Information for Veterans and their families

Danny Dorlin

I have received kind permission of Mr Jack Gee and Danny Dorlin himself to reproduce the following article that appeared in the Daily Express on Saturday, January 29th, 2005.

The article was written by Mr Jack Gee, a photograph of whom appears here (click to enlarge).

If you would like to contact Jack or Danny, please use my 'contact' page above and I will be happy to pass on your information.

Article written by Jack Gee and entitled "My Nazi Death March"

Sixty years on, a British PoW relives the horrific trek he and his comrades were forced to make by their retreating captors

The sound of Red Army cannon fire was echoing across the Polish countryside. With rifle jabs and shouts of "raus! raus!" - out! out! - nervous German soldiers drove Danny Dorlin and a dozen other British prisoners from the farm where Danny was working as a stablehand. After five years as a prisoner of war in northern Poland, they were finally on the move - and fast. They hardly had the chance to scrape together their meagre belongings.

(Click image to left to enlarge. Danny is front row, far left) It was January 1945 and time was running out for the Third Reich. The Americans were poised to cross into Germany after smashing a massive counter-offensive in Belgium's Ardennes Forest. On the eastern front, Stalin's forces stretched across Eastern Europe, ready to push the Germans back into their heartland. At the northern end of this front, the 2nd Byelorussian Army was advancing through East Prussia towards the Baltic region where Danny had been held prisoner since July 1940.

He had arrived at Stalag XXB in Marienburg, the Germans' name for the Polish town of Malbork, after being captured in Normandy. Set to work as a farmhand, carpenter and furniture remover, he had toiled for the German forces and civilians. But now, on January 14, panic-stricken German guards rounded up their prisoners in the nearby town of Ilawa.

"We didn't know it then but it was the start of the death march," says Danny, now a hale 85. "Gradually, hundreds of other British PoWs joined our column. About 1,000 were soon tramping across Poland into Germany." Similar processions were underway from other camps.

The German guards knew they could expect short shrift if they fell into Russian hands, and were better off surrendering to the Americans. They resolved to use their captives as human shields and drive them on relentlessly until they met Allied troops advancing from the west.

It was to be a horrifying ordeal. In their helter-skelter dash to escape the Russians, the Germans herded Danny and his comrades along a vast semicircle from Poland along Germany's North Sea coast and then back inland.

It was the coldest winter of the war. At night, the prisoners shivered in unheated barns. They crossed the icebound Visula, Poland's widest river, on foot. With only threadbare clothing, many a soldier ws crippled by frostbite. Laggards were dragged out of sight and shot.

"Blisters became infected and many men collapsed from hunger, fear, malnutrition, exhaustion or disease," says Danny. "Rations were meagre, usually just a small piece of bread. British army doctors did their best but they got almost no help or medicine from the Germans."

I have heard my cousin Danny's story many times since boyhood. His taste for adventure had always aroused my envy. Ten years my senior, he was working as a hairdresser on a cruise liner, dropping anchor in exotic spots such as the West Indies and the Pitcairn Islands while I was still stuck at boarding school.

He was dark and dapper and his travels turned him into an exciting, esoteric figure who popped up at rare intervals. After he was called up at the outbreak of the Second World War and sent to France, contact was even more sporadic. In his few letters, Private Daniel Dorlinsky of the Royal Norfolk Regiment's 2nd battalion told the family he was bored to tears by the "phoney war" and lack of action.

Action finally came when the Germans invaded France. On June 14, 1940, a fortnight after the evacuation of 300,000 British troops from Dunkirk, Danny was made prisoner at Saint-Valery-en-Caux in Normandy. General Victor Fortune - a double misnomer - surrendered with 50,000 troops of the 51st British Highland Division. Danny watched the future Field Marshal Erwin Rommel ride triumphantly among them in his command car.

Squatting beside the English Channel with his fellow prisoners, my cousin noticed a British captain studying his identity tag. "Pull that off and throw it away," the officer hissed. Danny's tag, like all those worn by British soldiers, identified the wearer's religion in case he was killed. With his J for Jewish, Danny would be courting trouble. "And no more of Dorlinsky. You will be safer as Dorlin." That was the name Danny used as a PoW, confirmed by deed poll after the war.

(Click image to enlarge. Danny is front row, second from left) Over the next five years letters from Stalag XXB to England were infrequent, but Danny sent photos. Back in London his widowed mother, my Auntie Eva, could see him with the camp's boxing team or digging a road. Some showed him wearing a new British uniform. "It was a cunning hoax," he recalls. "We were lent the smart garments just for the photo session and then got our old ragged clothes back again."

Some moments sent stabs of terror down his spine. A German guard escorting him with fellow PoWs to a work site looked closely up and down. "You have to be a Jew. I'll deal with you when we get back," he said. A chorus of protest rose from the other prisoners: "Nein, nein, sergeant. Danny?" A Jew? Not on your life, sergeant." The German shook his head and never raised the issue again.

Danny never forgot his dangerous situation as a British PoW and a Jew. Sent to deliver timber to the Stutthof concentration camp, he was horrified at the sight of the skeletal prisoners, most of whom would die in the gas chambers.

His greatest ordeal was yet to come. "When we left Ilawa I was in a group of four British soldiers. We picked up others as we marched through fields and forests and along muddy tracks. Within hours we joined a longer column of Tommies heading west and urged on by their German guards.

"Each day was tougher than the last, as our energy was sapped away by lack of food and rest. Often we marched for 15 hours at a time in the rush to put as much space as they could between us and the Russians.

"Occasionally they provided a horse and cart for a sick soldier. Some were delivered to hospitals. They never rejoined us. That meant their comrades always feared the worst. But hospital treatment was not frequent. More often, struggling marchers were escorted into a wood and executed."

Throughout the ordeal, marchers hung together, helping each other to struggle onwards. "We quickly developed a buddy system in which two to four men ate and slept together and looked out for one another. I am sure that many of us survived thanks to this solidarity between us. My chum Jim Berman got a foot infection. He leaned on my shoulder for miles. I persuaded a villager with a horse and cart to take him to hospital. Jim would have died but for that merciful German."

At night, aching and tired men carried comrades collapsing from dysentry to the latrine. "Even beyond our buddy system, everyone tried to help everyone else," says Danny. "I was amazed by the bonds that tied us all together. It was never every man for himself."

The march had its lighter moments. On one occasion two PoWs ran to the bottom of a slope to grab a piece of firewood. Pursuing them, their irate guard slipped and jammed his rifle barrel in the mud, triggering a shot which split the barrel. Another time a prisoner traded a chocolate bar from a Red Cross package to a German woman for some bread. She probably had no way of translating the label on the chocolate: Ex-Lax.

Danny says: "For months the great march continued as a kind of black comedy that saw the weary prisoners herded first in one direction, then another, depending on the position of advancing Allied forces."

At last the sound of Allied artillery grew closer. The German guards became less harsh. Many asked prisoners to sign letters certifying they had treated them decently.

On April 25, 1945, Danny's group encountered an American tank unit in a village near Leipzig in Saxony. They approached the US soldiers with caution. "I had never seen an American uniform before. Then we heard their voices and realised we were free. Our guards eagerly surrendered to us."

By the end of his ordeal, Danny had covered 800 miles in three months. More than 400 of the original 1,000 marchers had died from hunger or disease. Those on similar marches from the concentration camps in Germany and eastern Europe suffered an equally grim fate.

Throughout January 1945, columns of former inmates set out for Bavaria where Hitler hoped to make a last stand. In all, 65,000 were evacuated from Auschwitz - 15,000 died along the route. Others were shot inside the camp just before the evacuation on January 18. In another march, 7,000 Jewish prisoners - mainly women - were moved from camps in the Danzig region. On the 10-day march, 700 were murdered. Those still alive when they reached the Baltic were driven into the sea and shot.

Danny returned home suffering from tuberculois. The British Red Cross sent him to Davos in Switzerland where he spent 18 months in a sanatorium, but the TB came back and he had to spend a further two-and-a-half years in a British rest home.

After the war, while I went to university, Danny started a textile business. He had every reason to dislike Germany but Lieselotte, a German woman he met on a train in Kiel, became his wife. Although they divorced after 25 years, they had two children - Robert, a teacher, and Amanda, a dentist. Danny now has two grandchildren. "I am astonished I have made it to such a ripe old age," he says.

Every year on the anniversary of the start of the march he gets out a photo of his Stalag chums from his wallet. "As usual, I will be wondering who is still around."

2nd February 2015: Email from Elaine Gilbert saying "My husband, Arnold, is a first cousin of Danny (mothers were sisters)."

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