Statement on the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Mauthausen-Gusen camp system
On 5 May 1945, at 5 p.m., American troops crossed the gates of the German concentration camp Gusen. The main Mauthausen camp was liberated the same day, while the remaining satellite camps of the Mauthausen-Gusen camp system were freed in late April and early May.
Stanisław Zalewski, a former Gusen prisoner who is still alive today, thus recalled those moments: “Americans entered Gusen II on 5 May 1945, at around 5.00 p.m. As a matter of fact, several American soldiers came running, and one of them shouted in Polish: ‘You’re free!’ There’s no way to describe what happened next. Crying, tears, hugs, and ‘Poland Is Not Yet Lost...’. Prisoners of other nationalities began to sing their national anthems, too.”
For Stanisław Zalewski, from 1943 a prisoner of Auschwitz and Gusen, as well as for lots of other prisoners, an unimaginable nightmare has just ended. However, it was not many that lived to see the desired freedom. Of the approximately 190,000 prisoners of the Mauthausen-Gusen camp system, around 90,000 were murdered, the citizens of at least 26 countries, with almost 78,000 prisoners murdered in Gusen alone.
Gusen is a tragic place in the dark history of humanity, and a unique one for Polish memory. This is not only because of the sheer number of prisoners and victims coming from Poland, but because of the fact those were, for the most part, educated people targeted deliberately in the first months into the war – hence the camp began to be called the extermination camp for the Polish intelligentsia (Vernichtungslager für die polnische Intelligenz). The anniversary of the Gusen liberation evokes the memory of all Gusen prisoners, including Poles, Spaniards, the citizens of the then Yugoslavia and Soviet Union, Hungary, France, and Luxembourg. The Mauthausen-Gusen camp system is also the extermination site of thousands of Polish and European Jews.
On this special day, we ask the Government of the Republic of Austria to take urgent steps to bring about a worthy commemoration of victims of the former Gusen camp, a site which has been neglected for decades. We are looking for the implementation of measures provided for in the coalition agreement.
Poland expected that the Austrian state would take appropriate decisions to buy the privately held former Gusen camp land and remains before the 75th anniversary of its liberation. Understanding as we do the current pandemic restrictions, we hope that the Gusen camp — called by its prisoners a “foretaste of hell” or even “the bottom of hell”, a unique place because of its tragic war history, the lack of commemoration after the war, and its enduring presence in the collective memory in many countries and societies — will finally get a worthy memorial site. In line with the declaration by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki made during his visit to the former German Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz last December, Poland will remain active on this issue and, acknowledging the competences of the Republic of Austria and in consultation with the former prisoners’ associations and the victims’ countries of origin, is willing to carry out all measures to ensure the appropriate commemoration, including buying out the land of the former camp.
We will never forget the suffering of Mauthausen-Gusen prisoners; we owe it to the victims, the survivors, and future generations. This is an important part of the historical awareness and tragic legacy of many societies, a part of our European heritage.
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland