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Archeological Excavations in KZ Gusen

In November 1940, when the SS begun with the construction of a railway between KZ Gusen Camp and St.Georgen Railway Station, a grave-yard from the Bronze-Age was found.

Drawing of an inmate that shows an urn of the bronze age that was found in 1942 along with the construction of the railroad to KL Gusen The commander of KZ Gusen Concentration Camp, SS-Hauptsturmfuehrer Karl Chmielewski took this opportunity to present himself as a studious man to RFSS Heinrich Himmler and some experts in the field of archeology.

So, with the approval of Himmler, he stopped the construction of the railway and formed one extra prisoners´ command to carry out that archeological excavations under professional guidance.

Chmielewski also ordered the prominent Austrian inmate of KZ Gusen Camp, Dr. Johann Gruber (the later "Papa Gruber" and "Saint" of Gusen) to head this external command. This was due to the fact that Dr. Gruber studied history and knew many historians on (former!) "Austrian" territory.

Inmates of KL Gusen working in the archeological command (KL Gusen in the background) In this function, Dr. Gruber was granted some extra privileges to maintain contact to the archaeologists and museums outside the Concentration Camp and to help in evaluating the findings.

But Gruber did not use this privileges to secure his position within the KZ Gusen Concentration Camp. No - he used this privileges and this contacts to smuggle information out of the camp and to smuggle money into it. So, he came into a position to help hundreds of not so prominent comrades to survive the KZ Gusen Camp ...

Chmielewski also ordered Dr. Gruber to establish an extra Archeological Museum at the "Museumsbaracke" (museum barrack) within the KZ Gusen Concentration Camp where he was supported by the Polish prisoner and former Chief of the Paedagogical Institute of Zakopane, Poland, Mr. Tadeusz Murasewisz.

This museum was often presented to high-ranking visitors of the Mauthausen-Gusen Camps later on to divert them from the crimes that were carried out in that very brutal KZ Mauthausen-Gusen Complex.

After Chmielewski was moved as a commander form KZ Gusen Camp to KZ Vought Camp (The Netherlands), SS-Obersturmfuehrer Jann Beck took over responsibility for the KZ Gusen Archeological Excavations and the Museum in December 1942.

This museum existed until late 1943 at KZ Gusen I Camp. In October 1943, RFSS Himmler personally ordered most of the exhibits (more than 10 boxes!!!) via Nuermberg to Beringersmuehle Station, Germany where " Forschungsabteilung beim Karstrochebataillon in Pottenstein (Oberfranken)" protected them against allied bomb-raids in an adapted natrual cave.

After the war, in 1949 just 3 of that boxes with KZ Gusen Archeological Exhibits came back to the "Praehistoric Unit" of the Museum of Natural History, Vienna where some pieces were exhibited until a few years ago.

A few other pieces of that KZ Gusen Archeological Museum can also be found at the current exhibition of the KZ Mauthausen Memorial Museum.

All in all some 50 graves were excavated, restored and documented by KZ Gusen Inmates under the scientific observation of the Institute for the Preservation of Monuments (Institut fuer Denkmalpflege), Vienna.

For Christmas 1942 the Inmates had to produce an Archeological Catalogue with some 85 photographs and drawings that was used by the SS as a gift for more higher-ranking commands.

In many cases, imprisoned priests were used for that excavations in the early phase of 1940. But when the Vatican reached improvements for them in December 1940, most of them were transferred to the more better KZ Dachau Camp. Due to this, some Polish Professors got a chance to work in that Archeological Unit of KZ Gusen too.

Information credit:
  • Bandion Wolfgang, Johann Gruber: Mauthausen-Gusen 7. April 1944 mit 14 Radierungen von Alfred Hrdlicka, WUV-Universitätsverlag, Wien 1995

  • Bernadac Christian, Les Sorciers du Ciel - L´Organisation Gruber (about Dr. Johann Gruber), France Empire, Paris 1969

  • Ladenbauer-Orel Herta, Hilfe der Haeftlinge bei wissenschaftlicher Arbeit - die Ausgrabungen in Gusen (Archiv Museum Mauthausen B12/12)

  • Marsalek Hans, Konzentrationslager Gusen - Ein Nebenlager des KZ Mauthausen

  • Schiffkorn Elisabeth, Zur Forschungsgeschichte des urnenfelderzeitlichen Graeberfeldes von Gusen - 1941 wurde beim Bau einer Trasse fuer die Schleppbahn ein Graeberfeld freigelegt. Der Leiter des Konzentrationslagers Gusen, Karl Chmielewski, machte es sich zur Aufgabe, dieses "germanische Ahnenerbe" zu erforschen. Er stellte einen Ausgrabungstrupp zusammen. 1975 bot er sein Material dem O.Oe Landesmuseum zum Kauf an. Manfred Pertlwieser besuchte ihn deshalb im Zuchthaus in Straubing. Der Leiter der Abteilung fuer Ur- und Fruehgeschichte erinnert sich. EuroJournal Muehlviertel-Boehmerwald, 2.Jg, Sonderheft 1, Linz 1996

  • Trnka Gerhard mit einem Beitrag von Hertha Ladenbauer-Orel, Das urnenzeitliche Graeberfeld von Gusen in Oberoesterreich, Archeologia Austriaca Band 76, Wien 1992

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KZ GUSEN Memorial Committee
Most recent updates of this page were made on
2006-10-21 by Rudolf A. HAUNSCHMIED,
Jan-Ruth MILLS