The Ebensee Concentration Camp was established by the SS to build tunnels for armaments storage near the town of Ebensee, Austria in 1943. It was part of the Mauthausen network.
Due to the inhumane working and living conditions, Ebensee was one of the worst Nazi concentration camps because of the death rates of its prisoners. The SS used several codenames Kalk (English: limestone), Kalksteinbergwerk (English: limestone mine), Solvay and Zement (English: cement) to conceal the true nature of the camp.
The construction of the Ebensee subcamp began late in 1943, and the first 1,000 prisoners arrived on November 18, 1943, from the main camp of Mauthausen and its subcamps. The main purpose of Ebensee was to provide slave labour for the construction of enormous underground tunnels in which armament works were to be housed. These tunnels were planned for the evacuated Peenemünde V-2 rocket development but, on July 6, 1944, Hitler ordered the complex converted to a tank-gear factory.
After rising at 4:30 A.M. the prisoners dug away at the tunnels until 6 P.M. After some months work was done in shifts 24 hours a day. There was nearly no accommodation to protect the first batch of prisoners from the cold Austrian winter. Thus the death toll increased astronomically. Bodies were piled in heaps and every 3-4 days they were taken to the Mauthausen crematorium to be burned.
Ebensee did not yet have its crematorium. The dead were also piled inside the few huts that existed. The smell of the dead, combined with sickness, phlegmon, urine and faeces, was unbearable. The prisoners wore wooden clogs. When the clogs fell apart the prisoners had to go barefoot. Due to this total ill treatment combined with food allocations consisting of, in the morning: half a litre of ersatz coffee, at noon three-quarters of a litre of hot water containing potato peelings, in the evening 150 grams of bread, the death toll continued to rise. Soon lice infested the camp.
The camp was surrounded by a barbed wire fence and small towers with machine guns and shacks for the SS.
Jews formed about one-third of the inmates, the percentage increasing to 40% by the end of the war, and were the worst treated, though all inmates suffered great hardships. The other inmates included Russians, Poles, Czechoslovaks, and Romani, as well as German and Austrian political prisoners and criminals.
The Mauthausen commandant Franz Ziereis sent his most capable and vicious man to head the camp, Georg Bachmayer.
After establishing his rule, he once again returned to Mauthausen and left the camp under the command of an Obersturmfûhrer who proved to be deranged. The combination of these two became a reign of terror.
One of their favourite methods of torture was to tie a prisoner´s arms behind him, with the hands side by side and thumb to thumb and then suspend him from a tree about eighteen inches off the ground. Bachmayer would then let his favourite dog, an Alsation called “Lord”, loose. The prisoner would be left in this unspeakable torture to die a slow and agonizing death.
In early 1944 a new commandant was appointed in Ebensee, Obersturmfûhrer Otto Riemer. During his period the conditions deteriorated even further. He personally beat, shot and tortured prisoners daily. He openly offered extra cigarettes and leave to those sentries who could account for the largest number of deaths. If a sentry at the end of a day had not a sufficient number to his credit, he would knock off the cap of a prisoner and throw it into a forbidden area. When the prisoner went to retrieve it, he would be shot dead.
The Commandant Otto Riemer (born 19 May 1897, date of death unknown) was a Nazi, a crew member of the Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp, and SS-Obersturmführer. Unfortunately, his fate is unknown. Another SS man was Alfons Bentele, who died in a French prison.
As the second world war in Europe came to an end, mass evacuations from other camps put tremendous pressure on the Mauthausen complex, the last remaining concentration camp in the area still controlled by the Nazis. The 25 Ebensee barracks had been designed to hold 100 prisoners each, but they eventually held as many as 750 each. To this number must be added the prisoners being kept in the tunnels or outdoors under the open sky.
The crematorium was unable to keep pace with the deaths and naked bodies were stacked outside the barrack blocks and the crematorium itself. In the closing weeks of the war, the death rate exceeded 350 a day. To reduce congestion, a ditch was dug outside the camp and bodies were flung into quicklime. On a single day in April 1945, a record 80 bodies were removed from Block 23 alone; in this pile, feet were seen to be twitching. During this period, the inmate strength reached a high of 18,000.
In May 1945, shooting in the distance could be heard from inside the camp and there was a sense among prisoners that American and British forces were close at hand. On May 4, 1945, the commandant of the camp informed prisoners that they had been sold to the Americans and that they should seek shelter in the camp’s underground tunnels for protection. Prisoners refused and remained in their barracks; hours later some of the tunnels exploded, reputedly due to the detonation of mines. On May 5, 1945, prisoners awoke to find that the SS had deserted Ebensee and that only elderly Germans armed with rifles were guarding the camp.
American troops of the US 80th Infantry Division arrived at the camp on May 6, 1945 – though for many inmates liberation came too late and they died of hunger, disease and exhaustion despite the efforts of American doctors to save them.
Romanian-born Hermann Kahan was plucked alive from a pile of corpses, surviving to become a businessman in Norway.
Holocaust survivor and author Moshe Ha-Elion recalls that when the camp was liberated, the Polish inmates were singing the Polish hymn, the Greek inmates were singing the Greek hymn and the French inmates were singing La Marseillaise. After, the Jewish inmates were singing Ha Tikvah.
On 19 May 1945, Bachmayer committed suicide after first shooting his family.
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