I feel each of these entries could begin the same way: today was a very long day. But this one really was.
The day we go to Mauthausen is one of the more difficult days of the trip. Certain places are simply more intense than others. Mauthausen is one of them. While, as in other camps, many of the original barracks are missing, the massive stone wall, the quarry, and places of execution are still here.
This is the third time I’ve taken students to Mauthausen and this was the smoothest its ever gone, logistically. The first time, we took the train and walked the 5 kilometers from Mauthausen station through the town and up to the camp. This was the same path prisoners took. That didn’t go over so well with the students and it meant our visit was somewhat rushed in order to make sure we made our train back. The second time I chartered a bus, but we had a huge mix up over where to meet the bus and waited over an hour in confusion. Yesterday, we met the bus right on schedule.
No problems getting to the camp, with just one bathroom break half way in what I told the students was the nicest rest stop they are ever going to see (unless they visit another one in Austria). After we arrived, I got all the headsets and we walked to see the overlook of the granite quarry where so many of the prisoners worked and died.
I had prepared readings from Gordon Horwitz’s book, In the Shadow of Death: Living Outside the Gates of Mauthausen. These focused on what the townspeople knew and did regarding the prisoners they saw every day in the concentration camp. Most learned to look the other way. One woman whose farm house overlooked the quarry, asked the SS to stop shooting prisoners or at least to do so in places where she couldn’t see. Another woman talked about how she saw a young barefoot Jewish prisoner hopping along the road in a march. Every step caused him pain and he jumped as he walked to avoid stones. She said how she had to laugh seeing the way he walked. The final reading was of a woman who worked by the railway station and dropped food and other things on the ground so that prisoners could pick them up and use them.
The main museum does a very good job describing the history of the camp and the suffering of the prisoners. There are moving stories and art created by prisoners. One way prisoners who were artists could help their fellow prisoners was by doing portraits. This gave the prisoner a thing they could call their own, and an image of themselves, after everything they had, including their own selfimage, had been stolen from them.
Before the war, Carpi had been a professor of art at the Art Academy of Milan. He survived the war and returned to Milan. Odino also survived the war and returned to Italy. He kept this portrait throughout the remainder of the war and provided a copy to the museum.
Downstairs is the crematorium, the third one used in the camp, and next to it, in the room where they stored the corpses for burning, are the list of the 81,000 names of prisoners who died in Mauthausen or its subsidiary camps. Half of them died in the last four months of the war, when the camp’s population swelled enormously as prisoners were death marched here from other camps in Poland and Hungary. Beyond that is the gas chamber. Altogether, over 10,000 prisoners were executed in Mauthausen. The rest died from exhaustion, disease, starvation, or beatings.
On the drive home, the students slept and I chatted with our driver. He was from Macedonia and he came to Austria in 1986 after getting his business degree. There wasn’t any work for him in Yugoslavia, so he decided to go to Australia, but he ended up in Austria instead. He gave me a very long explanation why Macedonians are the true Hellenists, and that the Greeks are late comers.
Today is our free day. I’m heading off in a little bit to Salzburg with a few of the students.