Christian Bernadac is the author of “The 186 Steps,” a book about the Mauthausen concentration camp, which was published in 1974. According to a French Wikipedia page about Bernadac, he was born in August 1937 and died in 2003. He was only 7 years old in the last year that Mauthausen was open, which means that he was probably not a prisoner at Mauthausen, which was mainly a camp for adult men. So how did he gain first-hand knowledge about the camp? Is this book a fake, like so many other books about the Holocaust?
Before I visited the Mauthausen memorial site several years ago, I bought Bernadac’s book “The 186 Steps” and read it very thoroughly. I had to buy a used copy through Amazon.com and pay a high price for it because the book was no longer in print at that time. Based on what I read in his book, and my personal observations at the memorial site, I did a section on my web site about Mauthausen, which you can read here. I mentioned several times that Bernadac had been a prisoner at Mauthausen.
After reading the translation of the French Wikipedia article, I got out Bernadac’s book, “The 186 Steps,” and read this on page 21:
“In 1944-1945, I was thirty years old. My only involvement was as an infantry lieutenant (in the Resistance, of course) where I executed orders and acted as military instructor of the Maquis forces located in Dordogne, and as liason with a radio operator sending messages to London and Algiers. I was an obscure, low-ranking officer, carrying out missions which were entrusted to me to the best of my ability. I never belonged to the clandestine General staff, either in the Resistance, or in Mauthausen, or next in the Melk kommando. In this way, I was just a typical deportee…”
Did you catch that? He was thirty years old and just a “typical deportee” meaning a person who was deported to Mauthausen and then to the Melk sub-camp because he was fighting as an illegal combatant in the French Resistance. Specifically, he was fighting with the Maquis. At the time that I first read his book, I did not yet know anything about the Maquis.
I learned about the Maquis when I went to Oradour-sur-Glane, a French village where the Germans did a reprisal action against the villagers because of atrocities committed by the Maquis.
After the Allied invasion at Normandy on June 6, 1944, the Maquis became particularly active. In preparation for the invasion, the British had dropped a large number of weapons and millions of francs by parachute into rural areas. The weapons were stored in farm houses and villages, ready for the resistance fighters who would play an important part in the liberation of Europe. As a result, the Maquis was very effective in preventing German troops from reaching the Normandy area to fight the invaders.
The Maquis was independent from the other French resistance groups; they operated as guerilla fighters in rural areas and especially in mountainous regions. The name Maquis comes from a word that means bushes that grow along country roads. The Maquis literally hid in the bushes, darting out to kidnap German Army officers and execute them in a barbarous fashion.
One of the well-known victims of the Maquis was Major Helmut Kämpfe, the commander of Der Führer Battalion 3, who was kidnapped on 9 June 1944 and killed the next day. There were rumors that he was burned alive. Innocent French civilians in the village of Oradour-sur-Glane were killed the next day when the village was destroyed in a reprisal action by Waffen-SS soldiers who claimed that they had found weapons stored in the village.
The fighters in the Maquis were politically diverse: Some of them, like the “Red Spaniards” who were former soldiers in the Spanish Civil War, were Communists, but in general, the Communists had their own resistance organizations, such as the FTP. The Mauthausen camp was the main camp where the “Red Spaniards” were sent.
Henri Rosencher was a Jewish medical student and a Communist member of the Maquis. He survived the war and wrote a book entitled “Le Sel, la cendre, la flamme (Salt, Ash, Fire)” in which he described his work as an explosives expert with the French resistance. He was captured and sent to Natzweiler-Struthof, then later to Dachau, where he was liberated by American troops on April 29, 1945.
The following is a quote from Rosencher’s book, which describes a typical Maquis resistance action which resulted in the death by suffocation of 500 German Wehrmacht soldiers (feldgraus):
On the morning of the 17th of June, I arrived in the area of Lus-la-Croix-Haute, the “maquis” [zone of resistance] under the command of Commander Terrasson. They were waiting for me and took me off by car. The job at hand was mining a tunnel through which the Germans were expected to pass by train. The Rail resistance network had provided all the details. My only role was as advisor on explosives. TNT (Trinitrotoluene – a very powerful explosive) and plastic charges were going to collapse the mountain, sealing off the tunnel at both ends and its air shaft. When I got there, all the ground work was done. I only had to specify how much of the explosive was necessary, and where to put it. I checked the bickfords, primers, detonators, and crayons de mise à feu. We stationed our three teams and made sure that they could communicate with each other. I settled into the bushes with the team for the tunnel’s entrance. And we waited. Toward three p.m., we could hear the train coming. At the front came a platform car, with nothing on it, to be sacrificed to any mines that might be on the tracks, then a car with tools for repairs, and then an armored fortress car. Then came the cars over-stuffed with men in verdi-gris uniforms, and another armored car. The train entered the tunnel and after it had fully disappeared into it, we waited another minute before setting off the charge. Boulders collapsed and cascaded in a thunderous burst; a huge mass completely covered the entrance. Right after that, we heard one, then two huge explosions. The train has been taken prisoner. The 500 “feldgraus” inside weren’t about to leave, and the railway was blocked for a long, long time.
Natzweiler-Struthof was one of the main camps for French Resistance fighters; Buchenwald was also a camp that was filled with French Resistance fighters. As illegal combatants, these prisoners could have been legally executed by the Germans, but they were allowed to live and write books about the atrocities committed by the Germans.
I am not disputing Wikipedia’s information that Bernadac was born in August 1937. He could have been working with the French Resistance at the age of 7. He could have been a 7-year-old hero of the French Resistance, blowing up troop trains and throwing hand grenades at German soldiers in restaurants and movie theaters. Photos taken at the liberation of Mauthausen show that there were child prisoners there — and they don’t look Jewish. He could have been a prisoner at the age of 7, even though he wrote in his book that he was 30 years old when he was at Mauthausen.
When I did research on Mauthausen and then went to see the former camp, I observed two things that were different about this camp: there were more lies told about this camp than about any other camp and there was more honor given to the survivors of this camp than to the survivors of any other camp. The site of the former Mauthausen camp is filled with memorials to the survivors.
The general attitude of the prisoners who survived Mauthausen and wrote books or gave interviews is that they were wrongly imprisoned and that they were treated very badly. Curiously, SS Judge Georg Konrad Morgen did not do an investigation at Mauthausen, as he did at other camps. Allegedly, Morgen wanted to investigate the Mauthausen camp, but the Commandant of the camp would not allow him to do it. I think that the truth is that there were no complaints that needed to be investigated.