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Mauthausen Camp


The Mauthausen concentration camp was set up soon after the Anschluss (annexation) of Austria. It was near a disused quarry, about five kilometres from the small town of Mauthausen in Upper Austria. The first prisoners were brought to the camp on 8 August 1938 and put to work building the camp and quarrying.

During its first year, most of Mauthausen's inmates were criminals, but later political prisoners arrived, including Jews, Czechs, Russians, Yugoslavians. There were also prisoners from the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Greece.

The streams of prisoners of various nationalities continued up until 1944. Many were executed by the Gestapo as they arrived. From May 1944, large consignments of Jews arrived, having undergone Selektia (the Nazi method of sorting the weak from the strong) at Auschwitz. On 25 January 1945, the first group evacuated from Auschwitz arrived at Mauthausen - 120,000 of whom would die there.

With the outbreak of war the character of Mauthausen changed drastically. The number of inmates swelled and the camp became a center for holding and eliminating "undesirable political elements" from the Reich and "elements" of resistance from the occupied countries. As the numbers swelled, conditions in the camp deteriorated: the attitude of the guards worsened, with more severe punishments; rations were cut; sanitation declined. There were outbreaks of typhus and dysentery, which led to a sharp rise in mortality.

Opposite the camp gate was a parade ground where roll-calls took place each morning and evening. Executions were also carried out there before all the inmates. On the far side there were three brick buildings. Two housed camp services, such as the kitchen, laundry and showers. The third contained the camp prison (the bunker) and the gas chamber, disguised as showers. Beneath the bunker was a crematorium and a cell where prisoners were shot.

Jewish inmates were treated worse than other prisoners. They were forced to dig tunnels for the arms factories and were soon completely worn out and on the point of death.

As the Allies advanced in March and April 1945, many of the camps were evacuated and the inmates forced to march to Mauthausen. Thousands died on the way. In Mauthausen they were crowded into tents set up on muddy ground. Since there were no sanitary facilities and food rations were minimal, there were soon outbreaks of typhus and dysentery, causing many deaths.

On 4 May the SS officers began to abandon Mauthausen. The next day two armored divisions of the American army entered the camp. The inmates opened the gates and the camp was liberated.

Yehuda Bacon was a young boy at that time. He passed through several other camps before arriving in Mauthausen, where he drew a number of drawings depicting life in the camp.

(Dr Pnina Rosenberg)