The site

The former Gusen Concentration Camp, situated in the Langenstein Municipality in Lower Austria, bears witness to one of the darkest chapters in human history. Initially established as a branch of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, Gusen played a pivotal role in the systematic persecution and extermination of prisoners during the Second World War.

From its creation in April 1940, Gusen was designed to accommodate approximately 6,000 inmates, surpassing the capacity of its parent camp in Mauthausen. Mainly housing Polish and Spanish prisoners initially, the camp's quarry operations subjected inmates to gruelling forced labour, resulting in countless deaths due to the inhumane conditions.

As the war progressed, Gusen became a hub for arms production, hosting facilities for the Steyr-Daimler-Puch and Messerschmitt companies. The influx of prisoners into arms manufacturing improved conditions temporarily, albeit amidst ongoing atrocities. The sinister expansion of Gusen's operations saw the inception of a vast underground complex in nearby St. Georgen an der Gusen, known as “Bergkristall”, aimed at safeguarding production of Messerschmitt Me 262 fighter jets from Allied air raids. Over 6,000 prisoners toiled under relentless abuse to construct this labyrinthine network of tunnels, which spanned nearly eight kilometres by the war's end.

The construction of “Gusen II” in March 1944 further exacerbated the camp's horrors, as living and working conditions deteriorated to unfathomable depths. With over 71,000 individuals deported to Gusen from across Europe, a staggering 36,000 perished within its confines. Liberation came on May 5th, 1945, when the US Army liberated the camp, though the scars of Gusen's dark legacy endure as a sombre reminder of humanity's capacity for cruelty and suffering.

Only a few years after the war had ended, the former parent camp to Gusen, the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, was transformed into a memorial, upon which the commemorative culture of the Austrian Republic as well as of the victims’ nations came to materialise. On the other hand, the sites of the former satellite camps and of the branch camp Gusen were long discouraged 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 discouragement by establishing commemorative markers. Upon their initiatives, public memorials were established in Ebensee, Gusen, and Melk.

The dedication of the former Mauthausen Concentration Camp as a central, state memorial in 1949 was one of the major reasons why the sites of the subcamps, including the Gusen branch camp, increasingly slipped from public view and were forgotten. The structural remains of these camps were usually quickly removed after the war or were reused for other purposes. Cemeteries and individual graves of the victims of the concentration camps and death marches were exhumed and their mortal remains reinterred at centralised sites away from public view. Many of the companies for whom concentration camp prisoners had been forced to carry out slave labour continued to enjoy economic success in the postwar era.

It is thanks to the commitment of the survivors, their relatives and local civic initiatives that the history of many of these sites is remembered today in a variety of forms.

The various local memorial initiatives are now networked together within the Austrian Mauthausen Committee. They are responsible for the erection of memorials, the creation of exhibitions, and the organisation of commemorative and educational events at these sites.

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 project

In 2024, European Heritage Volunteers will continue its collaboration with Burghauptmannschaft Österreich and the Mauthausen Memorial, which began in 2021 with a documentation and research project at the Mauthausen Memorial Complex and was continued with similar projects at Mauthausen and Gusen in 2022 and 2023.

In 2024, the European Heritage Volunteer Project will be centred on archaeological excavation. The site where the excavation will take place is known as the former “Jungführerheim”, which served as living zone for the perpetrators, and is currently covered by meadows, bushes, small trees, and a parking place. These planned excavations are indispensable to provide the base for the upcoming design plan to develop a visitor’s area, aiming to conserve the site's essence while minimising unforeseen challenges in the plan.

During the project, selected areas identified preliminarily will undergo research excavations and the related documentation. All works will be carried out under the guidance of historians and archaeologists specialised in the 20th century and will follow the Austrian standards for archaeological research, data collection, and documentation according to guidelines set by the Federal Heritage Authority. Beside the practical archaeological work, the participants will learn about guidelines-compliant preparation, preliminary report creation, and initial scientific assessment.

In addition, the participants will engage in critical discussions surrounding the ethical, historical, and methodological dimensions of archaeological research in sensitive contexts like former concentration camps. By fostering a culture of inquiry and reflection, the project seeks to cultivate a new generation of heritage stewards equipped with a broad understanding of necessary skills and ethical frameworks to navigate complex historical settings with integrity and sensitivity.

Complementing the educational program, guided visits and excursions to other sites in the region will contextualise the work and site, offering participants a deeper understanding of the historic, cultural, and geographic context surrounding the memorial complex.


The project will take place from August 4th to August 17th, 2024, and is organised by the Burghauptmannschaft Österreich in cooperation with European Heritage Volunteers and the Mauthausen Memorial.

European Heritage Volunteers