The Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, located about 20 kilometers east of the city of Linz, in Upper Austria was the center of one of the largest labor complexes in the German-controlled part of Europe, with a central camp near the town of Mauthausen and nearly a hundred other subcamps located throughout Austria and southern Germany.
Between these, Mauthausen had the most brutal conditions. It was classified «Grade III» and to it were sent the «incorrigible political enemies of the Reich» to be exterminated, often through backbreaking forced labor.
The camp sits on the edge of a granite quarry where prisoners from the camps were sent to work.. In fact, the site for the camp was chosen because of the quarry’s proximity to Linz, a city that Hitler planned to rebuild with large buildings as envisioned by Albert Speer.
Prisoners doing forced labor in the Wiener Graben quarry in the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Several times during the day, prisoners were forced to carry large blocks of stone, often weighing up to 50 kilos, up the 186 steps of the so-called «stairway of death«. Often the exhausted prisoners collapsed and dropped their load, which rolled down onto the following prisoners, creating a horrible domino effect to the bottom of the stairs.
The heavy stones crushed his limbs and organs. Multiple people died on these stairs every day.
Prisoners climbing the “stairs of death.”
Sometimes SS guards forced exhausted prisoners to run down stairs with large stone blocks to cause falls. Those who survived the ordeal, later it would be placed in a row on the edge of a cliff that the SS called “The Parachutists Wall” (Wall of paratroopers).
“The Parachutists Wall” today.
At gunpoint, each prisoner would have the option to get shot or push the prisoner in front off the cliff. Some prisoners, unable to withstand the tortures of the camp, voluntarily jumped off the cliff. Suicides were frequent.
View of the Wiener Graben quarry and the “staircase of death” (Todesstiege) in the Mauthausen concentration camp.
Today, the “staircase of death” is part of the guided tours of the Mauthausen Memorial. The stairs have been renovated and straightened so that tourists can climb them easily, not like in previous years when they were steep and slippery.
On the left, prisoners climbing the “stairs of death.” On the right, the staircase today.
Christian Bernadac, a member of the French resistance who was imprisoned in Mauthausenand who later wrote a book entitled “The 186 Steps”, said:
Those who visit the Mauthausen quarry today do not see the same thing, because since then, it has been renovated: a regular, cemented royal staircase. At that time, the ladder was made of clay and rock, supported by logs unequal in height, and therefore extremely difficult to overcome, not only going up, but also going down. Stones rolled under our wooden-soled sandals, and we were forced to keep moving at a very fast pace.
The job involved carrying a large and heavy stone up the 186 steps, with a considerable distance to cover. We made eight to ten trips a day. The pace was hellish, without a break for a second.
SS officers climbing the “stairs of death” in April 1941.
Today, the Mauthausen quarry is covered with trees and bushes, and much of that concentration camp is also covered by residential areas built after the war.