Mauthausen was a concentration camp in Austria. It was one of the most brutal and severe of the concentration camps. The prisoners suffered not only from malnutrition but also because of overcrowded huts, constant abuse and beatings by the guards and kapos, and also from exceptionally hard labour.
An estimated 197,464 prisoners passed through the Mauthausen concentration camp system between August 1938 and May 1945. At least 95,000 people lost their lives there.
Below are two (of many) testimonies: one from a nurse who was there after the camp’s liberation, and another from a survivor.
Marie Knowles Ellifritz was 22 when she tended to the survivors of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Her commanding officer gave the nurses the option not to enter the camp because he couldn’t bring himself to subject them to the horrors he had seen. This is her recollection:
The emotional trauma caused by our medical participation in the liberation of the European concentration camps was beyond belief. As Americans and as women we never before had been subjected to such inhumanity to man. And my initial feeling was of a tremendous job to do.
To try to accommodate 1,500 patients into a 400-bed hospital had to be madness. That fact became our madness. And it proved to become a tremendously overwhelming job. Clinically, it was a matter of sorting the dead from the living, deciding who would live for at least three days or more, making all those we found comfortable and beginning the process of treatment. A tent to keep the patient dry, an air mattress to give them a place to lie down, a blanket to help them keep warm, pyjamas to give them some dignity, a small amount of food to nourish them, and plasma to preserve the remaining life and begin them on a road back to living.
Everyone had work to do. The patients themselves helped as much as they could. We deloused them. We moved them out of the larger camp into our tent city and we let the fresh air, the sunshine, the space, and most of all their freedom do its work.
It seemed to take one to three days for us to convince some of them that they were truly free at last. And when that reality came they simply closed their eyes and died in peace and freedom. Some of the patients seemed to know immediately that they were free once again and so they were able to rejoice and begin making plans for the future. Life force for these patients had begun when the camp’s gates were opened by their liberators.”
Saul Inber grew up in a religious Jewish family. He was trained as a tailor. In 1939 he was sent to forced labour along with most of the young men of his town. He worked in many different labour camps before being deported to the Mauthausen Concentration Camp system in 1944. While working there, Saul’s hand was broken by an SS guard. He eventually ended up in the hospital in the Dachau Camp. He was liberated by US troops in May 1945.
After the war, he returned to his hometown and was reunited with his sister. They lived in a displaced persons camp in Austria, where Saul met and then married his wife, Miriam. Saul, his wife, and their two children settled in the United States in 1957.
Saul Inber’s testimonial:
We was digging, digging other, other, making Schuetzengraben, I don’t know how they say, uh, trenches. And between us were, uh, a German. He had a very bad habit. He were a, had a, a habit, he used to go to pick up somebody and take him out and beat him for no reasons. And, uh, too one time I fall, I fall in his category, and working so in the Schuetzengraben he, he start screaming, “Hey, you there, stinker, you there, come here,” uh, you know.
When I approached him, you know, and he took me on the side, this wall, you know, on uh, on the side from the house, we was in the back, you know, where the bombs had falled, and we, we worked. And he, he put me, me near the, near the wall, my…myself. And he come to me and he asked me, you know, in a nice way, nice talking, and then he come and he lift up mine chin. When he lift up mine chin, he said to me in, uh, his words in German but I, because I speak Yiddish I understood the German, he said, “Where is your God?” And I raised my right hand–I remember it exactly–I raised my right hand…and face it to the sky. As soon as I lift up my hand to the sky, he pushed me to my stomach. He give me such a punch, because I was near the wall, I was thinking I’ll faint, and, and then he raised again my chin, you know, and he asked me again, and, uh, again I raised my hand and I told, “That’s my God. I believe in Him.” And he knocked me, but now, he knocked me again…he knocked me in the front in mine nose. I have a broken nose and he knocked those, mine first three teeth what I have up to today false teeth, he broke them, I took out my teeth and threw them away in the front of him, and I was bleeding, very much. And that, the same minute, when I took out mine teeth, he asked me again, something come in my mind. It’s like announced from God and I say, when he asked me, “Who’s your God?” I say, “You my God.” I point with the finger and with the same hand, with the right hand what I point to God, I point to him and I say, “You mine God,” and he asked me, “How come I’m your God?” I said, “When you don’t beat me, you mine God.
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