A time for historican research

by Pierre Saint Macary
Mauthausen, Melk, « matricule » 63125

« The survival of the memory of the camps depends more than ever on rigorous historical work ». This statement by a history professor is an apt expression of the concern that led to launching the collective endeavour which produced the present document.

The speeches delivered on countless occasions have repeated ad nauseam the extent of the Nazi crimes, the cruelty of the concentration camps system, and the apalling number of dead. However, those speeches may be deemed to be only that : empassioned, eloquent, partial, sometimes even little concerned with plain truth.

The dryness of the noun lists that will be found here, the insensitivity of the diverse statistical charts that can be established from them, however, do not leave any leeway. Of the French deported to Mauthausen, either directly from France, or after transiting through other camps, we shall find here the identities, the dates of arrival, of transfer, of death, and of their returns, as well as the places where they were assigned – a single one or several of them depending on the hasards of life in concentration camps, or, more precisely, depending on the diktats of the SS bureaucracy.

On the basis of those lists accurately established, it is possible to bring forth the fate of the “old” or the “young”, of those who have been gazed in Hartheim, of those who survived the Loibl Pass, the quite different fate of the Melker according to whether they arrived in May or in September 1944, or else to assess the relationship between the duration of the detention and the rate of survival.

Figures and graphs, however eloquent, do not say anything about the life of the deportees on a daily basis or at times of important events. What they did, for example, in order to survive, to reach the end of the ordeal, or, by contrast, how their friends perished, either by accidental death, of illness, or, worse, under whatever torture the SS or their auxiliaries meted on them – this cannot be read in the figures but only in the testimonies. There is no want of them – whether art or literary, more or less talented, naive or sophisticated, works : books, publications, drawings, photographs, to which may be added the documents produced at a later date : films, pamphlets, guides for the visit of the sites, etc.

The ambition of creating a register of the French people in Mauthausen is nothing original : other “Amicales” (Dachau, Neuengamme, Buchenwald,...), other authors (for the non-Jews deported at Auschwitz) did it long before us. Our endeavour may seem to come late, more than 50 years after the return from the camp. Actually, it started quite early and was never interrupted : with the Bailina lists, brought back in 1945 by Emile Valley and Serge Choumoff, which provided our main reference for a long time and were deposited at the National Archives in 2000, and with the specific work carried out by some of our comrades. It may seem strange – to say the least – that the State, the administration of veterans and war victims, did not pursue this task regarding all the deportees at the very time it checked on the qualifications of those entitled to claim such a status. Indeed, if those titles were checked and bestowed only to those who filed a claim, it was indeed necessary to establish comprehensive lists using the documents at the disposal of the Ministry or of the International office at Arolsen (I.T.S.). Not a single final document, not a single official figure was ever published, even if limited and personal answers were given to various demands.

It should be acknowledged that the brutality of the trauma was such that, for a long time which starts with the liberation, figures were taboo. This was not without its drawbacks : the Deportation Memorial at “Ile de la Cité” in Paris does not mention any. The need for accuracy only surfaced two or three decades later, in the face of the negatonist contest.

As far as Mauthausen is concerned, should we quote Hans Marsalek (a historien and former Austrian deportee at Mauthausen) who had given the figure of 13000 French people – a figure engraved on official plaques – according to his own memory, and not on the basis of any document ? The urgent demands by the Soviet administration at the time it handed over the camp to the Austrian authorities had not allowed him to check on his figures.

We had to wait for the initiative of Serge Klarsfeld and of the C.D.J.C. who made a census of the convoys that had left from Drancy (near Paris), and published the complete list of the deportees on each convoy before it became generally accepted that looking for exhaustivity and relyability was indeed a necessity.

The research undertaken in 1998 by the Foundation for the memory of deportation to produce a census of those deported on the grounds of repression (whatever the reason may have been) compensates for the failure of achieving it during the 1950’s and 1960’s. They brought to the fore a number of difficulties : the lists of the convoys that had left Compiègne (near Paris) had been lost, the liste of NN (Nacht und Neben) who had become de facto deportees (Häftlinge) were difficult to interpret. The census of the people who escaped or died during transport could only be established from documents produced after the facts (statements and testimonies), etc. Six years of painstaking efforts were needed to complete the work and to edit, on paper (four large volumes) or on CD-Rom, in May 2004, the Memorial-Book of deportation and repression.

None of these shortcomings are to be found in the census of the French deportees in Mauthausen, since the most essential documents concerning the day to day administration of the camp, and particularly those concerning the management of the fluxes of inmates were retrieved and preserved.

Here are all the names, all the dates, all the places.

Here one may find the result of the labour at the quarry, at the terrace, in the mine, under rain and snow, or at the far end of galleries, presented objectively rather than subjectively.

Here may be found the impact of promiscuity, inadequate food, lack of space, of hygiene, of medical care...

Here are the effects of human brutality and cruelty, and, also, of courage and solidarity.

Here may be found whatever happened with our friends as the poet wondered several centuries ago.

President, then Honorary President of the Amicale de Mauthausen