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. 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 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 Mauthausen Memorial today is an international site of remembrance and political-historical education. Here, the memory of the victims is being preserved, the history of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and its sub-camps is being researched and documented, and through exhibitions and educational programmes its visitors are empowered to deal with and discuss the history of concentration camps.

The Mauthausen Memorial aims at raising awareness for any resurgence of National Socialist activities, anti-Semitism, racism, discrimination of minorities and antidemocratic tendencies. Furthermore, it is supposed to contribute to preserving public knowledge and memory of National Socialist mass crimes committed at the former Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps, and at all its sub-camps. The Mauthausen Memorial regards itself as a place of remembrance and education, with human rights education through live teaching of history being among its central tasks. It promotes the teaching of history, communicates its significance for present and future times and aims at pointing out comparable present-day developments, tendencies and processes.

The Mauthausen Memorial is a Federal Institution under Public Law and is financed by the Ministry of Interior of the Republic of Austria.


The project

The European Heritage Volunteers Project was focussed on different elements that constitute the remaining legacy of this infamous site.

Within the memorial complex, there are several examples of memorial plates and small monuments of remembrance of the various ethnic groups and communities that were victims of the National Socialists and were interned in Mauthausen. This assemblage of memorials represents the most varied and distinct collection of monuments to concentration camp victims in all of Europe. Over the years, several of these monuments have been damaged by the elements or replaced as the states that commissioned them have changed or even ceased to exist.

The participants were involved in the documentation of the memorial’s current state of conservation, and helped develop a plan for their future management. Particular conservation aspects were discussed, such as if the plates set up by extinct states should remain or not, what to do with fallen plates or how to administer a photo archive of the memorials. 

In addition, the participants carried out an architectural documentation of the remnants of a tower which served as part of the structure that transported by cable-wagons the rocks which were being quarried down at the quarry, as part of the forced work that the imprisoned endured. This documentation established in result of the project will aid to ensure the future conservation of the place for generations to come.

Finally, the participants very invited to contribute with proposals how to include in the future the scattered remains of the former satellite concentration camp of Gusen into the main presentation of the Memorial Complex.

As part of the educational programme of the project, the participants took part in a day of discussions and exchange about the perpetrators of the crimes which the Memorial Complex seeks to expose and interpret for the public. The participants were invited to provide their international perspective to what took place in this concentration camp and about their understanding of the perpetrators of these crimes. Their input was important for the future concept of an exhibition about this particular and delicate topic. The discussions were guided and moderated by researchers on this topic.


The project was jointly organised by Burghauptmannschaft Österreich and European Heritage Volunteers.

Conservation works at a fortified church ensemble
Ensemble of the fortified church Hosman / Sibiu County

European Heritage Volunteers