The site

On March 12th, 1938, the Anschluss (“Annexation”) of austrofascist Austria to the German Reich took place. Two weeks later, the National Socialist Gauleiter (“regional head”) of Upper Austria, August Eigruber, announced to an enthusiastic audience that his Gau (“region”) would have the “distinction” of building a concentration camp. The location chosen was the town of Mauthausen on the Danube. Political opponents and groups of people labelled as “criminal” or “antisocial” would be imprisoned here and forced to work in the granite quarries.

On August 8th, 1938, the SS (“Schutzstaffel” – the major paramilitary organisation under the Nazi Party) transferred the first prisoners from the Dachau Concentration Camp to Mauthausen. During this phase, the prisoners, who were all Germans and Austrians and all men, had to build their own camp and set up operations in the quarry. Their daily lives were shaped by hunger, arbitrary treatment and violence. In December 1939 the SS ordered the construction of a second concentration camp just a few kilometres from Mauthausen. The Gusen branch camp officially went into operation in May 1940.

After the outbreak of the Second World War, people from across Europe were deported to Mauthausen, which gradually developed into a system of several interconnected camps. During this phase, Mauthausen and Gusen were the concentration camps with the harshest imprisonment conditions and the highest mortality. Prisoners at the bottom of the camp hierarchy had barely any chance of surviving for long. Those who were ill or “useless” to the SS were in constant danger of their lives. In 1941 the SS started to construct a gas chamber and other installations at Mauthausen for the systematic murder of large groups of people.

During the second half of the war the prisoners, who now included women for the first time, were increasingly used as forced labourers in the arms industry. In order to accommodate the prisoners where they worked, the SS established several subcamps. Newly-arrived prisoners were transferred to these camps from the main camp. More and more, Mauthausen itself became a camp were the sick and weak were sent to die. Since the prisoners were now needed for their labour, living conditions improved for a short time. From the end of 1943 onwards, inmates were also deployed in the construction of underground factories, for example those in Melk, Ebensee and St. Georgen an der Gusen. The murderous working conditions that prevailed at these sites soon led to a dramatic rise in the number of victims.

Towards the end of the war, the Mauthausen Concentration Camp became the destination for evacuations from camps near the front line. Tens of thousands of prisoners arrived on several large transports. Overcrowding, lack of food and rampant disease led to mass death among the prisoners in the final months before liberation. On May 5th, 1945 the US Army reached Gusen and Mauthausen. Some prisoners were in such a weakened state that many still died in the days and weeks after liberation. Of a total of around 190,000 people imprisoned in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and its subcamps over seven years, at least 90,000 died.

A few years after the war had ended, the former Mauthausen Concentration Camp was transformed into a memorial. On the other hand, the sites of the former satellite camps and of the branch camp Gusen were long repressed from commemoration by state authority. While at all sites the remains of the satellite camps were being removed, concentration camp survivors and relatives of people killed in the concentration camps were thwarting the process of repression by establishing commemorative markers. Upon their initiatives, public memorials were established in Ebensee, Gusen and Melk.


The project

Historic documentation is important to provide a detailed record of the significance of a property for research and interpretive purposes. For this reason, European Heritage Volunteers has been engaged with the Mauthausen Memorial Complex during 2021 and 2022, working with different groups of participants to prepare a detailed overview of distinct memorial elements that constitute the remaining legacy of this site of remembrance. In 2023, the participants to the European Heritage Volunteers Project will move to work at the Gusen Memorial, which is located close to the Mauthausen Memorial Complex.

The Gusen Memorial is one of the most important memorial buildings in Austria. It was built between 1961 and 1965 on the basis of donations from survivors of concentration camps Gusen I, II and III from Italy, France and Belgium based on the design of the well-known Milan architects’ group BBPR over the surviving remains of the crematorium of the Gusen concentration camp. The execution was supervised by the Austrian architect Wilhelm Schütte.

The memorial building consists of a cube built around the former crematorium ovens, which, with reference to the remains of the stone crusher in Gusen still standing today, reminds of the industrial dimensions of the extermination of concentration camp prisoners through work. This cube contains a large number of very personal votive plaques for victims of the Gusen concentration camps. The cube is surrounded by a so-called "Court of Honour", in which plaques in various languages ​​refer to the more than 37,000 victims of the Gusen concentration camps and the fact that the former local concentration camps were the most murderous concentration camps in the Mauthausen system.

The participants to the project will be working in the process of documentation of these memorial plaques installed in the walls of the former crematorium in Gusen. The plaques are very diverse in shape and material, as they represent as well he diversity of communities that mourn victims on this site. First the participants will do a mapping of the site and the location of the plaques. The following step will have them prepare descriptive files, number and later will prepare the photographic documentation for each of the objects they will be analysing. The final step will be to digitalise the information and contribute to the elaboration of a report that will contain the global result of the research, including information gathered about particular stories on the votive plaques, data on nationalities and the total of these objects as well as their current state of conservation.

The work will be guided by professional technical instructors on the field as well as members of the staff of curators to the memorial complex.

As part of the educational programme will involve guided visits to sites of relevance as well as to other sites in the vicinity that contextualise the geographic location of the former concentration camp. The programme will also include guided discussions and lectures.


The project will take place from July 30th, to August 12th, 2023, and is organised by the Burghauptmannschaft Österreich in cooperation with European Heritage Volunteers and the Mauthausen Memorial.

European Heritage Volunteers