When World War II began in 1939, over one and a half million Jewish children lived in the areas that German armies occupied. When the war ended in 1945, more than a million of those children were dead. Many concentration camps, like the infamous Auschwitz, forced citizens to endure inhumane treatment and poor living conditions. The Mauthausen establishment was lesser-known but equally horrific.
Built in 1939, Mauthausen was one of the first concentration camps erected and the last to be liberated. It was an incredibly volatile institution; terrible medical experiments took place there, and guards humiliated inhabitants. The Mauthausen Stairs of Death were especially tragic because prisoners were forced to climb to their deaths. Nazi Party members even dubbed the camp "The Bone Grinder."
The Austria-based establishment was liberated, but the terror that was daily life in Mauthausen will never be forgotten.
Prisoners Had To Climb Steep Stairs While Carrying Heavy Rocks
Mauthausen was one of the largest, most deadly concentration camps; it contained the Stairs of Death. This 186-step structure was a brutal for prisoners. They were forced to carry stones weighing over 100 pounds from the bottom to the top. Climbers collapsed often beneath the stones' weight. Exhausted prisoners would slide down the steps, knocking over other prisoners as their limbs were crushed beneath the weight of the stones.
Prisoners Were Sometimes Forced To Kill One Another
Some Jewish people at the Mauthausen concentration camp were forced to make terrible decisions if they didn't die while climbing the Stairs of Death. Those who survived the trek were lined up by Nazi guards. Then they were forced to choose between either pushing a fellow prisoner off the cliff or being shot to death.
It was a psychologically torturous decision. Many prisoners opted for suicide, instead, and jumped off the cliff. Nazi officers called these acts parachute jumps.
Mauthausen's Lead Doctor Kept Prisoners' Heads As Trophies
Widely considered the second most wanted Nazi war criminal, Aribert Heim was dubbed Dr. Death for performing horrific experiments on Mauthausen prisoners. Heim started working at Mauthausen in 1941, disfiguring people indiscriminately. During the doctor's first year of employment there, an 18-year-old Jewish athlete was sent in with a foot infection.
Heim put the teen under anesthesia, cut him open, removed his kidney, and castrated him. Finally, the deathly surgeon beheaded his patient, boiling the skull to remove all flesh. The severed body part was kept as a trophy.
Wet Prisoners Were Forced Outside During The Cold Winter Months
Winters in Austria are brutal; temperatures drop to around negative 10 degrees Celsius. Guards at Mauthausen used those frigid temperatures to torture and kill inmates. They took groups outside, forced them to strip naked, then sprayed the people with water. Prisoners were left to freeze; many died of hypothermia.