Mauthausen (Austria) 

The US forces found hundreds of dead in Mauthausen.

On August 8 1938, 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 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.

Survivors in the "Russian Camp"

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.

Survivors in the "Russian Camp".

An eyewitness report from Olga Wormser 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.

Survivors found in a barrack in Mauthausen.

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 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.

Confession of Franz Ziereis,
commander of Mauthausen Concentration Camp

Franz Ziereis

On May 23,1945 SS Standartenfuehrer Ziereis, commander of the concentration camp Mauthausen, while trying to escape, was seriously wounded by shots from pursuing American soldiers. On May 24th, the dying, Ziereis was interrogated by the authorities. We have before us the record of the interrogation of Ziereis which is certified by the burgomaster Feichtinger and Edelbauer, commanding officer of the rural police in St. Valentin. In the fact of his imminent death Ziereis made a confession, the confession of the hangman...

"My name is Franz Ziereis, born 1903 in Munich, where my mother and brothers and sisters are still living. I, myself, am not a wicked man and I have risen through work. I was a merchant by profession and, during the period of unemployment, I worked as a carpenter. In 1924 I joined the eleventh Bavarian Infantry Regiment. Later I was transferred to the training department and then to Mauthausen as commanding officer. The following posts and camps were under my command: Mauthausen, Gusen, Linz,
Ebensee, Passau, Ternberg, Gross-Raming, Melk, Eisenerz, Beppern, Klagenfurt, Laibach, Loibl, Loiblpass, Heinkel, W. Wiener-Neustadt, Mittelber and Floridsdorf with approximately 81.000 inmates. The garrison of the camp Mauthausen numbered 5.000 SS men. The highest number of inmates in Mauthausen was 19.800. On the order of SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Dr. Krebsbach a gas chamber was built in the form of a bathroom. The inmates were gassed in this gas chamber. All executions were carried out on the order of the Reichsfuehrer SS and Chief of the German Police Himmler, the SS Obergruppenfuehrer Kaltenbrunner, or the SS Gruppenfuehrer Mueller. Finally 800 inmates were gassed in Gusen I Block 31. I do not know the whereabouts of SS Oberscharfuehrer Jenschk; he murdered 700 inmates in Gusen.

Jenschk carried out the murders in the following manner: At an outside temperature of minus 12 degrees (centigrades) he made the inmates bath in water and then stand in the open stark naked until they died. Dr. Kiesewetter killed the inmates through benzine injections. SS Untersturmfuehrer Dr. Richter, while operating, on inmates regardless whether they were ill or healthy extirpated a piece of the brain and thus caused their death. This happened to about 1000 inmates. SS Obergruppenfuehrer Pohl sent weak and sick inmates into the woods and let them starve to death. The sick tried to stay alive by eating grass and bark
but all died miserably of hunger. Pohl furthermore halved the food rations of the inmates and had all sick and weak inmates murdered through gas. This gas chamber was situated in Hartheim, ten kilometers distant from Linz. About 1.500.000 inmates were gassed in it. In Mauthausen all gassed inmates were reported as having died of natural causes.

(Note: The estimated number of inmates gassed in Hartheim is 30,000.)

Pohl sent me 6.000 women and children who, without any food and during very cold weather had been in transit in open freight cars for about ten days. I was ordered to send the children away. I believe that they all died. Thereupon I became very nervous. On orders from Berlin 2500 inmates from a transport from Auschwitz were bathed in hot water and during very cold
weather had to stand in the open until they perished. Gauleiter Eigruber did not send any food, but ordered that 50% of the food for the inmates was to be handed out to the civilian population. Gluecks ordered that the inmates, occupied in the crematory, were to be relieved at least every three weeks and to be killed through shots in the neck, because they know too much. Furthermore it was ordered that all physicians and the nursing personnel was to be sent to an alleged labour camp in order to be killed.

The camp Lambrecht was liquidated. Pohl and several women gave large banquets and drinking parties in a villa. The inmates who worked in the villa were killed because they had seen too much, accused of theft and transported to Mauthausen with the order "destroy".

Himmler gave the order to load a 45 kilo stone on an inmate's back and make him run around with it until he fell dead. Himmler ordered us to establish a penal labor company according to this system. The inmates had to haul stones until they collapsed, then they were shot and their record was annotated "Trying to escape". Others were driven into a fence made of charged high-tension wire. Others were literally torn to pieces by the dog named "Lord" belonging to the camp commander Bachmeyer who sicced it on the inmates. On 30 April 33, inmates of the camp office were ordered to assemble the court yard. There they were shot like wild animals by SS Oberscharfuehrer Niedermeyer and the Gestapoagent Polaska. Altogether, as far as I know, 65,000 inmates were murdered in Mauthausen. In most cases, I myself took part in the executions.

Frequently I joined in the shooting with a small calibre weapon. SS men were trained on the rifle ranges where inmates were used targets. Reichsminister Himmler and SS Obergruppenfuehrer (Lt. General) Kaltenbrunner ordered me to kill all inmates if the frontlines approached Mauthausen. I had orders from Berlin to blow up Mauthausen and Gusen including all the inmates. All inmates were to be brought into the Gusen mine and blown up. The blasting was to be carried out by SS Obergruppenfuehrers Wolfram and Ackermann. Pohl issued the order "

Ziereis died shortly after the interrogation.

The above copy is a correct excerpt from the Austrian court files in the trial of Dr. Guido Schmidt et al as published in the Wiener Arbeiterzeitung from September 20, 1945.