History's Judgement: SS-Standartenfürhrer Franz Ziereis, Kommandant of the KL Mauthausen-Gusen
Above left: Kommandant SS-Obersturmbannführer Franz Ziereis with SS-Hauptscharführer (Master Sergeant) and SS-Oberscharührer (Technical Sergeant) at Mauthausen (91,047 bytes).
At right: interrogated by US Army officers while in US custody on 23 May 1945 at the 131st Evac Hospital in Gusen, there dying of gunshot wounds (78,773 bytes).
Click on images to see enlarged view (163,967 and 174,749 bytes).
On 30 September 1936 Ziereis joined the SS as their 276,998th member. He was awarded the rank of SS-Obersturmführer (First Lieutenant) on 1 October 1936. In 1937 he was given command of the 22nd Hundertschaft (hundred man unit) of the SS Totenkopf (Death's Head) detachment, 2nd Standarten (regiment) "Brandenburg", consisting of concentration camp guard personnel. On 12 September 1937 he was promoted to SS-Hauptsturmführer (Captain). The 22nd Hundertschaft was among the SS units assigned to support the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed to the German Third Reich and occupied on 12 March 1938. On 1 July 1938 he transferred to the SS Totekopf 3rd Standarten "Thüringen" as a training instructor where he was initially assigned to the Buchenwald prison camp, and there on 25 August 1939 he was promoted to SS-Sturmbannführer.
Right: SS-Standartenführer Franz Ziereis shown wearing his Deutsche Kreuz awarded in the fall of 1944 for distinguished service (45,617 bytes).
There is some mention that Ziereis was somehow injured while with the 3rd Standarten Thüringen. But regardless of that Theodor Eicke, the Inspector of Concentration Camps, had already come to know of Ziereis. Eicke appreciated his military capabilities and leadership qualities so he assigned Ziereis to replace Albert Saur as commandant of the new Mauthausen-Gusen prison camps on 9 February 1939. By 8 May 1939 the facilities were designated "Konzentrationslager" (Concentration camp), hence commonly referred to as "KL Mauthausen-Gusen". On 25 August 1939 Ziereis was promoted to the rank of SS-Sturmbannführer (SS Major), and soon after construction of the second camp Gusen commenced.
By June of 1940 KL Mauthausen-Gusen had expanded to include not only larger main camps, but numerous sattelite camps that were similarly under the command of Ziereis. In January 1941 the two mains camps of KL Mauthausen-Gusen were designated Grade III facilities, the only two in the Nazi system intended to house "Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich" who were often classified "Rûckkehr unerwünscht" (return not desired). On 1 September 1941 Ziereis was promoted to SS-Obersturmbannführer (Lt. Colonel).
On 10 April 1945 Ziereis was among a dozen officers called to a meeting at Linz Donau with SS-Obergruppenführer Kaltenbrunner, apparently their last face to face meeting. Soon after then on 20 April 1944 Ziereis was promoted to SS-Standartenführer (SS Colonel) for "outstanding service as camp commandant". The Mauthausen-Gusen complex continued to expand, in large part to meet the needs of wartime production, so much so that by April 1945 the complex included 101 camps including 49 major Außenlager (external or sub-camps). All of these were answerable to Ziereis.
With the US Army closing in from the West, and the Soviet Army from the East, on the morning of 3 May 1945 Ziereis departed KL Mauthausen with his wife and three children. He was identified by former Polish inmates, and arrested on 23 May 1945 at his hunting lodge on the Pyhrn in Upper Austria. While trying to escape the Americans he was shot at and wounded at about 18:00 hrs (6 pm). He was shot once through the upper left arm, and suffered a mortal gunshot wound in the back and into a lung and through the stomach exiting the other side. Ziereis was given first aid, then transported to the US Army 131st Evac Hospital in Gusen, arriving there at 21:30 Hrs (9:30 pm). There Ziereis was questioned over six to eight hours that night with Colonel Richard R. Seibel of the 11th Armored Division then commanding Mauthausen, other US Army personnel and civilians. His statement was taken. He was one of about 2,893 patients being care for there, but died shortly afterwards at 07:30 Hrs (7:30 am) on 24 May of his wounds.
Polish and Russian former inmates of the camp took Ziereis's body. Later his body was found (and photographed) placed onto the barbed wire fence at Mauthausen, naked except for the bandage on his left arm and with his back painted with anti-Nazi graffiti "Heil Hitler" and Swastikas. This was certainly against US Army regulations, and was most likely done by angry former prisoners (as stated in the above referenced log entries) but after what the American soldiers had seen they probably felt no need to interfere with the prisoners. There Ziereis remained for several days until the stench of decay prompted an Army officer to order the body removed.