(Münzkirchen 1912 – Krakow 1948): SS Chief Guard
With the utmost brutality ...
The path taken by Maria Mandl did not seem to be preordained at all. She was the fourth-born of a family from Münzkirchen (in the district of Schärding); her father was a master shoemaker. After school she worked as a domestic help in Switzerland and Innsbruck and in 1937 she started work at the Münzkirchen post office. Later she would claim that she lost this post after the “Anschluss” because she was not a Nazi. Overall, much is unclear, including how she came to be working in the concentration camps and what motivated her to do so. One of her reasons was that an uncle had worked there and she could earn more. She began working at the women’s concentration camp Lichtenburg as early as October 1938. This concentration camp was dissolved and the inmates and guards were transferred to the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp in spring 1939. Her work as a guard at the camp prison is likely to have nurtured her growing brutality. In spring 1942, the SS leadership decided to establish a women’s concentration camp at Auschwitz, which was initially located in the main camp and then moved to Birkenau in summer 1942. During that time, Maria Mandl advanced to the position of SS Chief Guard at Ravensbrück. From October 1942 she assumed this function – as SS Chief Guard she had attained the highest-ranking position for a female guard – at the Birkenau women’s camp (section B Ia, from 1943 also B Ib). Most of the women imprisoned there had to perform forced labour. Like in the rest of the camp, the conditions were terrible: overcrowding, insufficient food and clothing and unimaginable sanitary conditions led to exhaustion and disease. Those who were too weak were at risk of being executed.
Maria Mandl had a conflicting personality. On the one hand, she could certainly be of help in isolated cases, but on the other hand she “ordered beatings and gave beatings herself”, according to the chronicler and Auschwitz survivor Hermann Langbein. A list bearing her signature proves that Mandl herself actively participated in selections and decided who was no longer considered “fit to work”. In the barbaric reality of Auschwitz, it was a daily occurrence for the camp leadership to get rid of those unable to work, the weak and the sick, which meant executing them. Langbein recalled hearing a conversation between Maria Mandl and the camp doctor for the women’s camp, Dr. Kitt, where she complained that no “selection” had taken place for an extended period and that it was almost impossible to keep order in the women’s camp because of overcrowding.
In November 1944, Mandl was posted to Mühldorf, a subcamp of Dachau. In August 1945 she was arrested in Bavaria and in September 1945 extradited to Poland. In her writings in defence of her deeds, which she penned in prison after the war, she tried to justify her actions by saying that, as Chief Guard, one of her priorities was to create order and discipline. She even claimed that she had wanted to help the prisoners by doing so.
At the Krakow Auschwitz trial she was sentenced to death; the sentence was carried out on 24 January 1948. It was barely mentioned in the Austrian press.
Magdalena Frühmann, Österreicherinnen im Gefolge der SS. Karrieren dreier SS-Aufseherinnen in nationalsozialistischen Konzentrationslagern. Dissertation, Vienna 2008.
Files of the Krakow Auschwitz Trial with the proceedings against Maria Mandl: Instytut Pamięci Narodowej (Krakow).
Pechmarie. Das Leben der Maria Mandl, 2014 (Film by Christian Strasser)