Tuesday, November 6, 2012


In Mauthausen, as in all camps geared to mass extermination, mechanical refinements such as gas car were introduced. In the spring of 1942 the main office of the RSHA (concentration camp) in Belin began to supply mobile gas vans for extermination to the Einsatzgruppen operational in Russia. [Allen Bullock, Hitler: A Stud yin Tyranny, London 1954, page 643, sic] These Einsatzgruppen followed in the wake of the Wehrmacht in their advance and exterminated hundreds of thousands of civilians either by mass shootings or in the gas vans. These vehicles are described by Charles Wighton in his book on Eichmann:
'Vans were therefore constructed on the standard Wehrmacht military chassis. But the exhaust fumes were piped into the hermetically sealed interior of the vans instead of into the open air". One German officer complained that this method caused the victims to die of suffocation, instead of 'making them doze off'. Consequently, when doors were opened to remove the bodies, it was found that the dead were covered not only with excrement and blood, but their eyes protruded from their heads and their bodies had suffered grotesque positions.
Despite attempts to camouflage the function of the vans, both the Wehrmacht and the Russian troops in operational areas recognised them only too easily. Eichmann witnessed the deaths of Jews in such vans when he was on an operational inspection of the Eastern Front. Mauthausen's particular gas car was something of a speciality. It is best described by Datner as 'a mobile gas chamber installed on a lorry which ran between Mauthausen and Gusen. It is quite likely that Cammandant Ziereis, through his many contacts with other concentration camps, brought this innovation into the camp. He may well have directed the building of it and designed small refinements. It is known that between eight and nine o'clock one morning in the middle of March 1943, Ziereis and his deputy Bachmayer visited the camp locksmith's workshop. He gave orders that a closed police van should be made completely airtight, and that a space of 18 by 25 cm should be cut in the air-protected opening on the door through which a bottle of poison gas could be thrown in. Below the opening was an iron plate against which the gas bottle broke. Presumably Ziereis had heard of the Geman officers complaints concerning asphyxiation. It is thought that later modifications were made so that both methods of killing might be used.
A Czech prisoner working in the central SS garage kept a record of the number of times the gas-car left the camp. On each journey the car held thirty prisoners. It was driven thirty-two times by SS-Unterscharführer Hartl and fifteen times more by others. This does not include those occasions when the van was driven by Ziereis.
A good deal of subterfuge was used to conceal from the prisoners the true purpose of their 'ride'. Those who were very sick were persuaded that they were being sent to a sanatorium to be cured, others perhaps more gullible than most, thought they were volunteering for a transfer. They soon found out how they had been tricked. It is unlikely that the names of those who were killed during 'transport sanatoria' were entered in the death books. It is more probable that, in the case of the sick who were sent to 'Dachau Sanatoria', each name was erased from the register and that the name of a newly-arrived prisoner replaced it. It was common knowledge among long-term prisoners that there was a two-way traffic in death cars between Mauthausen and Gusen and that the dead were cremated at the respective arrival points. When this particular type of killing was at its height, Gusen was administratively independent of Mauthausen. It is understandable,, therefore, that there was a good deal of confusion, both deliberate and otherwise, over death certificates and records in the death register. That some pretence was made towards orderly book-keeping is shown by the following entry:
81160 Globasch Gawril, born 1889 at Kwati
died sanatorium 16.12.44.
It is well known long before the outbreak of war the Nazis had no qualms about using gas for exterminating Jews, mental patients and others, in their estimation, undesirables. Eichmann told Höß, the Commandant of Auschwitz:
'The system of killing with showers of carbon monoxide while bathing... as with mental patients in the Reich, would require too many buildings and it is questionable whether there was a sufficient supply of gas available'. Eichmann was referring here to mental patients who were killed under the Euthanasia Order 14f13, an order which came into operation well before the war. His visit to Auschwitz came about because of a top secret conversation between Höß and Himmler immediately after the opening of hostilities with the USSR in the summer of 1941. In the autumn of the same year Dr. Enno Lolling, chief of the sanitation offices of Amt D III informed Dachau's senior medical officer, Dr. Muthig, that the object of the visiting doctor's committee 'was to select for euthanasia, prisoners incapable of work and send them to Mauthausen for gassing'. [A. Mitscherling, Death Doctors (London, 1962, page 280, sic] It is probable therefore that the Mauthausen gas chamber was planned, built and in use even before the June attack on Russia. The gas chambers of the massive camp at Auschwitz were already in existence, as were a number of others. One concludes from this that criminal plans for genocide were made with full knowledge of the impending attack. In December, 1941, after the committee of doctors had visited Dachau, several prisoners were despatched under the euthanasia programme and duly gassed in the chamber of Mauthausen. A second convoy of several hundred was sent in January 1942.

the Gas Chamber at Mauthausen
The Mauthausen gas chamber formed part of a complex of gruesome buildings. The others were the execution cellar (Genickschusskeller), the morgue, which was always full of bodies awaiting cremation, and a dissection chamber. The gas chamber could hold about 120 victims. It was nowhere near as large as the chambers of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which could take up to 2000. It's size bore very little relation to the huge number of deaths in the camp. It generally came into use when large transports arrived from elsewhere. Most of the regular camp inmates were killed by shooting, hanging, beating, starvation or disease, rather than by gassing. Medical Experiments in injections of various fluids into the veins and heart also accounted for a good many deaths. If the Mauthausen gas chamber could not take such large convoys, those of Hartheim were brought into use. It is believed that Hartheim was kept only for euthanasia victims. The overflow from Mauthausen may possible have come into this category, but it is probable only half the truth. It is always realised that the gas chambers of Hartheim and Mauthausen were the scenes of cold-blooded murder of thousands of prisoner-of-war, in flat contradiction of international agreements covering the treatment of such prisoners. And the number of civilians, men, women and children, who went to their deaths there cannot be calculated.
The gas chamber at Mauthausen was filled with carbon monoxide, which was pumped down from the gas van when required. Zyklon B was, of course, also used. The results need no explanation. The frantic struggles of the victims when they realised their fate can only be imagined. Even today, deep, despairing marks can be seen on the painted surface above the tiles which cover the lower half of the walls. Even the tiles are deeply marked, some low down at the height of a child. When the chamber was filled to capacity there was no room for a body to fall down. At first sight the chamber resembled a shower room. This may have deceived the people who entered it straight from a transport. It could hardly have taken in those who had already seen the real showers.
The Judas Opening
There was no window. Shielded lights were placed high in the ceiling, close to the 'shower' pipes. The pipes were equelly spaced in series of three across the room and were provided with twelve jets. The heavy metal door was equipped with a Judas opening for observers. Such observers included Baldur von Schirach (Gauleiter of Vienna) [Schirach had an American mother and did not speak German until he attended primary school at the age of six, he was originally Hitler Youth Leader and most popular with the young generation, he looked like a typical American college student in my days. sic], Eigruber (Gauleiter of Linz), Himmler, Kaltenbrunner and many others. The camp doctors also took particular delight in making use of the Judas opening. In order to entertain such high-ranking officers, special mass executions in the gas chamber were timed to coincide with their visit. This advertisement of skill and of identification with the National Socialist spirit did not confine itself to the gas chamber. The pre-selected prisoners, especially Russian 'politruks and commissars', was also part of the programme. Witnesses estimate that between 1942 and 1945 approximately 10,000 prisoners were killed either in gas vans or in the gas chamber at Mauthausen. When all the evidence is appraised, this total may be very near the mark. It is a total which would include regular inmates of the camp, victims of the euthanasia programme, overflows from other camps and prisoners sent to Hartheim from Mauthausen and outside transports.

continued under Part 5

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