Monday, October 22, 2012

Mauthausen Part 1

A concentration camp is hard to define, it differs totally from any other aspects of life and human relationship. It is in the words of a witness at the Eichmann trial in 1961, "like another planet". In the Germany of 1938 there were prisons for law-breakers just as in other countries, but the concentration camps were already emitting those poisonous exhalations which were stifling not only the law but man's conscience as well. Just before the plebiscite following the Anschluss in 1938, Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer SS and head of the Gestapo, visited Austria. Knowing what was about to happen there, and that the existing concentration camps in Germany, especially Dachau, were full to capacity, he was looking for a site which could be exploited economically and which also would be suitable for certain very special requirements. He wished in fact to build a concentration camp which would be worthy of the Thousand Year Reich, and which would last as long. One of the places he visited was the Wienergraben quarries, owned by the Municipal Authorities of Vienna, which had supplied paving stones for that city.

Mauthausen quarry, Himmler probably looked at

Himmler was impressed by what he saw. The quarries, which could be worked extensively, nestled in the lush, hilly countryside on the north bank of the Danube about 106 miles upstream from Vienna and fourteen miles downstream from Linz. More important, the small village of Mauthausen nearby boasted a railway station. Himmler made his choice.
What exactly had Himmler in mind when he made this trip in 1938, during a period when Germany was proclaiming peace and future stability to the world, was only clear to him alone. It is now known that before he left his headquarters, plans wee being prepared for the organisation of an enormous chain of concentration camps stretching right across Europe. The mechanic's of these mills of destruction can be traced back directly to Himmler. It is often said that he was completely subservient to the Führer and incapable of making independent decisions, far from it. Himmler had his own cherished plans for exploiting the concentration camps, less as a contribution to the war effort than as a means of financing the SS should it ever lose the support of the head of state.
he quarry at Mauthausen during the camps operation"
To centralise the administration of all these SS activities, Himmler created the "Deutsche Erd-und Steinwerke" (DEST) and the "Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke" (DAW), which was placed under his ex-naval friend Oswald Pohl. During the war Pohl's powers were extended to include responsibility for the "Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt" (WVHA). Even Glücks, the head of "Amt D" (concentration camps) was answerable to him.
Although Hitler must ultimately be held responsible for the crimes, he never took any interest in what he considered to be the tiresome business of administration. This he left to his friends, who tried to outdo one another in brutality so as to preserve a united front to the more intelligent up-and-coming young officers. Himmler certainly showed more ability to plan ahead than did most of those who surrounded him, one example being the camps and what happened in them. When the idea was first conceived he may not have foreseen the extent to which excess would become irreversible. But all this was still in the future. Mauthausen had not yet been built. The men and women it was to engulf were still following their everyday occupations all over Europe, unaware of the storm which was about to break.
[As a footnote, that Himmler at the end took poison in British captivity, is hardly credible, he was killed by their Agents, if one just examines the events that evolved, the claim that he had a phial of cyanide secreted in one of his teeth is beyond belief, sic]
On the 8 August 1938 the first 300 prisoners arrived from the Dachau concentration camp, accompanied by about 80 members of the SS, in Mauthausen. They were classified by the SS as "criminal" or "antisocial" German and Austrian male prisoners. During October, Mauthausen was run as a satellite camp of Dachau, and these first prisoners kept until 18 October 1938, their own Dachau registration numbers. By the end of 1938, the SS transferred over 1000 prisoners from the camps of Dachau and Sachsenhausen. Even before the conclusion of the lease agreement with the city of Vienna, the SS took over on 25 May 1938 in the immediate vicinity of Mauthausen from the municipality of Langenstein a Stone-Quarry at Gusen, apart from that in 1938 the adjacent quarry at Kastenhof was also acquired on a long term lease basis. The acquisition of the Mauthausen quarry did not lead to the founding of its concentration camp in 1938, but late in 1939 on the Initiative of the DESt-Operation for the establishment of the Gusen camp which had local quarries in its vicinity. The Gusen concentration camp was opened on 25 May 1940 and administrated in the following years, together with the Mauthausen on a sort of dual system (Doppellager).
In these early days the labour force was provided with modern tools and machinery by the SS construction units of the DEST and DAW. Witnesses say that after the SS had moved in, the civilian quarry company was allowed to remain at Mauthausen. If this was the case, it is likely that some of their equipment would have been used by the prisoners. Conditions were still comparatively easy. The rougher methods of construction were yet to come. A small temporary narrow-gauge railway was installed in order to speed up the extraction of granite, but the prisoners still had to unload the granite at the foot of the stairway in the quarry and carry the individual stones up to the camp site.
The first building to be erected on the flat summit of the hill was the Commandantur, or offices of the camp command. Theses offices included the "politische Abteilung", or the political section, where the Gestapo files on the inmates were kept. The Commandantur lay outside the camp, but overlooked the garage yard and, at the extreme left, of the main entrance to the camp. The hospital for the SS, on the slope outside the camp, was completed early. It was modern in style and very well equipped, with excellent ventilation, complete sterilising units, a laboratory and therapy treatment lamps. Prisoners in need of treatment were admitted to this hospital until the end of 1939. The greatest single effort of those months seems to have been the building of the awesome main entrance with its huge wooden doors flanked by watch towers, and the tall granite wall which separated the camp from the Commandantur buildings and towered over the huge SS garage yards.

Mauthausen inmates labour in the Quarry
Within the camp the prisoner's area was ringed with high tension wiring. During 1939 two prisoners were shot while trying to escape, one was hanged, five electrocuted and one killed in a working accident. These deaths were recorded in a separate book entitled "Unnatural Deaths", which was locked up in the political section. In addition to this there were 434 "natural deaths", which were accounted for to some extent by a typhus epidemic in the the camp. Other deaths were caused by the brutality of the SS. As Mauthausen did not yet possess a crematorium, the bodies were disposed of at a civilian crematorium some miles away in Steyr. The increasingly frequent journeys between Mauthausen and Steyr did not pass unnoticed by the civilian population, who made representations to the Gauleiter, Dr. Gustav Brachmann. The Berlin authorities too were concerned after the war was declared September 1939 to keep the good opinion was one thing, to precipitate an embarrassing clash with Austrian country folk quite another. This forced Theodor Eike to relieve the Commandant of Mauthausen, Sturmbannführer (Major) Sauer and his Adjutant Kramer from their positions and sent them elsewhere. [Sauer was extremely bitter about this measure, until the middle of the war was Sauer (prnounced "sour") again entrusted with functions in concentration camps, although 'promoted' as commander of the KZ Riga-Kaiserwald, he was never the same, and at the start of 1945 transferred to Ravensbrück, Sauer was killed in action on 3 May 1945 in the vicinity of Berlin, sic]
It was Kramer's duty to inform the relatives of a prisoner when death occurred, and provide them with a death certificate. At first it was possible for them to see the body before removing it either for burial or cremation. Even after hostilities this practice was continued for the relatives of German prisoners and to some extent for the few Poles who were admitted between October and December 1939. Kramer would meet the German mourners at the gate, tender his condolence and add that the dead man had been a 'model prisoner', due for release from custody in a day or so for good conduct, but he had unfortunately died of a heart attack, (or pneumonia or some other disease) "despite the expert care of the SS medical staff". When it became apparent , and it soon did, that the prisoner had died from other causes than those specified, Kramer evaded the relatives inquiries by sealing the coffin before inspection. "It was necessary", he said,"to avoid the possibility of infection".
There is no evidence that prisoners lacked adequate food at this time. Supplies were delivered to the camp according to the number of inmates, and the scale of provisions was periodically reviewed. Although tempering with the prisoners rations took place at the camp, the amounts despatched to December 1939 per 100 inmates compared very favourable with those for the years which were to follow.
Nor is there evidence of any plans for a gas chamber during the early stages of the building of Mauthausen. Indeed, before the outbreak of the war it is unlikely that either the camp command or Oranienburg, the Berlin concentration camp headquarters, had any idea of the hideous installations which later on were to complete and perfect the machine of death. Those were to come later. By December 1939 the building of the SS barracks, the Commandantur, garages and prisoners barracks was completed. Work on the remaining parts of the camp continued until the liberation in 1945, at the enormous and terrible cost of the lives of its thousands of inmates. This monstrous, carefully stone fortress, encircled by piercing floodlights, struck coldness and fear into the prisoners as they arrived at the gates.
Heinrich Himmler of SS visiting Mauthausen in 1941. Himmler is talking to Franz Ziereis, camp commandant.
Mauthausen concentration camp from 1938 to 1945 had only two commanders, as compared to other camps, this was a low low staff turnover for commission officers responsible for the administration of KZ-Camps. Sturmbannführer Albert Sauer, who was from the establishment of the camp in Agust 1938 to February 1939 entrusted with this function, but was replaced by Franz Ziereis on 1 April 1939 who remained in this position longer than any other commandant until May 1945. Who was Franz Ziereis?
He was known as "baby face Ziereis" because of his soft features. He was neither tall nor heavy built, but of his general appearance was handsome and much enhanced by his elegant and superbly-kept uniform. Born of a humble family in Munich 1905, he had one brother and two sisters. When little more than eighteen years old, he enrolled in the 19th Bavarian Infantry Regiment of the Reichswehr, in which he remained until September 1936. When he left he held the rank of First Lieutenant. He immediately re-entered the service, this time as a training officer in the Waffen SS- the 4th Standarte in Oranienburg- where he was promoted to Haupsturmführer, the grade with which he succeeded Sauer as Commandant of Mauthausen. In 1941 he was promoted to Sturmbannführer (Major), in 1943 to Obersturmbannführer (Lt.-Colonel) and finally in 1944 to Standartenführer (Colonel).
In addition of his officers pay, Ziereis received 300 RM per month from DEST for hiring out prisoners to civilian contractors.
The Meserschmidt factories paid a daily hire of 8 RM per man to Oswald Pohl's SS economic administration. Ziereis's share of this was only 50 Pfennings per man, about which he complained bitterly. He even received his share of the cost of a prisoner's visit to the camp brothel.
What sort of man was Ziereis? He must have possessed some curious power which enabled him to remain for so long in this position of authority, in control of an enterprise worth million of Reichsmarks. Yet he was neither powerful with the "top brass", nor influential with them. Indeed the political section of the camp conducted itself with such independence from Gestapo headquarters that this was a constant source of irritation to him. His history does not show that he possessed any particular driving force, nor an above average intelligence. He was a model husband and a devoted father, a reasonable sober man, with none of the positive or latent homosexual tendencies that were common with men of his position. His vice, if that is how it can be described, lay in his inexhaustible homicidal activities, and in this he excelled.
His deputy was Georg Bachmayer, who was in charge of the Garrison SS, although the nominal chief was one by the name of Zutter. There is an impression that Ziereis was always suspicious of the raucous, heavy-drinking Bachmayer and that he feared he might be overshadowed and eventually replaced by him.

Franz Ziereis, Commandant of Mauthausen, 1939-1945
The top administration of the concentration camps was in the hands of the most ruthless men of the Nazi regime. Under an agreement dating from December 1939, the economic administration came under Oswald Pohl, but depended finally upon Himmler, while discipline was maintained through Gücks, the inspector of Concentration Camps, who was answerable to Heydrich. The Pohl-Himmler empire was run from the Unter den Eichen at Berlin-Lichterfelde, and Glücks-Heydrich Inspectorate from Oranienburg, very close to Sachenhausen.
Heydrich intended the concentration camps to be merely places where undesirables were eliminated and to a very great extent this is what they remained, even after his death in 1942. Himmler, though equally ready to murder their defenceless inmates, saw the opportunity of extracting saleable produce from their toil before they died.
During the period of Ziereis' command at Mauthausen some fifty-seven sub-camps and sub-sub commands were to grow up as offshoots from the main camp. Two of them, Gusen and Ebensee, grew almost to rival Mauthausen itself, while twenty-nine others became quite large. Ziereis also had a loose connection with the castle of Hartheim.
Theodor Eicke, whose power was so great that he was able to form his own army. This was known as the Totenkopfverbände (death head units), whose members became concentration camp guards. [This is not quite correct, part of them became a ferocious fighting unit almost all of them, especially on the eastern front during the war,sic] At the outbreak of the war Eicke moved into action with his Units and the Inspectorate was entrusted to Glücks. A core of these Totenkopfverbände members remained in control at all times in the camps. The SS garrison at Mauthausen consisted of them plus about hundred former army and air force personnel. The SS/Prisoner ratio was never less than 1:10 in Mauthausen and its dependencies. [PS 2176(209), J.A.D. 3rd US Army, sic]
TheSS-prisoner ratio could only be maintained at this level if prisoners functionaries took charge of the internal administration of the camp These were known as Prominenten and were chosen by the SS because of their particular abilities in one direction or another. Those with a knowledge of Slav languages and an ability to translate often obtained positions in the records section of the camp. Prisoner doctors, dentists and lawyers all came into the Prominenten category. The SS tended to respect them and up to a point protect them in order to maintain some semblance of a smooth-running organisation in the camp. They themselves supervised the work of the Prominenten and saw to it that they had no Kapo overseers over them.

"Battered inmate photographed by the SS during the operation of Mauthausen"
Kapo overseers were drawn principally from the criminal class of prisoners. They were often ignorant, crude and base and were selected by the SS for their brutality. Under Commandant Sauer's regime they were tutored in beating the prisoners with long rubberized hoses. They wore black armband of arbitrary power, which gave them a licensed outlet for their frustration and mental disorders. They terrorised the helpless prisoners over whom they were given control. They also had endless opportunities for working a black market, pilfering and receiving bribes. There was no love lost between them and the Prominenten, with whom they should on no account be confused.
The prison functionaries had not only sufficient food to eat in the main camp, but according to Hans Marsalek, there were 20-30 "Prominerte" who never touched a normal prison food. They ate, often in the company of the SS block leaders, especially for them prepared meals, from potato pancakes to roasted hare (gespickter Hasenbraten) at covered tables in separate rooms. The clothing set them apart as well from the other prisoners. The camp clerk Leitzinger had a made ​​to measure prison uniform. Central the prisoner functionaries activities were the emerging barter system, involving the more corrupt SS-men, who conducted trade with the civilian population at the outside. It was a simple method of pilfering valuables out of the Holding Store from prisoner belongings and obtain luxury goods, alcohol and drugs, which Leitzinger enjoyed.

Continued under Part 2

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