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Gusen. Granite and death, memory and oblivion


The temporary exhibition “Gusen. Granite and death, memory and oblivion” dedicated to the history of the Nazi Germany concentration camp Gusen is on display at the temporary exhibition hall in Block 12 of the former Auschwitz I camp. The exhibition was prepared by the Museum of Polish History in cooperation with the Polish-German Reconciliation Foundation.


Photo: Marek Lach
Photo: Marek Lach
Photo: Marek Lach
Photo: Marek Lach
Photo: Marek Lach
Photo: Marek Lach
Photo: Marek Lach
Photo: Marek Lach

The exhibition was financed by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage. It is part of a broader project aimed at restoring the memory of the KL Gusen concentration camp as a place of martyrdom of the Polish intelligentsia.

The most important facts about Gusen, the largest camp of the KL Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex are presented on 20 display panels in Polish and English. The entire Mauthausen-Gusen complex (created in 1938, after the annexation of Austria into the Third Reich) was classified as a grade III camp (Stufe III), with the toughest conditions, and with the least chance of survival. Until the end of 1942, its primary function was the physical elimination of those the III Reich considered as enemies or unworthy of life.

Until the liberation by the US army on 5 May 1945, a total of 71 thousand people of 27 nationalities were deported to Gusen (190 thousand people of 40 nationalities across the entire KL Mauthausen-Gusen complex). More than 35 thousand prisoners lost their lives in Gusen (over 80 thousand in the entire complex), with 60% of the murdered inmates originating from Poland. The SS men even named Gusen the “extermination camp for the Polish intelligentsia”.

The exhibition is on display at the Auschwitz Museum until 17 December.  

Script and the concept of an exhibition: Marek Zając, Dariusz Pawłoś
Project: Jarosław Kłaput / Kłaput Project
Design: Mariusz Woch / Kłaput Project
Translation: Jette Helberg, Brandon Lewis, Witold Milczarek, Monika Partyka
Editing: Jette Helberg, Ingeborga Jaworska-Róg, Brandon Lewis, Monika Partyka, Dariusz Pawłoś, Anna Piekarska

History of oblivion and memory of Gusen

After the war, most of the perpetrators evaded responsibility, and the remains of the KL Gusen concentration camp began to deteriorate. At the end of the fifties of the XX century the residential estate, which exists to date, was built on the premises of the former camp. Currently, a few preserved buildings and relics of the former concentration camp are in private hands. 

Former prisoners of KL Gusen had to fight to preserve the memory of the camp, its victims, the unimaginable suffering and the crimes of German and Austrian Nazis.

Were it not for the involvement of former prisoners; it would not have been possible to save the crematorium, around which – thanks to the funds collected by former prisoners and their families – the first commemoration centre was created in the 1960s. It was only in 1997 that the responsibility for maintaining the KL Gusen Memorial was assumed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Austria. Thanks to the efforts of the international community, particularly the former prisoners from Poland, a modest visitor centre was opened in Gusen in 2004.

For 30 years, the Gusen Memorial Committee, an Austrian non-governmental organisation has been operating to preserve the relics of the former camp. The head of the Committee is Martha Gammer, a retired teacher who came to work in one of the nearby schools in the 70s.

Only recently, after decades of obliterating the traces of the camp has there been a real chance to save the memory of Gusen, thanks to the involvement of former prisoners, the local community and countries of deported victims. An important decision taken by the Austrian authorities in 2016 was to enter the remains of the former camp into the register of monuments. In 2017, the Federal Office “Mauthausen Memorial” was founded in Austria to contribute to the dissemination of knowledge on the National Socialist crimes in the entire Mauthausen-Gusen camp complex.

High hopes for the future are associated with plans to establish an international youth education and meeting centre – thanks to the commitment of the Polish Ministry of Culture and National Heritage, the Polish Embassy in Vienna, the Austrian municipalities of Langenstein, Mauthausen and St. Georgen, and local communities centred around an initiative called the Bewusstseinsregion (Awareness Region).