Austrian concentration camp Mauthausen.

30-11-2017

On August 8 1938, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler  ordered a couple of hundred prisoners from the Dachau camp to be transported to the little town of Mauthausen just outside Linz. The plan was to build a new camp in order to supply slave labor for the Wiener Graben stone quarry. Until 1939, most of the prisoners were put to work building the camp and the living quarters for the SS. The main camp of Mauthausen consisted of 32 barracks surrounded by electrified barbed wire, high stone walls, and watch towers. Due to the immense number of prisoners that poured into the camp, Commandant Franz Xaver Ziereis   ordered that the fields to the north and west were to be ringed with wire. Here, Hungarian Jews and Russian soldiers, mostly, were kept in the open, all year around.

Mauthausen was classified as a so-called “category three camp”. This was the fiercest category, and for the prisoners it meant “Rûckkehr unerwünscht” (return not desired) and “Vernichtung durch arbeit” (extermination by work).

In summer, wake up was at 4.45 a.m (5.15 in winter), and the working day ended at 7 p.m. This included two roll calls and the distribution of food rations. All the activity revolved around the Wiener Graben and the underground tunneling at the sub-camps of Gusen   (I, II and III),  Melk and Ebensee. In the Wiener Graben the prisoners were divided into two groups; one that hacked into the granite and the other that carried the slabs up the 186 steep steps to the top of the quarry.

  

An eyewitness report from Olga Wormser   who died age 90 in 2002, can perhaps give a hint of the life in the quarries: ” Eighty-seven Dutch Jews were sent to the quarries separated from all the other prisoners. There they encountered the effeminate SS men known as “Hans” and “The blond Damsel”. These two with pick handles in hand flailed into this pathetic group who were digging in the mountainside. By eleven-thirty, 47 of the 87 lay dead on the ground. They were butchered, one after another, before the eyes of fellow prisoners helpless to do anything. That afternoon, four more were killed. They were taken to the cliff top and told to fight. When two dropped to the rocks below, the victors would go free. Two dropped, but the victors were immediately pushed to join them.”

Another killing method, favored by the SS during the winter season, was to gather a group of prisoners in the garage yard and order them to undress. A guard then sprayed water over the group which was left to freeze to death. This was quite effective in a region where the winter temperature usually was around minus 10 degrees Celsius.

If possible, the Gusen complex was considered as even a worse fate than Mauthausen. Here the death toll was so high that each barrack was divided in an “A” and “B” part (“Stube A, Stube B”). The sick, wounded or those too weak to work were hurled in the Stube B. Here, covered in their own excrement and those of others, they lay on the ground or upon others, wherever they were flung, and left to die. No food or water reached the Stube B. 

In the Ebensee and Melk sub-camps the situation was just as horrible. In mid-April 1945 when the whole Mauthausen complex was in total chaos due to the mass evacuation from other concentration camps, cases of cannibalism were reported. (Evelyn Le Chene, “Mauthausen, the history of a death Camp”).

On May 5 1945, units of the American 11th Armor Division  under command of Lieutenant General  Edward Hale “Ted” Brooks   liberated the main Mauthausen camp. 15,000 bodies were buried in mass graves. Due to diseases and starvation, 3.000 prisoners died in the weeks that followed after the liberation.

From 1939 to 1945, more than 10,000 SS guards served in the Mauthausen complex. 818 of these are known by name. A couple of hundred were captured by the Americans. In the trial at Dachau on March 7, 1946, 58 were sentenced to death and three to life imprisonment. All plead not guilty. The commandant,  Franz Ziereis , was shot by American soldiers in the camp while hiding dressed in civilian clothes.

 

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