First prisoners at Mauthausen

The first prisoners to be registered in the Mauthausen concentration camp were 300 German criminals who arrived on August 8, 1938 after being transferred from the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. By the end of the year, 780 more prisoners had been transferred to Mauthausen from the Dachau and Sachsenhausen camps. Many of these early prisoners had been sentenced by the German courts to hard labor after being convicted of committing a violent crime.

According to Christian Bernadac, a former inmate of the camp, who wrote a book called "The 186 Steps," the first prisoner to be registered at Mauthausen was Wilhelm Baier who was assigned the number 3. The numbers 1 and 2 were not used. Baier had been sentenced to 30 years hard labor in 1920 after committing what Bernadac called a "blood crime." Prisoner number 4 was Joseph Wboblowski. The next three prisoners to be registered were Baum, Bartel and Bartosch, all convicted German criminals who had been sentenced to hard labor.

Another category of prisoners in the Nazi concentration camps were the so-called "career criminals." On June 17, 1936, Adolf Hitler had signed a decree which made Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler the new Chief of the German Police within the Reich Ministry of Interior. According to Peter Padfield, author of the book "Himmler," the new Police Chief "saw his task as preventing crime before it happened by shutting away habitual criminals, preserving the Volk from contamination by shutting away subversives who might corrupt them, picking up vagrants, the 'work shy' and 'anti-socials' and putting them to work in his camps, and in addition supervising public morals."

Padfield wrote that Himmler's first large-scale action as Police Chief was the "nationwide round-up of professional criminals." On March 9, 1937, Himmler gave the order to arrest around 2,000 "professional criminals" who had committed two or more crimes, but were now free after having served their sentences. They were arrested without charges and sent to a concentration camp for an indeterminate time.

A large number of the prisoners who were transferred to Mauthausen from Dachau and Sachsenhausen were in the category called Schutzhäftling or prisoners in "protective custody." These prisoners were political dissidents who were arrested, but not charged with any crime. They were sent to the camps for the purpose of political indoctrination. According to Bernadac, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler "wanted the concentration camps to be primarily re-education centers, genuine courses that should result in lasting conversions."

The first of more than a thousand Schutzhäftling prisoners to be transferred to Mauthausen were Kurt Khunert and Johann Werber. Before Mauthausen became a Class III camp in 1941, there were a few prisoners who were released after being politically re-educated. Bernadac wrote that the protective custody prisoners were excused from work in the quarry for one hour each day to attend "political initiation courses" and to "listen to lectures by Party functionaries." Those who were rehabilitated were set free, but had to continue their training on a regular basis to prove that "the brain-washing had been genuinely effective."

The first Polish prisoners arrived on March 9, 1940 and another 9 transports of Poles arrived before the end of the year. Like the first inmates to arrive at the Auschwitz main camp in June 1940, these prisoners were captured Polish partisans and members of the Polish underground resistance. The Polish Army never surrendered after Poland was conquered in 1939 by Germany and the Soviet Union and the Poles continued to fight as illegal combatants in the Polish Home Army until the Soviet Army entered Poland in July 1944, at which time, the Poles joined the Allies.

In 1937, there were only 7,500 prisoners in the four main Nazi concentration camps: Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald and Lichtenberg. By that time, Lichtenberg was being used exclusively for women prisoners. According to Himmler's biographer, Padfield, the new Chief of Police wanted to increase the number of inmates in the concentration camps because he desired a large labor force for the factories owned by SS. For this reason, he broadened the category of asocials to include "tramps and vagabonds, beggars - even those with a fixed address - gypsies and people who traveled from place to place like gypsies if they showed no will to work regularly, pimps who had been involved in legal proceedings even if not convicted and who still associated with procurers and prostitutes, or people under strong suspicion of procuring and finally people who had demonstrated by numerous previous convictions for resistance, causing bodily injury, brawling, trespass and similar that they do not want to adapt themselves to the orderly Volk community."

Another category of German citizens, who were persecuted by Himmler, in his capacity as Chief of the German Police, was homosexuals. Paragraph 175 of the German criminal code, which had been in effect since 1871, made it a crime for men to publicly engage in gay sex or for male prostitutes to solicit men for sex. Himmler began enforcing this law and a total of about 10,000 homosexuals were eventually sent to concentration camps such as Dachau, Sachsenhausen and Mauthausen for at least 6 months of "rehabilitation." According to Bernadac, they "received regular visits from the medical commissions" who attempted to change their sexual orientation because the Nazis believed that these prisoners were gay by choice.

The first homosexual prisoner to be registered at Mauthausen was Georg Bautler, Prisoner No. 130. The first Jew to be sent to Mauthausen was also incarcerated because he had broken the German law under Paragraph 175.

Another category of German criminals at Mauthausen was the common criminals who had been condemned to death by the German courts, but they had to be kept alive until the appeal process was finished. The first prisoner in this category was Magenauer Ottekar, who was assigned Prisoner number 27342. Some of the condemned prisoners remained in the camp until the liberation because their cases had never been legally closed. They were released, along with the other prisoners, by the American liberators, who considered all concentration camp prisoners to be innocent people who had been unjustly incarcerated.

In August 1939, a year after the Mauthausen main camp opened, the SS statistics for the camp showed that the prison population consisted of "946 German criminals, 930 asocials, 688 political prisoners, 143 Jehovah's Witnesses and other religious objectors, and 51 homosexuals."

The asocials were a diverse group of alcoholics, hobos, street people and social misfits. Prostitutes were also in the asocial category; they were sent to the women's camps. The first Gypsy to be registered at Mauthausen was Johan Horvath, who was counted as an asocial. The political prisoners consisted of Social Democrats, Communists, anarchists and assorted anti-Fascists. Prisoner number 7 was Alois Brasda, the first political prisoner to be registered at Mauthausen.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, or Bible students, were sent to concentration camps because they refused to serve in the German Army or because they distributed pamphlets discouraging others from joining the Army. The first Jehovah's Witness to be registered at Mauthausen was Franz Bräuchle, who was Prisoner No. 337. The Nazis referred to the Jehovah's Witnesses as "volunteer" prisoners because they could leave at any time if only they would change their minds about serving in the Army or stop distributing pamphlets against the German government. According to Bernadac, none of them ever recanted.

The largest ethnic group at Mauthausen was the Poles. During the time that the Mauthausen camp was in operation, there were nearly 50,000 Poles incarcerated in the main camp and the subcamps. Mauthausen records list the death of 30,203 Poles, including many Polish Jews.


This page was last updated on July 15, 2008