Gusen is the name of the biggest and most brutal Nazi concentration camp complex on Austrian territory.
On May 25, 1938, the first lots of land were acquired at Gusen by the SS-company, "Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH" (DEST or "German Earth & Stone Works Company). At that time, the nearby concentration camp of Mauthausen was not yet founded.
The existence of important stone quarries (to the right of the camp) at Gusen was the key for the SS administrators to decide to establish a bipolar system of two concentration camps at Gusen, and nearby Mauthausen. By 1939, the work carried out by inmates of "Mauthausen" at Gusen exceeded the work done at the Mauthausen "Wienergraben" quarry ó a period when both concentration camps were makeshift installations, and hundreds of inmates of the "Mauthausen" camp had to walk to the Gusen quarries every day.
From the early beginning, DEST focused its investments on its stone industries at Gusen. This led to the development of the biggest and most modern DEST plants at Gusen during the first half of World War II, with its own administrative infrastructure, Werkgruppenleitung, at the nearby town of St. Georgen an der Gusen. Thus, St. Georgen/Gusen became the siege of Granitwerke Mauthausen, from which DEST operated its business at the quarries of the bipolar double concentration camp system, Mauthausen/Gusen.
From 1943 on, DEST of St. Georgen shifted production from granite to armament products. DEST received several contracts, and offered slave labour from its concentration camps at Gusen to industries like Heereszeuganstalt Wien, Steyr-Daimler-Puch AG or Messerschmitt GmbH of Regensburg, and established huge armament plants at St. Georgen and Gusen; a good deal of it, underground and bomb-proof. The most important such joint-venture was the project, B8 Bergkristall - Esche II where DEST established and operated a huge underground assembly plant for Messerschmitt Me-262 jet planes.
To maintain its hectic activities, three concentration camps at Gusen were run by the SS:
KL Gusen I, for the inmates assigned to the activities of DEST at Gusen;
KL Gusen II, for the inmates assigned to the activities of DEST at St. Georgen; and
KL Gusen III, for the inmates assigned to the activities of DEST at Lungitz.
Until January 1944, the Gusen concentration camps (called "Mauthausen II" in 1939) were widely independent (having its own independent numbering system, death register, construction directorate, guard battalion, and post office) from the nearby Mauthausen concentration camp. It was only in the final phase of the war that it was annexed, like countless other satellites, to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. Nevertheless, especially in 1944, the number of inmates at the Gusen camps doubled that at the related camp at Mauthausen. Even the number of victims appears to be significantly higher at the Gusen camps, as compared to the Mauthausen camp.
Due to its industrial potentials, the Soviet occupation forces early decided to continue the operation of the former DEST installations at Gusen, under the name of "Granitwerke Gusen", after the liberation of the camps, while dedicating the economically unimportant Mauthausen part of the double camp system to a memorial site. This caused the Gusen camps to become more or less forgotten for decades, while all attention was given to the much smaller Mauthausen site.
While the Austrian Government took until the year 2000 to regulate questions of property concerning the huge underground plants at St. Georgen and Gusen, by the early 1960s survivors grew concerned that all evidence of the Gusen camps would be erased from what was fast becoming a middle class neighborhood. Entirely with their own funds, survivors bought the plot of land surrounding the crematorium and built the KZ Gusen Memorial, dedicated on May 8, 1965. Nearly forty years later, in 2004 the government of Austria, with generous contributions from Poland, built a tiny museum at Gusen to commemorate the 40,000 nearly forgotten victims of the former "KZ Gusen concentration camps."
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