Sunday, November 18, 2012

GUSEN-MAUTHAUSEN SUB-CAMP - PART 1



EPILOGUE
Gusen, one of Mauthausen's sub-camps was about six kilometres to the west of the Main Camp. Theoretically, it was independent until 1944, after which it came entirely under the control of Commandant Zirereis. Contact between the two camps appears to have been rather loose, but their records seem sometimes to have kept together. This has led to a good deal of confusion in later attempts to provide accurate statistics for each camp. According to the Revue d' Histoire de la Deuxeme Guerre Mondiale (No. 45, January 1962, p. 47), the first prisoners to arrive at Gusen held five-figure Mauthausen numbers. It also states (p. 46) that the exact date when Gusen was established was not known. Further information come to light, however, since publication of the Revue, from which it appears that the figures hitherto thought to have Mauthausen's may, possibly, have been transfer figures from Dachau.
ARRIVAL OF INMATES
On the 26th May, 1940, the first transport of prisoners, mostly Poles, arrived at Gusen from Dachau. An extremely reliable survivor of this original group, Stanislaw Sekowski, states that neither he nor any of his group ever saw Mauthausen and that their numbers were issued at Dachau. It is certain, though, that some of the groups numbers were altered later and that there was a general confusion of numbers between Dachau, Mauthausen and Gusen. When Gusen started its own numbering on or about 19th June 1940, prisoners who already had a Dachau or a Mauthausen number were thus provided with two. This went on until 12th February, 1944, by which time there were extremely few men with double numbers left alive. [Information from Casimir Clement, sic] When the camp was liberated, only ten of the original 1,087 were still living. [Information from Stanislaw Sekowski, now living in England (1973) was at Gusen from 1940 to 1945, sic] After 123th February, again according to the Revue d' Histoire de la Deuxeme Guerre Mondiale, all former Gusen numbers were exchanged for new Mauthausen numbers and all, without exception, were higher than the number 43,000. This may well be so as regards prisoners who had had Gusen numbers, but the use of the expression 'without exception' is rather misleading as an indication of Gusen strength. For instance, the British NN agent Lieutenant Le Chene, who was transferred to Gusen on the 12th June 1944 retained his number 35129 all the time he was in the camp. Nor was he the only one, as is shown by the Veränderungsmeldung (change of strength) marked Gusen, 10th March 1945. It would be true to say, therefore, that from the time of the numbering Gusen always contained a great many other prisoners in addition to its original inmates. These others were never issued with Gusen numbers, but kept the numbers they had been given at Mauthausen and other sub-camps.

Construction of a prisoner barracks.'
The Mauthausen entry register was altered accordingly to show the transfer. This page was altered accordingly to show the transfer. This page is particularly interesting because it lists the Nacht und Nebel prisoners, the vast majority of whom had been in the Resistance movements of their various countries, or others, such as Lt. Le Chene and those who were transferred to Natzweiler (Alsac) on 20th June,1944, who were British agents engaged in special operations. It was generally believed that the authorities wanted to bring all such agents together in one place and that they were to be exterminated at Natzweiler. This is unlikely to be so, since it would be senseless to move them to a camp nearer the battle area when Mauthausen was the usual place for extermination of agents. It is more probably that Himmler, with a ready eye to the appeasement of the Western Allies, saw an important bargaining counter in this collection of brave and intelligent men, all so valuable to their own countries. However, this assumption makes no attempt to hide the fact that mass executions of special agents did take place in Natzweiler until the last moment of the Nazi collapse.
Lt. Le Chene would undoubtedly have been included in the Natzweiler group had it not been for an SS-man with a particular hatred for the British. This man spotted him in the Quarry and vindictively had him transferred to Gusen, which, at the time, was considered to be a worse fate than Mauthausen. As it turned out, the transfer was to his advantage. When he arrived at Gusen he was sent to the quarry and attached to a team of men, mostly Poles, who were working on a cable linked to a windlass motor. The inch-thick cable was pulled by the motor with such force that when granite was being hauled, the prisoners took refuge in case the cable should break. When it did break, it whipped back with such violence that it could rip a man's leg off.
Type of Windlass Electric Motor used on ships'
The Pole in charge of the windlass also hated the British. He told Le Chene to eat his midday meal in a hut used by Kapos and SS, knowing that this would almost certainly lead to a beating-up. As luck would have it, the quarry Oberkapo was a Viennese named Voganig, He was puzzled to find an Englishman in the hut, asked him what he was doing there and recognised at once that a trick had been played on him. As a result, the Pole was turned out of the windlass hut and replaced by Le Chene, who was thus given a least a little protection from the elements.
The first group of prisoners to arrive at Gusen direct from Dachau was augmented a week later by another. After that, transports for Mauthausen came only as far as St Georgen, Ninety per cent of these prisoners were Poles, the rest were an assortment of German and Austrians. They were deposited on the quarry site where there was no shelter, no water, no sanitation- absolutely nothing. The Poles soon learned to invent imaginary professions for themselves. It was far too dangerous to admit to being a doctor, a lawyer or a member of any other profession. There is some evidence to show that Gusen was originally intended as a camp for elimination of the Polish intelligentsia, and in its early days this was certainly so. Later, with influxes of up to twenty different nationalities, its character changed and everything was subordinated to the general extermination by work. After the first mass killings of professors, clerics, doctors, lawyers, architects and so on, it became apparent that such people were very much needed and their lives were generally spared.
BUILDING THE CAMP
As the building of the camp Blocks of Gusen progressed, Block I was made into stores block and Block 2 the first shelter for prisoners. Later on, Block 2 became the permanent quarters for the high proportion of prominenten such a dentists and doctors. Block 9 became known as the Spaniards' block. Large numbers of them were housed there, but it also contained Germans and Poles from whom the future Block Leaders and prisoners were recruited. The main walls round the camp were built by the prisons out of nearby granite. The main entrance was designed, oddly enough, by one of the inmates. All the building work was made much harder because of lack of water. Sanitary arrangement were extremely primitive. A series of hole were dug in the ground that was surrounded by barbed wire. Over the hole was placed a narrow plank on which the prisoners had to crouch. It was a precarious business and may fell in. [I experienced this method myself as a POW in most camps after the war, sic] It was not until 1941 that pipes were laid and running water laid on to the communal washroom and lavatories. Unlike Mauthausen, where there was generally washing facilities in each block, the washrooms and lavatories of Gusen were in separate buildings at right angles to the blocks. Eventually, there were about thirty prisoner blocks built in wood and two i stone. The Gusen kitchen was divided into three compartments. In the first were huge boiling cauldrons, each with a capacity of 750 litres. In the second the food was prepared, and the third was a food store. Swedes (a yellow-fleshed turnip) were brought into the camp as early November 1940, but for some inexplicable reason, they were not used until February 1941, by which time they were already half rotten.
The camp was surrounded by high tension wiring where no granite walls existed, and was built on a steep incline. Many of the Blocks, such as Block 30 (the infirmary), had to be approached by flights of steps. They were built on the same lines as those of Mauthausen, and at the beginning they had no furniture and no heating arrangement.

The Gusen concentration camp after liberation. (May - June 1945)
The prisoners slept packed together like sardines. If one of them, probably with a cold in the bladder as a result of debility and exposure, wished to go to the lavatory, he had to brave the curses of his exhausted comrades as he tried to reach the door. By the time he returned, he had usually lost his sleeping place. The disturbance would incense the Kapo in charge, who would lash out at those nearest to him until the prisoner who had been the cause of the disturbance was somehow squeezed into few inches of space. Once the blocks were built, and this included the living quarters for the SS and Wehrmacht guards, the civilian businessmen began to take a lively interest in the camp, for it was to become an extremely lucrative proposition.
The granite extracted from the Gusen quarries was of a superior quality to that from Mauthausen. The main quuarry was the hillside behind the camp. It was one of three levels and ther was a stairway roughly hewn between the second and third levels. A smaller quarry lay to the east. Behind the quarries, five subterranean tunnels, with two offshoots, were cut deep into the hill. They were part of the new Gusen II, who's inmates were French (mostly deported from Compiegne to Mauthausen), Italians and Jews. Not much is known about when this colossal task was undertaken, nor the reason for its being built in record time and with a record cost of life. Prisoners on the Kellerbau commando, as it was called, worked round the clock in three shifts in order to complete the tunnels, which were to become underground factories for Messerschmidt aircraft, the production of which had been seriously curtailed by the Allied bombardments of 1943. The hillside would protect the factories from possible air attack and work could go on underground, unobserved by enemy aircraft. Some three kilometres away in the direction of Linz at St Georgen, there was another subterranean factory in the area known as Gusen III.

First, tunnels were dug directly north of KZ Gusen to bomb proof the machine gun production there. Later, this system, with some 12,000 square meters, was code named "KELLERBAU" .The KELLERBAU Tunnels at Gusen almost simultaneously, another, even larger underground plant (U-Verlagerung) was dug at nearby St. Georgen/Gusen with some 50,000 square meters of bomb-proof production area. This largest project of DEST was code named B8 BERGKRISTALL-ESCHE 2
The large Steyr works built in Gusen I, produced parts for machine-guns and other weapons, while the Messerschmidt factory was responsible for the assembling the fuselages for the aircraft. It was intended to transfer both factories to the tunnels in the hillside as soon as they were ready. There were in fact air raids in the region of Mauthausen and its sub-camps, including Gusen. The first was probably a raid on Steyr in 1943. Every now and again in the camp death registers notice long lists of those killed as a result of air-raids, but there is little proof that bombs actually fell on Mauthausen, in the quarries or in any of the sub-camps. There are no traces of craters other than the small ones caused by normal blasting operations. The air-raid entries in the death records are probably just another example trying to pass the buck. Prisoners engaged on building the tunnels were treated with the utmost ferocity. Deaths, which were officially attributed to accidents at work (whether provoked or real), reached fantastically high figures. The tunnels were built only by human beings pitting their strength against the unyielding mountain. First there was drilling to place the dynamite charge, then there was blasting. After the blasting, huge chunks of granite had to be removed by the prisoners in the same way as they did in the Mauthausen quarries. They hewed at the rock with pick-axes to make standing room. Huge wooden piles to support the tunnel were then heaved into place by men dropping with fatigue and hunger. And all the time they were driven on to work harder by the brutality of the SS. The Third Reich would stop at nothing to complete the work and to perfect the installations.
In 1941, or thereabouts, work was begun on the construction of the biggest stone crusher Austria was to have. When completed, the square stone tower stood out above all the other buildings in the area. Conveyor belt buckets would lift stones to the top of this giant edifice, whose capacity for one cycle was 1,600 tons. Inside the tower was an apparatus which crushed the stones and separated them into chambers according to their size. At ground level each chamber had its own exit hole, which gave directly on to the tracks placed around the base of the tower. In this way, the granite was graded from large blocks down to fine dust. When the Allied bombing began in earnest, there was a heavy demand for these stone blocks in order to repair the damaged roads.
This huge rock crusher was positioned over a rail line that carried the gravel and crushed rock to various construction sites. The rail line was removed after the war, and the rock crusher fell into ruin'
Mauthausen's chain of sub-camps provided large financial gains both for individual businessmen and for the state, which included the RSHA or security forces. They were also an important factor in the continuation of Germany's war effort against the increasing strength of the Allies. Throughout the Nazi sphere of influence they provided a network of slave labour which could be called upon at will to counteract the effect of Allied attacks. [This was easily said than done, sic] There is a relative lack of authoritative information on Gusen, and because of this, facts can easily become distorted. One of the few survivors from the original 1,087, Stanislaw Sekowski, is fortunately possessed of a memory like a tape recorder. He was a member of a small commando which arrived in Lungitz from Gusen late 1940. Lungitz is about five miles from Gusen and two and a half from St Georgen. At first the commando consisted of about sixty-four men, but later on from 1941 to 1942 it was increased to about eighty. The Kapo in charge of them was called Schlagelhofer. They were put to work in an extremely modern brick factory, equipped with a new Keller Automat which was powered by a diesel engine. It was capable of producing 24,000 bricks per day and, on the second press, some thousand tiles. The factory also produced drain pipes and wall plates. When the commando was increased to eighty men, the factory received a new 100 hp steam engine, a new press and other machinery, which meant that new buildings and chimneys had to be constructed. Although they received extra food rations because of the hard labour enforced upon them in this commando, the prisoners died like flies. When the commando was wound up in 1942, only two prisoners were still alive. The brick kiln was meticulously maintained by prisoners working in relays. Its daily output exceeded the usual 24,000 bricks when the Oberkapo ordered the small furnace doors to be opened and the bricks to be lifted out by hand. It is true that for this work the prisoners were issued with asbestos gloves and protected clothing of a kind, but the effect on them of this repeated exposure to intense heat was catastrophic, and their health deteriorated beyond the point of no return. As far as the bricks are concerned, their quality was reduced by continual opening of the oven doors and their being removed from the furnace. In the effort to achieve a bigger output the bricks were not being properly kilned. In 1940 and 1941 the prisoners working on this commando were taken from Gusen to Lungitz by trucks, but in 1942 they had to walk both there and back. The commando was abolished in that year and the surviving men were transferred to the Gusen, Messerschmidt and Steyr works.

Brick-making factory
LIFE IN THE CAMPS
The prisoners from Dachau who arrived at the St Georgen quarries in June 1940, were met by SS-men armed with whips and clubs. In January 1941, a great many prisoners from this transport went to work in the stone chiselling commando known as Steinmetz in the Kastenhof, which was the lowest of the quarries of the three tiers. German civilians in Gusen at this time were certainly aware of conditions in both the camp and the quarries. The ample evidence for this includes receipts for supplies and pay-cheques made out to them. In 1941, the Commandant of Gusen was Hauptsturmführer Chmielewsky and his second-in-command was Kluge. They were followed at the beginning of 1942 by Seidler. One does not know why the roles were reversed and Chmielewsky came second to Sweidler, who became Commandant, when both were of the same rank. Survivors from this time tend to say that Chmielewsky was not Commandant but Lagerführer, and that it was in this capacity that he formed a Burgruinen [castle ruins, sic] commando of thirty men in the spring of 1941. This commando was formed with the object of excavating the ruins of the Scharfenberg Castel on an island in the river Danube. Work continued for over a year, during which time pottery, silver coins, parts of weapons, stone carvings, a brass seal and a Roman touchstone from the second century A.D. were found. All finds were taken back to Gusen to be housed in a museum. The men were then sent to take part in the construction of a railway line at St Georgen. During the work of driving a pass through the hill they discovered an old cemetery. An archaeologist was sent for, and work on the pass stopped while he examined the site. A second archaeological commando was formed. The University of Vienna was informed and various distinguished visitors came to visit the site.. Older tombs, probably the oldest in Austria , were uncovered as the digging went deeper. The Gusen museum was enriched with many new and really valuable exhibits. In 1943, Himmler came to see for himself, and in the autumn of that year Hitler ordered that the most valuable objects should be moved to Nürnberg. Those that were left behind at Gusen were removed to a small hut near the bread stores. In 1944, the archaeological commando wound up. Other finds came to light and came to the museum, when, the tunnel digging for the Messerschmidt and Styr factories, various palaeontological discoveries were made. An important mammoth tusk was sent to the Linz museum.
Dr. Gruber, the man in charge of the second excavation commando, had been director of a school for deaf and dumb children in Linz. [In fact he was a priest, sic] As a well known anti-Nazi and friend of Dr. Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, he was one of the first to be arrested after the Anschluss. As a prisoner, he had some sort of agreement with the SS by which he obtained from them gold teeth they had extracted from corpses. This in itself was a terrible crime for an SS-man to commit, because all gold had to be handed in to the WVHA. By some unknown method he managed to transfer the gold and other items of value to his bank account at Linz. Equally mysteriously, he was able to repay the SS in money from his account, while they in their turn gave him cigarettes. The next move was to exchange the cigarettes for garments from the clothing store in Block 25 and for food from the kitchen. With these things Dr. Gruber was able to alleviate the suffering of four young French NN prisoners whom he had befriended. When they got back from their gruelling work in the quarries, there he would be, his pockets bulging with food, his arms perhaps full of clothes and pairs of shoes. The number of NN prisoners he was helping grew from four to a dozen or so, by which time he had reached an agreement with two Spaniards working in the kitchen to have a whole cauldron of soup delivered to him for his charges. Dr. Gruber deliberately courted danger and there was no doubt whatever that he was being protected somehow. After all, an SS-man who worked a black market in stolen gold with a prisoner would almost certainly protect the man who could have him executed. However, on 4th April 1944, the Gestapo and Seidler swooped and Dr. Gruber was incarcerated in the bunker. He underwent non-stop interrogation and torture, but he never divulged the names of his accomplices or those who had benefited from his activities. He died on Good Friday. 7th April, 1944. He was strangled by Seidler himself in the bunker. In a place where death was accepted as an everyday occurrence, Dr Gruber's death stood out and is still remembered. [ source: Revue d' histoire de la deuxime guerre mondiale, No. 45 (January 1962), p. 62,sic]
Dr. Johann Gruber was a teacher and a Roman Catholic priest who did not hesitate to offend the Nazis after the 3rd Reich´s annexation of Austria.In 1938, Dr. Gruber was removed from his job and imprisoned by the Nazis who accused him of sexually abusing some of his pupils. As a result, Dr. Gruber was sent to prison at Linz and Garsten from 1938 to 1939, to wait for the Nazi trials against him. After these trials, he was first sent to KZ Dachau and then, because he was a priest, to KZ Gusen in 1940. So, from the first hour, he was a prominent Austrian political prisoner at this camp.When the Vatican achieved improvements for priests in the concentration camps in March 1940, most of the German and Austrian priests at KZ Gusen camp were re-transferred to the better KZ Dachau camp. But Dr. Gruber volunteered to remain in KZ Gusen to help his Polish comrades who were to be exterminated in KZ Gusen.
Since Dr. Gruber had been in very good standing earlier in his life with many high-ranking people of the former Austrian Republic, he was granted unusual privileges by the SS, and he used these privileges to help the poorest of his comrades in the camp.Thus, he became a very valuable inmate at KZ Gusen to both the SS and the inmates.
This put him in a position to organise many things. For example, he organised a school inside the camp to educate Polish children who were deported to the camp.In addition, in 1941, when archaeological findings were made along with the construction of a railway to KZ Gusen, Dr. Gruber became chief of that archaeological command.This position also allowed him to maintain contacts with people outside the camp (archeologists, people from museums, etc.). He was able to raise money from his friends on the outside and to smuggle this money into the camp while arranging for the archeological findings to be registered in museums outside the camp.
This enabled him to bribe SS-men and Kapos to allow him to organise food inside the camp for those inmates who were starving, and thus saving many lives. But smuggling money in was not all; together with friends from Linz, he also smuggled out information about KZ Gusen.
Unfortunately, his organisation was betrayed in early 1944 and he was tortured and ritually killed by the SS and GeStaPo in April 1944. With "Papa" Gruber's death, hope vanished for many inmates and KZ Gusen became a "Hell of Hells" without any chance for survival. The Nazi sentence against Dr. Johann Gruber (6 Hv 247/38, 6 Vr 839/38) was officially reversed on January 29, 1999 by "Landesgericht Linz" - 55 years after his martyrdom.
Since 1987 several attempts are made to achieve the canonisation of "Papa" Gruber at the Vatican.[source. Wikipedia,sic]
During the years 1940-42 the majority of prisoners at Gusen were still Poles. They were allowed to receive a limited number of parcels from home and to write a limited number of letters. The letters were also censored and as a rule merely said they were alive and healthy and could make good use of a food and clothing parcel. [the German Armed Forces censored letters of their own soldiers as well, sic] In due course when parcels arrived, the SS opened them and removed anything that they wanted for themselves. When the prisoner finally received the parcel, it seldom contained the food which had been sent. [this is doubtful, the SS had no need to steal food from parcels, they lived well, sic] He might be lucky enough to receive articles of clothing and indeed wear them for a time, but anything new and good automatically became the cause of bargaining and jealousy. The allocation of food at Gusen was as bad as it was at Mauthausen. As usual, the meagre ration that each Block eventually received depended upon how much was stolen by the Block Leader for himself and his cronies, and for his black market operations.

CONTINUED UNDER PART 2

1 comment:

  1. I have Dr. Grubers bible, dated 1867, inscribed by Anton Gruber and Johann Gruber. 7.5 cm. x 5,5 cm., dark red leather with his personal notes, a wonderful book in excelent cond. Please contact me for info. and photos. anthonydigiovanna@gmail.com Tony 760-803-2077 p.o.box 2133 Julian Ca. 92036

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.