The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: camps/mauthausen/killings-in-mauthausen

Killings in Mauthausen
by Nele Abels (

  The concentration camp Mauthausen was not an extermination camp
in the sense of Auschwitz or Treblinka. Yet it had a terrifying
death rate in comparison to other camps in the Reichs area. This
is due to its classification as "category III" ("Severely 
incriminated, especially at the same time previously convicted
and anti-social, viz. hardly educable, protective custodians").[1]
On the other hand, this classification is to be qualified insofar
as camps as Auschwitz or Buchenwald were classified "category II",
Dachau even "category I". The reason for this is that the 
classification was done by the WVHA and therefore was intended as
a scale for the assessment of camps as "working camps" with
economic importance. But the classification lost even more of its
significance in time after and therefore is insufficient as a
measure of the cruelty and deadliness of the camps.[2]

  Yet it is important in the sense that it hints at the function of
Mauthausen of "destruction through work".[3] Therefore a  large part
of the inmates was killed with "conventional" means, i.e. "shot
while trying to escape", freezing, killing with guard dogs etc. Two
further methods are remarkable. Between summer 1941 and Januar 1942
the so-called "bathing to death" was introduced by SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer
Karl Chmielwesky. Inmates who were sick or un-fit for work were
selected, driven to the bathing facilities for prisoners and
showered with cold water for half an hour or longer. The drains of
the pools were closed or blocked with victims who were already 
collapsed so that the water level continued to rise. In most cases
death was through acute circulatory collaps or through drowning.
Often the SS-men who stood around the pool accelerated this by
pushing the victims under water. At least 242 inmates were killed
that way.[4]

   In comparison to this the number of people "killed with work"
was considerably higher. The wilfulness of this killing can be
seen in the nature of the work in the quarry: the victims, who had
only a board as a carrying tool, were forced to carry at the double
stones with a weight of up to 50kg over 150 steps into the height.
Falls and broken bones were common, many inmates were struck to
death by falling rocks. Many prisoners chose to escape torture by
jumping into death, what was called "parachute jumping" by the
guards. In three weeks 340 inmates were killed this way, what 
caused the civilian workers of the quarry to complain because they
felt disturbed by the gore and pieces of brain at the bottom.[5]

   In the years 1939 and 1940 the number of prisoners multiplied
several times. It raised from 994 at then end of 1938 to 84000 in
March 1945. Because the camp was hopelessly overfilled the sanitary
conditions were catastrophical. Epidemics of typhus and dysentery
occured[6] which were fought by the SS by killing the sick. At the
same time the SS of the camp got the task to start mass-shooting of
Russian prisoners. Both tasks proved to be difficult to put through,
straineous for the SS and difficult to keep secret. Therefore it
was considered to mechanize the killings.[7]

   In fall 1941 a gassing chamber was built in the main camp
Mauthausen. This was a room in the basement of the sick bay, 
without windows, 3.80m long and 3.50m wide, which was disguised
as a shower-bath. It was tiled, equipped with a ventilation
device and air-tight doors. All switches for the electrical
illumination, for the ventilation, for the water and for the
heating were outside the gassing chamber. The gas was introduced
through an enamel tube from an adjacent room. The tube was installed
parallel to the wall in the gassing chamber and had an estimately
1m long slit on the wall side.[8]

   When the camp was freed in May 1945 the American troops got
hold on the device which was used to introduce the gas into the
gassing chamber. A photograph of this device can be found in the
National Archives in Washington.[9] The main part of the device is
a sturdy metal box which measures roughly 75 x 40 x 40cm. The 
removable insulated lid of the metal box can be shut airtight with
heavy wing bolts. Inside the box several open cans of Zyklon B can
be stored safely as well as a hot brick used for accelerating the
evaporation of the prussic acid. To both sides of the box valves
are welded. On one side an electrical ventilator can be attached,
on the other side a hose leading to the enamel tube described

   In the sixties a trial before the district court Hagen/Westphalia
took place against the former SS-Hautpscharfuehrer Martin Roth.
Since Roth was Kommandofuehrer of the crematorium from the beginning
of May 1940 till the liberation of the camp, the functioning of
the gassing device was discussed extensively in the trial and
documented in the verdict:

      When a gassing was to be carried through, [...] Roth ordered 
   one of the inmates under his command in the Krematoriumskommando - 
   in most cases the witness Kanduth - to heat up a brick in the 
   oven of the crematorium. Roth carried the hot brick with a 
   shovel into the gassing cell and put it there into the gassing
   device. This consisted of an iron box with a removable lid, which
   could be sealed airtight with wing bolts and insulation. The hot
   brick put inside served the purpose to accelerate the evaporation
   of the poisonous gas by the rising heat. The gas was introduced
   later and was was bound to bits of paper.
      In the meantime the victims [...] were led to the changing room
   of the gassing facility where they had to remove their clothes.
   After that they had to step into the next room where several
   SS-ranks stood, wearing white doctors' coats. [...] They put a
   wooden spatula into the mouth of the victims to see whether there
   were any golden teeth. If this was the case, the inmate was
   marked with a colour cross on the breast or on the back. Then 
   the victims [...] were led into the gassing chamber which was
   tiles and equipped with showers. [...]
      Roughly 15 minutes after the gas had been introduced into the
   gassing chamber, the defendant Roth convinced himself by looking
   through the peep-hole of the door that no victim in the gassing
   chamber was stirring any longer, and then switched on the
   ventilator, [...] which sucked the gas out of the gassing chamber
   through a chimney. [...] After that Roth carefully opened both
   doors of the gassing chamber, into which he first carefully held
   a specially prepared slip of paper to check whether the room
   was free of gas. Then he ordered the inmates under his command
   to carry the corpses into the cold-store of the crematorium. 
   [...] [10]
   The verdict of this trial is based on the one hand on the 
testimonies of eye witnesses, but also on documents which could not
be destroyed by the SS. It is worth mentioning the the SS-men
tried to play down their role in the process of gassing but that
they neither tried to deny that gassings took place nor that they
were put through in this way.

   Since the relevant documents were manipulated or destroyed by 
the SS it is impossible to give the precise number of people killed
by gassing in Mauthausen. There are documents giving the number
of "unnatural" deaths but there are other possibilities apart
from gassing to kill a human being "unnaturally". The certified
minimal number which has been found out in the trials is 3455
victims.[11] In total over 86,000 people died in Mauthausen.[12]

[1] "Schwerbelastete, insbesondere auch gleichzeitig kriminell
vorbestrafte und asoziale, d.h. kaum noch erziehbare Schutz-
haeftlinge", Erlass des Chefs der Sipo und des SD vom 2.1.1941,
IMT PS 1063.
[2] Cp. Kogon, Eugen: _Der SS-Staat: das System der deutschen
Konzentrationslager_, Muenchen: Kindler, 1974, pp. 64f.
[3] Cp. Freund, Florian: "Toetungen durch Giftgas in Mauthausen und
Gusen", in: _Wahrheit und Auschwitzluege: zur Bekaempfung "revisio-
nistischer" Propaganda", eds.: Brigitte Bailer-Galand u.a., 
Wien: Deuticke, 1995, pp. 119-136, hier p. 121.
[4] Cp. Gisela Ralitsch: "Das KL Mauthausen" in: _Studien zur
Geschichte der Konzentrationslager_, eds.: Hans Rothfels und Theodor
Eschenberg, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlagsanstalt, 1970, pp. 50-92,
hier pp. 72f.
[5] Cp. Kogon, Eugen: _Der SS-Staat_, p. 214.
[6] Cp _Enzyklopaedie des Holocaust: Die Verfolgung und Ermordung
der europaeischen Juden_, Band 2, eds.: Eberhard Jaeckel, Peter
Longerich, Julius H. Schoeps, Berlin, Argon: 1993, p. 932.
[7] Cp. Freund, Florian: "Toetungen durch Giftgas in Mauthausen und
Gusen", p. 123.
[8] Cp. _Nationalsozialistische Massentoetungen durch Giftgas: eine
Dokumentation_, eds.: Eugen Kogon, Hermann Langbein, Aadalbert
Rückert etc., Frankfurt/M.: Fischer, 1989, pp. 245ff.
[9] National Archives, Washington, OSS, entry 110, box 4, folder 86,
Dupont Mission, photo US signal corps, reproduced in: _Wahrheit und 
Auschwitzluege_,p. 126.
[10] StA Hagen AZ: 11 Ks 1/70, Urteil vom 24. Juli 1970, S. 77ff.
(ZSL: Sammelakte 428), quoted in: _Nationalsozialistische 
Massentoetungen durch Giftgas_, p.247f:
      "Stand eine Vergasung an, [...] befahl Roth einem ihm unterstellten
   H„ftling des Krematoriumskommandos, zumeist dem Zeugen Kanduth,
   einen Ziegelstein im Krematoriumsofen heiá zu machen. Den heiáen
   Ziegelstein trug Roth auf einer Schaufel in die Gaszelle und legte
   ihn dort in das Gaseinfllger„t, welches aus einem eisernen Kasten
   mit einem abnehmbaren Deckel bestand, der mittels Flgelschrauben
   und einer Abdichtung luftdicht verschlossen werden konnte. Der
   eingefhrte heiáe Ziegelstein diente dazu, das sp„ter eingefllte,
   an Papierschnitzel gebundene Giftgas durch die aufsteigende Hitze
   schneller zu entbinden.
      In der Zwischenzeit wurden die Opfer [...] in den Umkleideraum der
   Vergasungsanlage gefhrt, wo sie sich zu entkleiden hatten. Danach
   muten sie den n„chsten Raum betreten, in dem mehrere SS-Dienstgrade
   standen, die weiáe Žrztekittel trugen. [...] Sie steckten den Opfern
   einen Holzspachtel in den Mund, um festzustellen, ob Goldz„hne
   vorhanden waren. War dies der Fall, erhielt der betreffende H„ftling
   mit Farbstoff ein Kreuz auf die Brust oder den Rcken. Sodann wurden
   die Opfer [...] in die gekachelte, mit einer Brauseanlage versehene
   Gaskammer gefhrt [...]
      Etwa 15 Minuten nach dem Einstr”men des Gases in die Gaskammer
   berzeugte sich der Angeklagte Roth mit einem Blick durch das in der
   einen Tr befindliche Guckloch, daá sich kein Opfer in der Gaskammer    
   mehr regte, und schaltete sodann den [...] Venilator ein, der das
   Gas durch einen Kamin aus der Gaskammer nach drauáen absaugte [...]
   Anschlieáend ”ffnete Roth beide Tren der Gaskammer, in der er
   zun„chst vorsichtig einen besonders pr„parierten Papierstreifen 
   hielt, um festzustellen, ob der Raum gasfrei war, und befahl dann 
   den ihm unterstellten H„ftlingen, die Leichen in den Khlraum des
   Krematoriums zu schaffen [...]"
[11] Ibid. p. 250.
[12] Numbers according to Marsalek, Hans: _Die Geschichte des
Konzentrationslagers Mauthausen: Dokumentation_, Wien: 1980,
quoted in: Freund, Florian: "T”tungen durch Giftgas in Mauthausen
und Gusen", p. 120.

Home ·  Site Map ·  What's New? ·  Search Nizkor

© The Nizkor Project, 1991-2012

This site is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. Any statements or excerpts found on this site are for educational purposes only.

As part of these educational purposes, Nizkor may include on this website materials, such as excerpts from the writings of racists and antisemites. Far from approving these writings, Nizkor condemns them and provides them so that its readers can learn the nature and extent of hate and antisemitic discourse. Nizkor urges the readers of these pages to condemn racist and hate speech in all of its forms and manifestations.