Mauthausen Concentration Camp
Trip Start Aug 02, 2012
182Trip End Aug 02, 2013
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We were given audio guides and a map of the camp and we were there right till closing, for nearly four hours. Unfortunately, the museum in the center of the camp was closed for renovation but I guess it worked out because we wouldn't have had time for it anyhow. Over the past few weeks, I definitely felt that I was making up for lost time since I hadn’t taken any history in high school. So all the details of WWI/WWII, and in general European history was all new to me and I was just soaking it all up wishing I had a better memory to retain all the facts.
When they were eventually processed, they would be stripped of all their possessions and their clothing and then made to enter the shower rooms to be cleaned. When we visited the camp, it was around 8 degrees outside with quite a strong wind blowing. We were well bundled up and we were still really cold so I can just imagine that the weather alone would have broken down many a prisoner, at least physically, even before they knew the fate that awaited them was much worse. We then saw the inhumane barracks where the prisoners slept for a few hours each night. This was a labour camp so all inmates worked the stone quarry from sunrise to sunset – and once they were physically unable to work, they were shot. We wandered through the various buildings of the camp, which surrounded the main courtyard where roll call took place twice a day. From there we wandered past the courtyard to where the majority of barracks had once stood.
We saw the electric barbed wire fence next to the Jews Block which was where many people decided to prematurely end their terrible fate but more often than not, these “suicide attempts” were actually the result of guards who forced people to walk into the fence at gunpoint – either because they had violated some rule or simply because they felt like it. Right past the barbed wire fence is the site of a mass grave where bodies were dumped when the crematorium in the camp couldn’t process the sheer number of those being sent to their death.
We didn’t linger there and I was literally sick to my stomach imagining the terror and mass murder inflicted by the Nazis. I couldn’t fathom how anyone could have been party to such crimes and I hoped that those that were got the punishment they deserved ten fold – I was to later learn in Nürnberg that unfortunately, only several hundred Nazis were tried and convicted and the majority escaped trial or were even acquitted in many cases.
We walked down the “Stairway of Death” into the stone quarry. The stairway is aptly named because individuals had to carry granite blocks weighing around 50kg each and if they couldn’t manage to carry these blocks anymore, they were deemed worthless and therefore killed in a variety of means.
“The steps of this staircase which today are even and of the same height, were in the time when Mauthausen was a concentration camp, made of blocks of rock of different heights and shapes, and laid out randomly. Sometimes, up to a half-metre high, they required huge effort to climb them. The SS took pleasure, among other games, to make slide, by kicking, the last rows of a column who were descending so that the first ones who fell would bring the rest down, and fall down the stone steps in a mass. While at the end of the work day, the prisoners started to return to the camp carrying stone blocks on their shoulders; the SS would follow behind and hit and kick those lagging behind. Those that were not able to follow died on the stairway of death.”
We were the only ones in the entire quarry and the fall colours and the surrounding country side almost seemed surreal for a place with such a brutal history. In a way, it reminded me of the Verdun battle fields where it was hard to imagine it barren and a place of such destruction. From the bottom, we also saw the cliff from which guards would force prisoners to jump to their death and then would mock them as being “parachutists”. [We walked solemnly back to the parking lot from there, passing a number of memorials around the grounds. It was nearly dark as we drove away from Mauthausen and I was filled with mixed emotions: glad to have visited the site and understood more about the Nazi regime and the holocaust yet sickened by the atrocities committed. I now understood why these memorials are so important -both to serve as a remembrance but also to hopefully instill the underlying message with each visitor: Never Again.