Practically all attempted escapees from the camp were recaptured. A successful escape from the main camp in Mauthausen was almost impossible.
To escape from the camp, an inmate had first to scale the electrified barbed wire fence; then he had to get past the SS guard towers at some distance from the camp; and finally he had to escape his pursuers.
The chance of escaping was better during transfers to another camp or while on a work assignment. It was also greater in the satellite camps than in the main camp, as these camps usually had fewer security measures.
There were 31 attempted escapes from the main camp, 353 from the satellite camps and 200 from transports.
Inmates planning to escape could not necessarily count on aid from their fellow inmates. On the contrary, they were usually met with discouragement or even ran the risk of being betrayed, because escapes often resulted in severe collective punishment.
If an escaped inmate was recaptured and not immediately shot by the SS, he was brought back to the camp and later executed in the roll call area or prison.
Escapees executed in the roll call area often had to wear signs saying "It’s good to be back" or "Why roam afar when good is so near?"
In June 1942 the Austrian inmate Hans Bonarewitz managed a spectacular escape from the main camp. He hid in a wooden crate that was loaded onto a lorry that took him out of the camp.
He was recaptured 18 days later and brought back to the camp, locked in his crate, which was left in the roll call area for a week until he was hanged on 30 July 1942 to musical accompaniment.
The only mass escape from Mauthausen took place on 2 February 1945 by 500 Soviet prisoners of war from "Action K".
"One inmate escaped and hanged himself in a nearby wood. He was not discovered until two or three days later. The corpse was brought back to the camp in a wooden coffin with the rope round his neck and we were required to play. On these occasions the 'gypsy band' usually played the evergreen 'Mein Liebling komme wieder zurück'. We didn’t know this song and therefore Ziereis ordered us, I think it was in early 1943, to play the Kaiser-Friedrich-Marsch, a very solemn march."
Josef Jira, former Mauthausen inmate (AMM V/3/54)