Scrapbookpages Blog

July 9, 2011

Mauthausen concentration camp to be restored

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 4:12 pm

According to a recent news article, which you can read here, the Mauthausen concentration camp, which is now a Memorial Site, is to be restored and revamped; the initial phase, which will cost $2.4 million, will be finished in 2013.

My photo of the Mauthausen camp, May 2003

I think this is a great idea; the Mauthausen camp should be restored to the way it looked when it was liberated by American troops in May 1945.  Especially, the gas chamber, which should be reconstructed to show how the gas was put into the room. As it looks now, the Mauthausen gas chamber appears to be a harmless shower room.  Visitors need to see the ingenious method of gassing that was used at Mauthausen.

This quote is from the news article:

The Nazis shot, gassed, beat or worked to death about half the 200,000 inmates in the main camp or its affiliates around the villages of Mauthausen and Gusen, located near the city of Linz. It is now a site for commemorating Holocaust victims and learning about the horrors of history.

Did you notice the slight of hand in the quote above?  (… about half of the 200,000 inmates in the main camp or its affiliates…)  The death statistics for the other major camps in Germany and Austria are given for the main camp only, not for the main camp and/or its affiliates.  By counting the deaths this way, the actual deaths in the Mauthausen main camp can be grossly exaggerated.

At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in November 1945, a set of seven death books with the title “Totenbuch – Mauthausen” on the cover of each one, was introduced by an American prosecutor as Document Number 493-PS, Exhibit Number USA-251. These death books had been confiscated from the Mauthausen main camp by the American liberators. The death books covered the period from January of 1939 to April of 1945, according to the American prosecutor who said, “They give the name, the place of birth, the assigned cause of death, and time of death of each individual recorded. In addition each corpse is assigned a serial number, and adding up the total serial numbers for the 5-year period (sic) one arrives at the figure of 35,318.” The death books did not include the deaths in the sub-camps.

By way of comparison, the total number of recorded deaths in the main camp at Buchenwald, a camp for Communist political prisoners and German criminals that opened in 1937, was 34,375 according to camp records released by the U.S. Military. The total number of registered deaths at Dachau, in the 12 years that it was in operation, was 31,951, according to camp records turned over to the Red Cross by the American liberators. The total deaths at Sachsenhausen were around 30,000 according to the USHMM and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. The Soviet liberators never released the Sachsenhausen death books, if any were ever found, so the figure of 30,000 is an estimate.

About half of the prisoners who died at Dachau, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen died in the last six months of the war; they died from typhus and other diseases.  The news article does not say how many Mauthausen prisoners died from typhus, reporting only that “The Nazis shot, gassed, beat or worked to death about half the 200,000 inmates.”

According to Martin Gilbert, author of a book entitled “Holocaust,” there were 30,000 deaths in Mauthausen and its sub-camps in the first four months of 1945.  The prisoners in all the camps in Germany and Austria were dying of typhus and other diseases in the last months of the war.

According to the news article about the restoration of Mauthausen, “Projects include an exhibit about mass extermination, expanding educational programs and the creation of a new space specifically for the remembrance of those who died, the Interior Ministry said.”

Mass extermination?  At Mauthausen?  You mean in the Mauthausen gas chamber where a hot brick was used to heat the Zyklon-B to the point where the gas would be released?

Signs on the walls of the Mauthausen gas chamber

The first thing that should be done to restore the Mauthausen camp is the removal of the signs which clutter the walls of the gas chamber, especially the memorials to the prisoners who were gassed.  The photo above shows a sign on the right which explains how the gas chamber worked.  Just below the sign is a place where four tiles have been chipped off.  These tiles should definitely be restored because the missing tiles immediately suggest to visitors that someone removed the tiles to test them for traces of Zyklon-B, but as far as I know, there is no report on the amount of Zyklon-B residue on the walls.

Sign on the wall of Mauthausen gas chamber in 2003

In April 1989, there was a different sign on the gas chamber wall with slightly different wording.

The English version of the sign in 1989 read as follows:

The gas chamber was camouflaged as a bathroom by sham showers and waterpipes. Cyclone B gas was sucked in and exchanged through a shaft (situated in the corner on the right) from the operating room into the gas chamber. The gas-conduit was removed shortly before liberation on April 4th, 1945.

Note that, in 1989, the date given for the removal of the gassing apparatus was April 4, 1945. In May 2003, the sign in the gas chamber gave the date of removal as April 29, 1945. I assume that the sign had to be changed because a plaque was put up in honor of Ludwig Haider which stated that he was gassed on April 23, 1945.

Note that the wording “sham showers and waterpipes” was changed.  Anyone can see that the waterpipes and shower fixtures are real, not sham or fake like the showerheads at Dachau.

Here is the back story on the Mauthausen camp:

On March 9, 1937, Himmler made a new rule that criminals who had committed two crimes, but were now free, could be arrested and taken into protective custody. They were sent to the concentration camps without any new charges being made against them and without a trial. In July 1938, three hundred of these unfortunate German “career criminals” were brought to Mauthausen.  The purpose of sending these criminals to Mauthausen was to get a large labor force for the building projects that Hitler was planning, which required lots of granite.  The Mauthausen quarry is famous for its beautiful golden granite.  The camp itself was built with granite from the quarry.

Golden granite from the Mauthausen quarry was used to build the camp

In December 1939, a separate camp was built at Gusen where there was also a granite quarry. The Gusen camp opened in March 1940 and by April 1940, there were 800 prisoners working there. By the end of 1941, the Gusen camp had 8,500 prisoners, a thousand more than the prison population of the main camp at Mauthausen.

In January 1941, Mauthausen and Gusen became the only Class III camps in the Nazi concentration camp system. Most of the other camps, such as Dachau, Sachsenhausen and the Auschwitz I camp in Poland, were designated as Class I camps where political prisoners had some hope of being released after a minimum of six months of “rehabilitation.” The sign over the main gates at Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz I read “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which hinted that political prisoners might gain freedom for hard work. Buchenwald was a Class II camp for political prisoners who were considered harder to rehabilitate, and the sign over the gate there read “Jedem das Seine,” or in English: Everyone gets what he deserves.

Mauthausen and Gusen became the only camps for prisoners who were classified under the designation “Rückkehr unerwünscht” (Return undesirable), which meant that they had little chance of ever being released. After 1941 few prisoners ever left Mauthausen.

The Class III prisoners at Mauthausen and Gusen were men who, according to the Nazis, were “guilty of really serious charges, incorrigible and previously criminally convicted and asocials, that is people in protective custody who are unlikely to be educable.”

Mauthausen became a punishment camp (Straflager) where prisoners served hard time and were subjected to strict discipline. Those who broke the rules of the camp were assigned to the punishment commando, which was forced to do hard labor in the rock quarry. Other Mauthausen prisoners worked in the SS workshops in the camp.

The Mauthausen camp was later turned into a camp where the prisoners worked in factories building airplanes for the Nazis.  Each day, the prisoners in the punishment company had to carry one large granite boulder up the 186 steps out of the quarry.

the orchestra that played at Birkenau as the Jews marched to the gas chamber

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 12:49 pm

A follower of this blog e-mailed me a link to a web site about the book Spectator in Hell by Colin Rushton.  The sub-title of the book is A British soldier’s story of imprisonment in Auschwitz.  The book is about Arthur Dodd, who was a British prisoner in the E715 POW camp that was just outside the huge factory complex near the village of Monowitz. The British POWs worked in the Monowitz factory complex, alongside Jewish prisoners and German civilians.  The POW camp was very close to the Auschwitz III prison camp, aka Monowitz, where the Jewish prisoners, who worked at Monowitz, lived.  The POW camp was seven miles from the Auschwitz II camp, aka Birkenau.

This quote is from the web site about Spectator in Hell:

Life in the camps for the Brits, at first, was bearable. Daily life began at five, with the macabre sounds of a Jewish orchestra playing as the trains disgorged their latest human cargo – some to the gas chambers, others to work details. Escape was near-impossible: there were triple rows of electrified fencing, together with machine-gun towers and sentries.

The follower of my blog questioned whether the British prisoners at E715 could have heard “a Jewish orchestra playing as the trains disgorged their human cargo.”

In May 1944, the train tracks were extended inside the Birkenau camp, right up to the gas chambers in Krema II and Krema III. Prior to that, the trains to Auschwitz “disgorged their human cargo” at the Judenrampe which was very close to Birkenau. There are some people who have very acute hearing; they are the opposite of “hard of hearing.” I have very good hearing myself, although I can’t hear music playing seven miles away.

But to get back to the important point: Is there any proof that there was an orchestra playing at Birkenau as the Jews were marched to the gas chambers?  Yes, there are at least three Birkenau prisoners who said that there was an orchestra at Birkenau which practiced near the soccer field.

My very first post, when I began this blog back on February 5, 2010, was about a short story, written by Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski, which was included in a collection of short stories in a book entitled This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen, published by Penguin Books.

In his short story entitled The People Who Walked On,  Borowski famously wrote:

Between two throw-ins in a soccer game, right behind my back, three thousand people had been put to death.

Borowski was referring to 3,000 Hungarian Jews who had been put to death in the Krema III gas chamber at Birkenau in 1944.  “The People who walked on” were Jews who walked past the gas chambers and went on to the Sauna where they took a shower.

Borowski mentioned in his short stories that, as the Hungarian Jews marched to the Krema III chamber at Birkenau, there were privileged prisoners in the camp orchestra who would be practicing for a concert in another nearby field.  The photo below shows the field behind the Krema III gas chamber where Borowski played soccer; the orchestra practiced nearby.

Field of grass behind the ruins of Krema III gas chamber

Did anyone else ever mention an orchestra playing at Birkenau?  Yes.  Dr. Miklos Nyiszli, a prisoner who worked as a medical doctor at Birkenau, wrote a book about his time in the camp. (Some people believe that he was never a prisoner in Birkenau and that his book is fake, but that’s a story for another day.)

Dr. Nyiszli wrote that he was an eye-witness to the gassing of prisoners at Birkenau and the horrible medical experiments conducted on the prisoners by Dr. Josef Mengele. The movie The Gray Zone was based on his book.  In the movie, prisoners are shown entering the undressing room of one of the gas chambers at Birkenau as an orchestra plays in a field nearby.

Dr. Nyiszli wrote that he was among the prisoners on the death march out of the camp when the camp was evacuated on January 18, 1945. He eventually wound up at Ebensee, a sub-camp of Mauthausen in Austria, where he was liberated by American troops.

Dr. Nyiszli is the man in the white coat

The photo above, taken by the American Army Signal Corp, shows Dr. Nyiszli in the Ebensee sub-camp of Mauthausen.

It is well known that there were several orchestras at the main Auschwitz camp which played as the prisoners marched in and out of the camp.  The orchestra members worked in the kitchen which was right by the main gate into Auschwitz I, the main camp, and they came out to play twice a day for the prisoners who had to keep time as they marched to and from their work assignments.

The photo below shows one of the Auschwitz orchestras, which was conducted by Franciszek Nierychlo. The orchestra members were inmates in the camp. On Sundays, there were concerts which the prisoners and the SS staff members attended.

Orchestra at the main Auschwitz camp

Another orchestra, consisting of 54 female prisoners, played at Birkenau for a year and a half; this was the only female orchestra commissioned by the SS during World War II. After the orchestra leader, Alma Rosé, died in October 1944, the other 53 women were sent to Bergen-Belsen where all of them survived.

Anita Lasker Wallfisch played the cello in the women’s orchestra. In an interview in 2008, Wallfisch told a reporter that she survived Auschwitz because she was in the orchestra that played at Birkenau: “As long as they wanted an orchestra, they couldn’t put us in the gas chamber. That stupid they wouldn’t be, because we are not really replaceable. Somebody who carries stones is replaceable.”

Poster displayed at Auschwitz I camp shows a photo of the orchestra  Photo Credit: José Ángel López

The photo above, taken in 2006, shows a photo of the orchestra that was displayed at the camp kitchen which is just inside the Arbeit Macht Frei gate at the main camp.

The soccer team at the British POW camp E715

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