The victorious Allied advance, even before it was complete, spurred Himmler into ordering the destruction of the gas chambers in November 1944. In Sobibor and Treblinka, the Nazis tried to hide the evidence by ploughing and replanting the area. Other camps were evacuated by brutal forced marches. Auschwitz, however, continued to operate almost until the moment when the Soviet army arrived. 

As the Soviets advanced towards Auschwitz in January 1945, Himmler ordered its evacuation. In freezing weather, 66,000 prisoners were forced to march from Auschwitz to the German border. Many did not survive the terrible ordeal. Those unable to walk were shot. Altogether some 15,000 prisoners died during what is known as "the death march" from Auschwitz. Inmates who made it to the German border survived only to be shipped in railroad boxcars to concentration camps at Gross-Rosen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, and Mauthausen, where thousands of inmates continued to die from disease, hunger, brutality, and neglect.

It is estimated that nearly 400,000 prisoners were sent on death marches from various camps outside of Germany. Over 250,000 died. The Stutthof camp in East Prussia was evacuated in March 1945. The Nazis forced almost 50,000 prisoners, including 35,000 women, to march west to the Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen concentration camps in Germany. At least 10,000 people died during that march.

On May 2, 1945, the SS committed a final act of brutality and mass murder. They loaded 7,500 prisoners onto a German ship (the Cape Arcona) and ordered the crew to sail into the Baltic Sea. As the SS knew well, Allied warplanes were attacking any German ship they saw in the Baltic, and on May 3 the Cape Arcona was bombed and sunk. Only 500 prisoners survived.