Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Apropos Rabbit Hunts

For once, these are not Jews...

In the night hours of February 2, 1945, some 500 "K" prisoners, mostly Soviet officers from barracks 20, known as the "death barracks" (Todesblock) made an attempt to escape Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. Using fire extinguishers from the barracks and blankets and boards as projectiles, one group attacked and occupied a watch tower while a second group used wet blankets and bits of clothing to cause a short circuit in the electrified fence. The prisoners then climbed over the fence.

Of those 500, 419 prisoners did manage to leave the camp grounds but many escapees were already too weakened from starvation to reach the woods and collapsed in the snow outside the camp, where they were shot that night by SS machine guns. All who failed to reach the woods and another 75 prisoners in the barracks who had remained behind because they were too sick to follow, were executed that night. Over 300 prisoners did manage to reach the woods that first night.

The SS camp commandant immediately called a major search, asking help from the local population. In addition to pursuit by the SS, the escapees were hunted down by SA divisions, the gendarmerie, the Wehrmacht, the Volkssturm and the Hitler Youth. Local citizens were also incited to take part. The SS camp commandant ordered the gendarmerie "not to bring anyone back alive". No one was forced to participate in the manhunt, they did it willingly.

The majority of the escapees were apprehended and most were shot or beaten to death on the spot. Some 40 murdered prisoners' bodies were taken to Ried in der Riedmark, where the search was based, and stacked in a pile of corpses, "just like the bag at an autumn hunt", as one former gendarme, Otto Gabriel, put it. Members of the Volkssturm who brought prisoners back to Mauthausen were berated for not having beaten them to death instead. Of the 300 who did survive the escape that first night, 57 were returned to the camp.

The Linz criminal investigations department later reported to the Reichssicherheitshauptamt, "Of the 419 fugitives [who managed to leave the camp] [...], in and around Mauthausen, Gallneukirchen, Wartberg, Pregarten, Schwertberg and Perg, over 300 were taken again, including 57 alive."
Just 11 officers are known to have survived the manhunt till the end of World War II. In spite of the extremely high risk, a few farm families and civilian forced laborers hid escapees or brought food to those hiding in the woods. After three months, the war ended and the fugitives were safe.



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