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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.

July 15, 2011

Questions about the Holocaust answered by the Simon Wiesenthal Center

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:38 am

The Simon Wiesenthal Center has an online list of questions about the Holocaust; you can read the answers to the questions here.

Here is the answer to Question #12, quoted from the website:

Did the Nazis plan to murder the Jews from the beginning of their regime?

Answer: This question is one of the most difficult to answer. While Hitler made several references to killing Jews, both in his early writings (Mein Kampf) and in various speeches during the 1930s, it is fairly certain that the Nazis had no operative plan for the systematic annihilation of the Jews before 1941. The decision on the systematic murder of the Jews was apparently made in the late winter or the early spring of 1941 in conjunction with the decision to invade the Soviet Union.

The decision “was apparently made?”  How do we know that the decision was made at all? Apparently, the decision was not put on paper. Note that the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s answer to this question does not explicitly say that Hitler made this decision nor that Hitler was the one who gave the order. Apparently someone read Hitler’s mind and no order was even necessary.   (more…)

July 13, 2011

New photo of Elie Wiesel as a young man

Filed under: Buchenwald, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 12:03 pm

Just after I had recovered from the shock of learning that Christian Bernadac was not a prisoner at Mauthausen, I received another e-mail which alerted me to a new photo of Elie Wiesel that has gone up on a web site that is devoted to proving that Elie was not a prisoner at Auschwitz and Buchenwald.  This new photo shows 5 of the Buchenwald orphans, known as “the boys of Buchenwald,” after they were taken to France, following the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp.  (more…)

Christian Bernadac reconstructed the life of an inmate when he wrote his book about Mauthausen

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 10:20 am

Thanks to a French-speaking e-mail correspondent, who wishes to remain anonymous, I have learned that French author Christian Bernadac “was able to reconstruct the life of an inmate, that he is a famous journalist investigator, on various subjects and wars…”  This description of Bernadac’s book The 186 Steps comes from a web site that is written in French.

I bought Bernadac’s book from an online used book seller in 2003. I don’t read French so it was not possible for me to read an online description of Bernadac’s book before I purchased it. I assumed that Bernadac’s book was the true story of his time in the Mauthausen concentration camp.

In my defense, I would like to point out that nowhere in Bernadac’s book does it state that the book is a reconstruction of the life of an inmate.  The entire book is written in the first person.  Chapter One is entitled “The Scene is Set.”  The Scene in the title refers to the author’s detailed description of how the prisoners were forced to carry heavy granite boulders up the 186 steps from the Mauthausen quarry.

This quote is from the second page in the first chapter of The 186 Steps:

For two months and six days I performed the acrobatics required to keep from plunging into either of these pitfalls.  I was lucky to be young.

How was I supposed to know that this first person account of the life of a Mauthausen prisoner was a “reconstruction of the life of an inmate”?   How was I supposed to know that he was only 7 years old when Mauthausen was liberated in May 1945?  In his book, Bernadac wrote that he was 30 years old when he was sent to Mauthausen after he was captured as a French Resistance fighter.

Before I went to see the Treblinka memorial site in 1998, I purchased a book about the camp in a local book store.  The book was written by Jean-Francois Steiner and entitled Treblinka. The sub-title is “The inspiring story of the 600 Jews who revolted against their murderers and burned a Nazi death camp to the ground.”

On the very first page, on the inside of the front cover of Steiner’s book, it is made clear that Steiner was not a prisoner at Treblinka himself.

This quote is at the bottom of the first page:

JEAN-FRANCOIS STEINER was two years old when his father and other relatives died in concentration camps. Out of his compelling urge to know what happened and why the Jews went to their deaths apparently without resistance has come this overpowering book. By tracking down and interviewing the scattered survivors of Treblinka, he has created the true story that shook the world.

I don’t know if Bernadac’s book is still in print. My copy was published in 1974.  I don’t know if there are later editions.  If this book is ever reprinted, it should have a paragraph on the first page, similar to the paragraph about Steiner’s book.  The first paragraph in the book should mention that Bernadac was seven years old when Mauthausen was liberated, and out of his “compelling urge” to lie about what happened at Mauthausen has come this “overpowering book.” It should be pointed out that  Bernadac tracked down the real survivors of Mauthausen and incorporated their lies into his “true story that shook the world.”

There are many other books which I now believe are “reconstructions of the life of an inmate.”  Among these books are Dr. Miklos Nyiszli’s book about his time at Auschwitz and Elie Wiesel’s book Night.  Filip Müller’s book Three Years in a Gas Chamber at Auschwitz is pure fiction, although Müller was actually a prisoner at Auschwitz.

July 12, 2011

Who gets the money collected from Holocaust deniers in Germany?

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 8:49 am

Bishop Richard Williamson is planning another appeal of his 2009 Holocaust denial conviction in a German court. On July 11, 2011, an appellate court in Regensburg, Germany upheld Williamson’s 2009 conviction on a charge of Volksverhetzung, the German law against “incitement of the people” which is commonly known as the law against Holocaust denial. Although Williamson lost his case on appeal, his fine was reduced from 10,000 euros to 6,500 euros or $9,230.  His fine was reduced after new information about Williamson’s income was learned.  The prosecution had also filed an appeal, asking for a larger fine.  His original fine was 12,000 euros.

Germany has streamlined its prosecution of Holocaust denial cases since the § 130 Public Incitement law was first passed in 1985.  Now when a British citizen like Bishop Williamson foolishly makes a Holocaust denial statement in private, to a Swedish journalist while he is being videotaped in Germany, that person receives a fine in the mail when the journalist makes the video public against the wishes of the Holocaust denier.

Williamson refused to pay his fine in 2009 and instead filed an appeal. If he loses his next appeal, he will finally have to pay the equivalent of $9,230.  Who gets this money?  What does the German government do with the money that is paid by Holocaust deniers?  Does the money go to offset the money that Germany still pays in reparations to the Holocaust survivors and their children?  Or is the money used for Germany’s contributions to Israel?  Will the Swedish Journalist get a cut of the money for his role in prompting the Bishop to break the law? (more…)

July 11, 2011

Conviction of Bishop Williamson upheld on appeal

Filed under: Dachau, Germany, Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , — furtherglory @ 9:17 am

Today in Germany, the Regensburg appeals court upheld the 2010 conviction of Bishop Richard Williamson on a charge of inciting hatred, although his fine was lowered from €10,000 to €6,500 ($9,136) according to DAPD news agency.   (more…)

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

July 8, 2011

The monuments and memorials at Mauthausen

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 9:15 am

This morning I was browsing the blogs and came across this blog post by the Black Rabbit which tells about the unique method used to gas prisoners at Mauthausen. (I wrote about the gassing of prisoners at Mauthausen on my web site here.) A photo at the top of the Black Rabbit blog shows the gate house at Mauthausen.

In the photo, there is a monument in front of the gate house which obstructs the view.  This photo upset me because I disapprove of a monument being placed in front of this beautiful gate.  I’m glad that I got to see Mauthausen before this memorial was added to the thousands of memorials which clutter up the site of the former Mauthausen camp and distract visitors who want to see what the camp looked like when it was in operation.  Enough already!

My photo of the gate house at Mauthausen

The prisoners referred to this entrance, pictured above, as the Mongol gate or the Mongolian gate. Note the two guard towers on the top which look like Chinese architecture. On the right is the former Jourhaus which has been converted into a bookstore.   (more…)

July 7, 2011

Was Christian Bernadac a prisoner at Mauthausen?

Filed under: World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 9:05 am

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 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.

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