Gusen


In December 1939, prisoners from Mauthausen concentration camp set up a new camp next to a quarry in Gusen about five kilometers southwest of Mauthausen. As in Mauthausen, the main task of the prisoners was to work in the quarry. The camp’s first commandant was SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Chmielewsky, who quickly gained a reputation as brutal. Among other things, he murdered prisoners unable to work by showering them with ice-cold water. In January 1941, a crematorium was built to cremate dead prisoners. Until then, dead prisoners had been cremated in Steyr. In January 1944, the construction of two large tunnel complexes, Kellerbau and Bergkristall, began in the vicinity of Gusen. The plan was to place war-produced industries in these tunnels and were finished in 1944. Prisoners used as slave workers in the tunnels were housed in a new camp called Gusen II (the first camp was consequently named Gusen I).

Gusen had until January 1944 been an independent camp but in connection with the establishment of Gusen II both camps became subordinated to Mauthausen. In December 1944, about three kilometers north of Gusen I and II, a third camp was set up in a small village called Lungitz. The camp was named Gusen III and prisoners were forced to work at a nearby quarry. Work in the tunnels and quarries was extremely dangerous and arduous and thousands of prisoners died as a result of the work. Both quarries and the war industries built in the mountains were owned by private and SS controlled companies and exploited the labor available in Gusen. All three camps were liberated by American troops May 5. About 71,000 prisoners from 27 different nationalities were imprisoned in Gusen and about half of them died. Gusen II and III were burned downed by the Americans because of typhus. Gusen I was gradually destroyed and looted by locals in the years following the war. In 1947, all tunnels were blown up after everything that could be reused had been removed.

Current status: Demolished with museum (2008).

Location: 48°15' 25.20" N 14°27' 50.32" E

Get there: Car.

My comment:

Gusen was not the only camp that soon after the war was looted of everything that could be reused. For civilian population, it was more important to return to normal life as quickly as possible by building up their homes ravaged by the war. There were far-reaching plans to also demolish the remains of the crematorium at Gusen I to make room for houses and homes. But this was stopped thanks to former prisoners who bought the land in 1961 and gave it to the municipality in exchange for a monument (this was established in 1965). In 2003 a museum was opened at the crematorium. In former camp area at Gusen II, houses and dwellings were built. At Gusen I former camp building still exists. The camp brothel (opened in 1942), a couple of prisoner barracks, SS barracks and Jourhaus (camp entrance). All buildings have been renovated into private residences, including the Jourhaus, which today is a lavish villa.

Follow up in books: Kogon, Eugen: The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them (2006).