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Mauthausen: ladder of death
Mauthausen: ladder of death

The Nazis drove the recalcitrant prisoners of war to this camp. General Dmitry Karbyshev died in Mauthausen, and here Soviet officers raised the largest uprising.

Mortification by labor

The surviving prisoner of Mauthasen, Josef Jablonski, recalled that even the Germans themselves called this ominous place "Mordhausen": from the German Mordt - murder. In Mauthausen during the years of its existence (1938 - 1945) there were about 200 thousand people, more than half of them died. The Nazis created the camp immediately after the Anschluss of Austria in 1938 - in the highlands near Linz, the hometown of Adolf Hitler.

At first, the most dangerous criminals, homosexuals, sectarians and political prisoners were sent to it, but very soon prisoners of war began to enter Mauthausen. They were killed by grueling labor. Hitler wanted to rebuild Linz, his grandiose architectural plans required building materials. Concentration camp prisoners worked in quarries - they mined granite. Not everyone can withstand hard work for a long time for 12 hours a day with poor rations.

In Mauthausen, almost all prisoners were healthy men between the ages of 26 and 28, but the death rate here remained one of the highest in the entire concentration camp system. Everyday terror (SS officers could beat or kill any prisoner with impunity), unsanitary conditions in overcrowded barracks, massive dysentery and lack of medical care quickly drove people weakened by work to the grave.

From 1933 to 1945 there were about 2 million people in German concentration camps, more than 50% were killed

The surviving prisoner of Mauthausen described his first day at the camp: “Our hundred, guarded by SS men with dogs, were led into a huge stone quarry. The work was distributed as follows: some had to break off pieces of stone with crowbars and pickaxes, while others had to deliver it to a block under construction half a kilometer away. Having formed a closed ring, the prisoners in a continuous tape stretched from the quarry to the block and back.

Quarry of Mauthausen Drawing of a former prisoner

The worst was for those who worked in the "penal company", where they were assigned for any offense. "Penalties" (mostly Soviet prisoners) carried huge stones up the "stairs of death" (Todesstiege) - from the quarry to the warehouse. 186 rude and rather high steps became the place of death of many prisoners. Those who could not walk were shot by the SS. Often the prisoners themselves went to the place of execution when they were exhausted. It was forbidden to move away from the stairs to the source of water, this was regarded as an attempt to escape (with understandable consequences).

The composition of the camp was international, people of three dozen nationalities were kept here: Russians, Poles, Ukrainians, Gypsies, Germans, Czechs, Jews, Hungarians, British, French … Despite the language barrier and the attempts of the Germans to sow enmity between them, they helped each other and especially to penalty boxers: they left water for them along the “ladder of death” in cans, and those who worked in the quarry gouged cavities in the stones with pickaxes to make it easier to drag them.

Over time, Mauthausen, in which in 1939 there were only about one and a half thousand prisoners, became very large - by 1945 there were already 84 thousand people. The Nazis also attracted them to work at military enterprises, for which they opened dozens of concentration camp branches.

When there were already quite a lot of prisoners of war in Mauthausen (in 1942), they organized a kind of resistance. The meeting place was barrack No. 22. There the inmates collected food and clothing for the sick, helped each other, and shared information. The Nazis sometimes allowed the prisoners of Western countries to receive parcels with food from home through the Red Cross, Germany deprived Soviet citizens and Jews of this opportunity. They were saved by the help of their comrades.

"The ladder of death" A drawing of a prisoner

The uprising and the "hare hunt"

Concentration camp uprisings are rare.Emaciated, unarmed, surrounded by merciless SS men and barbed wire fences, the prisoners could hardly count on success. Even if they managed to get out of the camp, they could not hope for help from the local population. Therefore, in Mauthausen, despite the daily brutal terror, there were no mass riots for years (and the SS atrocities here were no less than in Auschwitz; for example, in 1943, 11 Soviet prisoners of war were burnt alive in one day). But in 1944, the administration made a mistake.

In May, a "death row" - number 20 appeared in the camp. Those who tried to escape from other camps, mainly officers and soldiers of the Red Army, were brought there. At Mauthausen, they were doomed to die. All their meals consisted of a bowl of trashy beetroot soup and a slice of ersatz bread a day. They were not allowed to wash, they were often forced to perform grueling exercises (this was called "exercise").

From 1943 to 1945 Mauthausen received 65 thousand Soviet citizens - prisoners of war and Ostarbeiters

In early 1945, the suicide bombers decided to revolt. By that time, four and a half thousand people had already died in their block. Everyone understood that the same outcome awaited them, and that escape was the only chance of salvation. At night, 570 people collected everything that could be useful as a weapon - wooden blocks (they were worn instead of shoes), pieces of soap from a warehouse (which they were not given), two fire extinguishers, nails, stones and pieces of cement - to get them, the captives smashed large round washbasins. First, they killed the headman of the barracks (usually prisoners "with privileges" who helped the SS to mock the rest of the prisoners became the headmen).

One of the survivors recalled this: “In the evening of February 2, 1945, Yu. Tkachenko came up to us with Ivan Fenota and said: now we will strangle the bloc. (…) Soon Lyovka the stubendist came out into the corridor, followed by several more people - prisoners. One of those who walked behind had a blanket in his hands, and suddenly a blanket was thrown over his head from behind. Tkachenko and five other prisoners pounced on the executioner, knocked him down, threw a belt around his neck, began to strangle and stab him with nails and stones clenched into fists. Yuri Tkachenko was in charge of this entire operation. (…) Then (…) Tkachenko asked: "How are you?" Without waiting for an answer, he nodded his head towards the corridor: "Finish off this dog." We ran into the corridor. Blokovy was still alive, he was on all fours. Fenota and I began to strangle him again, and then the corpse was dragged to the lavatory, where the corpses of prisoners were usually thrown."

Washstands in the camp barracks The courtyard in which there was a barrack number 20

After that, the rebels went out into the courtyard and rushed to the nearest tower. This happened at about one in the morning, when, as the Soviet officers hoped, the sentries would already doze off in the cold. They managed to knock down the SS, grab a machine gun and open fire on the guards. Right during the shootout, under bullets, the fugitives threw blankets on the barbed wire and thus overcame two fences. In a few minutes, corpses were strewn across the courtyard of the concentration camp. But out of 570 people, 419 still got out. According to the plan, they fled in different directions in small groups. So Soviet prisoners made the largest escape from a concentration camp in the history of World War II.

Unfortunately for the rebels, there was almost nowhere to hide in the vicinity - no dense forest, no friendly population. Those who did not share the love of Nazism would be afraid to help them. The authorities declared the fugitives "especially dangerous criminals" and assigned a bounty to each of them. The camp commandant, SS Standartenfuehrer Franz Zierais, called on the surrounding residents to hunt the prisoners.

The operation to catch them went down in history as the "Mühlviertel hare hunt." For several days, the SS, police, Volkssturm and Hitler Youth (15-year-olds were also involved in the executions) fished out the rebels - until they decided that they had killed all those who had fled.

Only 17 people were saved. Some, like Viktor Ukraintsev,arrested a few weeks later and sent back to the camps (Ukraintsev called himself a Polish name and ended up in the same Mauthausen in the Polish bloc); Captain Ivan Bityukov miraculously reached Czechoslovakia and there, in the house of a sympathetic peasant woman, waited for the arrival of the Red Army in April 1945; in Czechoslovakia, Lieutenant Alexander Mikheenkov also escaped - until the end of the war he hid in the forest, fed by the local peasant Vaclav Shvets; Lieutenants Ivan Baklanov and Vladimir Sosedko hid in the forest until May 10, stole food from farms in the district; Lieutenant Tsemkalo and Rybchinsky's technician were rescued by Maria and Johann Langthaler, the Austrians - despite the mortal risk to themselves, they hid Soviet prisoners until the surrender of Germany. In addition to the Langthalers, only two Austrian families, the Wittenberger and Masherbauers, provided assistance to other fugitives.

Camp walls A drawing of a prisoner

Mass execution and end of Mauthausen

In February 1945, it was already clear that the end of the Third Reich was soon. Concentration camp killings have become more frequent. The Nazis cleaned up the traces of their crimes and shot people especially hated by them. At Mauthausen, this panicky anger was supplemented by the commandant's thirst for revenge for his escape.

About two hundred prisoners died a day. On February 18, 1945, the camp guards brought several hundred people out into the cold at once - nude prisoners were doused with ice water from a cannon. People fell dead after a couple of such procedures. Anyone who dodged the stream of water was beaten by the SS with truncheons on the head. Among those executed in this way was Lieutenant General of the Red Army, former Tsarist Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Mikhailovich Karbyshev.

He was captured as early as August 1941 and since then has been in several concentration camps; repeatedly the Nazis offered him cooperation - even to lead the ROA. But Karbyshev flatly refused and called on other prisoners to resist by any means. The Nazis admitted that the general "turned out to be fanatically devoted to the idea of ​​loyalty to military duty and patriotism …" That February night, together with Karbyshev, more than four hundred people died. Their bodies were burned in the camp crematorium.

Mauthausen Dmitry Karbyshev

Mauthausen was liberated by American troops - they arrived on May 5. They managed to capture most of the SS men. In the spring of 1946, the trials of the concentration camp criminals began: the courts passed 59 death sentences to the Nazis, three more were sentenced to life imprisonment. The last trials of those responsible for the murders of people in Mauthausen took place in the 1970s.

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