Gusen Concentration Camp - History


"(...) In March I was brought to Mauthausen to build the Gusen camp. The building tempo had to be accelerated, because the "Aktion gegen die polnische Intelligenz" was designated for the month of April. What no one knew in the home country, we knew - the SS-men who were beating us, told us that we build a camp for our rotten brothers from Poland, who today can still spend Easter uneventfully, without an inkling what awaits them. They called the camp under construction Gusen "Vernichtungslager fur die polnische Intelligenz"". - Stefan Józefowicz bank headmaster no. 1129 in Mauthausen, 43069 Gusen.

On May 25, 1938, the first lots of land were acquired at Gusen by the SS company DEST (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH or "German Earth & Stone Works, Inc."). Mauthausen concentration camp was founded later.

The existence of important stone quarries at Gusen was the key for the SS administrators' decision to establish a system of two concentration camps at Gusen and nearby Mauthausen. By 1939, the work carried out by inmates of "Mauthausen" at Gusen exceeded the work done at the Mauthausen "Wienergraben" quarry — a period when both concentration camps were makeshift installations and hundreds of inmates of the "Mauthausen" camp had to walk to the Gusen quarries every day.

From the earliest beginnings, DEST focused its investments on its stone industries at Gusen. This led to the development of the biggest and most modern DEST plants at Gusen during the first half of World War II, with its own administrative infrastructure, Werkgruppenleitung, at the nearby town of Sankt Georgen an der Gusen (hereinafter mentioned as "St. Georgen"). Thus, both St. Georgen and Gusen became the siege of Granitwerke Mauthausen, from which DEST operated its business at the quarries of the dual concentration camp system, Mauthausen-Gusen.

From 1943 on, DEST of St. Georgen shifted production from granite to armament products. DEST received several contracts and offered slave labour from its concentration camps at Gusen to companies like Heereszeuganstalt Wien, Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG or Messerschmitt GmbH of Regensburg, and established huge armament plants at St. Georgen and Gusen, a good deal of it underground and bomb-proof. The most important such joint-venture was the project B8 Bergkristall - Esche II, where DEST established and operated a huge underground assembly plant for Messerschmitt Me-262 jet planes.

To maintain its hectic activities, three concentration camps at Gusen were run by the SS:

  • Gusen I, for the inmates assigned to the activities of DEST at Gusen;
  • Gusen II, for the inmates assigned to the activities of DEST at St. Georgen; and
  • Gusen III, for the inmates assigned to the activities of DEST at Lungitz.

Until January 1944, the Gusen concentration camps (called "Mauthausen II" in 1939) were widely independent from the nearby Mauthausen concentration camp. They had their own independent numbering system, death register, construction directorate, guard battalion, and post office. It was only in the final phase of the war that it was annexed, like countless other satellites, to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. Nevertheless, especially in 1944, the number of inmates at the Gusen camps was double that at the related camp at Mauthausen. Even the number of victims appears to be significantly higher compared to the Mauthausen camp.

Due to its industrial potential, the Soviet occupation forces early decided to continue the operation of the former DEST installations at Gusen, under the name of "Granitwerke Gusen", after the liberation of the camps, while dedicating the economically unimportant Mauthausen part of the double camp system to a memorial site. This caused the Gusen camps to become more or less forgotten for decades, while all attention was given to the much smaller Mauthausen site.

The Austrian government took until 2000 to decide questions of property concerning the huge underground plants at St. Georgen and Gusen, but by the early 1960s, survivors had grown concerned that all evidence of the Gusen camps would be erased from what was fast becoming a middle class neighbourhood. Entirely with their own funds, survivors bought the plot of land surrounding the crematorium and built the Gusen Memorial, dedicated on May 8, 1965. Nearly forty years later, in 2004 the government of Austria, with generous contributions from Poland, built a tiny museum at Gusen to commemorate the 40,000 nearly forgotten victims. In 2009, New York artist Karen Finley installed a sculpture in the courtyard of the crematorium, Open Heart, which commemorates the death of 420 Jewish children over two days in 1945 by lethal injection to the heart by Nazi doctors.

Read more about this topic:  Gusen Concentration Camp

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