Mauthausen: Killing Operations

The Mauthausen camp authorities killed specially targeted groups of persons sent to Mauthausen for that purpose. They also killed those inmates deemed too weak or sick to work.

Gassing and Euthanasia

An American solider looks at the Mauthausen crematorium during the liberation of the camp.Several methods of killing were used. As in other camps, the Mauthausen authorities began to use gas as a means of killing in 1941–42. Like some other concentration camps, Mauthausen was equipped with a stationary gas chamber with the capacity to kill up to 80 people at a time by means of Zyklon B gas (prussic acid). In 1942, the Reich Security Main Office provided the camp authorities with a mobile gas van with the capacity to kill about 30 persons at a time. The SS dispatched, in addition, 2,960 prisoners from Mauthausen and 1,881 from Gusen, a total of 4.841 prisoners, to the Hartheim sanatorium and “euthanasia” killing center to be killed. German physicians and camp authorities had selected the victims within the framework of “Operation 14f13,” the extension of the Nazi “euthanasia policy” to the concentration camps.

Medical Experiments

German doctors subjected Mauthausen prisoners to pseudoscientific medical experiments, including testing levels of testosterone, experimenting with delousing chemicals, medicines for tuberculosis, and nutrition experiments. Camp physician Hermann Richter surgically removed significant organs—e.g., stomach, liver, or kidneys—from living prisoners solely in order to determine how long a prisoner could survive without the organ in question. Eduard Krebsbach, the executive camp doctor between autumn 1941 and autumn 1943, killed an undetermined number of prisoners by injecting phenol directly into their hearts.

Shooting, Hanging, Mistreatment, and Harsh Conditions

The SS also killed thousands of prisoners by shooting, hanging, and mistreatment. Tens of thousands more died as a direct result of the harsh living conditions in the camp, succumbing to starvation, exposure, and disease.

Mass grave at Mauthausen

Critical Thinking Questions

  • How did the functions of the camp system expand after World War II began?
  • To what degree was the local population aware of this camp, its purpose, and the conditions within? How would you begin to research this question?
  • Where were camps located?
  • Did the outside world have any knowledge about these camps? If so, what, if any, actions were taken by other governments and their officials?
  • What choices do countries have to prevent, mediate, or end the mistreatment of imprisoned civilians in other nations?

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