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July 16, 2011

Stairs of Death (Todesstiege) — the 186 steps at Mauthausen

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 1:20 pm

The book entitled The 186 Steps, written by Christian Bernadac begins with a description of the Stairs of Death at the former Mauthausen concentration camp which is now a Memorial Site, visited mostly by teen-aged students.

Old photo shows prisoners carrying granite boulders up the Stairs of Death at Mauthausen

The Mauthausen concentration camp was located on a leveled hilltop along the Danube river in Austria, which was part of the Greater German Reich at that time. At the edge of the camp was a granite quarry that was owned by the city of Vienna (Wien). Granite from this quarry had been used for years to pave the streets of Vienna.

This site for the Mauthausen camp was chosen because granite was needed for the buildings that Hitler was planning to build in Linz, a city that is close to Mauthausen. After the city of Vienna leased the quarry to the SS, paving stones continued to be sent to Vienna. Granite from the quarry was also used to build the Mauthausen camp. Because of the war, none of the grandiose buildings that Hitler had planned for Linz and Berlin were ever built.

My photo of the stairs of death, May 2003

According to Bernadac’s book, the work commandos at Mauthausen “were composed of three distinct types of deportees.”

1. the Strafkompanie (disciplinary company)

2. exependables — “canon fodder” of various nationalities, but at this period — 1941 -1942, mostly Spanish Republicans.

3. Jews, fit for extermination.

Wooden back-carrier used at Mauthausen

Bernadac wrote that each worker in the punishment company wore a back-carrier, fastened on by leather straps, somewhat in the style of Tyrolian peasants.  But the “cannon fodder” workers and the Jews had no carriers. Bernadac did not make it clear whether the Jews and the “cannon fodder” expendable prisoners had to carry heavy stones in their hands or whether they just climbed out of the quarry at the end of the day without carrying a stone.  My guess is the latter, because only the Strafkompanie prisoners, who were criminals sentenced to hard labor, were punished by being forced to carry a heavy stone up the stairs at the end of the work day.  Bernadac implied in his book that the only way to get stones out of the quarry was to carry them up the steps, making many trips each day. He was writing about the early days of the camp, in 1941 and 1942 when the stones were being used to complete the building of the camp, which was a stone fortress.

The Mauthausen camp was a stone fortress

According to Bernadac, “only the Jews were to be exterminated” at Mauthausen. (This was the famous “extermination through work” plan of the Nazis to kill the Jews in the camps.) Most of the prisoners at Mauthausen were political prisoners; this was not a camp specifically for Jews.

Bernadac began his book with an exaggerated story of the 186 steps because this was the unique feature of Mauthausen, the horror that people today want to hear about.  He wrote that there were originally 180 steps, but in 1942, a team of quarry masons “slightly improved the regularity of their profile, and brought their number up to 186 steps.”

The old photo below was taken on April 27, 1941 when Heinrich Himmler visited the quarry.  Note that the steps look very even, just like the steps in my color photo taken in May, 2003.

Himmler visited Mauthausen quarry on April 27, 1941

Mauthausen stairs, May 2003

When I visited Mauthausen in May 2003, the Stairs of Death were easy to climb.  Student visitors were having great fun running up and down the steps.  The photo below shows the stairs as they look from the top.  In the background, you can see the quarry at the bottom.

Resting place at the top of the Mauthausen stairs

After the prisoners had climbed the stairs, there was still a long steep road, about one kilometer long (5/8 of a mile). The road was strewn with rocks and had never been rolled smooth. The road is shown in my 2003 photo below.

The road to the top at the Mauthausen quarry

The “Stairs of Death” end about one quarter of the way up the long climb out of the quarry; the steep road to the top is covered with tree roots and uneven granite rocks. Note the wire fence on the right which keeps tourists from falling over the cliff into the quarry.  According to Bernadac, there was no fence there when the camp was in operation and the Jews were frequently shoved over the cliff.

Old photo of quarry shows the long road to the top

The same road out of the quarry, May 2003

The quarry when it was in operation

Note the narrow gauge tracks on the left in the photo above.  There was no need to carry the granite out of the quarry with backpacks, because it could be hauled out on the trains.  The trains carried the granite stones to the Danube river which was nearby; the stones were then put on barges and taken to Vienna where they were used for roads and buildings.

Granite was hauled out of Mauthausen on barges

Bernadac wrote that the Mauthausen prisoners wore “wooden shoes.”  The photo below, which I took in the Mauthausen Museum, shows wooden shoes that look as if they were purchased in a tourist shop in Holland.  The other shoes in the photo have wooden soles and cloth or leather uppers.  Most likely, the wooden shoes worn at Mauthausen were the shoes with wooden soles, not the clogs worn in Holland.

Shoes in Mauthausen Museum

In the photograph below, a Soviet soldier stands as an honor guard at the “Stairway of Death” (Todesstiege). After the war Austria was divided into zones of occupation and the former Mauthausen camp was in the Soviet zone. This photo appears to have been taken after the former Mauthausen concentration camp was turned into a Memorial Site in 1949.

Soviet honor guard at the Stairs of Death

Note the buildings inside the quarry in the old photo below.  There were civilian workers who lived in these buildings.  Note the fence in the foreground which prevents onlookers from falling off the cliff at the top of the quarry.

In his book, Bernadac quoted the following from the unpublished manuscript of Lt. Col. Monin written in January 1974:

That was the quarry, as we knew it, with its 186 slippery, rocky, tilting steps. Those who visit the Mauthausen quarry today, don’t see the same thing, for since then, the steps have been redone – a real stairway, cemented, and regular. At that time, they were simply cut with a pick into the clay and rock, held in place by logs, unequal in height and tread, and therefore extremely difficult, not only for climbing but also for the descent. Stones rolled under our wooden-soled sandals, and we were forced to keep moving at a very rapid pace.

The work consisted of carrying up a stone of considerable size and weight, along the 186 steps, after which there was still a considerable distance to cover. The man who chose a stone found to be too small was out of luck. And all of this went on at the rate of eight to ten trips per day. The pace was infernal, without a second’s rest.

By 1943, the quarry had factories where Messerschmitt airplanes were being built, and the prisoners no longer carried stones up the steps.

I previously blogged about the atrocity stories told by a Dutch survivor of Mauthausen here.


  1. My dad Michael Pawlak worked in this quarry he was taken prisoner aged 13 and liberated from Mauthousen aged 18 and weighed 4st he returned to the camp with his own children.He was also a prisoner in Auchwich which he also returned to with his family. He felt as though he owed it to all the tragic souls who were never given the chance to be liberated and have there own familys. My father Michael Pawlak was the most amazing strong loving gentle man who lived through the worst horrors a human being could see. He went on to have 5 children who loved him very much he died aged 79 only 7 mths from his last visit to his camp he had already organised yet another visit to Austria the month he died. We all miss him so much xxx

    Comment by Denise Coulson — December 6, 2016 @ 12:56 pm

    • You wrote: “My dad Michael Pawlak worked in this quarry he was taken prisoner aged 13 and liberated from Mauthousen aged 18 and weighed 4st he returned to the camp with his own children.He was also a prisoner in Auchwich which he also returned to with his family.”

      So he was in “Mauthousen” and “Auchwich”.
      If he returned to both camps with his family, you must have been on these two trips. Why is it that you can’t spell the names of these camps?

      Do you mean Mauthausen and Auchwitz?
      It would have been very strange for a prisoner to have been in Mauthausen and also in Auschwitz.

      Comment by furtherglory — December 6, 2016 @ 4:04 pm

  2. I take great exception to some of your almost flippant and dismissive comments. This camp was deadly for all its prisoners and those who suffered the most were the Russians POW, who in the 1944 bitterly cold Austrian winter, were housed in canvas tent barracks with no heat or bedding, yet each morning still expected to work. The Mauthausen stairs of death were, as it’s name implies, deadly, I tried climbing them and, I had to stop 4 times because they are so steep, there are an similar 199 steps in Whitby, North Yorkshire, but they are longer in length and less tiring for that reason. The prisoners – war heroes, resistance workers, and those who called Hitler Das Corporal, who in reality was a snotty nose kid and former doss house – tramps shelter dweller who was deeply disliked by 20% of all WW2 Germans – these prisoners were exhausted, many seriously ill, all poorly fed, for them just walking up those steps was bad enough, but carrying building blocks made it a war crime for allowing them to do it. Everyone who died there deserves our respect and sympathy. You must remember they were not criminals, not wicked people, but men who were independant enough to say in words or deeds, no to the Nazi.

    Comment by BOB WILSON TEESIDER — October 8, 2016 @ 10:24 am

  3. You are correct about the image edit on the wood carrier and stone, the grain on side of carrier has bricks and the stone is transparent at the top edge although it may have been done just to pis the pint as you said?

    Comment by Martin — August 14, 2016 @ 9:19 am

  4. […] For the past several days, one of my previous blog posts, about the Stairs of Death at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial Site, has been getting lots of hits:… […]

    Pingback by the Stone Stairs of Death | Scrapbookpages Blog — June 3, 2016 @ 7:59 am

  5. Reblogged this on Dipankar's Blog.

    Comment by dipankar209 — March 17, 2016 @ 12:22 pm

  6. Hello, I read with much interest your postings of the these horrific times. It saddens me that the original steps were replaced with new ones. I wish they had been kept and cordoned off from use. It would have allowed us to see the true horror of the stairs. I thank you for these postings and for helping me continue with my education about this dark time.

    Comment by emma2fundy — October 20, 2015 @ 6:59 am

  7. […] and “expendables” at the Mauthausen labor camp, the scene of the Stairs of Death, were forced to quarry granite to pave Vienna’s streets. Others were slaughtered in […]

    Pingback by Holocaust Memorial, Judenplatz, Vienna, Austria | Squam Creative Services — August 6, 2015 @ 9:00 am

  8. There is no way possible one man could carry that big of a stone!
    Not even two men, especially after being starved almost to death!
    That part is propaganda!

    Comment by Phil — October 11, 2014 @ 8:18 pm

    • I agree. The wooden carrier would break if someone tried to carry a stone that size. The wooden carrier is too big for most men.

      Comment by furtherglory — October 12, 2014 @ 11:10 am

    • The museum stone photo has been cropped or photoshopped (or the camera was too close to it when it was taken) to make it appear far larger than it is. The reason for this could be: To make genuine prisoner claims of hardship and brutality look ridiculous or fraudulent. I know quarries and know stone cutting and the routine building stones shown carried by prisoners climbing these “Stairs of Death” in photos, are of the size you’d expect for wall building and would weigh around 70-85 lbs each, rough stones like this have sharp edges and without shoulder padding and gloves would be difficult to carry 50 yards, I am a strong person and could not carry a stone shown up these stairs without 3 – 4 breaks to regain my breath. These victimised prisoners were ill, undernourished and totally unfit for this work, they should not have been working at all – never mind in a quarry, and what happened here 1940-1944, was a war crime of enormous planned cruelty and suffering – known then as the-death-through-beastly-over-work elimination. Most of the prisoners were Russian POW, not Jews, they were starved and living in tents nearby during severe Austrian winters, men who had no proper shoes, food or winter clothing.

      Comment by Wilson777 — June 21, 2015 @ 8:20 pm

    • Why would you think that photos and comments were false? Do you think that the Nazi government of forcing them to climb these stairs? They were capable of anything that was cruel. These prisoners were starved, tortured and thrown away like trash.

      Comment by R. Cooper — May 13, 2016 @ 10:45 am

      • You wrote: “Do you think that the Nazi government of forcing them to climb these stairs? They were capable of anything that was cruel. These prisoners were starved, tortured and thrown away like trash.”

        The Mauthausen camp was the only Class III camp in the Nazi system of camps. The prisoners who were sent to Mauthausen had been convicted of committing a violent crime.

        The prisoners had to climb the stairs, only once each day, after they had finished their work in the quarry. This was part of their punishment for having committed a violent crime. They were allowed to live instead of being executed for their crime.

        Comment by furtherglory — May 13, 2016 @ 10:58 am

        • My god don’t you dare say all the prisoners at mauthausen were criminals my father was a 13 yr old farmers son who was liberated from this camp weighing 4st. Don’t you dare

          Comment by Denise Pawlak — December 6, 2016 @ 1:01 pm

          • You wrote: “My god don’t you dare say all the prisoners at mauthausen were criminals.”

            Could you quote the exact sentence, in my blog post, where I wrote “all the prisoners at mauthaunen were criminals.”

            Comment by furtherglory — December 6, 2016 @ 3:53 pm

  9. Short of an “endlosung”, the re-enactment of the Nuremberg Laws (ironically themselves bases on Talmudic Law) would be a great start.
    Disqualification from government, law, media, and wall street would be a principled first step to Western recovery.

    Comment by schlageter — July 19, 2011 @ 4:08 am

  10. To answer Barbara:”
    The White People of USA, Canada, Europe and Australia need about 10,000 brave individuals in each country, who would stand up and just say “Holocaust? Hell, no!” The most important country in this action would be Germany. They need 10,000 of, not even “white” people, but just current German nationals (Turks, Arabs, Africans), who would be able to say openly: “Holocaust? Nein, Donnerwetter!”. The judicial system of Germany would not be able to prosecute so many “deniers” and their laws will become non-enforceable.
    Just imagine! 10,000 Holocaust Deniers in Germany! Would they be forced to re-open Dachau to exterminate them all?
    I am sure that in US there are even more than 10,000 “deniers”, or “non-believers”. The correct number would be close to a million and growing.

    Comment by Gasan — July 17, 2011 @ 9:22 pm

  11. Amazing how 2% of the US population and some .0015% of the worlds can cause so much mischief, pain, and suffering. We are constantly reminded how over represnted they are in the arts, sciences. Nobel prize winners, etc. Yet somehow their over representation in wall street shysters, government criminals, pornographers, sex traders, communist and “progressive” leaders, NKVD killers, media and hollywood degenerates, “Russian” mobsters, ambulance chasing lawyers, and sponsorship and leadership of anti-white, anti-western, and anti-christian groups such as the SPLC, ADL, NOW, ACLU, NLG, NARAL, etc etc is overlooked or considered “anti-semitism” to point out.

    Comment by schlageter — July 17, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  12. Barbara,

    That’s a good question and, I think, pertinent to this Bernadac/Mauthausen series of blogs which you would think would cause Jews to flee from European whites. But instead, they are dogged in their attempts to stay with us. It is more than wanting to live in our homelands; it’s that they must take over … not that they want US to leave, they just want to be in control over us. This is because of their paranoia, fear and greed, but also because they believe they are God’s Chosen who must ultimately rule over all peoples of the world. Religious and non-religious Jews believe this, and they use their manufactured ‘Holocaust’ for this purpose.

    So we cannot drive them away; they refuse to be driven away. We have to keep them out by legal means and force of arms. That’s why they are great students of law and predominate in the legal professions, and also have taken over our governments to thus control our armed forces. They are wily and far-seeing. Our Christian principles and beliefs keep us from dealing with them and the problems they pose effectively. I think we would need to counter this in order to be rid of them.

    We ought to find out what a white society with no Jews at all would be like … since they are always bragging about their contributions as if we would be so much less without them.

    Comment by Skeptic — July 17, 2011 @ 11:44 am

    • You wrote: “Our Christian principles and beliefs keep us from dealing with them and the problems they pose effectively.”

      Didn’t Hitler write something about the Christian religion causing people to be unable to deal effectively with the Jews? Is that why he became a non-practicing Catholic, although he never left the Catholic Church?

      Comment by furtherglory — July 17, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

      • Wikipedia has a page titled Adolf Hitler’s religious views. It says after childhood, he ceased to participate in the Sacraments completely. He sometimes made public statements which seemed to affirm religion and prior to 1940 had promoted a “positive Christianity”, purged of Judaism and instilled with (National Socialist) philosophy.

        He was for the New Testament but against the Old Testament. He wanted the Christians to drop the OT. I think they should too. He’s on record as being frustrated with German Christians’ desire to “help Jews,” knowing what the Jews had done to the Germans, so yes, he saw Christianity as promoting weakness … I would say.

        The fact that he committed suicide, and didn’t ask for any Last Rites before his death, makes it clear he didn’t put any faith into Catholic ritual. Also, from the Wiki page, his marriage to Eva Braun was a civil affair … no priest. Even without the Jewish question, I don’t think he would have been a practicing Catholic as an adult, although he never put it down in public. This wasn’t hypocrisy, it was respect for the German people who believed.

        Comment by Skeptic — July 17, 2011 @ 7:35 pm

  13. Ok, so what would White people have to do in order to be rid of jews? Nothing we do seems to make them not want to live in our White non jew homelands.

    Comment by Barbara — July 16, 2011 @ 2:26 pm

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