The General in the Ice Block

Published: 2003-11-01

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The following passage, headed "East European Monuments in Austria," has been taken from pp. 20 and 21 of the 1/2002 edition of the International Municipal Forum Graz (Internationales Städteforum Graz):

"Another type of East European commemorative plaques is that at locations of former concentrations camps set up by the Third Reich. In the former Mauthausen camp there exists the monument for Major General Karbyshev of the Red Army, which resembles a block of ice with a human face [...]. During an icy December, night he was drenched with cold water until he finally froze into a block of ice. The monument symbolizes this event."

This event cannot possibly have taken place in this way. On a living body, water will not freeze even at very low temperatures. It is only when the surface temperature has dropped considerably below 0°C that ice can form.

I have visited the Mauthausen camp in 1952 and 1991. In 1952, an obelisk had been erected there for General Karbyshev. At that time, I believed in the event thus depicted and took the inhuman deed of the SS to be an act of revenge. I knew then that on December 29, 1941, and for several days thereafter, Soviet troops had thrown wounded German soldiers from the windows of the army hospitals of Feodosia on the Crimea, leaving them on the beach to freeze until they were dead - to the extent that they had not previously been stabbed or bludgeoned to death. The freezing spray of the breakers eventually shaped the corpses of the 160 wounded soldiers into bizarre blocks of ice.[1] I could easily imagine that buddies or relatives of the victims of Feodosia wrought a brutal revenge on innocent people.

When I returned in 1991, I looked in vain for the obelisk. Instead, there was a commemorative plate on the inside of the camp wall, mentioning the murder of General Karbyshev. Some time later, I learned that on January 9, 1993, the Austrian newspaper Die Presse had shown a painting by the artist Adolf Frohner, entitled "The Russian General," illustrating a particularly cruel method of killing devised by the Nazis. The corresponding article stated:

"Alfred Frohner has produced an artistic document depicting the death of General Karbyshev who, together with 200 other Russian PoWs, was doused with cold water when the temperature was minus 20°C cold until they had all frozen into a solid block of ice."

Meanwhile, I had developed some doubts on the technical feasibility of turning a living creature into a block of ice. Fire fighters whom I had questioned had expressed their own doubts on the subject of spraying from hoses, at a temperature of -20°C, sufficient amounts of water to turn 200 people into a mass of ice without having the water freeze in the hoses in turn.

Thus, it became necessary to do some fundamental investigation.

The book Die Geschichte des Konzentrationslagers Mauthausen (The History of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp) tells us:[2]

"16 and 17 February 1945: More than 200 weak prisoners and all detainees from a Sachsenhausen transport were killed by having them stand naked (for three days and two nights) near the Wall of Lamentations and subjecting them to a 'bathing action,' at temperatures between -2 and -7°C. Among the 200 or 300 old and weak people selected at random there were members of all European nations, but primarily Soviet and Polish citizens, among them the Soviet Artillery General Dimitri Mikhaelovich Karbyshev."

Technically, we now approach feasibility, as it makes a great deal of difference whether the unfortunate people were effectively sprayed with water at -20°C or supposedly sprayed at -2°C. Meteorological data was needed for further clarification.

As it turned out, the Central Office for Meteorology and Geodynamics was able to shed light on the matter. The expert advice from the Central Office stated:

The weather at Mauthausen on February 16, 1945, was sunny. Air temperature in the afternoon rose to about 5°C, after an early morning reading of only 0°C. Between February 10 and 16, 1945, Mauthausen experienced rather mild winter weather. Morning temperatures were between -2 and +3°C, rising to 4 to 10°C at noon.

Hence, it is impossible for the "ice block event" to have taken place on the day mentioned.

It is quite possible that on that day, there were piles of corpses at Mauthausen, including General Karbyshev's body; it is quite possible that victims indeed froze to death on account of inhuman treatment, but no living person could have been turned into a block of ice at that time.

Is this another legend, like Simon Wiesenthal's "parachutists"? In his book Denn sie wußten, was sie tun (For they knew what they did), Wiesenthal has, after all, captioned a drawing showing men being thrown from a cliff, as follows:[3]

"It was rare for Jews to be shot at Mauthausen. They were destined for the 'Wiener Graben' [a street in Vienna,. On a single day, March 31, 1943, 1000 Dutch Jews were thrown from a height of 50 meters before the very eyes of Heinrich Himmler. The SS called them 'parachutists.' The brown crowd was highly amused."

The Mauthausen book tells us that in March 1943 there were altogether 850 deaths,[4] on March 31, 1943, the camp counted 13 Jewish detainees; for this month, only two Jewish deaths were recorded. The total number of Jewish detainees never rose above 16 throughout 1943, only from May 1944 would it suddenly jump from 78 to 2141.[5] Furthermore, Himmler was not at Mauthausen on March 31, 1943.[6]

Hence, either Wiesenthal is mistaken about the date or else he relates from hearsay, just like the Presse journalist with respect to the Frohner painting.


First published as "Der General im Eis" in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 7(1) (2003), pp. 43f. Translated by Thomas Dunskus.

[1] Cf. Alfred M. de Zayas, Die Wehrmachtsuntersuchungsstelle. Deutsche Ermittlungen über alliierte Völkerrechtsverlatzungen im Zweiten Weltkrieg, 4th ed., Ullstein, Frankfurt/Main/Berlin 1984, pp. 308-317.
[2] Hans Marschalek (ed.), Dokumentation der Österreichischen Lagergemeinschaft Mauthausen, 2nd ed., Vienna 1980, pp. 235, 238.
[3] Zeichnungen und Aufzeichnungen aus dem KZ Mauthausen, Deuticke, Vienna, 1995, pp. 63-65.
[4] Hans Marschalek (ed.), op. cit. (note 2) p. 157.
[5] Ibid., pp. 282f
[6] Cf. Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munich, Dok. NO-1025

Additional information about this document
Property Value
Author(s): Walter Lüftl
Title: The General in the Ice Block
Sources: The Revisionist 1(4) (2003), pp. 386f.
  • Thomas Dunskus: translation
Published: 2003-11-01
First posted on CODOH: June 27, 2012, 7 p.m.
Last revision:
Comments: First published in German as "Der General im Eis" in "Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung," 7(1) (2003), pp. 43f.
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