5 May 1945: Liberation of Mauthausen Concentration Camp

On 5 May 1945, Mauthausen Concentration Camp was liberated by the US Army.

Death Steps at Mauthausen, Austria © Wiener Library

Mauthausen, a town in Upper Austria, was chosen as the site for the camp because of its proximity to a stone quarry. The first prisoners, convicted criminals and ‘asocials’ who were transported from Dachau Concentration Camp, arrived in August 1938 and were tasked with completing the building of the camp. The prisoner population later expanded to include political opponents of the Nazis, conscientious objectors, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Jews. Prisoners were used as slave labour; many worked in the quarry or created munitions, while others were rented out for farm or construction work.

Alec Ward was liberated from Mauthausen after surviving slave labour and a death march to Mauthausen:

‘The first item of food which I received after the liberation was a tin of peas from an American soldier from his tank. I drank the liquid first and was going to leave the peas for later. The liquid turned out to be too rich for my shrunken stomach and I became ill from it. I gave the peas to a friend.’

There were many causes of death: overcrowding, disease, starvation and being worked to death. Between 1938 and 1945 more than 190,000 people were imprisoned at Mauthausen and at least 90,000 people were murdered there.

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