The Mauthausen death staircase

Mauthausen concentration camp, located about 20 kilometers east of the city of Linz in Upper Austria, was one of the largest complexes of labor camps in the part controlled by the Germans in Europe. It consisted of a central field near the village of Mauthausen and almost a hundred other subfields located throughout Austria and southern Germany. Of all these Mauthausen had the most brutal conditions of detention. It was classified as “Grade III,” where the “incorrigible political enemies of the Reich” were sent to be exterminated, often through exhaustion through forced labor. The members of the SS called to Mauthausen “the minadora of meat”

The concentration camp was next to a granite quarry where the prisoners of the fields were sent to work. In fact, this place was chosen to install the work field due to the proximity of the quarry with Linz, a city Hitler planned to rebuild with large granite buildings as planned by Albert Speer.

Several times a day prisoners were forced to carry blocks of stone, often up to 50 kilograms, and to climb them up the 186 steps of the so-called “death ladder”. Often exhausted prisoners would fall and drop their load from the top, creating a horrible domino effect, falling on the prisoners on the lower steps and so on, to the end of the staircase. The heavy stones crushed the limbs and organs of the prisoners. Many people died on these stairs every day.

Sometimes the SS guards forced the exhausted prisoners to run up the stairs carrying stone blocks. Those who survived the test were lined up on the edge of a cliff that the SS called “the wall of the parachutists.” At gunpoint each prisoner would have the option of either receiving a shot or pushing the prisoner up the precipice. Some prisoners, unable to withstand the tortures of the camp, voluntarily jumped from the cliff. Such suicides were frequent.

Today, the “death ladder” is part of the guided tours of the Mauthausen Memorial. The stairs have been renovated so that the tourists can raise them and lower them easily but at that moment they were inclined and slippery.

Christian Bernadac, a member of the French resistance who was imprisoned in Mauthausen, wrote a book entitled The 186 steps :

Those who visit the quarry at Mauthausen nowadays do not see the same, because since then the steps have been made again – a real, cemented, and regular staircase. At that time the steps were simply carved with a beak in the clay and rock and instead of granite there were logs, uneven in height and therefore very difficult to climb, but also to descend. We carried the stones with our sandals of wood sole, and we were forced to keep moving at a very fast pace.

The job was to load a stone of considerable size and weight, to climb it along the 186 steps, after which a considerable distance had yet to be covered. The man who could choose a small stone was lucky. And all this went on for eight to ten trips a day. The pace was hellish, without a second of rest.

The quarry at Mauthausen is now covered with trees and shrubs. Much of the labor camp is also covered by residential areas built after the war. There is a museum and a visitor center.

Image credit: Ramón Cutanda López / Flickr

Image credit: Martin / Flickr

Image Credit: damian entwistle / Flickr

Image credit: File Germany Federal / Wikimedia

View of the quarry and the “death ladder” (Todesstiege) in the Mauthausen concentration camp. Image Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Prisoners perform forced labor at the Wiener Graben quarry in the Mauthausen concentration camp. Image Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Photo credit: Sonya Brunt / Panoramio

Image credit: File Germany Federal / Wikimedia

Image credit: File Germany Federal / Wikimedia

SS officers climbing the “ladder of death”, April 1941. Photo: Archive Federal Germany / Wikimedia

Sources: Wikipedia / 

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The Mauthausen death staircase

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