A few weeks after the occupation of Austria by German troops, high-ranking German SS and police officers visited the Mauthausen quarries and found them to be a suitable location for a concentration camp. On August 8, 1938, prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp were transferred to the “Wiener Graben” quarry and construction of the Mauthausen concentration camp was begun.
The Mauthausen camp was the central camp (referred to as the “mother camp” by the SS guards) for all of Austria. Forty-nine permanent subcamps, as well as some temporary ones that existed only for a few weeks, were administered from the Mauthausen camp.
Between August 8, 1938, and liberation on May 5, 1945, some 195,000 persons of both sexes were imprisoned in these camps. Most of the Mauthausen prisoners had been put into “protective custody as persons detrimental to the commonwealth” by the National Socialist authorities because of their nationality, race, political affiliation or religious beliefs. In addition, there was a small number of Austrian and German prisoners serving prison sentences for criminal offences, who fulfilled almost all the supervisory functions in the camp until the spring of 1944. It was a major achievement of the illegal international prisoners’ organization that these prisoners were ousted from their positions during the final years of Nazi rule.
The Prison Population
In 1938, the majority of camp inmates were criminals. In 1939, young Communists and Socialists from the border regions of Czechoslovakia (Sudeten), some 600 political prisoners from Germany and Austria, 300 prisoners from Burgenland registered as gypsies, and more than 1,000 persons with a criminal record were brought to the camp. Thousands of Poles and Spanish Republicans, among them many children and adolescents, arrived in 1940. Subsequently, train loads full of Poles and Czechs, many of them artists, intellectuals and priests, arrived. In 1941, prisoners from the Netherlands (Jews), Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, among them thousands of POWs, began to arrive.
Between 1942 and 1944, political prisoners from France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Greece, Albania, Poland, the Soviet Union, Italy, Hungary and Germany as well as thousands of unregistered Soviet prisoners of war were sent to Mauthausen. In 1945, more than 20,000 prisoners from concentration camps in countries given up by the Germans were transferred to Mauthausen, mainly from Lublin, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Sachsenhausen, Ravensbruck, Natzweiler, and Gross-Rosen. At the same time, thousands of Hungarian civilians (mostly Jews) were delivered into the camp. On May 3, 1945, a total of 64,800 men and 1,734 women were officially registered as inmates of Mauthausen, in addition to some 15,000 non-registered prisoners. Broken down by nationality, there were 23 Albanians, 4 Britons, 2,791 Yugoslavs, 3 Indonesians, 1 South African, 191 Belgians, 3 Bulgarians, 2 Chinese, 1,312 Czechoslovaks, 1 Egyptian, 3,179 Frenchmen, 90 Dutchmen, 2,263 Italians, 2,184 Spaniards, 3 Turks, 1 Canadian, 64 Luxembourgers, 18,015 Hungarians, 1,850 Germans, 502 Austrians, 15,803 Poles, 23 Romanians, 15,581 Soviet citizens, 2 U.S. citizens, a few Norwegians, Swiss, Greeks, and others.
Until 1939, most of the prisoners were put to work building the camp and the living quarters for SS troops. Later on, they were sent to work in the quarries. Starting in 1943, prisoners were also allocated to the armaments industry, with prisoners from Mauthausen working in almost all the larger arms factories in Austria. In summer, reveille was at 4.45 a.m. Working hours were from 6.00 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch break from 12.00 to 1.00 p.m. (including marching in and out and roll-call for certain detachments working on the camp grounds). The afternoon work routine lasted from 1.00 to 7.00 p.m., followed by another roll-call and the distribution of food rations. Some units working in armaments production as well as punitive units also had to work on Sundays. In winter reveille was at 5.15 a.m., work in the quarries began at dawn and ended at dusk. In the armaments industry prisoners worked a net working day of 11 hours.
Most of the guards at Mauthausen and its subcamps were members of the SS. In the course of the war, their numbers increased from 1,500 in 1939 to 9,000 in 1944-45. On May 3 and 5, 1945, all members of the SS left the main camp and the eleven other concentration camps in Upper Austria. Members of the Vienna fire-fighting police, assisted by a few old soldiers of the German Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe, were brought in to guard the prisoners. From May 4-6, 1945, 81,000 prisoners (men, women and children) were liberated from the remaining Upper Austrian concentration camps by U.S. soldiers.
Sources: Mauthausen, Osterreichische Lagergemeinschaft Mauthausen.