Stiftung Brandenburgische Gedenkstätten Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen

Bark rubs from the Below Forest

During excavations in the Below Forest in the 1990s, numerous bark graters like this one were found. What is the story behind them?

Shortly before the end of World War II, during the night of April 20-21, 1945, the SS sent most of the prisoners of the Sachsenhausen concentration camp on a death march northward. The SS wanted to prevent the prisoners from being liberated by the approaching Allies. Only sick and dying prisoners were left behind in the camp.

During the death march, thousands of prisoners died of hunger and exhaustion or were shot by SS men when they collapsed and could not walk further.

After several days of walking, the starving prisoners arrived in the Below Forest near Wittstock. There they had to hold out in the open for several days. Some prisoners made simple graters from metal scraps to grate bark from trees and plants to eat.

The former French prisoner Marcel Suillerot (born in 1923) tells about it in an interview in 2009:

"Fortunately for us, there were dandelions that year, we knew them, nettles..., we ate leaves, roots.... There were some who had scraped off tree bark to make a kind of flour. [...] Some had little graters that they had made. [...] We ate the leaves of the bushes. We cut sticks from the bushes to make shelters for ourselves, some twigs and [put] our blankets over them to be able to slip underneath."

The missing bark can still be seen today on some of the trees in the Below Forest Memorial.

After their stay in the Below Forest, the prisoners had to march on. But in early May 1945, they encountered Allied soldiers in the area between Parchim, Schwerin and Ludwigslust. The SS men had already left the marching columns in flight. The moment of liberation had come.

The approximately 2,000 prisoners who remained in Sachsenhausen concentration camp were liberated by Soviet and Polish soldiers on April 22, 1945.