“Criminals” and “asocial” prisoners in the camp society of Mauthausen Concentration Camp (1938-1945)

Project Funding: Anniversary Fund of the Oesterreichische Nationalbank, No. 16450
Project Duration: 01.11.2015–31.10.2017
Project Lead: Gerhard Botz
Project Team: Alexander Prenninger

Die schwarzen Winkel kennzeichneten Männer, die im Alltag außerhalb des Gesetzes standen. Fast alle leben in Deutschland, aber ihre braune Haut verriet ihren zigeunerischen Ursprung. Sie zeichneten sich im Allgemeinen durch eine seltene Dummheit und durch ihre exzessive Natur aus. Entweder waren sie von großer Sanftheit oder von namenloser Rohheit.
(The black badges marked men who were outside the law in everyday life. Almost all of them live in Germany, but their brown skin gave away their gypsy origins. They were generally distinguished by a rare stupidity and by their excessive nature. Either they were of great gentleness or of nameless crudeness.)
(Paul Tillard: Mauthausen, Paris 1945, p. 30)

The exclusion of minorities and marginalized groups is a well-known and often-researched issue in European societies, which continues to persist. This project examined such mechanisms of stigmatization through the extreme case of inmates in the Mauthausen concentration camp who were categorized as “criminals” or “asocials.” However, the definition of “professional criminals,” “work-shy individuals,” and other “outsiders” dates back well before the Nazi era. Prejudices against these marginalized groups were widespread even among the camp inmates themselves. After liberation, both groups remained stigmatized and were excluded from the memory of the victims of Nazi persecution. The project, for the first time, investigated these two forgotten victim groups in the Mauthausen concentration camp and analyzed their position within the social structures of the camp society.

The background of this ongoing “forgetting” is twofold. Firstly, it is shaped by the formation of “patriotic memories” after 1945, with a focus on the politically persecuted. This memory was organized around the national memory cultures that emerged after liberation, resulting in a series of works on individual national prisoner groups, such as Poles or Spaniards, due to this focus on the criterion of nationality. Secondly, the omission of the groups researched from the memory narrative can also be explained by the longue durée of “fundamental ideas” (Paul Martin Neurath) of European societies, through which social marginal groups are stigmatised. This background also explains why those categorized as “criminal” or “asocial” victims left few memoirs.

The project filled this research gap with an initial empirical study: Taking the Mauthausen concentration camp as an example, the role prisoners with the “green” and “black” badges played in the camp society was investigated. The basis was the data now available at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial and the International Tracing Service Bad Arolsen on approximately 185,000 prisoners of Mauthausen Concentration Camp, as well as the written and oral reports of survivors from and about these two groups.

The project had three objectives: First, it investigated which individuals in the Mauthausen concentration camp were categorized as “criminal” and “asocial” by the camp SS and what “prison careers” these groups experienced both before their incarceration in Mauthausen and during their time in the camp. Second, it analyzed the functions and positions that members of the two groups were assigned or could assume within the camp society, which was structured based on racial, ethnic, and social criteria. Third, it specifically examined the post-1945 accusation, mainly made by political prisoners, that “criminals” and “asocials” within the inmate self-administration became prisoner functionaries, participating significantly in the exploitation and murder of their fellow inmates.

The project was initially based at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Historical Social Sciences (LBIHS) until June 2017 and was continued at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for History and Society (LBIGG).