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.'|
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 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 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.
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'|
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