Mauthausen Gas Chamber Testimony
When the US Third Army liberated the infamous Nazi concentration camp at Mauthausen on May 5, 1945, they found the bodies of several fully-clothed dead prisoners in the gas chamber. According to the Museum at Mauthausen, the last gassing of prisoners in the main camp was on April 28, 1945, only a week before the liberation.
On April 21, 1945, the Red Cross began evacuating prisoners out of the camp, but the gassing operation still continued during the time that the Red Cross representative, Louis Haeflig, was staying in the camp. A sign in the gas chamber today says that Ludwig Haider was gassed on April 23, 1945, the same day that a Red Cross truck took selected prisoners out of the camp, with the permission of the Commandant.
An American Prisoner of War, Lt. Jack H. Taylor, told the liberators that he had been scheduled to die in the gas chamber four times, but was saved by the other inmates. His next scheduled date to be gassed was May 6, 1945, but the American liberators saved him in the nick of time.
Pierre-Serge Choumoff, a "Nacht und Nebel" prisoner at the Gusen sub-camp, wrote in one of his books that the gas chamber at Mauthausen was put into operation in either March or May of 1942 and that 3,455 prisoners were gassed in it. He also wrote that the SS guards had removed the gassing equipment from the chamber on April 29, 1945 the day that Commandant Franz Ziereis turned the camp over to the Vienna police. A sign in the gas chamber confirms that the gassing apparatus was removed on April 29, 1945.
Christian Bernadac wrote that Ziereis turned the camp over to Captain Kern of the Vienna police on the night of May 2-3, 1945 and then fled from the camp. Bernadac obtained this information from Louis Haeflig, the Red Cross representative who was staying in the camp near the end. Haeflig said that he had talked with Ziereis on May 2nd.
The narrator of a movie shown in the Museum at Mauthausen confirms that the SS left on May 3, 1945 after removing the "gassing apparatus" from the gas chamber on May 2nd. The narrator explains that the prisoners were gassed "because machine guns were too noisy." However, the execution spot where condemned prisoners were shot at Mauthausen is in the same building as the gas chamber, and very close to it.
According to the book, "Mauthausen: The History of a Death Camp" by Evelyn Le Chene, an estimated combined total of 10,000 persons were executed by gassing in the Mauthausen gas chamber, the mobile gas vans that ran between Mauthausen and Gusen, and in the gas chambers at Hartheim Castle.
The Museum at the former Dachau concentration camp says that 3,166 prisoners were sent to Hartheim Castle to be gassed, although the Dachau camp had its own gas chamber. However, Paul Berben, a prisoner at Dachau, wrote in his book "Dachau: the Official History" that the Chief Camp Doctor at Dachau, Dr. Julius Muthig, confessed to the gassing of Dachau prisoners in the gas chamber at the Mauthausen camp. In the doctor's confession, Berben wrote that Dr. Muthig stated that "prisoners unfit to work [were] subjected to euthanasia and transferred to Mauthausen concentration camp to be gassed."
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, a gas chamber was built at the Mauthausen concentration camp, "probably in 1941." Disguised as a shower room, the gas chamber was located underground beneath the hospital building, which is now the Museum at the Mauthausen Memorial Site. Regarding the gas chamber, the USHMM website has the following information:
While most inmates were killed by shooting, hanging, beating, starvation, and disease, Mauthausen did have a gas chamber capable of killing about 120 people at a time. The gas chamber was usually used when transports of prisoners arrived. Special demonstration mass killings were organized for the benefit of visiting Nazi dignitaries, such as Heinrich Himmler, Ernst Kaltenbrunner, and Baldur von Schirach, who were able to observe the killings through a small viewing window in the entrance door.
Periodically, prisoners in the Mauthausen camp system underwent selection. Those the Nazis deemed too weak or sick to work were separated from the other prisoners and killed in Mauthausen's own gas chamber, in mobile gas vans, or at the nearby Hartheim "euthanasia" killing center. Camp doctors in the infirmary used phenol injections to kill patients too weak to move.
After Commandant Ziereis fled from the camp, he was hunted down by the American liberators and eventually captured in late May 1945. The dates and location of his capture and the death of Franz Ziereis vary according to who is telling the story. Ziereis was shot three times by American soldiers, allegedly while trying to escape. He was allegedly brought to the hospital at the Gusen camp and interrogated by an Austrian Communist political prisoner named Hans Marsalek, who later wrote Ziereis's deathbed confession in which Ziereis said that, on the order of SS-Hauptsturmführer Dr. Eduard Krebsbach, a gas chamber had been built in the form of a bathroom and that Mauthausen inmates were gassed in this room.
All of the concentration camps in the Nazi system were under the control of a central office in Oranienburg near Berlin. Contrary to what Ziereis confessed on his deathbed, a camp doctor did not have the authority to order the gassing of prisoners without permission from headquarters.
The photograph below shows Ziereis being interrogated on his deathbed; the caption says that the date was 24.5.1945. Some versions of the story say that he was interrogated on the night of May 22 - 23 and that he died on the morning of the 23rd.
In his confession, Ziereis stated that 65,000 Mauthausen prisoners had been murdered, but he didn't mention how many had died of disease. Ziereis also confessed that a total of 1 to 1.5 million prisoners had been gassed at Hartheim Castle, near Linz. (Choumoff wrote that 28,000 to 30,00 were gassed at Hartheim.) On April 8, 1946, Ziereis' confession was entered into the proceedings at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal as part of document PS-3870, which was the signed confession of Hans Marsalek. As part of his own confession, Marsalek wrote down his recollection of Ziereis's confession, 10 and a half months after hearing Ziereis' dying words.
According to Roman Frister, in his book "The Cap: The Price of a Life," there was a Polish prisoner at Mauthausen named Dr. Wladyslaw Fajkel, who administered to the sick in the Sanitary Camp, also known as the quarantine camp or the Russian camp. Frister wrote that Dr. Fajkel was part of the underground resistance movement at Mauthausen which attempted to thwart the policies of the SS doctor in the camp, whom Frister says was Dr. Krassbach. Dr. Eduard Krebsbach (note the spelling) was the chief doctor at Mauthausen up until June 1943. At the time of the liberation, the chief doctor at Mauthausen was Dr. Wolter.
Frister wrote that "Separate resistance units of Poles, Frenchmen, and Spaniards had been active in Mauthausen for several months, each looking after its own countrymen." According to Frister, several weeks before the liberation, the German prisoners in the camp were given the opportunity to join the regular German Army, called the Wehrmacht. Their jobs as kapos and clerical workers were then taken by the political prisoners in the resistance groups. Frister wrote that "these prisoners were able to forge official documents listing the sick as healthy, report imaginary gassings, and play havoc with camp statistics. The SS lost its grip on what was happening and some three thousand condemned men were rescued."
After the war, 61 members of the staff at Mauthausen were brought before an American Military Tribunal at Dachau in March 1946. All of them were found guilty, and in its verdict, the court announced "Special Findings," one of which was that the irrefutable record of deaths by "gassing" was known to everyone in the Mauthausen camp so that anyone who was engaged in the operation of the camp, in any manner whatsoever, was guilty of a crime. Lt. Jack Taylor, who had arrived at the Mauthausen main camp only 35 days before it was liberated, testified before the American Military Tribunal at Dachau, regarding his first-hand knowledge of the Mauthausen gas chamber.