CHANGE OF COMMAND
The commandant was suddenly and inexplicably transferred from the command of Ebensee. He was succeeded by Obersturmführer Otto Riemer, under whom the conditions of the camp deteriorated even further. He himself personally beat, shot and tortured prisoners. He openly offered extra cigarettes and leave to those sentries who could account for the largest number of deaths-deaths were listed as 'shot while trying to escape'. [PS 2176 (31), JAD, 3rd US Army, sic] The response, was a startling increase in shootings, in which sentries competed with each other. If a sentry had not sufficient numbers to his credit, he would knock off the cap of a passing prisoner and throw it into the forbidden zone. When he went to retrieve it, he would be shot dead. Riemer, like Bachmayer, was a great lover of wine and women, and he would often go to wild drinking parties in the company of some of the younger SS. On one occasion, on 18th May 1944, he returned to camp after an all-night drinking session with twelve of his SS command. They entered the camp precincts, shooting wildly with their pistols and roaring with delight as panic-stricken prisoners scurried out of their way. Fifteen prisoners died as a result of this display. On 23rd May, Riemer was drunk again when, accompanied by his favourite SS friend, he returned to the camp at 9 p.m. Unfortunately it was just at this moment that a work commando came trudging back to their Blocks. As they passed, Riemer and his comrade began to shoot them from the back [PS 2176 (31) JAD, 3rd US Army, sic] Four Russians, one German, one Spaniard, one Pole and one Italian, with ages ranging from twenty to forty-one, were killed outright. Others were severely injured and died during the night or the following morning. The names and numbers of the dead were listed and sent to Mauthausen with explanatory note of 'died by suicide','died by hanging', died by electrocution and, died from complete exhaustion. Riemer, amongst his accomplishments, was also something of a wit.[Otto Riemer, Ebensee Obersturmführer – managed to escape. born 19 May 1897 , date of death unknown. After the cancellation of the post of commandant of Ebensee, sent to the main camp of Mauthausen, where he served as head of the mail. Of his post-war fate nothing is known. sic]
It was possible for particular zealous Kapos or Block Leaders to be promoted out of the ranks of the prisoners from which they originally came. An example of this was the Kapo in charge of Block 19. He would wait for his prisoners to return from the day's toil and then compel them to perform exhausting physical exercises far into the night. The following morning after a sleepless night, the men would be forced out to another full day's work. Nearly all the members of this Block who performed such exercises died from exhaustion within ten days. By this system of elimination he had succeed in killing in a most economical manner and he was suitably rewarded. When the camp at Wels was constructed, he became Camp Leader. Block I was in charge of a Kapo who indulged in a method of torture which can only be described as that of a latent homosexual. [PS 2176 (16) JAD, 3rd US Army, sic] The slightest infringement of the stringent regulation, such as a pair of clogs protruding too far from the bunks, would result in the offender being made to stand on a stool without his trousers. He would be whipped until his buttocks bled and then made to return to work. The Kapo also took delight in various subtle, painful and even macabre forms of torture. On the morning of 1st January 1945, when the ground was covered with snow, he sent his men completely naked to the shower room at the other end of the camp. He kicked and lashed out at them with his whip as they made their way there and compelled them to sing "Happy New Year".
Another notorious Kapo, who was in charge of some 700 prisoners, was the illiterate German gypsy Hartmann. No day went by when he not returned to camp with at least three dead bodies, and this excluded any prisoners who died from natural causes. When the camp was liberated, he was set upon and killed by his fellow countrymen.
As has already been stated, Mauthausen and its dependencies held the highest percentage of 'green' or criminal prisoners in the entire concentration system, and this was maintained until the end of the war. All principal functions were generally assigned to criminal prisoners, but from early 1943 a gradual change took place and the 'red' or political prisoners began to hold authoritative positions. The ordinary prisoner at Ebensee, as at all other concentration camps, were of all types of nationalities. They ranged from bandits, pimps and assassins to political prisoners and patriotic resistance fighters.
The last commandant of Ebensee was a notorious SS man, who had once been a bouncer at a night club. As the sound of the American guns was heard in the distance, more and more prisoner tried to escape. He had his own idea of how to deal with this. Anyone caught attempting to get away was sentenced to death by hanging and the execution was timed to coincide with the evening roll call. The entire population of the camp assembled in front of the gibbet. The front ranks sat on the ground, second group knelt and the third stood. In this way everyone was afforded a good view of the proceedings. The punishment was not administered by the SS or by a Kapo, but by the condemned man's closest associate. Under the threat of his own execution, this man was ordered to act as executioner and pull the noose. The ceremony would end with the prisoners marching with military precision in groups of five past the dead man. Between September 1944 and April 1945, this particular execution took place no fewer than fourteen times. On another occasion a prisoner who had been killed by guards was brought into he camp on a makeshift stretcher. In front of the assembly of 7,000 prisoners the Commandant kicked the body off the stretcher and thumped and jumped upon it.
THE SICK, THE DEAD AND CANNIBALISM
When a prisoner fell sick he would think twice before submitting to a medical inspection at the infirmary. If possible, he generally preferred to carry on in the hope that his condition would improve - which it seldom did. If he eventually decided to report sick, he was obliged to wait in the open outside the infirmary door, in all weathers and often barefoot. If he had bronchitis or pneumonia, the wait in such conditions might kill him before he even saw the doctor. The bodies of dead patients were removed immediately because they blocked the doorway. Those who survived the wait and got inside the infirmary were met at the entrance by Polish or German criminal Kapos armed with whips and sticks. The medical inspection was conducted by prisoner doctors who, with the most meagre medical supplies at their disposal, did all in their power to mend the shattered bones and alleviate the sufferings of the sick. The prisoners doctor's diagnosis would be wholly disregarded by the SS corporal and the non-commissioned medical orderlies. Seven times out of ten, sick prisoners would return to work feeling rather weaker than before. The doctor in charge of the infirmary at Ebensee was Dr Willi Jobst, and his assistant were Dr Krindel and Dr. Schulling. All three men spent most of their time signing death certificates
[Former SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Doctor Willi Jobst, a defendant at the trial of 61 former camp personnel and prisoners from Mauthausen, Dr. Jobst was camp physician of the Ebensee concentration camp. Jobst was convicted and sentenced to death on May 13, 1946. sic] It was camp rule that Jews must stay in their own Block and were not permitted to enter the infirmary. Fever patients were usually turned away too. Too relieve the monotony of the infirmary rounds or to speed up the death rate inside it, the SS suddenly admitted one fever case. the result was catastrophic.
Block 23 at Ebensee corresponded to the Bahnhof (Railway-Endstation) at Gusen or the Russenlager (Russian Camp) at Mauthausen. When the camp was at full strength, as many as 600 dying and dead prisoners lay side by side on the bare floor of the Block. The running of the infirmary was closely linked with the always haphazard hygiene routine of the SS. There was no laundry, only a vapour room to which the garments were sent on very rare occasions for steam treatment. During this process the prisoners remained naked. In their Blocks they slept three to four to a bunk, the sick alongside the healthy. Any prisoner who tried to do anything to improve his lot was put to death. One Russian prisoner was hanged a few days before the liberation because he had knitted gloves of odd pieces of material in order to save his hands from frostbite. Another was hanged because he brought back some oil from his workshop to rub into his deeply cracked legs.
The SS were at pains always to keep the figures and the Blocks balanced. It did not matter to them how many prisoners died in one day so long as the dead and the living were accounted for. One day, the body of a prisoner who had been registered as dead could not be found for cremation. The camp was searched and the corpse finally found in another Block in a sleeping condition next to a live, but very sick, prisoner. This man had taken the corpse to his quarters in the hope of obtaining the dead man's rations. Food was always uppermost in the minds of the prisoners, and they would overlook nothing and stop at nothing in order to get it.
There were even cannibalism at Ebensee. On one occasion in April 1945, when the crematorium staff were removing a pile of bodies from one corner of a Block, they noticed that a part of the body was missing [PS 2176 (188) LAD, 3rd US Army, sic] When the SS was notified, they showed a characteristic fear, for they realised that they had deliberately instigated something which now deteriorating beyond even their standards of depravity. Cannibalism itself did not worry them, it was the natural result of their policy of degrading human beings. But it did show the lengths to which prisoner's desperation could take him, it was a turning point beyond which the SS might no longer have control. They responded to the threat by doubling the cremation staff and by having the bodies removed from the blocks as often as twice a day. [This is were the the expression for Russian Prisoners as "UNTERMENSCHEN' (Sub-Humann) was applied in POW Camps, that reverted to a high degree of cannibalism, eating human flesh in a raw state, due to hunger, sic]
As the camps in the line of the Allied advances had to be evacuated, prisoners poured into Ebensee. Others returned from sub-commando work outside the camp, with the result that the Blocks became fantastically overcrowded. With dead bodies piling up both inside and outside the huts, the SS became exasperated by the increasing number of sick prisoners, and their inability to move. In SS eyes, they were occupying valuable space and the remedy was easy enough. There is evidence to show that on one occasion at least four sick prisoners were thrown into the communal grave and buried alive by other bodies piling on top of them.
The dead were immediately robbed of their clothing by other sick prisoners, as well as Kapos. Their mouths would be forced open so that any gold fillings could be removed and kept by the Kapos in charge. The crematorium furnaces were often unable to keep pace with the deaths, so that for days, naked bodies lay stacked up in wagons outside the Blocks, the infirmary or the crematorium itself. To reduce the congestion, a ditch was dug outside the camp and the bodies were flung into the quicklime. On one day in April 1945, a record number of eighty bodies was removed from Block 23. Amongst the pile, feet were seen to be twitching.
The mass evacuations from other concentration camps put tremendous pressure on Mauthausen as the last remaining camp in the area of German power. Ebensee and the other dependency camps had to take their share of the surplus prisoners. One of the largest single consignment of prisoners consisted of 2,000 Jews from Auschwitz. Ganz inquired whether the crematorium could cope with such an influx, for it was his intention to reduce the number of Jews by half within two weeks. This was no empty threat. Within fourteen days, Blocks 25 and 26 had despatched hundreds of corpses. Other transports from Auschwitz followed. Of 4,000 Hungarian Jews who were transported to Mauthausen from Auschwitz late 1944, a large proportion went to Ebensee. Only 300 of the original 4,000 were alive when the camps were liberated. Earlier, in September 1944, 1,000 civilian Polish workers arrived unexpectedly direct from Warsaw. By the end of the year only 100 of them were still alive. [The camp commandant Anton Ganz, until 1945, was sentenced by a German Court to life imprisonment.Ganz died, 1973.]
After February 1945, the evacuation became still bigger and more frequent. One of the largest transport arrived at Ebensee on 3rd March from Wolfsberg (Gross Rosen). The privation suffered on the journey from Mauthausen to Ebensee were so terrible that forty-nine died on the way, 2,059 managed to survive. When they arrived, they wee made to stand throughout the night in snow, outside the crematorium, where piles of corpses lay awaiting incineration. In the morning they were taken away for disinfection, during which 182 died. By this time 90% of all the prisoners were going to work in the snow without shoes, sweaters or gloves, and many of them braved the savagery of the SS by wrapping their feet and ankles in newspaper or in rags. After this, Ebensee received a stream of prisoners from Wels, Melk, Leibnitz, St Valentin, Redyl-Zipf, the camp inmate strength becoming a new high of 18,000 prisoners, 6,000 of these were so sick that they lay down in the streets of the camp, in bunks, in the infirmary, or wherever they could. By March the food allocation was hopelessly inadequate for such large numbers. In the morning the ration was a half litre of unsweetened warm ersatz coffee. At noon it was three-quarters of a litre of so-called soup - in other words hot water containing potato peelings and a few pieces of assorted vegetables. In the evening there was one loaf of bread (1,350 grams) for six working prisoners or nine sick prisoners. They were all so hungry that they would conceal a dead prisoner in order to collect his food ration. Others would eat leaves, grass or coal. On 26th April, in Block 26, the body of a Hungarian Jew was found with his buttocks cut off.
The only revolt known in the history of Mauthausen and its sub-camps took place in Ebensee a few days before the liberation when a transport from Nordhausen, Amstetten, Schlier and Neuengamme had inmate strength to more than 30,000. At roll call, the Commandant ordered them to file into one of the tunnels, in which an old locomotive packed with explosives had been lodged. The prisoners, to a man, blankly refused. The SS guards were paralysed with indecision. The hordes of humans swayed and murmured. For the first time since their arrest, the prisoners who were not already dying saw the possibility that they might just survive the war. Understandably, they neither wished to be blown up in the tunnel, nor mown down by SS machine-guns for refusing. But they knew that in these last days, many of the SS had left and had been replaced by Volksdeutsche. A quick consultation with some of his command made it clear to the Commandant that they too were reluctant either force the men into the tunnel, or to shoot them down. With the war all but over, they were thinking of the future, and the punishment they would receive for the slaughter of so many human beings was something they still wished - even with their already stained hands - to avoid. And so the prisoners won the day.
When US forward troops entered the camp Ebensee on 8th May 1945, they found bodies all over the place. The administration had completely broken down. Prisoners roaming around with vacant look, talking to themselves, more dead than alive. Others were attacking their fellow-prisoners, breaking into Blocks and magnifying the hell that was Ebensee.
As the US Army approached Gusen, the SS command fled from the camp to hide in the surrounding country or farther afield. Only the local Volksdeutsche (Etnic Germans) were left in charge. On 6th May 1945, the day after the Americans had made a cursory visit to the camp, a resistance committee led a popular uprising, numbering some hundred prisoners. After disconnecting the electric fencing, they formed a human battering ram which burst out of the prison confines into the neighbouring villages and countryside. They effectively sought and found a great many of their persecutors, who were summarily killed. The Gusen resistance group, physically fortified by the heady joy of freedom, then joined a similar Mauthausen group to help check the SS rearguard actions. If the SS rearguard actions had been successful, it would have been catastrophic to the prisoners.
I have avoided to quote death figures, as Gusen death statistics , if anything, are harder to define than those of Mauthausen, furthermore there is the tendency to manipulate figures to make them look "good". A total death of 38,453 are given by Jurek Osuchowski in 'Gusen, Entry to Hell, published by the National War Ministry, Warsaw, 1961. This figure, colossal though it may be, do not take into account the unknown number of lost children. The total number of deaths in the Mauthausen chain of camps for the years 1940-43 inclusive is increased by 18,575, as these were the years in which deaths of Gusen were not registered in Mauthausen and those executed direct from Warsaw. The statistics for Mauthausen alone are given as the very minimum, there being no accurate way of recording the thousands who died and were erased from the registers, or those who were never in the register at all. In an historical account this is something which should not be overlooked. The figures given here, taken from the existing death register, record those who remained registered. Guesses have been made at the number of deaths in Mauthausen and Gusen which include 'Kugel Aktion', various secret executions, those erased from the records, and the thousands who died unheeded in the days of the liberation. But it is not possible to prove these guesses with facts, for the facts were not at the disposal of the victors: 120,000 to 200,000 dead may be a fairly accurate assessment. One must therefore accept the figures as only minimum, adding a rider that the numbers 'lost' will never be known.
The barracks of the camp were destroyed soon after the liberation. Visiting the former area of the camp you can only see the former entrance gate of the camp. The victims’ cemetery is also located in this area, at the place where one of the mass graves secretly, created by the SS shortly before the liberation of the camp was found. The gallery systems still exist and in one of the huge tunnels a bilingual exhibition (German/English) gives a detailed description of the camp’s history. The remains of a staircase (called “Löwengang”) can also be visited. Moreover, during the 1960s a former SS officer for some time became mayor of Ebensee, without his Nazi past arousing much attention.
Victims from other concentration camps: 235 victims (above all from the camp at Gunskirchen) who had died in Hörsching after the liberation were buried in the mass grave and at the burial sites left and right of it. 3 victims from the subsidiary camp in St. Valentin were transferred to Ebensee. 190 urns were relocated from Steyr. These include victims from the concentration camps Gusen and Mauthausen, who were cremated largely in 1941 and 1942 in the municipal crematorium in Steyr. 52 victims from the Mauthausen concentration camp, who lost their lives after the camp’s liberation in a hospital in Schönau, were exhumed in December 1953 and buried in Ebensee. All victims, 51 Hungarian Jews and a Russian, could be identified. Furthermore, 19 victims (4 urns), thereof 5 could be identified, were transferred from the cemetery in Linz-St. Martin to the cemetery of the Ebensee concentration camp. Finally, in October 1960, 10 victims were relocated from the cemetery in Altaussee and 6 from Gallspach to Ebensee.
2 victims were exhumed again at the end of the 1950s and transferred to Salzburg, 1 victim was repatriated to Israel.
All in all, 1343 victims were buried in individual graves as well as about 2341 victims in the two mass graves at this cemetery. The location of any ash pits has not been clarified up to the current date. These are said to have been created - according to the memories of surviving camp inmates - as a result of the cremation of thousands of victims in the camp crematorium.
Two days later, after the liberation, the advance units of the US liberating forces prepared to move out of Ebensee. They handed over the camp to the more organised and experienced units on the 17th May 1945, once again, the example of generosity, compassion and humanity on the part of the US forces received small thanks and even less recognition.
When one looks at the map of Europe, indicating the network of concentration camps, it is difficult to realise that each little black dot or square represents a camp or sub-camp where human beings were confined, without help and without hope. Each one of these camps helped to further the aims of Germaan superiority and strength, while at the same time increasing the subjugation of the so-called Untermenschen. The excellence with which so many of the war installations were built and equipped by the slave labour of the camps is a constant reminder of how nearly the German Nation, under control of it's Führer, succeed in its avowed aim. Surviving prisoners tend to think only of Mauthausen, Gusen, Ebensee and Melk when they talk of the Mauthausen group. But there were other sub-camps and sub-sub-camps where living condition were equally grim, and where the life of a prisoner was equally of little account.
It is not known who was responsible for the setting up of sub-sub-camps. It might have been at the instigation of one particular firm, or the order might have come from Commandant Ziereis, or it might have been a combination of both these. Again, the responsibility might have lain with the WVHHA, so that Ziereis would have been little more than a warehouseman who parcelled out numbers, and those numbers just happened to be human beings. What is certain is, that Ziereis was responsible for allowing the death rates at Mauthausen and its dependencies to become second only to Auschwitz. He also saw to it that it held first place for the sheer barbarity of killing methods. The booklet Auschwitz 1940-1945 by Kazimirz Smolen states on pages 69 and 70: 'Other forms of punishing prisoners...sending to other camps (e.g. to quarries in the Mauthausen concentration camp'). Coming from the camp of camps, this was certainly a condemnation. As we have seen, the concentration camps served a dual purpose as a reservoir of slave labour and as places of extermination. The Nazis maintained their policy of elimination of the Jews until the end, and by that time the camps had absorbed and killed even more non-Jews than Jews. One wonders, fearfully, what use these vast buildings projects would have been put to if all the slave labour had been killed and if Hitler had won the war. The concentration camps would then have moved on to a new phase which would have touched us all in every country, of every age of every profession. We would all have found our places in them the vast network was only the beginning.
Any references of documents with serial numbers preceded by letters 'PS' and 'D' indicates evidence used at the trials before the International Military Tribunal (IMT), Nürnberg, 1945-46. Both letters 'PS and 'D' refer to Mauthausen, not every reference has been quoted. Other links are: http://paolosilv.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/justice-at-nuremberg/