Kaprun is a small town near Zell am See at the foot of a valley which leads up to high mountains. In 1955 a massive construction project, involving two dams high up in the valley, designed to produce hydro-electric power, was completed. The project had been re-started in 1938, two months after the Anschluss, when Hermann Göring presided at a ceremony to initiated work on the project. This was a part of the massive economic investment in the Ostmark (as Austria was then known) by the German Reich. The economic recovery of the country, and the chance of a job, led Michael Bauer to travel back to his home town (Zell am See) from Jersey, bringing is wife (Ellie) and child (Anna) with him.
Forced labourers and prisoners of war were used to build the power station and work on the dam above it in the valley. These workers came from twenty-four different nations, including Polish, French and Soviet POWs, Italians, people from the territories of the Soviet Union (‘Ostarbeiter’) and Jews. An unknown number died due to the harsh conditions, particularly in the mountain camp where the dam was being built. At one point a British air raid triggered a flash flood in which 1,200 people, half of them Soviet forced labourers, were killed.
After the war the power station and two Kaprun dams were completed, at first under the direction of the Americans who used German and Austrian POWs as workers. The mountain camp, and the barrage built in 1944, are now submerged under the water of the lower dam. Every ten years the lake is drained so that engineers can inspect the seal between the dam and the surrounding rock, at which point remains of these wartime installations can be seen.
By the end of 1944, work on the site had come to a halt, but not before a crude barrage had been constructed out of any materials available at the mountain camp in a last, desperate attempt to produce some electricity. The propaganda value of this to the Nazis was considerable, even though the amount of power generated was negligible.
‘What’s this job Michael?’ she said, ‘Tell me about it.’
Michael explained that Frau Marcher ran a gasthof just out of town which prepared food for some of the workers building the power plant at the bottom of the valley. She needed someone to help out and had a spare room they could have.
The food Ellie made was for the senior managers of the hydro-electric project, who were billeted at the gasthof.
Inscription on dam worker monument. It reads: "An independent commission of historians thoroughly examined the fate of prisoners of war and forced labourers in connection with the construction of power plants during the Nazi era. On the basis of their findings, a contribution to the Reconciliation Fund was made. During the construction of Kaprun power plant group in addition to up to 4,000 prisoners of war more than 6,300 slave labourers and civilian foreign workers were employed. About 120 forced labourers were killed between 1940 and 1945 on this construction site. The suffering and trauma of these people is often forgotten when telling the success story of Kaprun. These people, who were abducted by the Nazi regime to work on this building site, should be given special consideration now. The memory of the terror of the Nazi regime remains awake even at this place."