Prisoners at the Gusen Concentration Camp 1939 – 1945

Even before construction of camp began in December 1939, work parties from the Mauthausen concentration camp were marched to the Gusen quarries on a daily basis. The task of erecting the camp Gusen was assigned to a “barrack-construction detail” originally consisting of German, Austrian, and later also some Polish prisoners. 

From the middle of April 1940, prisoners were housed in Gusen and the camp was officially opened on 25 May. Within a period of only a few months, thousands of Polish prisoners were transferred to Gusen to work the quarries, the majority of them from Dachau and Sachsenhausen. 

In 1941 the total number of inmates was kept comparatively constant owing to the high mortality rate and despite a continuing influx of new prisoners, predominantly Spanish Republicans and Soviet POWs. 1941 also brought the beginning of the infamous “death baths” and the transport of sick prisoners to the extermination centre at Hartheim.

By 1942 the majority of Gusen inmates were employed in the quarries and the construction of associated facilities, such as the stone-mason halls. The mounting death toll resulted in a labour shortage that was met by transferring more Soviet POWs and Polish prisoners from Auschwitz. New inmate groups arriving at the camp during this period included a large number of Yugoslavs, Soviet civilians, and a few French.

1943 brought a gradual shift in labour allocation to armaments production. This resulted in a number of improvements for the inmates, e.g. better rations and a reward system. Nevertheless, the systematic killings continued. Gusen saw the arrival of the first major prisoner transports from France, more Soviet civilian workers, and - towards the end of the year - of a number of Italian prisoners.

During 1944, the majority of prisoners was working in the armaments industry, in particular the subterranean installations at Gusen and St. Georgen, which required an enormous amount of labour. As a result, the number of prisoners underwent a threefold increase in the course of this year. In order to house the prisoners employed in the construction of the tunnels at St. Georgen – the majority Jewish deportees from Poland and Hungary - Camp Gusen II was opened in March. Gusen III, established at Lungitz in December, mainly served supply purposes. Round the middle of that year the first major transports of Hungarian Jews arrived from Auschwitz, followed by thousands of Polish Jews.

From early 1945 onward, Gusen started to receive prisoners from the camps abandoned in the east. In the four month leading up to the liberation of Gusen, there were almost 14,000 new arrivals, resulting in the record number of 26,311 inmates on 27 and 28 February. During the same period, 10,000 of the Gusen inmates died. On 5 May, more than 20,000 prisoners at Gusen lived to see their liberation by US forces.