International Journal of Historical Archaeology

, Volume 22, Issue 3, pp 472–491 | Cite as

Identity Destruction or Survival in Small Things? Rethinking Prisoner Tags from the Mauthausen Concentration Camp

  • Barbara HausmairEmail author


In concentration camps across Europe, replacing prisoners’ names with numbers was key to Nazi strategies for annihilating the identities of their victims. Number tags issued in the Mauthausen concentration camp are remembered by survivors as materializations of their destroyed identities and bureaucratic means in the murderous camp economy. However, several preserved tags carry prisoner-made decorations which point towards personalization strategies, making these items highly desired objects in current memorial practices for constructing narratives of survival. By taking an object-biographical approach, this chapter traces the ontological shifts the tags have gone through and discusses the relationships of camp life, the post-camp reading of material culture, and memorial practices.


Mauthausen Prisoner number Camp life Personalization Memorial practice 



I wish to thank Claudia Theune (University of Vienna) for sharing data from her “Archaeology of the Mauthausen concentration camp” project; the staff of the Mauthausen Memorial, the Hartheim Documentation Centre (especially Florian Schwanninger and Peter Eigelsberger), the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Landesarchiv Oberösterreich for their great support during my research in their archives and collections; Isabella Greußing and Judith Benedix (University of Vienna) for supporting me during literature research and work with the Mauthausen Object Database; and Susan Pollock and Reinhard Bernbeck (Freie Universität Berlin) for many inspiring discussions, which had a great impact on this paper. This research was kindly supported by the EU FP7 Marie Curie Zukunftskolleg Incoming Fellowship Programme, University of Konstanz (grant no. 291784). All mistakes, misconceptions and errors remain my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Ancient Near Eastern ArchaeologyFreie Universität BerlinBerlinGermany

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