Jewish Prisoners at Mauthausen

Body of Jew beaten to death at Mauthausen, 1943

According to Hans Marsalek, an inmate at Mauthausen, the first Jewish prisoner brought to Mauthausen was a Viennese-born man arrested under Paragraph 175 of the German Penal Code, which made it a crime to engage in homosexual acts in public. He was registered at the camp in September 1939 and died in March 1940. In 1940, 90 more Jews were brought to Mauthausen and by the end of the year, only about 10 were still alive, according to Marsalek.

Some of the Jews who were brought to Mauthausen in 1940 were among the Spanish Republicans, the Prisoners of War who had been interned in France after the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939. When the Nazis conquered France, these prisoners were sent to Mauthausen.

The Spanish Republicans wore blue triangles on their uniforms to distinguish them from the other prisoners. In a book called "Triangle Bleu," one of these prisoners, Istvan Balogh, told the story of 8 Jews who were in his group of Spanish Republican prisoners. The first of the 8 to die was Emerico Mezei, a military doctor who had fought for the Communists as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War.

According to Balogh's account, Mezei was "utterly unfit for hard labor" and he was beaten unmercifully by the SS men who tried to force him to work beyond his endurance in the quarry. Balogh says that, after his second day in the quarry, the SS gave Dr. Mezei a wire and "obliged him to hang himself in front of barrack 19." This incident caused the remaining 7 Jews in the group to feel that "all the Jews are condemned." These Jews were Romanian citizens who had fought as volunteers on the Communist side in the Spanish Civil War. According to Balogh's account, as quoted by Christian Bernadac in his book "The 186 Steps," the story of their deaths is as follows:

The next morning, when they reached the quarry, they hugged each other and walked off to the watchtower, singing the International (Communist anthem). Appalled, everyone stopped work, while the S.S. shouted orders to halt. They kept on marching, singing at the top of their voices, and everyone heard the International, until the machine guns mowed them down.

The aftermath of this incident was described as follows in Bernadac's book:

The bodies of our comrades had already gone to the Krematorium. At roll call, before barrack 19, the Kommandoführer held forth on events in the quarry. "All communist pigs, Jews or otherwise, will never again sing their hymn." That same evening we swore that if we were to be killed, we would die singing the International, like our comrades. This took place on October 11, 1940, and our assassinated comrades were named: Filip Weisz, Bercu Lozneanu, Israël Diamant, Mihail Leb, Saie Abromovici, Sigmund Sonnereich.

The last member of this group of 8 Jews was Dr. Jose Gardonyi. He was killed the following day when the SS beat him with shovel handles and then "finished him off with a machine gun," according to Istvan Balogh's account, as quoted in Bernadac's book. Regarding the deaths of his comrades, Balogh said, "We didn't die in Spain, but there's no doubt that we'll die here. It's the same struggle, against the same enemy." The enemy that he was referring to was Fascism; the Spanish Republicans who were sent to Mauthausen had fought to defend the Communist Republic of Spain against General Franco's Fascist troops.

In January 1941, Mauthausen and the nearby Gusen camp were designated as the only Class III camps in the Nazi system. This meant that Mauthausen was a punishment camp for such prisoners as resistance fighters who were accused of sabotage, Allied POWs who were categorized as spies or commandos, Russian POWs who had previously escaped, and German criminals who had been condemned to death.

From 1941 to 1943, there were around 1,350 Jews from the Netherlands who were brought to Mauthausen because they were accused of resistance activities during the Nazi occupation. The first to arrive were 361 Jews from Amsterdam who were transferred from Buchenwald to Mauthausen after it became a Class III camp in 1941. These Dutch Jews were from the group of 425 young men who had been arrested in the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam in reprisal for what the Nazis considered an act of resistance on February 19, 1941 when German occupation soldiers were sprayed with ammonia in a tavern, which was run by Ernst Cahn, a Jewish refugee from Germany. Martin Gilbert, in his book "Holocaust," explained that the alleged attack was accidental.

In June 1941, there were more arrests of Jews in Amsterdam after an explosion, caused by the Dutch Resistance, in a villa where German Army officers were living. One of the Jews who was sent to Mauthausen in reprisal for the explosion was 19-year-old John Hamme, who was arrested on the street by two Germans in civilian clothes. A photo of John Hamme, who died in Mauthausen at the end of 1941, can be seen in a memorial book published by the Dutch foundation "Stichting Vriendenkring Mauthausen" in 1999 (ISBN number 90-901 1965-5).

Also, from 1941 to 1943, there were around 1,250 Jews brought to Mauthausen from Poland, Romania and the former country of Czechoslovakia. Around 30 of the total of 2,600 Jews who arrived in Mauthausen during this period were sent to Auschwitz in October 1942, and most of the rest were recorded as having died during the year of their arrival, according to Marsalek.

According to Robert Abzug, in his book "Inside the Vicious Heart," hundreds of Dutch Jews were forced to jump to their deaths from the high cliff overlooking the quarry floor. However, Martin Gilbert wrote the following in his book "Holocaust":

On the third day after the arrival of the Dutch deportees at Mauthausen, the camp guards began machine-gunning the climbers on the steps. On the fourth day, some ten young Jews linked hands and jumped to voluntary death.

In his book entitled "The 186 Steps," Christian Bernadac included an excerpt from the unpublished manuscript of Karl Weber, a prisoner at Mauthausen, who wrote the following in May 1945:

It was a matter of principle that the Jews weren't supposed to live for a very long time. The favorite manner of liquidating them was as follows: about fifty meters above the quarry floor there was a ledge about fifteen to twenty meters long. The exhausted and terror-stricken men were brought there in groups of eight or ten. They were forced to hold hands and leap. The S.S. called this "parachuting." The broken arms and legs, spilled brains and blood covered the ground for ten to twenty meters around the area of this Satanic blood sport. Down below, prisoners were assigned to clean up the mess and carry it to the Krematorium.

Mauthausen was not a death camp, like Auschwitz or Majdanek, where Jews were sent specifically to be killed. Up until 1942, Jews were brought to Mauthausen because they had committed a crime or because they were captured while fighting as insurgents in countries occupied by Germany. One of these Jewish criminals was Prisoner No. 14582, Max Ochsbron, born August 20, 1916 in Vienna, who had been arrested for forgery in German-occupied France.

The Death Books which were confiscated in May 1945 by the American liberators of Mauthausen contain an entry for Ochsbron, who died an "Unnatural Death" on October 28, 1943 at 9:55 a.m. after being shot while attempting to escape (Auf der Flucht erschossen). The name of the man who shot him was also recorded in the Death Book: Martin Bartesch.

There was an army garrison just outside the Mauthausen camp, where 10,000 SS soldiers were stationed. There was also an SS training school at the garrison and 17-year-old Martin Bartesch had been assigned to be a guard at Mauthausen for three weeks as part of his one month of training. After completing his training, Bartesch was assigned to a labor camp in Linz until 1945 when he was sent to fight on the Eastern front. On March 29, 1946, 61 staff members of Mauthausen were tried and convicted as war criminals by an American Military Tribunal at Dachau, but Martin Bartesch was never brough to justice because, as a trainee, he has not been listed on the roster of SS guards at Mauthausen.

In February 1942, the first transport of Jews from Auschwitz arrived at Mauthausen, followed by another larger transport of 1,200 Jews from Auschwitz in June 1942. These Jews were sent to Mauthausen to work, not to be killed in the Mauthausen gas chamber. More Jewish prisoners were transferred from Auschwitz in April 1943, November 1943, January 1944 and February 1944 to work in the munitions factories at Mauthausen and the three Gusen sub-camps. Although Mauthausen had a gas chamber, it was primarily a labor camp for political prisoners and common criminals, not a death camp where Jews were sent to be gassed.

The deportation of Jews from Hungary to Auschwitz began on April 29, 1944; thousands of Jewish men were not registered in the camp, but were instead transferred within a few days to Mauthausen to work in the Messerschmitt airplane factory. When the huge influx of Jewish prisoners caused the Mauthausen barracks to become too crowded, a tent camp with 16 large tents was set up north of the camp in the fall of 1944 where the Jews were housed under miserable conditions.

By the summer of 1944, Jews also began arriving from other camps in Poland, which were being evacuated because the Soviet Army was advancing rapidly toward the Polish border. When the Auschwitz camp had to be abandoned on January 18, 1945, around 10,000 Jews were brought to Mauthausen, among them Simon Wiesenthal who became a famous Nazi hunter after the war, tracking down German war criminals and bringing them to justice.

In the last days of the war, thousands of Jews were death marched east to Mauthausen and its sub-camps from camps that were in the war zone. Many died on these marches and their bodies were left along the roadside.

The last prisoner to be registered at the Mauthausen main camp was Majleck Tenenbaum, a French Jew, who was assigned the prison number 120400.

1946 Commemoration in honor of 180,000 Jews killed at Mauthausen

After the war, the Mauthausen concentration camp became a Displaced Persons camp for former prisoners who were waiting to emigrate to America or Palestine. In the photograph above, Dr. Reinert is shown, flanked by four nurses, at a ceremony held in 1946 by the Jewish Displaced Persons in honor of the 180,000 Jews who died in the Mauthausen concentration camp and its sub-camps.

The US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC gives the total number of all deaths in Mauthausen and the sub-camps as 119,000 and claims that only one third of the victims were Jewish, which would mean that around 39,700 Jews died in Mauthausen and all its sub-camps. The total number of prisoners registered at Mauthausen and its sub-camps was just under 200,000, according to the USHMM. There were 120,400 prisoners in all categories registered at Mauthausen and all its sub-camps, according to Christian Bernadac, author of "The 186 Steps."

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This page was last updated on November 5, 2008