The site

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 to Mauthausen. 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 Concentration Camp 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. 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 project

The European Heritage Volunteers Project will be engaging on different elements that constitute the remaining legacy of this infamous site. Historic documentation is important to provide a detailed record of the significance of a property for research and interpretive purposes.

Within the memorial complex, there are several examples of monuments of remembrance of the various ethnic groups and communities that were victims of the National Socialists and were interned at Mauthausen Concentration Camp. This assemblage of memorials represents the most varied and distinct collection of monuments to concentration camp victims in all of Europe. In 2021, the first European Heritage Volunteers Project at the site undertook the task of documenting some of these monuments of the nations to assist the remembrance efforts being carried out at the Mauthausen Memorial.

There is another relevant memorial area which is for great significance for the descendants of survivors and victims as well as for the communities who were persecuted and enslaved in the Concentration Camp: the cemetery for unidentified victims exhumed from mass graves. This cemetery will be the site where the 2022 European Heritage Volunteers Project will take place.

In the decade of the 1950ies, the first exhumations of mass graves began with that of the so called “American cemetery”. Subsequently, the bodies of the Gusen Concentration Camp cemetery were also exhumed. The bodies that could be identified were repatriated to their home countries; only the USSR refrained from repatriation, thus, the 150 Russians identified were placed in a collective grave near the Soviet memorial.

In total, the remains of 3,165 people were exhumed, examined, documented and placed in coffins at Mauthausen and Gusen. 365 bodies were repatriated to their home countries, the rest were buried in 1960 in the former Camp 2 known as Quarantänehof. In the 1960ies and 1970ies, further mass graves of subcamps were examined, and the victims who were recovered were all then reburied in the cemetery area of the Mauthausen Memorial using the same procedure.

The gravestones on this cemetery are all simple crosses of equal shape made of conglomerate stone. The European Heritage Volunteers Project will focus on the documentation, conservation and restoration of these crosses, a lot of which are now in a state of decay.

The participants will be tasked in a first step carrying out an inventory of the existing gravestones, including an inspection and documentation of their structural damages. Afterwards, under the guidance of the technical instructors and following the guidelines for heritage conservation used by the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, the participants will partake in the necessary interventions to conserve, reinforce and restore the gravestones.

Given that the cemetery has an important significance for the memorialisation of the victims of Mauthausen Concentration Camp, these gravestones must be handled with utmost care. Their historical condition is to be preserved to the greatest possible extent, since substantial changes are not allowed. There may be cases where the gravestones may not be able to de salvaged, and in such cases the group will be invited to discuss how to proceed further with their handling. 

As part of the educational programme, there will be guided visits to other memorial places linked to the history of Mauthausen Memorial Complex.


The project will take place from July, 17th, till July, 30th, 2022, and is jointly organised by European Heritage Volunteers and the Burghauptmannschaft Österreich.


European Heritage Volunteers