In the meantime, while prisoners were starving everywhere, the greatest care and attention was being lavished on Gusen's angora rabbits. These animals were housed in wire-mesh-fronted, wooden hutches, which were cleaned out regularly. They were fed on the best bran and the strictest guard was placed upon them. During the winter, when the snow began to lie, it was feared they would suffer from general cold and dampness. The SS decided to move hutches from their position at the bottom of the hill to higher, flatter ground between Gusen I and Gusen II. A group of Polish prisoners were rounded up for the difficult task of moving these large, handle-less objects. The SS began to shout and the Kapo began to beat them. As the blows fell thick and fast, they somehow found a way to hold and a way to move the bulky hutches up the hill. It is extraordinary to note that if one of the rabbits died, a report, made out in quadruplicate, had to be sent to Berlin. Clearly the death of an angora rabbit was more important that that of a human being.
The infirmary occupied Blocks 27-32 inclusive and, like that of Mauthausen and the Russenlager, was to all intents and purposes a house of death. Prisoner doctors and orderlies were dedicated to their job of saving life. What they achieved was done by devoted personal care rather by medical treatment, for supplies were hard to come by. The most infamous of the infirmary blocks was Block 31, to which enormous numbers of dysentery cases were allotted. Before this building was completed witnesses report that Block 24 was the dysentery block. sufferers from this disease were usually too weak to get to the primitive lavatories, in which case the Kapo in charge would hurl them into Stube (room) B or the 'Bahnhof'(railway-station) as it was commonly known. Here, covered in their own excrement and that of others, they lay on the ground or upon each other, wherever they were flung, and left to die. No food or medical attention reached the Bahnhof, and the sick must have lived in terror of being thrown in there. The chief SS doctor in charge of the infirmary was Hauptsturmführer Vetter, whose arbitrary operations and experiments on human beings have already been spoken of in the Mauthausen section. He also indulged in the hideous practices of making lampshades out of tattooed human skin and of head shrinking for paperweights. Many witnesses testify to the amount of sophisticated equipment which he installed to perfect the art. [Thousands of prisoners died during human experiments, drug and vaccine testing. Before long-time Bayer employee and SS Auschwitz doctor Helmut Vetter was executed for administering fatal infections, he wrote to his bosses at Bayer headquarters: "I have thrown myself into my work wholeheartedly. Especially as I have the opportunity to test our new preparations. I feel like I am in paradise."sic]
'Opposite my bunk - and I was fortune enough at this time to be the only one in the bed - was the table of the Blockschreiber (clerk). Suddenly, without warning, a selection began. The SS doctors at the table and, lying on my stomach only daring to move my eyes, I watched the parade of naked skeletons pass before them. These poor wretches, no more than sacks of bones, already knew what was about to happen and each made some super-human effort to pull up straight, to make their eyes shine, to move smartly, to show any trait which would seen as health. It was useless. "Stube A" and "Stube B was all that was said. "Stube B" was to lead to death, those who had received this order fitfully darted a glance round the Block, in what was despair of mind and spirit, in what hope of help or escape, one will never know'.
Those who were selected for Stube A that day were transferred to Block 32, while those who were recommended to die remained in Stube B of Block 31. During the night the whole camp herd the screams from Stube B and reports from a sub-machine gun trained on the door of the block. Those who tried to break out from this gas tomb were mown down. That night more than 300 men were killed, many of them French. It made no difference to the SS doctors at this late stage of the war. The facts were plain. Germany was going to loose the war and was going to be overrun either by American or Russians. As it was, there were far too many sick and dying men in Gusen. How much more convenient it would be if they were already dead and cremated, just part of the camp statistics, when the enemy forces arrived.
When Lt. Le Chene was transferred to Block 32 with the other Stube A selections, he shared a bed with a newly arrived Italian who had come to the Infirmary straight from the showers. The Italian had typhus and it was not long before Le Chene began to show the symptoms of the disease.
|The Concentration Camp Gusen|
|KZ - Gedenkstätte Gusen - aerial photo|
This aerial shot shows the Concentration Camp Gusen I and II in the year 1945. For better orientation it has been completed with a schema of the Camp buildings. Clicking on the information points shows further information to the camp buildings. By selecting the corresponding index clip above the image the aerial shot of Gusen in the year 2001 can be retrieved. „Plan and aerial shot 2001“ shows, which buildings of the Concentration Camp disappeared after 1945 and which are still there today.
All you have to do is use the Link "Gusen Memorial, you should now see this plan in colour:
'Dr. Toni Goscinski took blood samples from both of us and then told us the truth. It was virtual death sentence. I felt that this was the end. I was already half my original weight and did not have the strength to go on'. But Dr. Goscinski was determined to save his life. From his very small store of medicaments he managed to give Le Chene a daily injection which would help his heart to combat the illness, and also a daily tablet to reduce the fever. As the fever began to die down, Dr. Gascinski told him that he would have to go back to work in the quarry because another selection was under way and the next few days would be be very dangerous.
'In the quarry the battle to work and survive began. The feeble lived just as long as it took for a Kapo's cudgel to clout one on the head. I could not have survived such punishment. I struggled to lift a block of granite from the ground to a truck. A burly SS came up behind, laughed at me, snatching the block from me, threw it as if it were a feather into the truck. He was amused of the feebleness of the Englishman'.
Lt. Le Chene was readmitted to the infirmary in a state of collapse. It was here that a few days after the liberation he heard an American voice calling out for the 'sick British officer' because a plane was leaving Linz for England. He had been pointed out to the Americans as the "Britisher' who was dying of typhus and he still recalls the gentleness with which they treated him. One nursing orderly whispered as he cradled his head in his arms: 'I know you'd like a good steak, fella, but it would kill you'. Actually, the thought of a steak was very far from Le Chene's mind. With his stomach shrivelled and hard as it was, it was extremely painful even to swallow broth.
It is a sad comment that after his terrible ordeal this man was not given the slightest medical aid, either on board the aircraft or upon landing in England. Nor was any care given to his elementary comfort. He was ordered to fill up a mountain of forms when his hand was so weak that it had to be guided by someone else. He was left without medical care for six days before Colonel Buckmaster and his secretary, Miss Vera Atkins, arrived to identify him as their Agent 'Gregoire'.
The death rate of any single nationality is analysed by M. de Bouard in an article in the Revue d'histoire de la deuxeme guerre mondiale, beginning on page 49. From this, it is seen that the first 500 dead in Gusen were all Poles except 4, and these were AZR ('Asoziale Zigeuner Reich'- Reich asocial gypsies). By the end of 1940, the rate had reached a crushing 1,500, all Poles except twelve, again gypsies, and right up to March 1941 the Poles continued with at least a ratio of four out of five deaths over any other nationality. By June 1941, this rate had slightly eased to every three in four, as prisoners of other nationalities were beginning to be noticed in the camp. After the Poles, the next highest rate at Gusen was at that time amongst the Spaniards, who were used as pawns in Hitler's schemes to draw Franco into active participation with the Axis powers. During the month of June 1941, the increase in the number of Spaniards was reflected in the death registers, for during that month their ratio was one in four of total deaths, and from October 1941 to the end of the year, it increased to three-quarters and then four-fifths. In the spring of 1941, a few Yugoslavs arrived. Because of their relatively numbers, their death ratio did not exceed one in fifteen of the total deaths. In the summer of 1942, Russians began to arrive and very soon made up half the total of deaths registered, later in the same year this figure was one third of the total, though Russians were far fewer in number than either Poles or Spaniards. The survivors of the latter two groups had by this time become hardened to the rigours of camp life, whereas the Russians had so little resistance that they died en masse.
Hungarian Jews began to arrive in May 1944. They were practically exterminated. They died at the rate of one in four during the third week in June, one in three in the second week, one in two in the first week of July and in the second week of July the rate was in excess of one in two. Finally because of the high death rates of the various nationalities arriving at the camp towards the end, the Hungarian Jews death rate stabilised in April 1945, to about two in every five dead.
|Gusen after liberation|
The Italians began to arrive in Gusen in large numbers during late autumn of 1944. They were to feel the full force of hate and vengeance from their former ally, whose savage and cruel methods of waging war had turned the Italians against them. They were to rise with great courage to face their fate in camps such as Gusen where from autumn 1944 to May 1945, their death rate was steady at one in fifteen of all nationalities.
French and Belgians began to arrive in May and June of 1942, the Belgian death rate being in the order of one in thirty and the French, one in fifty. In April 1943, some 200 French prisoners reached the camp and in March and April 1944, two large transports of French prisoners arrived which were sent to Gusen II, where their mortality rate rose sharply to reach one in ten of total deaths, a figure which remained to the end.
But , if it is possible to pick out one group who suffered most in the concentration camps, it was always the Jews. Block 16 housed the Jews who had been deported from the Polish Ghettoes. In front of the Block was a hole about 8 feet wide and 6 feet deep filled with water and covered with blood and excrement. Jews were drowned in this pool after suffering the most terrible privations. One of the worst commandos, the lavatory commando, was always manned by Jews, as it was in Mauthausen. Block Leaders varied considerably. Some wee tolerable to live under and some were not. One man called Fasefski did all he could to look after the inmates of his block. Another named Pastewka often hit prisoners so hard and persistently that they succumbed, but he would never allow anyone else to hit a prisoner in his own block. Block 17 had a particularly sadistic Block Leader, who was responsible for killing many of the Jewish inmates. His last victim was only seventeen years old. Marek, in charge of Block 6, was also extremely hard on the prisoners under him. [statement, Stanislaw Sekowski, sic] Block Leaders such as he contributed enormously to the total number of deaths. Some of them were in the habit of forcing their prisoners to perform violent physical exercises in the Block after long hours working in the quarries. Because of their very low physical and mental condition, this often ended in the prisoners' total collapse. Collapse led to the infirmary, and the infirmary led to the Bahnhof.
It is not known exactly when Gusen crematorium was built, but it is quite possible that it existed before the end of 1942. It had certainly been in existence in March 1943, when the gas-van trips between Mauthausen and Gusen took place. It consisted of one incineration chamber. The building of a massive Bekleidungskammer (clothes store) began in 1943 on a triangular strip of land some three hundred metres from Gusen. It was probably intended for the SS. After a while, however, it was decided that this building should be the start of a second camp, that of Gusen II. Gusen II was to be the home and burial place of hundreds of Hungarian Jews and a great many French Resistance Fighters, as well as a sprinkling of Italians, Poles and Belgians. When the first transport arrived in 1944, the conditions in Gusen II were atrocious, The Blocks contained no water, heating or sanitation, and it was not until two months later that the authorities installed a primitive form of water pipe fitted at intervals with holes.
MURDER AND EXECUTION
The French convoys which arrived at this time (1944) were deportees from the transit point at Compiegne. They consisted almost entirely of former Resistance Fighters or men who had been rounded up for forced labour in the Reich. There were also a few members of the maquis [secret Army Members sic], but as they were usually murdered at the time of capture, they were very much in the minority. In May 1944, there was one of the biggest influxes of Hungarian Jews. As at Mauthausen, they were deliberately and systematically eliminated by every means at the disposal of the State. The next big convoy of Polish families came after the failure of the Warsaw uprising in 1944. This was the first time that children were brought into Gusen. It was late in 1944 that a team of Kapos and SS-men killed an unspecified number of the children by massive bludgeoning with axes. The screams from Gusen II were heard with horrified stupefaction by everyone in Gusen I. These children, whose names were never put on the strength lists, necessarily have to be included in that huge miscellaneous category of 'lost'. During winter of 1944-45, there was a rise, not only in the general exterminations, but also in the natural deaths and suicides by hanging, severing of veins and running into the electric fencing.
On another occasion, a group of captured airmen were executed at Gusen. It was on 25th July, 1944, around eleven o'clock in the morning that three planes, American or Canadian, were shot dowm between Gusen and Linz. The airmen were captured by an Obersturmführer (1st lieutenant), who was joined by the camp commandant Seidler and few other SS-men. Seidler shot all except one man, who came down somewhat apart from his comrades. He was shot by an SS-man in front of the Gusen main entrance. The bodies were taken to the crematorium. [PS 2176 (200), JAD, 3rd US Army,sic]
During air raids the prisoners were ordered to take cover in the tunnels, but many preferred, if they could, to hide and watch events. The SS guards and command seemed to abandon their charges during air-raids, however, few escape attempts were ever made for two reasons. First, there was nowhere to go even if the escapee were strong enough to attempt it, and secondly, retribution on the innocent inmates. In one raid, an American airman was seen to bail out, but before his parachute reached the ground, he was shot by a burst of sub-machine-gun fire. His legs jerked up to his stomach, which was torn with bullets. He too was cremated in Gusen. [Information from Lt. Le Chene, sic]
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 in 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 and cannot 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.