On March 11, 1938, Austria was occupied by Germany and the country was incorporated into the German empire. Shortly after the occupation, the head of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, SS general Oswald Pohl and the head of the concentration camps Theodor Eicke visited an existing quarry just outside a small village called Mauthausen, about a mile southeast of Linz. The quarry was called Wienergraben and was located next to the river Danube. The purpose of the visit was to find a suitable place to establish a concentration camp for Austrian citizens. The German occupation of Austria was not welcomed by everyone and these must be kept under surveillance or even put in concentration camps.

At the end of April 1938, SS founded the company Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke to extract granite from the quarry. The idea was that the labour needed would be taken from the concentration camp. In August 1938, about 3,000 prisoners were transferred from Dachau to Mauthausen to build the new camp. By the end of 1938, about 1,000 prisoners were sitting in the camp, mostly criminal and so-called anti-social. Shortly after the outbreak of war in 1939, the number of prisoners had increased to about 2600. The main purpose of the prisoners was to slave labor in the quarry that was right next to the camp. The camp was also largely made up of stone that had been broken in the quarry. The first commandant of the camp was the SS-Hauptsturmführer Albert Sauer but he was replaced in February 1939 by SS-Sturmbannführer Franz Ziereis who remained in office until May 1945.

Mauthausen also consisted of some sixty satellite camps that were subordinated to Mauthausen’s organization. The most famous (and infamous) was Gusen which was about five kilometers west of Mauthausen. The satellite camps produced everything from war materials to building materials. The camp was placed in category 3, which meant that the SS also considered it a camp with extreme working conditions. In Mauthausen there were also prison cells for prisoners who violated the camp’s rules of procedure, crematorium and a smaller gas chamber. There were also executions of prisoners. As in other camps, there was a lack of sanitary facilities and diseases could spread uninhibitedly. Prisoners from all corners of Europe were sent to Mauthausen.

In 1942, the camp was assigned a gas wagon (truck with hermetically sealed cargo space) to murder prisoners. The truck went between Mauthausen and Gusen where the victims were cremated. Barely 3,000 prisoners deemed too ill to be slave labour were sent to the nearby euthanasia centre Hartheim where they were murdered in its gas chamber. Mauthausen also conducted medical experiments on prisoners. SS doctor Aribert Heim is perhaps the most famous of them and in addition to experiments, he also murdered prisoners with poison injections. He served only for about six weeks in the fall of 1941 before being transferred to Ebensee.

In 1944, the number of prisoners increased as a result of prisoners being sent to the camp from camps closer to the front. One way to deal with the increase in the number of prisoners was to set up a tent camp just outside the camp. Here, mortality was extremely high because the availability of food and medicines was largely non-existent. The camp was liberated by American troops on May 5, 1945. Of the approximately 200,000 prisoners who ended up in Mauthausen between 1938 and 1945, about 100,000 died. Most often as a result of the slave labor they were forced to perform.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with museum (1998).

Address: Erinnerungsstrasse 1, 4310 Mauthausen.

Get there: Car.

My comment:

The camp is almost completely preserved and is in my opinion the best and most interesting after Auschwitz. In 2000, a concert of Vienna’s philharmonic orchestra performed Beethoven’s ninth symphony down in the quarry was held in memory of the victims. Although Austria was occupied by Germany, a large number of Austrian citizens became members of both the Nazi party and the SS. Several of the commanders and officers in the extermination camps were Austrian among others. This is problematic because it shows that Austria was not only a victim of Germany but also a state with a vast breeding ground for Nazism that other occupied countries were not in nearby out. It is doubtful whether Austria has examined itself as to why there was a great deal of support in Austria for Nazism.

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