Scrapbookpages Blog

May 10, 2016

90-year-old American war veteran recalls the liberation of Mauthausen

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 8:08 am

The following quote is from a news article which you can read in full at https://www.rt.com/news/342485-war-love-aviation-regiment/

Begin quote

William Phelps wore a first sergeant’s stripes at the unlikely age of 19 as a World War II tank gunner, heard Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s unvarnished opinions over lunch one day and made the cover of Yank magazine in 1945 in a memorable photo, patching his trousers with a sewing machine in front of a tank.

But his most important day in Europe was in liberating an Austrian extermination camp.

Outside Linz, Phelps and two dozen soldiers entering the Mauthausen concentration camp 71 years ago last week were stunned at the sight of dead, dying and emaciated prisoners. The Americans saw German guards in the distance running for their lives, prisoners killing some of them with rocks and clubs.

“I’ll tell you, it’s really tough for me to describe because when you come into something like that, you haven’t seen a hundred people naked and stacked up, shriveled up all over the place, and it was unbelievable for me and most of the troops that were there,” said Phelps, 90, of San Antonio.

End quote

The liberation of Mauthausenn was re-enacteed a day later

The liberation of Mauthausenn was re-enacted a day later

The photograph above was taken on May 6, 1945, the day after the official liberation of the Mauthausen main camp. It shows prisoners surrounding an M8 Greyhound armored car.

According to Pierre Serge Choumoff, the liberation of Mauthausen, as shown in the photo above, was reenacted for photographers at the request of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The Nazi eagle over the gate had already been removed by the prisoners and a banner, written in Spanish, had been put up by the Spanish political prisoners. The English translation reads “The Spanish Anti-Fascists Salute the Liberating Forces.”

These prisoners were Spanish Republicans who had fought against General Francisco Franco’s Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War and had escaped to France when the Republicans lost the war. The Spanish Republicans were interned by the French and later, when the Germans defeated France in 1940, they were incarcerated as political prisoners because they were opposed to the Nazis. Germany had fought on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which was a war between the Fascists and the Communists. For the anti-Fascist Spanish Republicans, Mauthausen has the same significance as Auschwitz does for the Jews.

The news article continues with the following quote:

“We’d seen dead Germans because that’s what we were paid to do. We had to kill them or they had to kill us. But you didn’t have a stack of a hundred people, 200 people, 300 that had been laying there for days.”

As the week began, Phelps, 90, of San Antonio was back in Europe, where he visited the Auschwitz concentration camp as part of a tour marking the Holocaust.

He did not go to Mauthausen, a facility designed to be the last stop for criminals, political prisoners and religious conscientious objectors but that later also housed accused communists, Jews and defeated refugees of the Spanish Republic who had fought Gen. Francisco Franco.

End quote

Here is what really happened when the Mauthausen camp was liberated.

On May 5, 1945, the date usually given for the official liberation of the Mauthausen main concentration camp, a platoon of 23 men from the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army, led by Staff Sgt. Albert J. Kosiek, arrived at the main camp near the town of Mauthausen. They were guided there by Louis Haefliger, a Red Cross representative in the camp, and two German soldiers, after first liberating the Gusen sub-camp, 6 kilometers to the west.

Haefliger had taken it upon himself to go out and find American soldiers fighting in the area. He brought them first to the Gusen sub-camp because of the rumors that Hitler had instructed Ernst Kaltenbrunner to give the order to kill all the prisoners by blowing them up in the underground tunnels of the munitions factories there.

After the prisoners in the Gusen sub-camp were released by the American liberators, fighting broke out among the inmates and over 500 of the prisoners were brutally killed by their fellow inmates, according to Sgt. Kosiek.

The platoon of American soldiers was unable to control the released prisoners, so they left the Gusen camp and proceeded to the main camp, where the Communist prisoners were already organized into an International Committee that was ready to take control.

According to Manuel Razola and Mariano Constante, two Spanish inmates at Mauthausen who wrote a book entitled “Triangle Blue,” in the last days of the war, the prisoners had formed an International Committee, which took over the camp as soon as the American liberators arrived on May 5, 1945.

Razola and Constante are quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book entitled “The 186 Steps.” According to their story, “The international committee had taken the decision to execute the most criminal SS and common-law elements.” On the night that the camp was liberated, the international committee killed 8 of the Kapos in the camp and 6 of the SS officers.

 

 

October 9, 2014

Documentary, about a child suvivor of 5 Nazi camps, nominated for an Emmy

Filed under: Germany, Holocaust, movies, World War II — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 11:27 am

This news article tells about a Jewish child who survived 5 concentration camps during the course of nearly 3 years while World War II, and the Holocaust, were going on.

This quote is from the news article, cited above:

“Misa’s Fugue,” the documentary based on the true story of Frank “Misa” Grunwald’s almost three years in Nazi concentration camps as a child, has exceeded [Jennifer] Goss’ expectations in pretty much every way.

So when Goss, along with her husband, and Grunwald, the film’s director, Sean Gaston, and other important players in the making of the documentary found themselves at the Mid-Atlantic Emmy Awards in Philadelphia on September 20, they knew all the late nights, and trips were worth it.

I know what you are going to say: How could a child survive FIVE concentration camps, during the genocide of the Jews, aka the Holocaust, when everyone knows that children under the age of 15 were immediately gassed.

Note that the article calls Terezin a “death camp.”  Why send children from one death camp to another, and then let them survive? Was it because the Nazis wanted survivors to tell the story in documentaries 70 years later?

According to the article:

[Framk ”Misa”] Grunwald was born in Czechoslovakia in September of 1932. Four months later, Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. “Misa’s Fugue” centers around Grunwald’s journey through Terezin [Theresienstadt], Auschwitz, Mauthausen, Melk and Gunskirchen concentration camps.

Nearly 1.5 million children were murdered during the Holocaust between 1933 and 1945. Grunwald, now 82, was one of the less than 300 children who survived the Nazi death-camp at Terezin in the Czech Republic. For the next two years Grunwald found himself in various camps, in various countries, often getting there by death marches.

So Frank Grunwald spent a year, as a little boy, at Theresienstadt (now called Terezin) before he was hauled off to Auschwitz.  According to the article, Terezin was a “death-camp.”

Grunwald was probably taken to the Auschwitz II camp, aka Auschwitz-Birkenau, where children under the age of 15 were immediately gassed.

Yet somehow, Grunwald was not gassed at Auschwitz, but instead, he was transferred to Mauthausen, a Class III camp for convicted criminals and “Return Unwanted” prisoners, where he was again not killed in the gas chamber, but was transferred to the Melk sub-camp and then to the Gunskirchen subcamp of Mauthausen. Records show that Gunskirchen had only 450 prisoners.

Why did the stupid Nazis keep moving Grunwald around like that?  Did they want a child to survive to the age of 82, so that he could tell his “Holocaust survivor” story in a documentary?

I suspect that Frank “Misa” Grunwald was on the “death march” out of Auschwitz when the camp had to be abandoned because the Soviet liberators were on their way.

According to some Holocaust experts, the purpose of a “death march” was to kill the prisoners before the Soviets could save them.  Some of the survivors of these death marches were sent to Mauthausen in Austria because this was as far away as they could get from the liberators who were coming to save the children.

Melk and Gunskirchen were both sub-camps of Mauthausen where prisoners were working in underground factories which were building Messerschmidtt airplanes.

The Gunskirchen camp was not set up until very late in the war, so there is not much information about it on the Internet.

Ebensee is much better known than Gunskirchen, and I have a page about it on my scrapbookpages website.

The photo below is an old photo which was taken at Ebensee. This photo proves that there were very young children taken to Austria near the end of the war.

Young children at the Ebensee camp in Austria

Young children at the Ebensee camp in Austria

Notice that one of the young children has no shoes, although the older boy has a nice pair of boots.

You can see some old photos of Gunskirchen, taken by the American liberators of the camp, on this website: http://www.remember.org/mooney/images/thumbnails/index.html

The photo below shows the Melk sub-camp, which was in the same area of Austria as Gunskirchen.

Melk, a sub-camp of Mauthausen where Jews worked in factories

Melk, a sub-camp of Mauthausen where Jews worked in factories

Survivors of Ebensee sub-camp of Mauthausen greet their liberators

Survivors of Ebensee sub-camp of Mauthausen greet their liberators

Ebensee sub-camp of Mauthausen

Ebensee sub-camp of Mauthausen

The prisoners at Ebensee, shown in the photo above, worked in underground factories which manufactured Messerschmitt airplanes. German engineers and civilians also worked in these factories. The site was chosen because there were natural caves which could be enlarged into tunnels so that the munitions factories could be protected from Allied bombing raids.

Of course, some of the prisoners in these camps died, in spite of the fact that the Nazis tried to keep them alive so that they could work as slave laborers in the factories.

The photo below shows dead bodies at the Gusen sub-camp of Mauthausen.

Dead bodies found in the Gusen sub-camp of Mauthausen

Dead bodies found in the Gusen sub-camp of Mauthausen

After World War II ended, the Allies accused the Nazis of taking prisoners to Mauthausen to kill them in the tunnels of the sub-camps.  I wrote about Ernst Kaltenbrunner’s defense to this charge at the Nuremberg IMT, on this blog post: https://furtherglory.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/the-testimony-of-dr-ernst-kaltenbrunner-at-the-nuremberg-imt/

On my website, I wrote about the alleged order given by Ernst Kaltenbrunner to kill all the prisoners at Mauthausen and its sub-camps: http://www.scrapbookpages.com/Mauthausen/KZMauthausen/ZiereisDeath.html

 

October 20, 2011

The Nazi plan to blow up Jews in a cave in Austria….as told by Dario Gabbai

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , , , — furtherglory @ 12:47 pm

This morning I was reading about Dario Gabbai, one of the surviving Sonderkommando Jews at Auschwitz, who was marched out of the camp in January 1945 and eventually ended up in a sub-camp of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.  Several years ago Gabbai gave a talk to students which you can read about here.

Gabbai was a Greek Jew who was transported on a train to Auschwitz-Birkenau in March 1944.  At Birkenau, he was assigned to the Sonderkommando squad which removed the bodies from the gas chambers and carried them to the ovens to be burned.  His suffering as a Sonderkommando ended in January 1945 when he was sent on a “death march” out of the Auschwitz camp to the German border and then taken by train to Austria, where he probably ended up at either the Gusen I or Gusen II sub-camp of Mauthausen.

This quote is from the article about Gabbai’s talk to the students:  (I have highlighted the important points in bold faced type.)

To try and hide the horrors of what they had done, the Germans tried to destroy any evidence.

Weighing 67 pounds and in weather 23 degrees below zero, Gabbai and the others were led on a walk to Austria. He claims he stayed alive by thinking of his town. The plan was to get them all into a cave and kill them in an explosion, but the Germans abandoned them in fear of being caught by the liberation troops.

Dario Gabbai is one of the Holocaust survivors who is featured in Steven Speilberg’s documentary “The Last Days.”

This quote (the words of Gabbai) is from the book entitled “The Last Days” which tells the stories of the survivors who are featured in the documentary film with the same name:

When the Red Army was approaching, the Germans marched us to Austria; of the thousands who were on the march, only a few hundred survived, including ninety-six Sonderkommando.  There was one good morning when we woke up to an unexpected silence — all the Germans had gone and the Americans came a few hours later.  That was on May 6, 1945 and I weighed just sixty-seven pounds.

According to Holocaust historians, it was the custom to kill the Jews in the Sonderkommando squads periodically and replace them with new workers.  But for some unknown reason, the Nazis allowed the last 100 Sonderkommando Jews to live.  Their plan was to take them to a cave in Austria and blow them up.

(more…)

February 25, 2011

Who is Pierre-Serge Choumoff and why should we believe anything that he wrote?

Filed under: Holocaust, World War II — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 5:27 pm

Pierre-Serge Choumoff was a former prisoner at the Gusen sub-camp of Mauthausen who wrote a book that was intended to prove that there was a gas chamber at Mauthausen.  Choumoff was an engineer who had a post-graduate degree in mathematics; he was the author of numerous scientific articles. During the time that 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 World War II, Choumoff was one of the Gusen prisoners who were evacuated to the Mauthausen main camp where a gas chamber was allegedly located.

Choumoff did not use his scientific knowledge to determine that there was a gas chamber at Mauthausen. Nor did he do any tests. He did no research at all.  So on what did he base his book?  His book about the Mauthausen gas chambers is based solely on the testimony of the SS officers at Mauthausen, which he obtained from the trial testimony, given at an American Military Tribunal held in 1946. This testimony was published in Rome in 1970.

I have not read Choumoff’s book, but I have read The 186 Steps by Christian Bernadac which quotes extensively from Choumoff’s book.

Pierre-Serge Choumoff was a “Nacht und Nebel” prisoner which means that his family was not told where he was.  “Nacht and Nebel” prisoners were typically Resistance fighters; with his French name, we can deduce that he was sent to Gusen after he was captured while fighting as an illegal combatant in the French Resistance.  As a member of the French Resistance, he would have had a motive to make the Germans into evil monsters who gassed innocent prisoners, so I don’t consider him to be an objective witness.

In one of his books, Choumoff wrote 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 confirms that the gassing apparatus was removed on April 29, 1945.

So Choumoff didn’t know when the gas chamber was put into operation, but he knew the exact number of prisoners that were gassed?  He knew the exact date that the gassing apparatus was removed, although he was not at Mauthausen on that date.

Choumoff gave the following statistics for the gassings at Mauthausen and Gusen, as quoted in The 186 Steps by Christian Bernadac:

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.

In his book, Christian Bernadac included the statements of several former prisoners which were gathered by Pierre-Serge Choumoff.

I am writing about Choumoff because his name came up in a blog post which you can read here.  The title of the blog post is “The latest effort to combat denial, i.e. Holocaust revisionism.”

This quote is from the blog post:

Lastly, we have the actual Introduction by Messrs. Morsch and Perz. They began by informing us that in 1983, concentration camp survivors Eugen Kogon and Hermann Langbein — along with the head of Ludwigsburg Central Office for the Investigation of National Socialist Crimes, Adalbert Rückerl, as well as others — published the book Nationalsozialistische Massentötung durch Giftgas. This was published on the initiative of two Mauthausen survivors, Pierre-Serge Choumoff and Jean Gavard. All of this resulted from a meeting with officials of the centre for political education who discussed the increase in Revisionist debates about NS mass murder in the 1970s.

In my humble opinion, the writings of Pierre-Serge Choumoff should not be used to combat Holocaust denial.  He had no way of knowing what went on at Mauthausen because he was only there for one week. The testimony of the SS men at the proceedings of the American Military Tribunal, which he included in his book, is not believable because it was obviously obtained by torture.

You can read about the trial testimony at the proceedings against the SS men at Mauthausen on my website here and here.

May 7, 2010

The liberation of Mauthausen, May 5, 1945

The Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria was liberated by the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army on May 5, 1945. On the orders of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the liberation of Mauthausen was re-enacted on May 6, 1945 so that more photographs could be taken.

Americans enter Mauthausen, May 5, 1945    Photo Credit: USHMM

The liberation of Mauthausen was re-enacted on May 6, 1945

The photograph above was taken on May 6, 1945, the day after the official liberation of the Mauthausen main camp. It shows prisoners surrounding an M8 Greyhound armored car. The Nazi eagle over the gate had already been removed by the prisoners and a banner, written in Spanish, had been put up by the Spanish political prisoners. The English translation reads “The Spanish Anti-Fascists Salute the Liberating Forces.”

These prisoners were soldiers in the army of the Spanish Republicans, who had fought against General Francisco Franco’s Fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War, and had escaped to France when the Republicans lost the war. The Spanish Republicans were interned by the French and later, when the Germans defeated France in 1940, they were incarcerated as political prisoners because they were opposed to the Nazis. Germany had fought on the side of Franco in the Spanish Civil War, which was a war between the Fascists and the Communists. For the anti-Fascist Spanish Republicans, Mauthausen has the same significance as Auschwitz does for the Jews.

Spanish Republican prisoners re-enact the pulling down of the sign over the gate

On May 5, 1945, the date usually given for the official liberation of the Mauthausen main concentration camp, a platoon of 23 men from the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army, led by Staff Sgt. Albert J. Kosiek, arrived at the main camp near the town of Mauthausen. They were guided there by Louis Haefliger, a Red Cross representative in the camp, and two German soldiers, after first liberating the Gusen sub-camp, 6 kilometers to the west.

Haefliger had taken it upon himself to go out and find American soldiers fighting in the area. He brought them first to the Gusen sub-camp because of the rumors that Hitler had instructed Ernst Kaltenbrunner to give the order to kill all the prisoners by blowing them up in the underground tunnels of the munitions factories there.

After the prisoners in the Gusen sub-camp were released by the American liberators, fighting broke out among the inmates and over 500 of the prisoners were brutally killed by their fellow inmates, according to Sgt. Kosiek. The platoon of American soldiers was unable to control the released prisoners, so they left the Gusen camp and proceeded to the main camp, where the Communist prisoners were already organized into an International Committee that was ready to take control.

According to Manuel Razola and Mariano Constante, two Spanish inmates at Mauthausen who wrote a book called Triangle Blue, in the last days of the war, the prisoners had formed an International Committee, which took over the camp as soon as the American liberators arrived on May 5, 1945. Razola and Constante are quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book The 186 Steps. According to their story, “The international committee had taken the decision to execute the most criminal SS and common-law elements.” On the night that the camp was liberated, the international committee killed 8 of the Kapos in the camp and 6 of the SS officers.

Posed photo of survivors, May 6, 1945   Photo Credit: USHMM

In the photo above, crippled survivors of the main camp at Mauthausen pose in front of an M8 Greyhound armored car of the US Army 41st Calvary Reconnaissance Squadron of the 11th Armored Division of the US Third Army. The crippled prisoners had had their feet amputated after suffering severe frostbite. This photo was a reenactment, taken on May 6, 1945, of the liberation the day before. Note the warm coats they are wearing; Mauthausen is located in the mountains of Austria where it can still be cold in the first week of May.  Note that the prisoners have been fitted with devices which allow them to walk.

On May 5, 1945, the day of the official liberation of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp by American troops, there were approximately 60,000 survivors in the main camp and all the sub-camps, according to Christian Bernadac. This was approximately half as many prisoners as had been registered during the period that the camp was in existence from August 1938 to May 1945. There were approximately 20,000 prisoners in the main camp, but some of them had arrived only weeks before the Americans arrived.

According to Louis Haefliger, most of the regular SS guards had left before the Americans arrived and Captain Kern of the Schutzpolizei (protection police) of Vienna had replaced Commandant Franz Ziereis on the night of May 2-3, 1945. The Vienna police occupied the guard posts, assisted by a few old men and young boys of the Volksstrum; most of the SS men had escaped to an island on the Danube river and only a few of them had remained to help in guarding the camp.

The following account, written by Louis Haefliger, the Red Cross representative, is quoted in a book entitled The 186 Steps, by Christian Bernadac:

During the following days I talked with Ziereis about the exact situation prevailing in the camp: lack of bread, clothing, shoes and a dreadful shortage of linens. The camp at Mauthausen was overcrowded, and the camps of Gusen I and II filled beyond human limits. There were as many as five sick men to a narrow camp bed. There were sixty thousand human beings – men, women and children. Ziereis no longer knew where to turn…He speeded up the work of annihilation as much as he could. The Krematorium chimney smoked day and night. The sanitary conditions were at the lowest imaginable level. They were dying of hunger. Ziereis made believe that he was touched by this himself. He put on a self-pitying air, this man with whom I had to take my meals, this monster who once had a truck full of cadavers driven in front of his wife’s window, to boast about his work.

[…]

At the stroke of noon, May 5, 1945, all the SS had been disarmed, as well as the Volksstrum militia and the reinforcements of Vienna firemen. Chaos prevailed in the camp. The prisoners invaded the kitchens and pillaged the Kommandantur. The men rigged themselves out in several pairs of pants and fought over the tins of food. There was an unimaginable turbulence. Suddenly freed, these prisoners behaved like a horde of savages. It took some time to get the camp to calm down a bit. I thought about my own belongings in my room. Everything had disappeared: trunk, clothing, linens.

Robert Abzug wrote in his book, Inside the Vicious Heart, that after Commandant Franz Ziereis handed over the administration of the camp on May 2, 1945 to a captain in the Vienna Police, leaving only a small group of SS men to help guard the camp, the prisoners organized resistance operations and began to sabotage the factories. But there was nothing the resistance movement in Mauthausen and the Gusen sub-camp could do about the lack of food, medicine and clothing in the camps. In the chaos of the final days of the war, the transportation system had broken down and everything was in short supply.

Abzug wrote that, until the American liberators arrived, “the camps festered in dirt and disease. Thousands of prisoners died. Conditions were especially appalling among the latest transported prisoners. These men and women had survived Auschwitz, Dachau and forced marches – only to perish at Mauthausen in the final week of the war.”

According to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Mauthausen main camp, and a few of its largest sub-camps, were actually liberated in several stages by the US Third Army in late April and early May, 1945. Col. Richard R. Seibel was appointed to take command of the Mauthausen camp for 35 days, after an American patrol found the camp in April 1945, before the official liberation of the camp on May 5, 1945. In an interview in 1990, Seibel described how the Americans found some stored potatoes and began feeding the starved prisoners a very thin potato soup. There was no wheat flour or yeast in the camp kitchens, so the Americans made unleavened bread out of oats and dried it before giving it to the starving prisoners.

In the weeks just before the official liberation, most of the smaller sub-camps had been evacuated and the prisoners brought to the larger camps. 20,000 prisoners were crowded into the Mauthausen main camp which had a normal capacity of 12,000. Food was scarce and there were typhus epidemics in all the camps; around 300 prisoners were dying from typhus each day in the main Mauthausen camp shortly before the Americans arrived.

A movie that was being shown in the Museum at the Mauthausen Memorial Site in May 2003 featured an American soldier who was among the liberators of the camp. He became very emotional as he said that “we must have buried 12,000 bodies.” He explained that 1,200 bodies had been buried in mass graves the first day and 300 per day thereafter, as a film clip of Austrian civilians loading naked bodies onto carts was shown.

Mass graves at Mauthausen Photo credit: USHMM

There were rumors circulating among the prisoners in the Mauthausen camp that Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who had the supreme authority over all the Nazi camps, had issued orders that all the prisoners should be killed before they could be liberated. This order had supposedly come from Hitler himself before he committed suicide in his bunker on April 30, 1945. Patton’s Third Army had liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945 and Hitler had reportedly become enraged when he heard about how the Americans had given guns and jeeps to the liberated prisoners so that they could go to the nearby city of Weimar and randomly attack civilians.

Prisoners line up for soup after Mauthausen was liberated

Mauthausen was primarily a concentration camp for Communist political prisoners and German criminals, but near the end of the war, it was also an “end destination” for Jews who had been evacuated from the death camps in what is now Poland. According to Yehuda Bauer, the author of The Death Marches, January – May 1945, there were 700,000 prisoners of all categories in all the Nazi concentration camps in January 1945, and between 250,000 and 350,000 of them died on the death marches in the last weeks of the war, or after their arrival in the German camps, or after the liberation. At least half of those that died after January 1945 were Jews, according to Bauer.

At the time of the liberation there were also Hungarian Jews in Mauthausen who had been sent directly from Auschwitz to Mauthausen and the Gusen sub-camp in 1944 to work in the munitions factories.

On March 30, 1945, there was a total of 78,754 men and 2,252 women in the Mauthausen main camp and all its sub-camps, according to a display in the Mauthausen Museum, which I visited in May 2003. Included among the men were 13,701 Jews, and among the women, there were 611 Jews. This was the last census taken by the Nazis in the final chaotic days of the war. The total included 13,852 men and 1,238 women at the main camp at Mauthausen, according to the Museum display. There were 91 Jewish women and 2,257 Jewish men at the main camp on this date.

One of the Jewish survivors of Mauthausen was Meir Pesker from Bielsk, Poland. He had been deported first to the death camp at Majdanek, then transferred to the Plaszow camp, which is shown in the film Schindler’s List, and finally sent to Mauthausen. Pesker related the following story which was printed in a memorial book entitled Bielsk Podliask, as quoted by Martin Gilbert in his book Holocaust:

We saw that the Americans were coming, and so did the Germans. Suddenly a German Kapo appeared, a bloated primeval beast whose cruelty included the bare-handed murder of dozens of Jews. Suddenly he had become weak and emotional and he began to plead with us not to turn him in because he had “done many favors for the Jews to whom that madman Hitler had sought to do evil.” As he finished his pleading three boys overpowered and killed him, there in the same camp where he had been sole ruler.

We killed every one of the German oppressors who fell into our hands, before the arrival of the Americans in the enclosure of the camp. This was our revenge for our loved ones whose blood had been spilled at the hands of these heathen German beasts.

It was only by a stroke of luck – even if tainted luck – that I had survived.

Mike Jacobs, a Jew who now lives in Dallas, Texas, gave a description of the liberation of Mauthausen to Theo Richmond, the author of the book Konin, One Man’s Quest For a Vanished Jewish Community. Mike was born in Konin, Poland and his name was originally Mendel Jakubowicz. He was 19 and a half years old and weighed 70 pounds when the Mauthausen camp was liberated. He had survived the death camp at Auschwitz and had been sent to Mauthausen when Auschwitz was evacuated. Here is his story of the liberation, as quoted in Richmond’s book:

I looked out from the barracks and I see tanks coming with white stars. At first I think they are German tanks. I say to my friends, “Hey, look, the Germans have changed from a swastika to a white star. Two hours later I see some more tanks coming. I walk out and I start waving. The guy comes out of the turret. He waves back and throws me something. It was a bar of chocolate. I grabbed it and run into the barracks and say, “Hey, guys, look – I got a bar of chocolate. And can you imagine! The name of the chocolate is Hershel! [Hershel is a common Yiddish name.] I didn’t read the wrapper properly, so the first American food I eat is a Hershel bar.”

The following account was written by Maurice Lambert and quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book:

From one o’clock in the afternoon on, we knew that the Americans were at the gates of the camp, and we had begun our purging process. It was relatively simple. Ten, fifteen, or sometimes twenty of us went to blocks 6 and 7 (I think), where all of the German scum had taken refuge, those who were Kapos just yesterday, block bosses, room chiefs, etc., who had, over the years been responsible for 150,000 deaths of men of all nationalities. This figure was established after Liberation, for the camp of Mauthausen and its many kommandos (sub-camps) working throughout Austria. Every German brute discovered in one of these blocks was hauled into the roll call yard. They were going to suffer when they died, in the way they had made our comrades suffer and die. Our only weapons were our wooden-soled shoes, but we more than made up in numbers and rage for this rudimentary equipment. Every minute a new group of deportees arrived in the roll call yard, dragging a former torturer. He was stunned and knocked down. Everyone who had a sabot on his foot, or in his hand, leaped on the body and face and stamped and struck until the guts came spilling out, and the head was a flattened shapeless mass of flesh…

Roman Frister, a young Jew who had just arrived at the main camp a few days before the liberation, on a death march from a work camp in Vienna, wrote in his book, The Cap: The Price of a Life, that one of the liberators who emerged from an American tank was a black soldier. According to Frister’s account, the black soldier called to the armed guards in the watch tower “Hitler kaput,” and signaled them to come down from the tower.

The American Army was segregated during World War II, so Frister may have been mistaken about the black soldier, although another survivor, Bert Schapelhouman, told a similar story.

According to Frister’s account of the liberation, the black soldier ordered the guards to throw down their tommy guns and form a line; then “a group of prisoners darted forward and snatched the guns.” The Spanish prisoners shouted “Viva Espana!” as French and Polish prisoners were waving their country’s flags and the Soviet POWs sang the Communist anthem, “Internationale.”

Frister was in the “Sanitary Camp” as the quarantine camp outside the main camp was called. He wrote that he went back to his barracks after cheering the liberators and saw a naked German soldier hanging from the rafters, wearing the cap of an SS corporal. Soviet POWs were using the soldier for target practice, taking turns throwing a long kitchen knife. Frister wrote that the corpse of the German soldier was left hanging for two days before it was cut down by the Americans. According to Frister, after the liberation, Russian POWs who were mostly political Commissars in the Red Army, “roamed the countryside, terrorizing the local Austrians.”

The main street of the Mauthausen camp after the liberation

There was also a “sick camp” outside the gates of the Mauthausen camp which was for prisoners who could no longer work. The photo below shows the “sick camp.”  The young boy facing the camera seems to be in remarkably good health, considering that he is with the sick prisoners.  Maybe his mother was sick and he was just staying with her.

American soldiers talk to prisoners in the “sick camp” at Mauthausen

Austrian civilians were forced to bury the bodies after the liberation

The photo above shows Austrian civilians who were brought to the camp to bury the bodies of prisoners who died in the Russian POW camp, which had been converted into a camp for sick prisoners. A typhus epidemic was raging in the camp and as many as 300 prisoners were dying each day. According to Holocaust historian Martin Gilbert, there were 3,000 prisoners who died after the liberation, before the typhus epidemic could be brought under control. The American liberators used DDT to kill the lice in the camp; typhus is spread by body lice.

The civilians were ordered by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to wear their best clothes to bury the dead prisoners and they were forbidden to wear gloves to protect themselves from contracting contagious diseases.  This was done in all the camps as punishment for the civilians who had not stopped the Nazis from putting prisoners in concentration camps.

The SS men who survived the liberation of Mauthausen were forced to work in the quarry as punishment.

SS men forced to work in quarry after the camp was liberated    Photo Credit: USHMM

The Mauthausen concentration camp became a camp for Displaced Persons who were waiting to emigrate to other countries after the war.  After World War II, Austria was divided into occupation zones and Mauthausen was in the Soviet zone, which meant that the Soviet Union was entitled to the spoils of war at Mauthausen. The American military had until July 1945 to illegally remove machinery from the underground munitions factories before the camps had to be turned over to the Soviet Union on July 28, 1945, by prior agreement.

On September 10, 1945, the Soviets began taking equipment from the Gusen underground factory where the Nazis had been building Messerschmitt jet airplanes. The removal of the machinery was completed by December 21, 1946. In July 1947, the final transport of equipment from Gusen to the Soviet Union was completed. On November 15, 1947, the tunnels where the factories were located at Gusen were destroyed by the Soviets.

The Soviet Union also took charge of the quarry at Gusen and continued to take stone from it, operating under a company called Granitewerke Gusen. In 1955, the Allied occupation of Austria ended and the Soviets moved out; the railroad and the station at Gusen were dismantled. The property that remained after the Soviets left was given to the Austrian people. In the late 1950ies, the land in the Gusen area was privatized and private homes were built where the camps used to be.