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Research on the “Mühlviertler Hasenjagd”

Preparing his master’s degree, the Freiburg student Christian Kretschmer deals with the subjects of “Prisoners of war in Mauthausen Concentration Camp“ and the “Mühlviertler Hasenjagd” (Mühlviertel hare hunting), a war event that took place in February 1945. During his research visit to the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen for one week he got access to and inspected almost 500 files. “I have taken a closer look at all the list material kept here on Mauthausen Concentration Camp, above all at the death registers of Mauthausen camp and the reports on escapes from various camps. I found the death reason entries of the sort “shot while attempting to flee” most revealing as they, in my view, serve to cover up a systematic killing procedure.”  

During the night of 2nd February 1945, about 500 prisoners made an attempt to escape from death block 20 of Mauthausen Concentration Camp. While one prisoners’ group attacked the guard men using the fire extinguishers of their shack and various objects at hand as projectiles, a second group short-circuited the electric fence by means of wet blankets and clothes. The prisoners climbed over the wall seeking to leave the camp area. That very morning still, the SS camp management called on its men to start a “chase” on the escapees with the express aim of murdering all of them. Not a single one should be allowed to return to the camp alive.  

The term “Mühlviertler Hasenjagd” denotes or describes a kind of “hunt” that National Socialist associations, soldiers and civilians unleashed against the mainly Soviet prisoners of war who had managed to flee. “Though as yet hardly accurately explored, the story is widely known in particular in Austria”, narrates the student. The breakout the inmates unleashed was not only an incident unprecedented in Mauthausen’s history, but what is more proved to be the most successful breakout ever organized by prisoners of war during the Second World War. “The whole story is unparalleled for a variety of reasons: so it is not just the flight or the chase in itself, but also the prisoners’ group concerned that make it so unusual, so special”, knows Kretschmer. “The truth is that, according to plan, the Soviet prisoners of war should not have been detained at Mauthausen. They had been sent there on the basis of a secret order the original wording of which, to this day, has never come to anyone’s attention.”   

In his master’s degree thesis, Kretschmer places emphasis on several aspects. “My intention is to describe the procedures generally applied to flight cases and shed light on how and why the prisoners of war were taken to Mauthausen. Apart from the history leading up to, and reconstruction of, the escape, I am interested in the way that subject was dealt with after the war.” Accordingly, his clarification work covers justice, the artistic digesting of such painful experience in poems, novels and stories and active remembrance.  

The “Mühlviertler Hasenjagd” is one among the numerous crimes committed in the final stage of the Second World War. Its uniqueness is owed to the excessive participation of civilians in the “hunting” and killing action. “The less literature I found on the crime, the more provoked was my interest in it, and the more illuminating were the files I came across at the ITS. Fortune favoured me, because another visitor to the ITS managed to bring me in contact with a contemporary witness who being a Mauthausen prisoner at the time had a personal share in the story“, so the student. “After finishing this research and subsequent investigations at other archives, I sincerely hope that the Mauthausen memorial centre will finally decide to publish my findings.”