Hans Marsalek - prominent prisoner at Mauthausen

Hans Marsalek was one of the most prominent political prisoners in the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. His testimony at the trial of the Mauthausen staff members, which started on March 29, 1946, helped to convict the 61 defendants and resulted in death sentences for many of them.

At the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal, an affidavit written by Marsalek was introduced into the proceedings, although Marsalek did not testify. The affidavit included the death-bed confession of Mauthausen Commandant Franz Ziereis, written from memory by Marsalek 10 months after he witnessed the confession. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, who was one of the men on trial at Nuremberg, asked for Marsalek to be put on the witness stand so that he could be confronted by the defense, but Marsalek refused.

In a video on the website of the Mauthausen Memorial site, Marsalek tells about the hardship that his family endured in Austria in 1917, during the first World War, when he was 3 years old. Because of this, he claims that he became a pacifist and was opposed to all war. However, he was not opposed to being a traitor to his country and fighting as an illegal combatant on the side of the Communists. In his video, Marsalek said that after he became a prisoner at the Mauthausen concentration camp, he worked for the Nazis. In reference to his job as a camp secretary at Mauthausen, Marsalek said: "For a long time I didn't notice that I had become a part of this death machinery."

The following information about the life of Hans Marsalek comes from the official web site of the Mauthausen Memorial Site:

1914 - Hans Marsalek was born in Vienna, Austria to parents of Czech descent. He grew up in a modest Social Democratic milieu, attended the Czech school in Vienna, and was apprenticed as a type setter; he was a member of the "Socialist Workers Youth."

1936-1938 - Before the Anschluss in March 1938, in which Austria was joined with Germany, Marsalek joined the resistance movement of the Rote Hilfe (Red Help) in Vienna, which fought against the authoritarian corporative "Ständestaat."

1938 - As a citizen of Austria, which became part of the Greater German Reich in March 1938, Marsalek was conscripted into the regular German Army (Wehrmacht). Refusing to join the German Army and fight for the Nazis, Marsalek escaped to Prague, where he became active in working for the Social Democratic organization of emigrants from Austria.

1940 - Marsalek joined the Communist Czech resistance movement in Prague and Vienna. While he was in Prague, Marsalek expanded his contacts with the Communist underground and served as a courier for a Soviet agent named Slanzl, "who was in Prague on a certain assignment."

Slanzl sent Marsalek to Vienna to recruit agents willing to carry out acts of subversion and sabotage on behalf of the Soviet Union.

Marsalek and Slanzl worked together and carried out "various missions" which Marsalek declined to enumerate. Marsalek's job was to deliver various instructions to Communist cells in Austria. He soon entered into Vienna illegally and set to work recruiting two men in the German Wehrmacht whom he knew to be Communists.

October 1941 - Marsalek was arrested in Prague and imprisoned in several Gestapo prisons in Vienna where he was interrogated.

September 1942 - Marsalek was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp.

from May 1944 - Marsalek worked in "Lagerschreiber II" of the main Mauthausen camp as a camp secretary.

May 1945 - After the liberation of the Mauthausen camp, Marsalek returned to Vienna where he worked on the police force until 1963. He was entrusted primarily with the Communist investigation of neo-Nazi activities.

from 1946 - Marsalek took an essential part in the founding and preservation of the Mauthausen Memorial site. He married Anni Vavak, a survivor of KZ Ravensbrück; she died in 1959.

from 1952 - Marsalek was a founding member of the International Mauthausen Committee.

1964-1976 - Marsalek was head of the Mauthausen Memorial site and Museum within the Ministry of the Interior. He married Hilda Zinsler and they lived in Vienna, Austria.

On October 28, 1941, Marsalek had been arrested by the Gestapo because of his work with the Communist Resistance movement in Prague and Vienna. Under the rules of the Geneva Convention of 1929, Marsalek was classified as an illegal combatant, who did not have the rights of a Prisoner of War.

Marsalek was first sent to a local Gestapo prison where he was interrogated before being transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp on September 9, 1942. After a few weeks in several working commandos at Mauthausen, he was assigned an easy desk job as a "Schreiber" (secretary) in the "Lagerschreibstube." His ability to type and take shorthand qualified him for the job as an office clerk, and gave him access to important camp information.

A few days before American soldiers arrived to liberate the Mauthausen camp on May 5, 1945, the SS staff members fled and the entire camp was plunged into chaos, according to Marsalek. In a video interview for the Mauthausen Memorial site, Marsalek said (in German) that the inmates refused to lift a finger to help the disabled, sick and dying prisoners. No longer under the supervision of the SS, the camp dissolved into anarchy.

According Marsalek's description in his video, "from this point on, no inmate was ready to do anything more for the others....the sick weren't getting any more care. Of course they were still being treated by the physicians, but the orderlies weren't doing anything to help. Everything was filthy, infested with lice and bedbugs, soiled with excrement...and nobody wanted to cook anymore."

Knowing the danger of epidemics such as typhus and cholera, Marsalek and the other prisoners, who worked in the SS offices, went about "organizing the living conditions in Barracks 1-24" until more Americans arrived on 7 May, 1945.

Hans Marsalek's video may be viewed at the web site of the Mauthausen Memorial site at http://www.mauthausen-memorial.at/

On May 27, 1945, after the Mauthausen camp was under the control of the American liberators, a courier arrived at Mauthausen, dressed in a Communist uniform, and approached Marsalek; he ordered Marsalek to report to Vienna to work on behalf of the Communists. Marsalek accepted the commission without hesitation. On the very same day, Hans Marsalek became a police officer in Vienna. Vienna was in the Soviet occupation zone of Austria, which was under Communist rule. As a devoted Communist, Marsalek benefited from the rule of the Soviet Union.

Before leaving Mauthausen, Marsalek reclaimed all his personal property which had been held in a camp warehouse since he entered the camp in 1942. Remarkably, the SS had kept all the possessions of the prisoners, even though Mauthausen was a Class III camp where prisoners had very little chance of ever being released.

In 1964, Hans Marsalek was assigned by the Ministry of the Interior in Austria to set up the Mauthausen Memorial site. He was also commissioned to write the first Mauthausen guidebook for the Memorial Site. Needless to say, the displays at the Mauthausen Memorial site and Museum show a heavy Communist influence and point of view, and do not offer any objective history. Beginning in 1947, Marsalek organized annual memorial events for the Mauthausen survivors.

Back to KZ Mauthausen index


This page was last updated on January 9, 2010