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Tales from the DHM/CET Archives

Tales from the DHM/CET Archives

Confession Manuscript by Mauthausen Camp Commander, Franz Ziereis

Donated by Thomas Kistner
on November 7, 2003

Accession # 2003.019.0001

The Mauthausen Concentration Camp, located on the bank of the Danube River, opened its doors on August 1, 1938, to prisoners regarded by the Nazi Reich as traitors to the Austrian people. By the summer of 1940, it had grown into a collection of camps known as the Mauthausen-Gusen. The exact prisoner population and death toll of the camp remains unknown as most camp records were deliberately destroyed before liberation.

On May 5, 1945, a squad from the U.S. 3rd Army liberated Mauthausen-Gusen. By this time, most of the SS-men and guards had already abandoned the camp, including camp commander Franz Xaver Ziereis. He escaped with his wife to his hunting lodge on Phyn Mountain in Upper Austria. On May 23, a small Army unit discovered Ziereis and while he was attempting to escape, they shot him three times while in pursuit. Still alive, they brought him to a U.S. Army hospital where he died on May 25, 1945.
Before his death, the U.S. Army claims to have interrogated Ziereis and taken his testimony. Unfortunately, the official draft of the testimony was lost. The document file, 1515-PS, containing the Ziereis confession in the Paris-based documentation center of the Allied powers, sits empty.

Because of its disappearance, some history revisionists allege that Ziereis made no statement to U.S. forces. They deliberately ignore pictures taken of Ziereis at the hospital, witness accounts and the record of Ziereis’ arrival in the log book of the U.S. Army 121st Evacuation Hospital (currently located in the U.S. National Archives).

In an interesting turn of events, while undertaking research in the DHM/CET’s archive, a document titled: Confession Manuscript by Mauthausen Camp, Franz Ziereis, turned up. The document, donated by Thomas Kistner, appears to be an original. DHM/CET Education and Public Engagement Coordinator Charlotte Decoster, PhD. contacted Thomas Kistner who said that the manuscript was my father’s. His father, Estel Kistner, was a company clerk when U.S. forces liberated Mauthausen. He was present during Ziereis’ interrogation and took notes to later draft an official copy.

The document in possession of the DHM/CET is the draft notes taken by Kistner. After typing the official document, he stored the notes among his belongings. The original set of notes in the archives of the DHM/CET is proof that the official document describing Ziereis’ confession exists; hopefully this will remove any questions about its authenticity.

The document is important not just for its existence but also for its content. In his confession, Ziereis detailed the experience of the prisoners at Mauthausen and described involvement of various leaders within the Nazi hierarchy. He stated: ‘By order of the Reichsminister Himmler, I was to kill all the prisoners by orders of the Obergruppenfuehrer, Dr. Kaltenbrunner. The prisoners were crowded into a long cave in one of the quarry walls. The opening to be walled up with large rocks. Then I was to dynamite at the entrance and blow it up.’[1] Ziereis also discussed the existence of a gas chamber, injections of prisoners, torture of prisoners, transportation of Jews and Himmler’s inspection of the camp.

This first ‘Tale from the Archives’ demonstrates the importance of archiving artifacts and documents from the Holocaust. The testimony by Franz Ziereis serves to dispel some myths regarding the Mauthausen-Gusen Concentration Camp. Donating artifacts and documents to the DHM/CET assures that items are safeguarded and available for use by scholars.

Charlotte Decoster, PhD.
Education and Public Engagement Coordinator

[1] This quote derives straight from the document. It contains multiple spelling mistakes, probably due to the fact that this was a draft copy and never meant to be an original.