The concentration camps (Konzentrationslager / KZ) set up by the Nazis immedi-ately after attaining power in 1933 were designed to oppress by violent means and to intimidate the perceived and real opponents of National Socialism. Gradually the concentration camps were accorded new functions – as a place of mass extermination and of economic exploitation of the inmates’ labor. During the war, the KZ-system was to spread all over Europe. In the years 1936–39 preparations for the war and rearmament were the external factors stimulating the erection of new camps and the exploitation of the prisoners’ labor capacity. The concentration camp in Mauthausen was established in August 1938 and in Gusen in 1940 in a period when SS-owned companies expanded. At that time other concentration camps (Flossenbürg, Groß-Rosen, Natzweiler, Neuengamme) were erected close to brickyards or stone quarries. The SS set up the DEST-company (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH) to exploit these resources. The quarries run by the DEST in Mauthausen and Gusen were supposed to supply building materials in particular for the remodeling of Linz, the city of the »Führer.«
Of the approximately 200,000 prisoners in Mauthausen and its subcamps, roughly one fifth came from Poland and the USSR each. German and Austrian inmates of different categories totaled about 14,500, i.e., 7%. The French, Spanish, Italian, and Yugoslav prisoner contingents numbered each between 6000 and 8000. Smaller groups consisted of Czechs, Greeks, Belgians, Slovaks, Dutch, and Hungarians. About one fifth of the prisoner total was Jewish, mainly from Hungary and Poland. The death toll reached approximately 100,000.