Elementary school in Ried

Whoever is caught, is shot coldly

Below you can find the translation of an article by Ernst Gusenbauer about Mühlviertler Hasenjagd. Ried in der Riedmark is a municipality in Upper Austria.

Whoever is caught, is shot coldly: Ried in der Riedmark and the “Mühlviertler Hasenjagd” on February 2nd, 1945

Ernst Gusenbauer

For two days, Ried in der Riedmark became a sad arena of a horrible hunt of the SS guard teams after the escapees from the concentration camp Mauthausen. In his chronicle, the priest Michael Kirnbauer recorded those days of distress, desperation, and terror. This way they are preserved for the posterity.

Michael Kirnbauer (1885-1962): Third from the left, sitting. From 1937 through 1955 he was a pastor in Ried in der Riedmark. Photo: Archive of the St. Florian monastery
Michael Kirnbauer (1885-1962): Third from the left, sitting. From 1937 through 1955 he was a pastor in Ried in der Riedmark. Photo: Archive of the St. Florian monastery

Michael Kirnbauer started to work as a priest in the market community Ried in der Riedmark on December 4th, 1937. He was born on July 1st, 1885 in St. Marienkirchen at Polsenz, finished the state gymnasium in Linz and became a priest on August 28th, 1912. He served several years as an assistant priest in various parishes in Upper Austria. Then, in 1921 he became a forest superintendent and administrator in the monastery Pulgarn. From 1932 through his transfer to Ried in der Riedmark he serves as a food and beverage manager and economist in the monastery St. Florian. During the first days after the Anschluss he is arrested and interrogated by the national socialists. He bravely refuses to wear civilian clothes instead of the chasuble. The panel van is already there to bring him to a police station in Mauthausen. At the last moment, the local commander requests the release of the priest because he hasn’t committed any crimes yet. However, he is objected to various humiliations because of his religion. “Shall the gospel of the new paganism really come?, ” he asks himself in these restless days.

In the autumn of 1941, pastor Kirnbauer writes in his notes: “Since August 1st, 1938 there is a concentration camp in Wiener Graben in the village of Marbach. It is designed for 20,000 inmates, civilian prisoners from Poland, Russia, and Czechoslovakia. All imaginable contraptions were created for the horrible destruction of human life, adults, and children. The directors of the camp from the SS team were excessive in their bloodthirstiness, insatiable libertines, tore children to pieces in their bloodthirstiness and hammered them to death. The inmates were forced to carry countless stones for the erection of the camp 144 stairs upwards. There was no return. Those who could not go forward, tripped and were dead. WHAT WAS BUILT IN THIS CAMP WAS DESIGNED NOT FOR LIFE, BUT FOR DEATH!

At night, the cruelty of SS guards and their leaders runs riot. The bark of drilled Alsatian dogs comes from the camp at night and penetrates into the environment and adjacent villages. It accompanies most evil deeds, hunt after defenseless people. The dogs tear them to pieces. All these SS people don’t have anything humane. They sing songs amidst killing innocent victims and hold incessant speeches for the purpose of mockery and ridicule.”

The escape from the concentration camp Mauthausen on February 2nd, 1945

In January 1945 block 20 of the concentration camp Mauthausen was inhabited primarily by Soviet officers, among them many pilots. Apart from them, there were five to six Poles from the Warsaw uprising and several Yugoslavs. During the same month 17 Soviet officers came into the block who allegedly escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp in Karlsbad, but were recaptured. Among them were lieutenant colonel Nikolai Wlassow, colonel Alexander Issupow, colonel Kirill Tschubtschenko and captain Gennadi Mordowzew. The 17 officers discussed and organized the escape. The block officials didn’t notice it. Assault troops were formed. Their purpose was to use excavated stones, pieces of coal, wooden shoes and both fire extinguishers located in the barrack as weapons. Three men were assigned to each fire extinguisher. Their goal was to incapacitate the SS men located in the watchtower using the foam stream. This should allow other inmates to climb over the stone wall and capture the watchtowers including the machine guns in them. The uprising was scheduled for the night from January 28th to January 29th, 1945. But someone told the SS about the plan. On January 27th, 1945 the SS shot 25 physically strongest inmates, including the organizers of the escape, Wlassow, Issupow, and Tschubtschenko.

Nonetheless, the escape was performed in the night to February 2nd, 1945. February 2nd, 1945, 00:50. A starry winter night. The temperature amounted to -8 degrees Celsius. The snow cover around the camp was about 20 to 30 cm. But the camp streets were completely snow-free. In this night there were about 580 inmates in block 20. 75 seriously ill people could not participate in the escape and remained in the block.

After the block headman and his assistants were strangled by the rebels, assault troops wer formed. The inmates stormed through both doors and the barack windows into the forecourt. They started to attack the watchtowers with fire extinguishers and various projectiles. The electrified barbed wires were shorted using wet blankets and pieces of clothing. After a relatively brief fight, the eastern watchtower was taken. From this tower the rebels shot down with a machine gun the guards in the adjacent watchtower. Even at this early stage many inmates were killed. More than a hundred rebels were so exhausted from the fight and climbing over the wall that they could run only few meters. They lay helplessly in the immediate vicinity of the camp or tried to slowly crawl away. But it all was in vain! After a short time they were captured by SS guards and shot together with those who stayed in the block 20. Those rebels who managed to get away from the immediate proximity of the camp, fled mostly to the north, to Czechoslovakia.

Immediately after the camp management learned about the revolt, a manhunt was started. The SS camp directors contacted all employees of the Gendarmerie they could reach, and told them to not return the recaptured inmates alive. Almost all members of the SS headquarters, units of the Wehrmacht, SA departments from Upper Danube, departments of Volkssturm and Hitler Youth participated in the manhunt. Already on February 2nd, 1945 300 inmates were recaptured next to Mauthausen, Gallneukirchen, Wartberg, Pregarden, Schwertberg, and Perg. 57 of them were alive.

“The SS proceeded ruthlessly during this action. In our area approx. 100 fugitives were recaptured and, in most cases, shot on the spot. One group of about 30 men was shot in Ried in der Riedmark behind an elementary school. The corpses were partially buried in the soldiers’ cemetery in Mauthausen, and partially incinerated in the crematorium of the concentration camp.”

Elementary school in Ried
In the garden (atrium) of the elementary school in Ried in der Riedmark the bodies of over 40 of victims of “Mühlviertler Hasenjagd” were stacked and transported away on February 3rd, 1945. Photograph by E. Gusenbauer.

It is Candlemas Day and people from the villages come to the church. “The Candlemas Day has still a high attendance. The people tell anxiously that the inmates from the camp broke out. The fugitives have been pursued by the SS since the early morning in the villages Obenberg, Hartl, Wachsreith, and Blindendorf. Many of those poor souls didn’t have shoes, only tatters on their feet. Snow and ice lie everywhere, it’s a cold winter day. Contrary to the expectations of villagers, they don’t pillage and murder. They come to the houses and ask with raised hands for food and bread. They are starved and emaciated people. They eat potato Sterz and anything else edible, completely harmless and very grateful. They search for hiding places in the houses. There is a strict order to report every fugitive to the commanders of the camp. Civilians with weapons must also participate in the manhunt.

Whoever gets captured, is shot coldly! In the village Hartl, 20 men are shot. This repeats everywhere where fugitives are detected. In Aigner in Zeinersdorf one poor fugitive is thrown from hayloft. In Obenberg one fugitive is shot, exactly as the order demands. On the next day (February 3rd, 1945) ordinary people get more eager. The fugitives turn out to be completely harmless, there is not a single incident of violence. People have compassion with them. The camp issued a stricted order, nobody is allowed to give the fugitives something, nor house them. Punishment: Immediate imprisonment in the camp. Around noon I traveled on a sledge (Geißl) to Mauthausen in order to pick up the Franciscan priest, as an assistant. Dead bodies lie in ditches. Close to Poschacherstadel there is a heap of eight to ten men, lying one over each other. The events of the day dominate the mood of the population. Many people come to church. They thank god that everything is over now.

But there is another sad image. In the forenoon of February 3rd, 1945 sledges with corpses drive through the villages. There also living people among the dead. They grasp snow in order to alleviate their fever. But the SS guards beats them. In the garden of the elementary school 40 dead people are stacked up. They are to be collected by a truck that should arrive the next day.

Observers from adjacent houses noticed that there were living people among the dead because there were blood traces where the truck stood before it drove away. Unfortunately, the transportation of the dead evoked malicious joy among some of the spectators, and not a modicum of compassion. The school management has always been supportive of Hitlerism, since the earliest days of the movement.”

According to the data of the SS all escapees, except for 17 or 19 people, were recaptured. Their statistics do not contain any information how many of the recaptured were alive.