Inside Austria: Mauthausen Concentration Camp

July 31, 2014 at 7:04 pm 10 comments

mauthausen entrance
 

Last month, I had the opportunity to visit the Mauthausen Concentration Camp about 12 miles east of the city of Linz, Austria. This wasn’t the first time I’d been to a holocaust site. About five years ago, I’d been to Auschwitz and Birkenau in Poland. It wasn’t for everyone, but I was glad I did.

Mauthausen was the last concentration camp liberated during World War II. It was one of the toughest labor camps where German authorities implemented their Vernichtung Durch Arbeit (extermination through labor) policy.

In the beginning, Mauthausen was reserved for political enemies of the Third Reich, the intelligentsia, and members of the upper classes in conquered countries. It was later opened to prisoners of war and other inmates from other concentration camps. A third of the prisoners were of Jewish heritage.

Hungarian Survivors Monument
Mauthausen Italian Memorial
Hungarian Memorial Italian Memorial
Mauthausen Jewish Memorial
Mauthausen Polish Memorial
Jewish Memorial Polish Memorial
Mauthausen East German Memorial
Mauthausen Russian Memorial
East German Memorial Russian Memorial

 

The main camp in Mauthausen has since been converted into a museum. Memorials reflecting the many nationalities and ethnic and religious backgrounds of the former inmates could be found around the main complex.

Mauthausen Private Family Memorials
Mauthausen Private Family Memorials
Mauthausen Dual Crematory Ovens
Mauthausen Gas Chamber

 

There are private family memorials, too, posted on the wall in the crematorium. Also shown are the double crematory ovens and the gas chamber where the sick and those unable to work any longer were taken care of.

mauthausen quarry
 

The prisoners were subjected to malnutrition, overcrowding, hostile and abusive behaviors by the guards, and long hours of hard labor such as in the above quarry where they continuously carried blocks of stone weighing as much as 100 pounds up a rock staircase with 186 steps. Under these harsh conditions, many didn’t survive. In 1986, the Encyclopedia Britannica had estimated that “out of the probable 355,000 inmates passing through Mauthausen and its satellites, more than 122,000 died from execution or privation.”

One of the interesting exhibits that I saw were the photos of German officers assigned to the camp. They didn’t look like monsters at all. They appeared to be regular guys who went home to their wives and children after their shifts were over. They must have told their family that they were operating a labor camp for hardened criminals. As to whether it helped them sleep well at night, that would be a different story.

Some might find it difficult justifying spending one’s precious vacation time going to these places that had borne witness to man’s inhumanity to man. I agree it couldn’t be so much fun walking the grounds where millions of people were incarcerated and later exterminated. At the same time, it could help you grow as a human being and learn to appreciate more what it means to be free.

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10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Leigh W. Smith  |  August 7, 2014 at 8:11 am

    I think the last paragraph is spot-on, Plaridel. In the past, I’d generally turn away from war images and things of a horrifying nature, but I realized that if no one ever looked, the tragic parts of history might repeat themselves. Thank you for sharing this information; I had not heard of Mauthausen before.

    Reply
    • 2. plaridel  |  August 7, 2014 at 11:05 am

      leigh:

      before the trip, i never heard of the place, either. sadly, we never learn. history keeps repeating itself in many parts of the world.

      Reply
  • 3. tw  |  August 7, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    I agree we mustn’t forget such places, the atrocities or the lost lives because this must never happen again

    Reply
    • 4. plaridel  |  August 7, 2014 at 9:59 pm

      tw:

      it was well worth the visit.

      Reply
  • 5. moondustwriter  |  August 17, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Yes your wisdom is vital. If we do not face the inhuman acts of society and repel them, we will repeat the cycle.

    Reply
    • 6. plaridel  |  August 17, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      moondustwriter:

      i read you. if we can’t repel them or provide any solution, at least, we shouldn’t allow ourserlves to be part of the problem.

      Reply
  • 7. jimholroyd365  |  January 24, 2015 at 9:28 am

    I visited Birkenau-Auschwitz…what impressed me about that site was the sheer scale of it…and there are still people denying the holocaust happened…they should visit these sombre places…

    Reply
    • 8. plaridel  |  January 24, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      jim:

      i agree. i’d been to auschwitz and birkenau concentration camps in poland, too, and it was really terrible to contemplate man’s inhumanity on such a large scale.

      Reply
      • 9. jimholroyd365  |  January 24, 2015 at 9:53 pm

        Auschwitz is the saddest place I ve ever visited…when we hear about what is happening in Nigeria or with ISIS today…is seems humanity still has a long way to go before we can live together peacefully with those who may be different from us…

        Reply
        • 10. plaridel  |  January 24, 2015 at 11:46 pm

          jim:

          i hear you. it will remain as long as we don’t learn to get along and respect each other’s truth.

          Reply

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