Balanga, resulting in the deaths of 2,500–10,000 Filipinos and 100–650 Americans, the latter causing the deaths of 2,345 Australians and British, of which only 6 survived. Both the Bataan and Sandakan death marches were judged as war crimes.
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. One 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 towards 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. The death marches were judged as a crime against humanity.
During the Korean War, prisoners held by North Korea underwent what became known as the "Tiger Death March". The march occurred in the context of North Korea being over-run by United Nations forces. As North Korean forces retreated to the Yalu River on the border with China, they evacuated their prisoners with them. On 31 October 1950, some 845 prisoners, including about eighty noncombatants, left Manpo and went upriver, arriving in Chunggang on 8 November 1950. A year later, fewer than 300 of the prisoners were still alive. The march was named after the brutal North Korean colonel who was in charge, nicknamed "The Tiger". Among the prisoners was George Blake, an MI6 officer who had been stationed in Seoul. While being held as a prisoner, he became a KGB double agent.
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