Friday, November 2, 2012



Mauthausn was not the only concentration camp to provide slave labour for nearby quarries, but is was by far the most notorious for its high rate of human mortality and for its unbelievable harsh conditions. One of the forms of punishing prisoners in Auschwitz was to send then to the quarries of Mauthausen. Buchenwald had its own quarries, nevertheless its prisoners were in mortal fear of being transferred to Mauthausen when they heard of the conditions there. The following is how a Buchenwald inmate describes the notoriety of Mauthausen quarries:
'An old concentration camp graduate is assailed by a curious feeling when citing accidents. In the camp they were scarcely noticed, they happened every day. It took an altogether different category of events to attract real attention, in the quarries for example. In all camps these quarries were veritable death traps. Some of the camps, like Mauthausen, consisted of almost nothing but quarries apart from interior camp details. Work in the quarries is always hard, especially dragging the lorries uphill, if any aspect can be singled out at all. Every night saw its processions of dead and injured, trundled into camp on wheelbarrows and stretchers, often times there were two or three dozen. The mistreatment was indescribable, stoning, beatings, "accidents",deliberate hurlings into the pit, shooting and every imaginable form of torture'. [Kogan,The Theory and Practice of Hell,pp 93,sic]
Mauthausen and its quarries are inseparable. The dreary walk along a rough road and down a steep hill leading from the main entrance of the camp to the quarries gives one some idea of the misery endured by the prisoners as they clambered up, struggling against ice, snow and rain and slipping and failing under the weight of their heavy loads of granite. The road from the quarries to the camp is long and treacherous enough, but the worst part is the ascent of the notorious 186 steps leading from the bottom of the quarries at the beginning of the long walk back.

Plan of the camp at Mauthausen
The atrocities which took place on these steps are beyond description. No account of tortures endured there would be adequate and no photograph of this sinister place would remotely convey an idea of sufferings of the deportees. One is appalled at the steepness of this flight of steps. Today they have been 'improved' for the convenience of visitors, but as you walk down them you sense the atmosphere of evil, as if entering this infamous place you were penetrating a different element. The bottom of the quarry, now covered with vegetation, is strangely silent. The trees and bushes rustle softly, and even the twittering of the birds seems to be subdued.

The Quarry
It is surrounded by steep cliffs of the notorious 'parachutists' wall where, from a height of nearly 200 feet, hundreds of Dutch Jews were hurled to their death. [ Often Prisoners were made to run up and down the stairs till most were dead. Sometimes the remaining ones would be made to jump off the top of the quarry. SS humour coined it “ the parachute jump”. In 1941 a large group of Jews from the Netherlands were given “special treatment”. They were made to slide down the loose stones on the side of the staircase. Many of them died in the effort. The survivors were made to run up and down the steps with 25 kilo stones on their backs. Often the stones fell on feet and legs of those behind. Those who lost the rock were brutally beaten. For two days the SS drove the Jews up and down the steps. On the third day, driven by despair, the remaining Jews joined hands and leaped over the precipice to their death in the quarry below.sic]

the Parachute Jump
In the quarries there is a recent monument commemorating the death, in a way that was spectacular even for the SS, of forty-seven Allied airmen, including some Englishmen, at least three of them worked with the Resistance and had been denounced to the Gestapo. [In 1944 the SS led fourty-seven Dutch, American, and English officers and flyers, barefooted, to the bottom. On their first journey up the 186 steps they forced the men to carry twenty-five kilogram stones on their backs. On each successive journey they increased the weight of the load. If a prisoner fell, he was beaten. All fourty-seven died of the treatment.sic]
The granite needed for building the camp was extracted by means of modern as well as primitive machinery. There were never enough tools to go around. In order to extract and rack up the stones, one prisoner held down a chisel with an iron bar, while two others alternated with hammer blows. For the more fortunate there were pneumatic drills,but they were mainly used for making holes for dynamite charges. The driller started with small drills and changed to longer ones, the longest being ten feet, as the work progressed.
The blasting in the quarry was normally supervised by a civilian, but on many occasions the plunger was in the hands of the SS. Mauthausen survivors remember with great emotion one such occasion, which concerned an Italian Jew with a beautiful voice. He was ordered to stand on top of a mound of rock and sing the 'Ave Maria'. The charge was laid, the wiring was slowly rolled away and connected with the plunger. The outline of the singer was silhouetted against the setting sun. The beauty of this rendering froze the prisoner onlookers with horror and grief. The plunger detonated the charge and the voice stopped abruptly.

Blasting in the quarry
The dividing line between indiscriminate killing and torture, mass murder and authorised executions, are most difficult to define in a camp which was completely given over to the extermination of its inmates. all too often in the quarries men died because they were too weak to lift an extra-heavy load. How would one classify such a death? A newly arrived prisoner who looked strongly built and healthy would attract the attention of the SS as a red rag attracts a bull. They would pick on him to carry impossibly heavy stone slabs, with which he had to run up the 186 steps. When he finally collapsed he would be executed. As they witnessed such things, the other prisoners would wonder when their turn would come. Prisoners in a very poor physical condition also attracted the attention of the SS. The victim knew what to expect, and it is not unlikely that he regarded it as a way out, a release.
There were two SS guards, Trum and Nieermayer, whose names were particularly identified with the quarry. Trum was tall with a long, pale face, while Niedermayer was shorter and fuller in his features. Both were brutal in bearing. Ostensibly good friends, they vied one with the other in nothing up the lager number of deaths. Their regular haunt was the quarry, where they picked off the working prisoners with their pistols. No one dared stop to look or help the shot man, nor even to slow down the work. Trum and Niedermayer were also responsible for pushing prisoners over the precipice, or ordering them into a forbidden area were they knew they would be shot. They invented stories of prisoners attacking them, for which crime the punishment was death. [Both, Trum and Niedermayer were sentenced to death and hanged May 1947, sic]
The rocks so laboriously raised from the bottom of the quarry were loaded into V-shaped wagons on a narrow-gauge moveable railway line. The lengths of rail could be picked up and placed wherever they were most needed, and there was no fixed starting point or terminus.
The heavy loads of stone were hauled by the prisoners to the surface of the quarry into the camp, either in hods, which were strapped across their shoulders by means of strong webbing criss-crossing the chest, and filled from the wagons, or on bare shoulders. Twenty or more prisoners pulled an iron bar attached to the front of each wagon, while six or more pushed from the back. The trucks were cumbersome and unsteady and frequently jerked off the rails. As they did so, they crushed those unlucky enough to be at the sides and behind. To the angry screams of the SS and Kapos, the contents of the truck were reloaded, the truck itself replaced on the rails and the bodies pushed unceremoniously to one side. The journey was resumed

Slave Labour at Mauthausen

In the Mauthausen Krankenlager, the camp for the sick, hungry inmates fight for a slice of bread

There was a midday break for food at the quarry, which lasted for about one hour. It consisted of a thin gruel. Jews and Russians were always given the smallest amounts and were served last.
It was also the Jews' lot to carry and empty the square wooden toilet buckets. [This was at the work site, sic.] These were large enough for two prisoners to prop one another up by sitting on the three-inch edge back to back. The unfortunate Jews carried the full buckets by poles inserted through hooks at the sides and empties them high on the rise towards one of the neighbouring farms, away from the quarry. As they clambered up the steep slope, the carriers at the back were soiled by the slopping over contents. They were not permitted to use the steps. A British Agent, Edward Zeff, was one of these unfortunate men.
During the early days a great deal of quarrying had been done to the right of the quarry steps, but when water flooded the area working was abandoned. It was above this spot that prisoners were flung over, either killed when they hit the rocks or drowned in the water below.
SS and Kapos with their sand-weighted rubber hoses ready, were constantly on the watch for any slackening in the prisoners work. Whether it was in the quarry or in the concentration camp itself, those prisoners who 'stood and stared' or froze in horror at any incident they observed, did not live long. If they were to survive, in their increasingly weakened condition, they must do only as much work as was consistent with not attracting the guards' attention. It was always fatal to look round to see where such watchers were. Thus came into being the watchword of 'gucken', [German for looking or watching,sic] which was passed along from prisoner to prisoner when a guard was approaching. Without showing the slightest sign, each man would put an extra effort into the work in hand until the guard had passed on.
Work went on i the quarry in all weathers, and the results of such harsh conditions were not long in appearing. Prisoners died from starvation, tuberculosis, heart failure, total exhaustion and of injuries received. A French inmate recalls: 'All those who died or were sick and injured in the quarry were brought back to camp in the evening on a cart like an old baggage wagon. These would be sent with the other sick selected from the roll-call, at which time all prisoners became restive, for it took a lot of control to stand by and watch these poor emaciated wrecks murdered or carted away too weak to resist, to the gas chamber. Many of them pleaded "I will be stronger tomorrow".
The leader of the quarry, Obersturmf├╝hrer Grau, was one of those who made the sufferings of the prisoners his daily duty. He even exhausted himself by beating prisoners. Another was Hans, a Kapo nicknamed the 'assassin', who seemed almost drunk with blood and killed with an iron bar. Zaramba and Spatzenegger were two more. It was Spatzenegger who supervised the removal of the sick and the dead from the rest when the long rows of exhausted prisoners returned to camp. Some had broken bones protruding through their skin, some had their ears torn off, or deep dirty wounds in their flesh, but all had the glazed, unseeing eyes of men who were approaching death. Spatzenegger also chose the sick prisoners who were taken to the shower room, where they were stripped, laid full length on the stone floor in temperatures lower than minus 20 degree Celsius and left. They were found later, black and stiff, sticking to the floor, and efforts to remove them pulled off the skin. [PS 2176 (2) J.A.D. 3rd US Army, sic]

A Mauthausen block leader punishes an inmate
Eighty-seven Dutch Jews arrived in camp and were sent to work in the quarry separated from all the other prisoners. On their very first morning there they encountered Hans and the effeminate SS man known as the Blond Damsel. These two, hazy after drugging themselves by inhaling ether stolen from the infirmary, with pick handles in hand, flailed into this pathetic group, who were digging and hacking into the unyielding mountainside. An eyewitness of their fate continues:
'I would never imagined a scene so terrible. The pick handles beat on the heads, the bones of which, in cracking, resounded like drums. Brains spurted out, blood flowed. The Jews distracted with horror, worked with all their strength, thinking that their zeal would save them from blows...It was useless...The extraordinary thing was that the Jews, terrorised by this appalling murder, did not cry out. Only the injured moaned...Negro himself, who had already assisted in similar scenes was moved, and told us gently not to look, but to work...' [Olga Wormser and Henri Michel, La tragadie de la deportation 1940-1945 page 398. From testimony of Paul Tillard.sic]
By eleven-thirty that morning, forty-seven of the eighty-seven lay dead on the ground, the handiwork of two frenzied people. They were butchered one after the other before the eyes of 1500 fellow prisoners helpless to do anything, and themselves driven to distraction at witnessing this wanton and hideous cruelty.
That afternoon, four more were killed by Hans and the Damsel. They were taken to the cliff top and told to fight, when two dropped on the rocks below, the victors would go free. Two dropped, but the victors were immediately sent to join them. Hans and his companion despatched yet another six from this martyred group, again with pick handles. The thirty survivors, barely able to stand and lift their tools, lived for another day or so only because Hans and the Blond Damsel had no strength left to crush them.[idem., page 400-401. sic]
On his way back to the camp after the day's work, each so-called healthy prisoner had to carry a stone, which was stacked into a pile for use in the building of the camp and its walls. The trick was to find a comparatively light, narrow stone with a wide surface, and show only the surface side to the SS. It often succeeded.

risoners working as Stone-masons preparing granite slabs for building material outside their work barrack at Mauthausen 1942
 In late 1943 building began on the Messerschmidt factory which was to be site in the quarry. In fact there were armament works in every subsidiary camp of Mauthausen.
Lt. Le Chene, who was on the commando for the foundations of this building, recalls: 'I had to collect sacks of cement from the roadway depot, some 500 yards from the camp. At this depot, two prisoners would lift the sack weighing 110 lbs on to my already bent back. In the long trek back to the site, I dared not put the sack down, as I knew I would have insufficient strength to lift it again, being already half my former weight, so, when no SS were around I profited by resting with the sack still on my back against a wall. When rain fell, this wasn't good. The bag split and the cement began to set on me'.
When building was completed, young Spanish boys who had been deported from France in August 1940 were sent to the Messerschmidt factory to make machine pistols. They were given the same camp numbers as their fathers who were already dead. None survived. There was also a work commando known as the Steimetz,(Stone-mason) the chisel work detail, where special pieces of granite were fashioned by hand.
There are a great many photographs in existence which show unmistakably that Himmler and Kaltenbrunner visited the quarry. They were accompanied by Ziereis, Bachmayer, Schulz and M├╝ller, the sinister Gestapo liaison officer. [Bachmayer committed suicide on May 8, 1945 after shooting his wife and two children, sic]

 Commandant Franz Ziereis accompanies Heinrich Himmler on an inspection tour of the Mauthausen concentration camp"
The Austrian people were not ignorant of the crimes which were being perpetrated in their midst. The Sunday Times of 11th January, 1942, stated that 'Vienna is horrified' at the revelation of what happened to 700 Jews in Mauthausen. The Daily Telegraph also reported in detail the massacres of the Dutch Jews. The facts were none too accurately reported. However, neither the publication of such atrocities nor the supposed horror of the Viennese achieved anything, for the men in charge of Mauthausen went on their odious way quite unperturbed.

continued under part 3

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