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Kevin H

KZ Mauthausen and Gusen I, II & III - November 2017

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Last week I went on a small trip to visit the Concentration Camp at Mauthausen and three of it's sub-camps which are all named after the River Gusen that runs through the area. During the war the Nazi's placed all the main camps into 3 categories of harshness. Only three camps were placed in the top category, one was Gross Rosen while the other two were Mauthausen & Gusen. This placed Mauthausen higher than such places as Auschwitz and Lublin (Majdanek) and indicates just how little chance of survival the inmates were given.

We (there were 5 of us) arrived on a cold, wet and dreary early evening so before we headed to the hotel we decided to just pay a quick visit to the camp to grab a photo of the camp under the gray skies which showed the camp as an imposing place.

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The next day was much better weather wise but still the camp cut an imposing presence with it's granite walls. The next two photos show the main entrance and due to this being at the top of an incline what when on inside the camp would of been hidden from the new arrivals until the last seconds. Only when standing in front of the gates can you see in to the camp and get a view of the buildings and Appellplatz.

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Just to the right of the gates on the outside of the camp was the Kommandantur from where the Camp Commandant ran the camp. Mauthausen only had two Commandants during its existence, Franz Zereis serving in that capacity from 1939 to 1945. The Kommandantur is located above the SS garages and in the first photo Zereis can be seen standing on the balcony. The second photo shows the same area but as viewed looking up from the garage area. The small outcrop that Zereis is standing in can be seen in the middle of the balcony on the second photo.

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While most of the buildings in the camp, especially the barrack blocks, have long since gone there are still some original structures including the Crematorium and Bunker. This plan shows the still existing buildings in red while the two photos show some of these buildings along the Appellplatz.

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The chimney belongs to the Crematoria while the building on the right with the barred windows was the cell block, the Bunker.

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Although it has been rebuilt post-war, Mauthausen did have its own gas chamber which was located under the Bunker and next to the Crematoria. The first photo shows the chamber while the second shows one of the ovens used to dispose of the bodies.

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The ashes were disposed of in many ways but one area was used just outside of the camp wire and which is now a memorial site.

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The first photo here shows the start of a 'camp within a camp' and this was the Quarantine Camp where thousands died. The second photo shows the Hall of Names. In this room the German's originally stored dead bodies waiting to be burned but now it bears the name of all 81,000 people known to have died at Mauthausen or it's sub-camps including over 6,000 Spanish, over 1,000 Dutch and even British and American servicemen (more in a later post).

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One of the most notorious areas of Mauthausen and one that prisoners feared greatly was the quarry. Mauthausen was built right next to a large quarry (it can be seen to the left of the camp in the plan in the earlier post) and every day the prisoners assigned to work there were marched out of camp and descended the 168 steps to the quarry floor. One torture that the German's came up with was to force prisoners to walk and run up and down these steps, known as the 'Stairs of Death', with a 25-50-Kg granite block on their backs. 

The first photo shows the quarry as seen from just outside of the camp with the steps seen on the right. The second photo shows the bottom of those steps. In the summer the steps are open so visitors can walk up and down them but in the winter months they are closed off.  The third photo shows prisoners walking up those very steps carrying the granite blocks. Needless to say, if a prisoner stumbled or fell they would be beaten to death, shot or worse - and there was indeed worse to come.

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In 1941 a group of Dutch Jews arrived at the camp and they received 'special treatment' from the Guards. They were made to run up and down the steps carrying large blocks of granite for 2 days. Many died during the torment but on the third day those that had survived joined hands and jumped over the quarry edge to their deaths below. The German's nicknamed them 'The Parachutists' and from then on decided to use this method to kill prisoners. And this didn't just mean Jews. In 1944 under the Commando Order the Germans sent 47 British, American & Dutch Commandos to Mauthausen. In just two days in September all 47 were murdered with their death certificates stating that they were killed 'while trying to escape'. In reality they had been sent to the quarry where they were set upon by the guards and forced to run with the granite blocks while being beaten. I won't use the eye-witness accounts here as it makes for gruesome reading but if you wish to read these please see here with the statements concerning the Allied PoW's being just past halfway - PoW at Mauthausen 

The photo here shows the main wall of the quarry and the spot where the prisoners were forced to jump from. The three markers seen at the bottom of the cliff is the memorial for 'The Parachutists'.

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Near to Mauthausen were the three Gusen sub-camps. These are nowhere near as complete as Mauthausen, in fact in descending order from Gusen I to III each camp has less remaining then the last. Gusen I was in fact a big camp and again built near a quarry but there are now just a few original buildings left and some of these are being used as family homes.

Gusen I has a memorial center and this is located on and around the site of the original crematoria and now sits in a housing area. The first photo shows a map indicating the location of Gusen I & II in relation to Mauthausen while the second image shows a mock-up of Gusen I & II (Gusen II is the little camp located to the left of the mock-up). The photos following that show the entrance to the small memorial area.

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The crematoria at the memorial site isn't original to the site but it has been built on the same spot as the original one and is a focus of many memorial plaques and monuments. It is believed that 37,000 people were killed at the three Gusen sites.

 

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What is original to the memorial site is the excavation that uncovered the old camp pathway and over which the center sits.

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As mentioned above, only a few of the original buildings still exist and these photos show those structures. The first photo shows one of the buildings used as an SS Admin building and it sits just outside what would of been the perimeter wire.

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This photo shows what appears to be a very nice house and it is indeed a very nice looking house but in fact this used to be the camp entrance that has now become a family home. The second image shows what it looked like while it was in use as the camp entrance. Who knows what horrors went on inside.

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This photo shows another original building (the green coloured house), or rather shows the roof of it! This used to be the camp brothel so the hedges have probably been grown by post-war owners to deliberately hide the house from outsiders (like us!).

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This photo shows two of the original barrack blocks.

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And this building is now just a concrete shell but it used to be a rock crusher. The quarry is still in use so it wasn't possible to get any closer. In fact a few areas of the original camp area have been fenced off now.

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As mentioned above, little remains of the Gusen camps and such remains are in direct relation to the number designation of the Gusen camps. Camp I has some of the original buildings still remaining but this is all that remains of Gusen II (that area on the left of the mock up above). It is believed to be all that remains of one of the SS Guard posts. The rest of the area is a housing area of St.Georgen. Prisoners here were used in the nearby tunnels to build armaments.

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And - finally - this memorial stone is all that remains of Gusen III. This camp was used as a bakery to provide bread for the other sub-camps in the area and while the conditions were still harsh it was a better camp to be in as there was access to food and warmth. Gusen III was the first of the Mauthausen area camps to be liberated and after it was liberated the US Army continued to use it and the prisoners to bake bread to help other inmates from the soon to be liberated camps in the area. The area of the camp is now a farmer's field.

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