On March, 12th, 1938 the “Anschluss” (“Annexation”) of austrofascist Austria to the German Reich took place. Two weeks later, the National Socialist Gauleiter (regional head) of Upper Austria, August Eigruber, announced to an enthusiastic audience that his Gau (region) would have the “distinction” of building a concentration camp. The location chosen was the town of Mauthausen on the Danube. Political opponents and groups of people labelled as “criminal” or “antisocial” would be imprisoned here and forced to work in the granite quarries.
On August, 8th, 1938 the SS (“Schutzstaffel” – the major paramilitary organisation under the Nazi Party) transferred the first prisoners from the Dachau concentration camp. During this phase, the prisoners, who were all Germans and Austrians and all men, had to build their own camp and set up operations in the quarry. Their daily lives were shaped by hunger, arbitrary treatment and violence.
In December 1939 the SS ordered the construction of a second concentration camp just a few kilometres from Mauthausen. The Gusen branch camp officially went into operation in May 1940.
After the outbreak of war, people from across Europe were deported to Mauthausen, which gradually developed into a system of several interconnected camps. During this phase, Mauthausen and Gusen were the concentration camps with the harshest imprisonment conditions and the highest mortality. Prisoners at the bottom of the camp hierarchy had barely any chance of surviving for long. Those who were ill or “useless” to the SS were in constant danger of their lives. In 1941 the SS started to construct a gas chamber and other installations at Mauthausen for the systematic murder of large groups of people.
During the second half of the war the prisoners, who now included women for the first time, were increasingly used as forced labourers in the arms industry. In order to accommodate the prisoners where they worked, the SS established several subcamps. Newly-arrived prisoners were transferred to these camps from the main camp. More and more, Mauthausen itself became a camp were the sick and weak were sent to die.
Since the prisoners were now needed for their labour, living conditions improved for a short time. From the end of 1943 onwards, inmates were also deployed in the construction of underground factories, for example those in Melk, Ebensee and St. Georgen an der Gusen. The murderous working conditions that prevailed at these sites soon led to a dramatic rise in the number of victims.
Towards the end of the war, the Mauthausen Concentration Camp became the destination for evacuations from camps near the front line. Tens of thousands of prisoners arrived on several large transports. Overcrowding, lack of food and rampant disease led to mass death among the prisoners in the final months before liberation.
On May, 5th, 1945 the US Army reached Gusen and Mauthausen. Some prisoners were in such a weakened state that many still died in the days and weeks after liberation. Of a total of around 190,000 people imprisoned in the Mauthausen concentration camp and its subcamps over seven years, at least 90,000 died.
A few years after the war had ended, the former Mauthausen Concentration Camp was transformed into a memorial. On the other hand, the sites of the former satellite camps and of the branch camp Gusen were long repressed from commemoration by state authority. While at all sites the remains of the satellite camps were being removed, concentration camp survivors and relatives of people killed in the concentration camps were thwarting the process of repression by establishing commemorative markers. Upon their initiatives, public memorials were established in Ebensee, Gusen and Melk.
The Mauthausen Memorial today is an international site of remembrance and political-historical education. Here, the memory of the victims is being preserved, the history of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and its sub-camps is being researched and documented, and through exhibitions and educational programmes its visitors are empowered to deal with and discuss the history of concentration camps.
The Mauthausen Memorial aims at raising awareness for any resurgence of National Socialist activities, anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination of minorities and antidemocratic tendencies. Furthermore, it is supposed to contribute to preserving public knowledge and memory of National Socialist mass crimes committed at the former Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps, and at all its sub-camps. The Mauthausen Memorial regards itself as a place of remembrance and education, with human rights education through live teaching of history being among its central tasks. It promotes the teaching of history, communicates its significance for present and future times and aims at pointing out comparable present-day developments, tendencies and processes.
The Mauthausen Memorial is a Federal Institution under Public Law and is financed by the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Austria.
The European Heritage Volunteers Project will focus on the former Stabsgebäude (staff building) which shall be in future included in the exhibition concept of the Memorial; a special focus will be given to the apartment of the former commandant.
The participants will undertake the historic and a constructive documentation of the edifice as well as formulate proposals on how best to include the building in the memorial’s exhibition concept.
Historic documentation is important to provide a detailed record of the significance of a property for research and interpretive purposes, meanwhile the technical documentation will include a detailed catalogue of the constructive elements, the damages and their causes.
In addition, a detailed documentation of the damages at the monuments for the victims from various countries which are situated on the area of the Mauthausen Memorial will be undertaken.
The project will take place from August, 15th, to August 28th, 2021 and is organised by Burghauptmannschaft Österreich and European Heritage Volunteers.