Melk (Austria)

(sub-camp of Mauthausen)

by Mark Vadasz

Unfortunately little is known of the Melk sub-camp. Its main purpose was to provide forced labor for the different tunneling projects in the surrounding hills. The hills consisted of fine sand and quartz. Due to this, a vast number of prisoners were buried alive beneath cave-ins while working inside.

The inmates of the camp were of all nationalities. No single nationality was dominant. There were Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavs, French, Italians and Czechs.

A gas chamber was built and well camouflaged. The chamber was actually better built and planned than that at Mauthausen. It was built of brick with double walls 25 cm. apart, the inner walls being tiled like a bathroom. The double walls acted as sound proofing so that the screams of the dying would not have been heard by passing prisoners or by the general public. Fortunately the war ended before the chamber became active.

Melk also had its own crematorium. Its tall smoke stack, pointing like a finger to the sky, was an obvious landmark. It covered a large area and its design was an improvement on those of Mauthausen, Gusen and Ebensee. Adjoing the crematorium was a mortuary which was well ventilated and well tiled.

The average number of prisoners in Melk was about 8.000, so it scarcely needed a gas chamber and crematorium of its own. The reason for the building was that there were plans to eventually turn Melk into an advanced extermination camp. In the summer months the crematorium accounted for eight to sixteen deaths per day, while in the winter of 1944-45, the number increased to between 20-30 a day.

The Commandant of Melk was Obersturmbannfûhrer Julius Ludolf. It is also known that at some period the infamous Untersturmbannfûhrer Streitwieser held command. The construction works were under the supervision of Obergruppenfûhrer Kammler and Obersturmfûhrer Schulz.

An interesting observation is that the Melk camp was established well within the bounds of a large Wehrmacht garrison. Thus it was exposed to passing soldiers and civilians. In fact it was quite possible to look down on the camp and adjoining army barracks from the link roads which were on a higher level. Even the crematorium entrance faced straight on to one of the main Wehrmacht roads. Nothing was done to conceal the stench and atrocities and consequently the inhabitants and soldiers were totally aware of what was going on.

As the German forces withdrew on all fronts, there was increasing chaos in the areas which were still under nazi control. Even though the war was lost, the deportation trains and forced marches still went on. Melk was one of the camps that received an extreme number of these redeported prisoners. When the camp was finally liberated by the US troops on may 5, 1945, the SS guards had fled leaving the camp in an unbelievable situation. The dead and dying lay scattered all over the grounds and the final prisoner count showed a population of over 14.000.

Julius Ludolf was hanged in April 1947. Streitwieser, Kammler and Schulz managed to escape.