Filip Müller noticed the change. People he considered “enemies” were now actually showing him a bit of deference. Those in authority over him, while still attempting to do their jobs, were displaying, in his opinion, affability. And while Müller may have wanted to attribute this change in attitude to a change in heart, he knew better. It was more likely the low rumble of artillery fire in the distance that caused the transformation.
Filip Müller’s three-year internment in Auschwitz exposed him to man at his basest and most inhumane. I think for any of us that read accounts of the Holocaust, what strikes us…well, I probably shouldn’t speak for “us”. I think what strike me as most frightening is that some of the men who carried out the Final Solution did so with such a matter-of-fact, almost casual, detachment. But I’ve only read about it…Müller lived it…every day. Each sunrise brought with it the prospect of his own death and the inevitable death (by gassing or bullet or experiment) of hundreds who were herded into this most infamous of camps for their first (and last) visit.
But the rumble of guns changed the equation. For the Germans, it was as though a dream had been interrupted by the harsh reality that they were losing the war. And what’s more, they were losing it at a faster pace in the east, where all the extermination camps were located, than in the west. And the uneasiness of the SS commandants and guards was directly proportional to the volume of those guns. They grew together.
In his dreadful, yet eye-opening, account titled Eyewitness Auschwitz, Müller writes, “And then came that memorable 18 January 1945. There was great confusion throughout the camp. Early in the morning columns of smoke could be seen rising in all parts of the camp. Quite obviously the SS men were destroying index cards and other documents. The prisoners who normally at this time of day were bustling about, seemed almost paralyzed with inaction: not a single team left camp for work. The rumble of guns and the explosions of heavy shelling were very close…”
Müller and his comrades were almost certain that this day would be their last, so they were somewhat surprised when summoned for the evening’s roll call…the last roll call. And then they were told to prepare for transport. Shortly before midnight on January 18, 1945, after frantically grabbing the things they might need to keep warm in the frigid conditions while trying to keep their euphoria in check, they marched out of Auschwitz…nearly 20,000 of them.
Left behind were 7,000 prisoners, considered too weak or sick to make the journey. They would be liberated by the Soviets just nine days later. For Müller, and those with him, the ordeal would continue. But one chapter at least had been closed.
Auschwitz had been abandoned.
Recommended Reading: Eyewitness Auschwitz