The memory of WWI and II is kept alive throughout the globe, whether we are talking about monuments erected in celebration of the fallen heroes or whether we put forth the exhibits presented in various museums from all over the European continent. But probably the places which best depict the gruesome reality of the world conflagrations are the former concentration camps which even today bring chills to visitors.
One such camp is situated in Austria, at a 20-kilometer distance from the city of Linz, in the small town Mauthausen. The camp came into being on the 8th of August 1938 and it was mainly established in order to provide the stone quarry which existed in the neighborhood with the necessary laborers. Initially, all the prisoners were forced to build the camp which would serve as their confinement quarters, only afterwards to be delivered as slaves to the stone quarry. The building of the camp was concluded in 1939 and it expanded greatly in the year to come, inasmuch as in summer of 1940 it had turned into one of the biggest labor camps which existed in Europe.
What some of you might be oblivious to is the fact the concentration camps were developed in accordance to their purpose. While many of these complexes were built to house prisoners of all types, Mauthausen was actually created for specific purpose: to annihilate the people of the superior social classes. In other words, the concentration camp aimed to exterminate through labor – which meant that the educated individuals from countries which were subdued by Nazi Germany were subjected to infernal toils that ultimately crushed their bodies.
Mauthausen housed many prisoners but their number increased considerably almost overnight, to the extent that the administration had to enlarge the establishment in order to ‘accommodate’ everyone. This meant surrounding the fields to the north and west with barbed wire and keeping the newcomers, which were mainly Jews brought in from Hungary and Russian soldiers captured in battle, in the open almost all year long.
This was a ‘category III’ concentration camp which was basically one of the most severe kinds there were. Those brought in were never supposed to leave the premises and their demise was inflicted by labor.
But there were exceptions to the rule, as it so often happens. The terrible and sometimes useless works they had to perform were beyond imagination. Because the guards were given exact orders concerning the extermination of the inmates, they started to be creative. One historical account talks about how a stone which weighted almost 45 kilograms was laid on a prisoner’s back and how he was afterwards ordered to run around with the heavy burden. The outcome is no surprise: the prisoner fell to his death due to exhaustion. Another method of annihilation was to take a group of inmates to a garage, command them to remove their clothes and spray water over them. Taking into account that in the wintertime the temperature went below minus ten degrees Celsius, the result of the practice was evidently hypothermia.
These historical facts conjure up terrible images of what humans are capable of doing towards other humans. A trip in this land where so many atrocities have occurred will definitely not be what you might have imagined. The road there takes you through a pastoral setting which inspires only peace and tranquility. But once you reach your destination, reality strikes you.
The barracks might no longer look as grim and terrifying as they did in their ‘peak,’ but walking around the location you will get to see the chambers of death: the crematory as well as the rooms in which the inmates were brought in order to find their death by heavy beating.
Visitors can also see the ‘stairway of death’- the infamous cliff from where the prisoners were pushed over the edge to find their death into the granite quarry which spread below them.
The camp is filled with an abundant number of commemorative items, such as monuments, statues and tiles with various inscriptions. To put it simple, the area has been transformed into a sort of memorial which keeps the sufferings of the prisoners alive and brings homage to them.
The complex is situated at a relatively small distance from Vienna. Tourists can reach Mauthausen in almost an hour and a half and even if for some the location might be out of their course, it should be pinpointed that this camp is one of high historical value and the discoveries you will run across will be change you forever.