An American officer describes the liberation of Mauthausen
Col. Edmund M. was a First Lieutenant in the 65th Infantry Division of Patton's Third Army during World War II. He had fought through most of Germany into Austria when his unit, with the 11th Armored Division, stopped to wait for Soviet troops coming east from Vienna. Tanks of the 11th Armored Division were probing for German forces.
"Two or three tanks then stumbled upon Mauthausen concentration camp. ...There was no prior knowledge. ...I think it was pure chance that our American tanks found these. ...Almost immediately more and more tanks of the 11th Armored Division ...were the first to liberate the camp."
Colonel M. arrived shortly after the tanks.
"The thing that, I think, impressed all of us immediately was the horrible physical condition of most of the inmates. ...most of them in very, very bad shape. Some of them actually looked almost like living skeletons. ...I would estimate their average weight might have been probably eighty-five, ninety pounds....
I walked in then into one of the barracks, and the first thing, that almost literally startled me, was the terrific stench of the barracks. It was just unbelievable - the odor of excretions, etcetera, that were in there, that the inmates could not help over a period of time. It was just so much so that I first just wanted to grab my breath and maybe walk out immediately without going any further. But I took a deep breath, and went indeed further, and looked around, and... those that were in the, in the bunks in there were in very, very pitiful shape. The bunks were in a sense unbelievable. The bunks were roughly about, I'd say about six feet long, probably about three and a half or four feet wide. And they were triple-tiered, sort of like young children would be having, except one would be sleeping in them. Here we had three to four inmates sleeping in each of these bunks just squeezed together, literally like almost sardines."
Colonel M. was able to communicate with the prisoners through soldiers in his unit who spoke German and Yiddish. He was shown the quarry where many of the prisoners were slave laborers. He describes a two hundred foot drop from a precipice at the bottom of which were jagged stones strewn with broken and decomposing bodies.
"One hundred eighty-six steps of death that led from the bottom of this quarry up to the top of this precipice. ...This particular work detail...was one of the worst tortures. ...Inmates would carry these heavy stones up the one hundred and eight-six steps of death. ...Weighing only eighty, eighty-five, ninety pounds, were carrying stones weighing perhaps thirty-five, forty, forty-five pounds, up these steps...all day long. ...If they fell or stumbled...or dropped the rocks, very often they were beaten to death right on these one hundred eighty-six steps...[or] pushed from the precipice down to the jagged rocks below, to their deaths. ...Happened very often...went on constantly. The atrocity of the one hundred eight-six steps of death, which left such a vivid memory in my mind, that I have never, never forgotten these many years."
The liberators quickly learned from the prisoners the names of the camp officials and the atrocities they committed. Colonel M. visited the nearby town in which the civilians denied any knowledge of the camp. He believed "they just basically lied to us," since he learned inmates frequently were marched through the town. Colonel M. later arrested many SS and he participated in the Dachau war crime trials from January to June in 1946. He expresses his belief that justice was not served by the trials, since so few of the perpetrators were ever tried and, of those sentenced to death, few were executed. During this time, Colonel M. never met an SS soldier or camp official who expressed any remorse for the atrocities committed.
Col. Edmund M. Holocaust Testimony (HVT-1219). Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, Yale University Library.The length of the complete testimony is 2 hours. A catalog record is available for this testimony in Orbis, the Yale University Library online public access catalog. Please see the Catalog and research guide section of this site for more information.