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May 5, 2010

“Special Finding” in the verdict of the Mauthausen case before an American Military Tribunal in 1946

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen on May 5, 1945

In March 1946, sixty-one members of the staff at the former Mauthausen concentration camp were brought before an American Military Tribunal at Dachau. An American prisoner at Mauthausen, Lt. Cmdr. Jack H. Taylor, testified that he had been scheduled to die in the gas chamber four times, but was saved by the other inmates. His next scheduled date to be gassed was May 6, 1945, but the American liberators arrived the day before, and saved him in the nick of time.

A “Special Finding,” made by Maj. Gen. Fay B. Prickett, the president of the American Military Tribunal court, declared that there was enough evidence of death by shootings, gassings, hangings and starvation to find every member of the Mauthausen camp personnel guilty of war crimes, including Kapos, who were prisoners that had authority over other prisoners.

This “Special Finding” in the main Mauthausen proceeding was later used to establish guilt in subsequent proceedings against the staff and Kapos at Mauthausen.

In today’s college classes in America, the “Special Finding” is studied by law students. The descendants of Fay B. Prickett are very vocal in defending his finding, which was used to convict German war criminals in the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal, conducted at Dachau.  Under the “Special Finding,” anyone associated with the Mauthausen camp in any way, was automatically guilty without any evidence of their guilt being presented in court.

The “evidence” presented at the Mauthausen trial was mainly hearsay testimony by witnesses such as Jack Taylor.

The gas chamber at Mauthausen

When the US Third Army liberated the concentration camp at Mauthausen on May 5, 1945, they found the bodies of several fully-clothed dead prisoners in the gas chamber. According to the Museum at Mauthausen, the last gassing of prisoners in the main camp was on April 28, 1945, only a week before the camp was  liberated.

On April 21, 1945, the Red Cross began evacuating prisoners out of the Mauthausen camp, but the gassing operation still continued during the time that Red Cross representative Louis Haeflig was staying in the camp.

A sign in the gas chamber today says that Ludwig Haider was gassed on April 23, 1945, the same day that a Red Cross truck took selected prisoners out of the camp, with the permission of the Commandant.

Sign on the wall of the gas chamber at Mauthausen

Pierre-Serge Choumoff, a “Nacht und Nebel” prisoner at the Gusen sub-camp of Mauthausen, wrote in one of his books that the gas chamber at Mauthausen was put into operation in either March or May of 1942 and that 3,455 prisoners were gassed in it. He also wrote that the SS guards had removed the gassing equipment from the chamber on April 29, 1945 the day that Commandant Franz Ziereis turned the camp over to the Vienna police. A sign in the gas chamber today confirms that the gassing apparatus was removed on April 29, 1945.

Christian Bernadac, the author of a book about Mauthausen, wrote that Commandant Ziereis turned the camp over to Captain Kern of the Vienna police on the night of May 2-3, 1945 and then fled from the camp. Bernadac wrote that this information came from Louis Haeflig, the Red Cross representative who was staying in the camp near the end. Haeflig said that he had talked with Ziereis on May 2nd.

The narrator of a movie shown in the Museum at Mauthausen confirms that the SS left on May 3, 1945 after removing the “gassing apparatus” from the gas chamber on May 2nd. The narrator explains that the prisoners were gassed “because machine guns were too noisy.” The execution spot, where condemned prisoners were shot at Mauthausen, is in the same building as the gas chamber, and very close to it.

According to the book, Mauthausen: The History of a Death Camp by Evelyn Le Chene, an estimated combined total of 10,000 persons were executed by gassing in the Mauthausen gas chamber, the mobile gas vans that ran between Mauthausen and Gusen, and in the gas chambers at Hartheim Castle.

One of two doors into gas chamber

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, a gas chamber was built at the Mauthausen concentration camp, “probably in 1941.” Disguised as a shower room, the gas chamber was located underground beneath the hospital building, which is now the Museum at the Mauthausen Memorial Site. Regarding the gas chamber, the USHMM website has the following information:

While most inmates were killed by shooting, hanging, beating, starvation, and disease, Mauthausen did have a gas chamber capable of killing about 120 people at a time. The gas chamber was usually used when transports of prisoners arrived. Special demonstration mass killings were organized for the benefit of visiting Nazi dignitaries, such as Heinrich Himmler, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and Baldur von Schirach, who were able to observe the killings through a small viewing window in the entrance door.

Periodically, prisoners in the Mauthausen camp system underwent selection. Those the Nazis deemed too weak or sick to work were separated from the other prisoners and killed in Mauthausen’s own gas chamber, in mobile gas vans, or at the nearby Hartheim “euthanasia” killing center. Camp doctors in the infirmary used phenol injections to kill patients too weak to move.

Left to right: Heinrich Himmler, Franz Ziereis, and Ernst Kaltenbrunner on the occasion of a visit

During the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in 1946, the photo shown above was introduced as evidence of Kaltenbrunner’s guilt on a charge of committing Crimes against Humanity. The photo proves that Kaltenbrunner had visited Mauthausen, so he knew about the gassing of prisoners there.

Peep hole in door of Mauthausen gas chamber

After Commandant Ziereis fled from the camp, he was hunted down by the American liberators and eventually captured in late May 1945. The dates and location of his capture and the death of Franz Ziereis vary according to who is telling the story.

Ziereis was shot three times by American soldiers, allegedly while trying to escape. He was allegedly brought to the hospital at the Gusen camp and interrogated by an Austrian Communist political prisoner named Hans Marsalek, who later wrote Ziereis’s deathbed confession in which Ziereis said that, on the order of SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Eduard Krebsbach, a gas chamber had been built in the form of a bathroom and that Mauthausen inmates were gassed in this room.

In his alleged 6-to-8-hour confession, which was written up from memory ten months later by Hans Marsalek, Ziereis named Dr. Krebsbach as the man who was responsible for setting up the gas chamber at Mauthausen. Ziereis also allegedly confessed that he personally drove a gas van between Mauthausen and Gusen, killing prisoners with carbon monoxide on the way, and that between 1 million and 1.5 million prisoners were gassed in the 192-square-foot gas chamber at Hartheim Castle.

In the photo below, taken in the camp at Mauthausen, Commandant Franz Ziereis is the third man from the left. Sturmbannführer Eduard Krebsbach, the camp doctor at Mauthausen until June 1943, is the man standing to the left of Ziereis. On the far left is Hauptsturmführer Erich Wasicky, the camp apothecary or chemist. Wasicky and Krebsbach were both tried by an American Military Tribunal at the former Dachau concentration camp; both were found guilty of participating in a common plan to commit war crimes and both were hanged in 1947 at the Landsberg am Lech prison in Bavaria.

SS officers on the staff at the Mauthausen camp

All of the concentration camps in the Nazi system were under the control of a central office in Oranienburg near Berlin. Contrary to what Ziereis confessed on his deathbed, a camp doctor did not have the authority to order the gassing of prisoners without permission from headquarters.

In his confession, Ziereis stated that 65,000 Mauthausen prisoners had been murdered, but he didn’t mention how many had died of disease. Ziereis also confessed that a total of 1 to 1.5 million prisoners had been gassed at Hartheim Castle, near Linz. (Choumoff wrote that 28,000 to 30,00 were gassed at Hartheim.)

On April 8, 1946, Ziereis’ confession was entered into the proceedings at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as part of document PS-3870, which was the signed confession of Hans Marsalek.  As part of his own confession, Marsalek wrote down his recollection of Ziereis’s confession, 10 and a half months after hearing Ziereis’ dying words.

Numerous statements by former prisoners and SS officers in the camp confirm that what now looks like a shower room was actually a lethal gas chamber before the gassing apparatus was removed by the Nazis.

The gas chamber at Mauthausen looks like a shower room

For example, the Affidavit of SS member Alois Hoellriegl, a guard at Mauthausen, which is quoted in Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression – Washington, U.S Government Print Office, 1946, Vol. VIII, p. 630:

“In 1942 a gas chamber resembling a shower room was built next to the incinerator. Gas executions were carried out in the gas chamber approximately three times a week and the bodies were burned in the adjoining incinerator. From my guard post I could hear the sound of the victims pounding on the door when the gas was turned on.”

In his book The 186 Steps, Christian Bernadac includes the statements of several former prisoners which were gathered by Pierre-Serge Choumoff, a former prisoner at Gusen, after revisionists began to deny that there was a gas chamber at Mauthausen. Choumoff was an engineer who had post-graduate degrees in mathematics; he was the author of numerous scientific articles.

While he was a prisoner at Gusen, Choumoff was assigned to work in the arms factories of Rüstung Steyr, Daimler and Puch, which were in the immediate vicinity of the Gusen camp. He also served as an interpreter and a secretary at the Gusen camp. In the last week of the war, Choumoff was one of the Gusen prisoners who were evacuated to the main camp where the gas chamber is located.

In his book about the gas chambers, Choumoff quoted the testimony of the SS officers in Mauthausen, which he obtained from the trial testimony that was published in Rome in 1970.

Dr. Krebsbach and Dr. Wasicky were among the 61 accused who were convicted by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in 1946 after they confessed to their part in the gassing operation.

Choumoff included in his book the following trial testimony from Dr. Krebsbach, the chief doctor at Mauthausen until June 1943, which is quoted by Bernadac in his book:

“It was on the order of Ziereis, the Kommandant of Mauthausen that Doctor Wasicky, the SS pharmacist, proceeded to organize the installation of a gas chamber. It was he who provided the necessary gas. The first gassing, which I attended in my capacity as doctor, took place early in 1942. From two hundred to three hundred prisoners were gassed. I particularly remember the gassing of about one hundred thirty Czechs who were implicated in the Heydrich affair. Ziereis was present….”

Note that Dr. Krebsbach names Dr. Wasicky as the man who was in charge of the gas chamber at Mauthausen. Commandant Ziereis, in his deathbed confession, said that it was Dr. Krebsbach who was responsible for the gas chamber, although Dr. Wasicky provided the gas.

According to the testimony of some of the prisoners, the Mauthausen gas chamber did not use Zyklon-B pellets. However, a sign in the gas chamber today says that gassing was accomplished by the use of Zyklon-B pellets. The Museum at Mauthausen includes a glass display case in which there is an open can of Zyklon-B pellets.

The statement of SS Oberscharführer Josef Niedemayer, the Kommandant of the bunker, which was the prison inside the camp, and also the officer in charge of the infamous Block 20, was included in Choumoff’s book and is quoted in Bernadac’s book, as follows:

“There was a gas chamber in the camp. About four thousand prisoners were gassed there. When a transport arrived for the gas chamber, I informed the S.S. officers Bachmayer, Zutter or Altfuldisch. The men to be gassed were taken to the bunker where I, personally, with my assistants, S.S. officers Rommel and Proksch, verified the list of names and removed articles of value and documents. Then S.S. guards Roth and Gerber accompanied the condemned men to the gas chamber. After the execution, the S.S. dentists, Henkel and Franz Jutmann, removed the gold teeth. During March and April 1945, one thousand four hundred sick prisoners were gassed, selected by Doctor Wolter, the chief doctor (from August 1944).”

The gas chamber at Mauthausen was underground, beneath  the camp hospital on the left in the photo

In the photo above, the white building in the background is the camp hospital and the green building is the camp prison, called the “bunker.”  The gas chamber is located underneath the hospital building.

Also quoted in Christian Bernadac’s book The 186 Steps, is the following testimony of SS officer Hans Michael Altfuldisch, who was one of the 61 men from the Mauthausen camp that were convicted by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in March 1946:

“For the rapid extermination of prisoners, a gas chamber was available. I can remember having directed the execution by gas of two hundred fifty men and women, of Russian, Czech and Hungarian nationalities. Executions by gas were ordered by Ziereis or Zoller or Zutter, and in the case of certain sick prisoners, by Doctor Wolter, the chief doctor. The prisoners were first examined by S.S. Niedermayer, who removed their personal belongings. Then men and women were required to undress in the presence of the S.S. and enter the gas chamber. To make the work more rational, a cross was marked on the chest of those who had gold dental work…”

Another SS officer, who was one of 61 staff members of Mauthausen that were prosecuted at Dachau, was SS Oberscharführer Andreas Trum. His testimony, as quoted in Bernadac’s book is as follows:

“Between 1943 and 1945, on several occasions I replaced the S.S. Niedermayer and conducted Russians, Poles and citizens of other nationalities to the gas chamber. After the prisoners had been locked into the chamber, the pharmacist E. Wasicky, gave a gas container to S.S. Roth. After the Spring of 1944, I saw the same operation handled by the pharmacist Gerber….”

According to Bernadac’s book, Wilhelm Ornstein was a Polish prisoner at Mauthausen who was assigned to work in the crematorium on August 19, 1944 after he had arrived in the camp on August 10, 1944 and had been assigned prison Number 85224. He remained in this job until May 2, 1945 when he managed to hide himself in the infirmary. After the war, Ornstein became an American citizen.

When Zyklon-B is used in pellet form, it must be heated in order to release the gas. Regarding the method of heating the pellets, Bernadac wrote the following, which he obtained from a deposition made by Ornstein before the General Consulate of the German Federal Republic in New York on March 6, 1969:

Ornstein further stated that, for the gassings, he had to bring a very hot brick, heated in the Krematorium, and place it in the box in the “gas cell,” in the presence of the S.S. Kommandoführer Roth. He then gave a detailed description of the “gas cell”: table, piping, gas masks, etc., as well as a description of the gassing procedure. When the chamber was not in use, it always remained closed.

Bernadac met with Ornstein in New York in 1971. At that time Ornstein “personally authenticated the preceding text concerning him.” He also gave Bernadac more information about the gas chamber which I have quoted from Bernadac’s book:

“Among other matters, he mentioned that the men and women were gassed separately. The gas chamber could hold up to sixty-five to seventy persons, tightly crowded. He and his comrades of the kommando (with the exception of Kapo Kanduth who was housed in the camp) slept in one of the small rooms adjoining the Krematorium under the bunker, in order to be available day and night. They were never permitted to go into the camp itself. Kommandoführer M. Roth also slept in a tiny room close by.”

Bernadac says in a footnote in his book that Ornstein acted as a Schreiber (secretary) and was able to take notes on the executions. On January 26, 1945, he noted down that 14 American aviators were executed by a shot to the neck (Genickschuss).

According to the testimony of other prisoners at Mauthausen, the gas used at Mauthausen was not in the form of pellets, but instead flowed through a tube placed low on the wall.

In his book, Bernadac quoted the testimony of Werner Reinsdorf, a prisoner who came to Mauthausen in 1941 and was assigned Prison Number 535 which had previously been assigned to another man who died. Reinsdorf “took part in the construction of the gas chamber,” according to Bernadac. The follow quote is the words of Werner Reinsdorf:

“There was a tube that led into the gas chamber, eighty centimeters above the floor, with its opening turned toward the wall so as to escape notice. The gas flowed through this tube…I, myself, saw Jews being led to the gas chamber….”

The tube which Reinsdorf described is no longer in the gas chamber at Mauthausen. According to Choumoff, it was removed by the SS guards before they escaped from the camp.

There are also claims that the prisoners at Mauthausen were killed with the use of carbon monoxide in the gas chamber. The following quote is from the book Hitler’s Death Camps by Konnilyn G. Feig, published in 1979:

“This chamber in Mauthausen was built in the basement, below the sick quarters. It was completed and used by the spring of 1942. On the other hand, the sick quarters were only half completed at war’s end. The SS would cram 120 persons into this chamber, seal the doors and pump in carbon monoxide. Inefficient as it was, the prisoners often died of suffocation rather than the gas.”

Bernadac included in his book the testimony of a Czech professor V. Busek, who was the Krankenlagerschreiber (sick camp secretary). Busek wrote the following, which was quoted by Bernadac:

“We, the deportees, doctors and employees, agreed that we would all refuse to make any additional selections. Our refusal ended the operation and the last thousand from the infirmary were saved, but the gassings continued. Out of 1,819 deportees transferred to camp 3 during these days (April 1945), 1,441 were gassed. During this time a Red Cross delegation arrived, authorized to take out the French, Belgians and Dutch. We took advantage of the situation to include fifty deportees of other nationalities among the French…After the departure of the Red Cross, exterminations were suspended…The conditions under which the survivors of camp 3 existed were tragic. During the last week they had received practically nothing to eat.”

As further evidence that prisoners at Mauthausen were gassed in the final days of war, Bernadac quotes the testimony of Maurice-Georges Savourey on May 4, 1945 at La Plaine, near Geneva, immediately after he was taken out of the camp by the Red Cross convoy. Savourey’s testimony from Choumoff’s book is quoted below from Bernadac’s book:

“…The day on which the first Red Cross convoy left, Saturday, April 21, 1945, out of two thousand men…one hundred, exhausted by the short route to be covered, were led to the gas chamber and executed…One (sic) Sunday, the 22nd, one hundred fifty men went to the gas chamber; on Monday, the 23rd, eighty men met the same fate…; on Tuesday, the 24th, one hundred eighty, in two groups, all Slavs, were gassed. One of them broke away, ran through the “free camp” in his nightshirt, stumbling, not knowing which way to turn, made his way back to camp 3. There he was retaken by the S.S. and the inner camp police, and returned for execution in the gas chamber. In addition, some forty French were said to have been gassed.”

In his account of the liberation of Mauthausen, the Red Cross representative, Louis Haefliger, confirms that the “annihilation” of the prisoners in the gas chamber continued until Commandant Ziereis fled the camp on the night of May 2-3, 1945. Apparently the Nazis were gassing as many of the prisoners as they could, while at the same time, the Red Cross was allowed to take selected prisoners out of the camp.

Bernadac also quotes Choumoff himself who wrote the following in his book about the Mauthausen gas chamber:

“Finally, a day or two before our transfer to Mauthausen on Saturday, April 28, I took a chance in giving the information (about the gassings) to one of our Yugoslav comrades, G. Milikitch. So I can certify that I was fully aware that gassings were taking place at Mauthausen during this final period. Up until the last minute, a number of efforts were made by the international Resistance organization of Mauthausen prisoners to save the men who had been confined to camp 3. After receiving the news, transmitted by V. Busek, a particularly effective effort was made to deal with Schutzhaftlagerführer Bachmayer. S. Krukowski reports on this in his book Mauthausen (Stefan Krukowski, Mauthausen, published in Warsaw in 1966). The lead in this was taken by a Polish prisoner, Doctor W. Czaplinski (No. 279), who had sometimes taken care of Bachmayer’s family. This initiative is supposed to have contributed to the return of the prisoners in camp 3 to the Krankenlager, instead of going to the gas chamber. Further efforts were organized on behalf of those whose execution appeared imminent, on other grounds. Outstanding among these were the thirty-four Austrian Resistance fighters, whose final tragedy was recounted by Marsalek (Hans Marsalek: “Die letzten Tage im KZ Mauthausen” published in Der neue Mahnruf in April 1970 in Vienna). All of them, with one exception, were among the forty-three gassed on April 28. It appears that after April 29, certain installations of the gas chamber were destroyed. It is certain that gassings were still taking place during the night of April 28-29, because I distinctly remember a dozen “civilians” who arrived after our transfer from Gusen on the afternoon of the 28th. There were both men and women, and among them a white-haired couple that I can’t forget. They stood along the wall to the right of the entry for a long time, and disappeared that night…”

Choumoff included an excerpt taken from the unpublished statement of Manuel Falo, No. 4639, dated September 19, 1969, which Bernadac quoted in his book, as follows:

“He (Falo) happened to see one of the gassings, which usually occurred at night. He was lodged in Block 11, facing the bunker. One night, in mid-1944, at about ten o’clock, he caught sight of a convoy of Russians coming in. The S.S. with Ziereis and Bachmayer present, made them undress on the assembly court, and then go down the dungeon stairs…Later the S.S. called the prisoners out from block 11, and Ziereis threatened them: “You have seen everything. If there is a breach of discipline, you go to the Krematorium.” One of the Kapos of the Krematorium kommando, whom Falo knew slightly, told him afterwards that they wanted to speed up the action, and that there was a real massacre with swinging axes so that they could pile more victims into the gas chamber.”

Choumoff gave the following statistics for the gassings at Mauthausen and Gusen, as quoted in Bernadac’s book:

For the installed gas chamber at Mauthausen: 4000; for the mobile gas chamber (Sauer truck): 1,560; Hartheim: 28,000 to 30,000 of which 4,600 to 8,000 came from Gusen or Mauthausen; finally occasional gassings in Gusen: 800. Total 34,000. At least 11,000 of these 34,000 were registered at Mauthausen or Gusen.

Thirty-four thousand gassed.

Who was it that said that the gas chamber at Mauthausen was a myth?

New book — “Holocaust Memorials: The Emergence of a Genre” by Harold Marcuse

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:49 am

Harold Marcuse, a History professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara, has written a new book about Holocaust Memorials at the former camps and other places.  I am currently reading the book, and so far, it seems to be all inclusive as far as Holocaust Memorials are concerned. The book includes photos of all the memorials, including one of my photos on page 79. (more…)

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