Mauthausen Concentration Camp (known from the summer of 1940 as Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp) grew to become a large group of Nazi concentration camps that was built around the villages of Mauthausen and Gusen in Upper Austria, roughly 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of the city of Linz.
Initially a single camp at Mauthausen, it expanded over time and by the summer of 1940, the Mauthausen-Gusen had become one of the largest labour camp complexes in German-controlled Europe. Apart from the four main sub-camps at Mauthausen and nearby Gusen, more than 50 sub-camps, located throughout Austria and southern Germany, used the inmates as slave labour. Several subordinate camps of the KZ Mauthausen complex included quarries, munitions factories, mines, arms factories and Me 262 fighter-plane assembly plants.
In January 1945, the camps, directed from the central office in Mauthausen, contained roughly 85,000 inmates. The death toll remains unknown, although most sources place it between 122,766 and 320,000 for the entire complex. The camps formed one of the first massive concentration camp complexes in Nazi Germany, and were the last ones to be liberated by the Allies. The two main camps, Mauthausen and Gusen I, were also the only two camps in the whole of Europe to be labelled as "Grade III" camps, which meant that they were intended to be the toughest camps for the "Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich". Unlike many other concentration camps, intended for all categories of prisoners, Mauthausen was mostly used forextermination through labour of the intelligentsia, who were educated people and members of the higher social classes in countries subjugated by the Nazi regime during World War II
KZ Mauthausen Franz Ziereis, Commandant of Mauthausen, 1939-1945
On 7 August 1938 prisoners from Dachau concentration camp were sent to the town of Mauthausen near Linz,Austria, to begin the construction of a new camp. The site was chosen as a site for a slave labour camp because of the nearby granite quarry, and due to its proximity to Linz. Although the camp was, from the beginning of its existence, controlled by the German state, it was founded by a private company as an economic enterprise. The owner of the Wiener-Graben quarry (the Marbacher-Bruch and Bettelberg quarries), which was located in and around Mauthausen, was a DEST Company: an acronym for Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH. The company, led by Oswald Pohl, who was also a high-ranking official of the SS, rented the quarries from the City of Vienna and started the construction of the Mauthausen camp. While DEST rented the quarries at Mauthausen from the city of Vienna in 1938, the company bought its first lots of land at nearby Gusen already on 25 May 1938. A year later, the company ordered the construction of the first camp at Gusen. The granitemined in the quarries had previously been used to pave the streets of Vienna, but the Nazi authorities envisioned a complete reconstruction of major German towns in accordance with plans of Albert Speer and other architects of Nazi architecture, for which large quantities of granite were needed. The money needed for the construction of the Mauthausen camp was gathered from a variety of sources, including commercial loans from Dresdner Bank and Prague-based Escompte Bank, the so-called Reinhardt's fund (meaning money stolen from the inmates of the concentration camps themselves); and from the German Red Cross]
Mauthausen initially served as a strictly-run prison camp for common criminals, prostitutes and other categories of "Incorrigible Law Offenders". On 8 May 1939 it was converted to a labour camp which was mainly used for the incarceration of political prisoners.
KL Gusen Aerial view of the Gusen I & II camps DEST started to purchase a lot of land at Gusen in May 1938 in order to establish a twin concentration camp at Mauthausen and Gusen from the beginning, although construction of Concentration Camp Gusen was not started until autumn 1939. In the years 1938 and 1939, inmates of the nearby Mauthausen makeshift camp marched daily to the stone-quarries at Gusen which were more productive and more important for DEST than the Wienergraben Quarry. In late 1939, the not yet finished Mauthausen camp, with its Wiener-Graben granite quarry, was already overcrowded with prisoners since Germany started the war against Poland in September 1939. Their numbers rose from 1,080 in late 1938 to over 3,000 a year later. About that time the construction of a new camp "for the Poles" began in Gusen, about 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) away. The new camp (later named Gusen I) became operational in May 1940 while the Kastenhof- and Gusen-Quarries in the vicinity of that new concentration camp were operated with concentration camp inmates from Mauthausen before. The first inmates were put in the first two huts (No. 7 and 8) on 17 April 1940, while the first transport of prisoners - mostly from the camps in Dachau and Sachsenhausen - arrived on 25 May of the same year. The new camp at Gusen saved the inmates of Mauthausen the daily march between both locations.
Like nearby Mauthausen, the Gusen camp also used its inmates as slave labour in the granite quarries, but they also rented them out to various local businesses. In October 1941, several huts were separated from the Gusen sub-camp by barbed wire and turned into a separate Prisoner of War Labour Camp (German: Kriegsgefangenenarbeitslager). This camp had a large number of prisoners of warincarcerated, mostly Soviet officers. By 1942, the production capacity of both Mauthausen and Gusen had reached its peak. Gusen was expanded to include the central depot of the SS, where various goods, which had been seized from occupied territories, were sorted and then dispatched to Germany. Local quarries and businesses were in constant need of a new source of labour as more and more Austrians were drafted into the Wehrmacht.
In March 1944, the former SS depot was converted to a new sub-camp, and was named Gusen II. Until the end of the war the depot served as an improvised concentration camp. The camp contained about 12,000 to 17,000 inmates, who were deprived of even the most basic facilities. In December 1944, another part of Gusen was opened in nearby Lungitz. Here, parts of a factory infrastructure were converted into the third sub-camp of Gusen — Gusen III. The rise in the number of sub-camps could not catch up with the rising number of inmates, which led to overcrowding of the huts in all of the sub-camps of Mauthausen-Gusen. From late 1940 to 1944, the number of inmates per bed rose from 2 to 4.
Mauthausen-Gusen camp system Map showing location of some of the most notable sub-camps of Mauthausen-Gusen
As the production in all of the sub-camps of Mauthausen-Gusen complex was constantly rising, so was the number of detainees and the number of the sub-camps themselves. Although initially the camps of Gusen and Mauthausen mostly served the local quarries, from 1942, and onwards, they began to be included in the German war machine. To accommodate the ever-increasing number of slave workers, additional sub-camps (German: Außenlager) of Mauthausen began construction in all parts of Austria. At the end of the war the list included 101 camps (including 49 major sub-camps) which covered most of modern Austria, from Mittersill south ofSalzburg to Schwechat east of Vienna and from Passau on the pre-war Austro-German border to the Loibl Pass on the border with Yugoslavia. The sub-camps were divided into several categories, depending on their main function: Produktionslagerfor factory workers, Baulager for construction, Aufräumlager for cleaning the rubble in Allied-bombed towns, and Kleinlager (small camps) where the inmates were working specifically for the SS.
The production output of Mauthausen-Gusen exceeded that of each of the five other large slave labour centres, including: Auschwitz-Birkenau, Flossenbürg, Gross-Rosen, Marburg andNatzweiler-Struthof, in terms of both production quota and profits. The list of companies using slave labour from the Mauthausen-Gusen camp system was long, and included both national corporations and small, local firms and communities. Some parts of the quarries were converted into a Mauser machine pistol assembly plant. In 1943, an underground factory for the Steyr-Daimler-Puch company was built in Gusen. Altogether, 45 larger companies took part in making KZ Mauthausen-Gusen one of the most profitable concentration camps of Nazi Germany, with more than 11,000,000 Reichsmark of the profits in 1944 alone (EUR 144 million as of 2011). Among them were:
Businesses profiting from slave workers of Mauthausen-Gusen
Prisoners were also 'rented out' as slave labour, and were exploited in various ways, such as working for local farms, for road construction, reinforcing and repairing the banks of the Danube, and the construction of large residential areas in Sankt Georgen as well as being forced to excavate archaeological sites in Spielberg.
"Bergkristall" Tunnel System at Gusen. Built to protect Me 262 production from air raids.
When the Allied strategic bombing campaign started to target the German war industry, German planners decided to move production to underground facilities that were impenetrable to enemy aerial bombardment. In Gusen I, the prisoners were ordered to build several large tunnels beneath the hills surrounding the camp (code-named Kellerbau). By the end of World War II the prisoners had dug 29,400 square metres (316,000 sq ft) to house a small arms factory. In January 1944, similar tunnels were also built beneath the village of Sankt Georgen by the inmates of Gusen II sub-camp (code-named Bergkristall). They dug roughly 50,000 square metres (540,000 sq ft) so the Messerschmitt company could build an assembly plant to produce theMesserschmitt Me 262 and V-2 rockets. In addition to planes, some 7,000 square metres (75,000 sq ft) of Gusen II tunnels served as factories for various war materials. In late 1944, roughly 11,000 of the Gusen I and II inmates were working in underground facilities. An additional 6,500 worked on expanding the underground network of tunnels and halls. In 1945, the Me 262 works was already finished and the Germans were able to assemble 1,250 planes a month. This was the second largest plane factory in Germany after the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, which was also underground.
The political function of the camp continued in parallel with its economic role. Until at least 1942, it was used for the imprisonment and murder of Germany's political and ideological enemies, both real and imagined. The camp served the needs of the German war machine and also carried outextermination through labour. When the inmates were totally exhausted after having worked in the quarries for 12 hours a day, or if they were too ill or too weak to work, they were then transferred to theRevier ("Krankenrevier", sick barrack) or other places for extermination. Initially, the camp did not have agas chamber of its own and the so-called Muselmänner, or prisoners who were too sick to work, after being maltreated, under-nourished or exhausted, were then transferred to other concentration camps for extermination (mostly to the infamous Hartheim Castle, which was 40.7 kilometres / 25.3 miles away), or killed by lethal injection and cremated in the local crematorium. The growing number of prisoners made the system too expensive and from 1940, Mauthausen was one of the few camps in the West to use a gas chamber on a regular basis. In the beginning, an improvised mobile gas chamber – a van with the exhaust pipe connected to the inside – shuttled between Mauthausen and Gusen. By December 1941, a permanent gas chamber that could kill about 120 prisoners at a time was completed.
Until early 1940, the largest group of inmates consisted of German, Austrian and Czechoslovak socialists, communists, anarchists, homosexuals, and people of Roma origin. Other groups of people to be persecuted solely on religious grounds were the Sectarians, as they were dubbed by the Nazi regime, meaning Bible Students and Jehovah's Witnesses. The reason for their imprisonment was their total rejection of giving the loyalty oath to Hitler and their absolute refusal to participate in any kind of military service.
Late 1944 – Early 1945 Gusen (I, II and III combined) 26,311 Ebensee 18,437 Gunskirchen 15,000 Melk 10,314 Linz 6,690 Amstetten 2,966 Wiener-Neudorf 2,954 Schwechat 2,568 Steyr-Münichholz 1,971 Schlier-Redl-Zipf 1,488
In early 1940, a large number of Poles were transferred to the Mauthausen-Gusen complex. The first groups were mostly composed of artists, scientists, Boy Scouts, teachers, and university professors, who were arrested duringIntelligenzaktion and the course of the AB Action. Camp Gusen II was called by Germans "Vernichtungslager fur die polnische Intelligenz" ("Extermination camp for Polish inteligentsia").
Later in the war, new arrivals were from every category of the "unwanted", but educated people and so-called political prisoners constituted the largest part of all inmates until the end of the war. DuringWorld War II, large groups of Spanish Republicans were also transferred to Mauthausen and its sub-camps. Most of them were former Republican soldiers or activists who had fled to France afterFranco's victory and then were captured by German forces after the French defeat in 1940 or handed over to the Germans by the Vichy authorities. The largest of these groups arrived at Gusen in January 1941. In early 1941, almost all the Poles and Spaniards, except for a small group of specialists working in the quarry's stone mill, were transferred from Mauthausen to Gusen. Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in 1941 the camps started to receive a large number of Soviet POWs. Most of them were kept in huts separated from the rest of the camp. The Soviet prisoners of war were a major part of the first groups to be gassed in the newly-built gas chamber in early 1942. In 1944, a large group of Hungarian and Dutch Jews was also transferred to the camp. Much like all the other large groups of prisoners that were transferred to Mauthausen-Gusen, most of them either died as a result of the hard labour and poor conditions, or were deliberately killed by throwing them down the sides of the Mauthausen quarry, nicknamed the Parachutists' Wall by the SS guards and Kapos. The nickname was a cruel joke which mocked the doomed prisoners by calling them "Parachutists without a parachute".
Prisoners playing "leap frog".
Throughout the years of World War II, the camps of Mauthausen-Gusen received new prisoners in smaller transports on a daily basis; mostly from other concentration camps in German-occupied Europe. Most of the prisoners in the sub-camps of Mauthausen were kept in various detention sites prior to transportation to their final destination. The most notable of such centres for Mauthausen-Gusen were the infamous camps at Dachau and Auschwitz. The first transports from Auschwitz arrived in February 1942. The second transport in June of that year was much larger and numbered some 1,200 prisoners. Similar groups were sent from Auschwitz to Gusen and Mauthausen in April and November 1943, and then in January and February 1944. Finally, after Adolf Eichmann visited Mauthausen in May of that year, KZ Mauthausen-Gusen received the first group of roughly 8,000 Hungarian Jews from Auschwitz; the first group to be evacuated from that camp before the Soviet advance. Initially, the groups evacuated from Auschwitz consisted of qualified workers for the ever-growing industry of the Mauthausen-Gusen camp complex, but as the evacuation proceeded other categories of people were also transported to Mauthausen, Gusen, Vienna or Melk.
Camp file of a Polish political prisoner No. 382,Jerzy Ka?mirkiewicz
Over time, Auschwitz had to almost stop accepting new prisoners and most were directed to Mauthausen instead. The last group— roughly 10,000 prisoners—was evacuated in the last wave in January 1945, only a few weeks before the Soviet liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex. Among them was a large group of civilians arrested by the Germans after the failure of the Warsaw Uprising, but by the liberation not more than 500 of them were still alive. Altogether, during the final months of the war, 23,364 prisoners from otherconcentration camps arrived at the camp complex. Many more perished during death marches, where they dropped dead because of pure exhaustion, or in railway wagons, where the prisoners were confined at sub-zero temperatures—without adequate food or water—for several days prior to their arrival. Prisoner transports were considered to be less important than other important services.
Many of those who survived the journey died before they could be registered, whilst others were given the camp numbers of prisoners who had already been killed. Most were then accommodated in the camps or in the newly-established tent camp (German: Zeltlager) just outside the Mauthausen sub-camp, where roughly 2,000 people were forced into tents intended for not more than 800 inmates, and then starved to death.
As in all other German concentration camps, not all the prisoners were equal. Their treatment depended largely on the category assigned to each inmate, as well as their nationality and rank within the system. The so-called kapos, or prisoners who had been recruited by their captors to police their fellow prisoners, were given more food and higher pay in the form of concentration camp coupons which could be exchanged for cigarettes in the canteen, as well as a separate room inside most barracks. In addition, following Himmler's order in June, 1941, a brothel was opened for them in 1942, in the Mauthausen and Gusen I camps. The Kapos formed the main part of the so-calledProminents (German: Prominenz), or prisoners who were given a much better treatment than the average inmate.
Women and children in Mauthausen-Gusen
Although the Mauthausen-Gusen camp complex was mostly a labour camp for men, a women's camp was opened in Mauthausen, in September 1944, with the first transport of female prisoners from Auschwitz. Eventually, more women and children came to Mauthausen fromRavensbrück, Bergen Belsen, Gross Rosen, and Buchenwald. With them came some female guards. Twenty are known to have served in the Mauthausen camp, and sixty in the whole camp complex. Female guards also staffed the Mauthausen sub-camps at Hirtenberg, Lenzing (the main women's sub-camp in Austria), and St. Lambrecht. The Chief Overseers at Mauthausen were firstly Margarete Freinberger, and thenJane Bernigau. Of all the female Overseers who served in Mauthausen, almost all of them were recruited between September and November 1944, from Austrian cities and towns. In early April 1945, at least 2,500 more female prisoners came from the female sub-camps atAmstetten, St. Lambrecht, Hirtenberg, and the Flossenbürg sub-camp at Freiberg. It is rumoured that Hildegard Lächert also served at Mauthausen.
The available Mauthausen inmate statistics from the spring of 1943, shows that there were 2,400 prisoners below the age of 20, which was 12.8% of the 18,655 population. By late March 1945, the number of juvenile prisoners in Mauthausen increased to 15,048, which was 19.1% of the 78,547 Mauthausen inmates. The number of imprisoned children increased 6.2 times, whereas the total number of adult prisoners during the same period multiplied by a factor of only four. These numbers reflected the increasing use of Polish, Czech, Russian, and Balkan teenagers as slave labour as the war continued. Statistics showing the composition of juvenile inmates shortly before their liberationreveal the following major child/prisoner sub-groups: 5,809 foreign civilian labourers, 5,055 political prisoners, 3,654 Jews, and 330 Russian POWs. There were also 23 Roma children, 20 so-called "anti-social elements", 6 Spaniards, and 3 Jehovah's Witnesses. In February, 1945, a transport of 420 Jewish children between the ages of 3-7 arrived at Gusen; the children were inside burlap sacks. They were killed over a two-day period by lethal injection to the heart.
The treatment of inmates and methodology of crime Hans Bonarewitz being taken to his execution after escaping and being recaptured 7 July 1942.
Although not the only concentration camp where the German authorities implemented theirextermination through labour (Vernichtung durch Arbeit), Mauthausen-Gusen was one of the most brutal and severe. The conditions within the camp were considered exceptionally hard to bear, even by concentration camp standards. The inmates suffered not only from malnutrition, overcrowded huts and constant abuse and beatings by the guards and kapos, but also from exceptionally hard labour. As there were too many prisoners in Mauthausen to have all of them work in its quarry at the same time, many were put to work in workshops, or had to do other manual work, whilst the unfortunate ones who were selected to work in the quarry were only there because of their so-called "crimes" in the camp. The reasons for sending them to work in the "Punishment-Detail" were trivial, and included such "crimes" as not saluting a German passing by.
The work in the quarries — often in unbearable heat or in temperatures as low as −30 °C(−22 °F) — led to exceptionally high mortality rates. The food rations were limited, and during the 1940–1942 period, an average inmate weighed 40 kilograms, roughly 88 pounds. It is estimated that the average energy content of food rations dropped from about 1,750 calories a day during the 1940–1942 period, to between 1,150 and 1,460 during the next period. In 1945, the energy content was even lower and did not exceed 600 to 1,000 calories a day; that is less than a third of the energy needed by an average worker in heavy industry. This led to the starvation of thousands of inmates.
The inmates of Mauthausen, Gusen I, and Gusen II had access to a separate sub-camp for the sick — the so-called Krankenlager. Despite the fact that (roughly) 100 medics from among the inmates were working there, they were not given any medication and could offer only basic first aid. Thus the hospital camp – as it was called by the German authorities – was, in fact, the last stop before death for thousands of inmates, and very few had a chance to recover.
"Stairs of Death" Prisoners forced to carry a granite block up 186 steps to the top of the quarry. April, 1941 visit by Heinrich Himmler