In the Spring of 1941 Heinrich Himmler was busy planning the expansion of the concentration camp system in preparation for the invasion of Russia. On 27th April he visited Mauthausen, one of the first of the labour camps to be established in Austria. Mauthausen had originally been a labour camp for opponents of the Nazi regime but became one of the first ‘no return’ camps after the invasion of Poland. At this time it was being used for the ‘extermination through labour’ of Polish intelligentsia – a broad term for the Nazi’s that included included almost anyone reasonably well educated, including teachers, but also members of organisations like the boy scouts.
The 12 hour days of hard physical labour on a meagre diet were lethal for many of the inmates. But there were other more direct methods of killing. The ‘Stairs of Death’ involved long lines of prisoners carrying 50kg granite blocks up the stairs. Those who stumbled would fall on the prisoners following them, creating a domino effect that killed or injured dozens.