updated 10/10/2004 5:35:50 PM ET 2004-10-10T21:35:50

Nazi officials planned to move the Auschwitz gas chambers to a concentration camp in Austria as the Germans retreated westward from the Soviet army near the end of World War II, a magazine reported Sunday.

While SS chief Heinrich Himmler gave orders to raze the gas chambers and crematoriums at Auschwitz in the fall of 1944 to erase evidence of the Nazis’ crimes, new historical research shows that officials sent at least some of the equipment to the Mauthausen camp for reuse, the Der Spiegel weekly said.

Austrian historians Bertrand Perz and Florian Freund drew their conclusions in part from correspondence and accounts by survivors of both camps, the report said.

They also discovered a Feb. 10, 1945, letter to Mauthausen officials from J.A. Topf and Sons, an Erfurt, Germany-based company that made many of the incinerators for Nazi camps, that talked about sharply expanding the Austrian camp’s gas chamber on the assumption that “all the parts from the Auschwitz Concentration Camp will be used again.”

Though accounts by camp survivors have indicated that some equipment from Auschwitz, located in present-day Poland, arrived, the war’s turn against Germany prevented the Nazis from building the large-scale gas chambers they apparently envisioned for Mauthausen, Der Spiegel said.

Six million Jews were killed in the Nazi Holocaust.

Between 1 million and 1.5 million prisoners — most of them Jews — perished in gas chambers or died of starvation and disease at Auschwitz. Advancing Soviet troops liberated the camp Jan. 27, 1945.

Mauthausen was liberated by U.S. troops in May 1945 when the Nazis surrendered. An estimated 100,000 inmates died at the camp near the Austrian city of Linz.

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