By Jen and Adam
I visited Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria a few years ago with friends. There were 4 of us aged between 20 and 40. We took the local train from Linz to Mauthausen and walked up the long steep hill to the gates in the sunshine, chatting like friends do on a day out.
We returned down the hill a few hours later without saying a word.
None of us said anything for hours. It was difficult to find the words to talk about what we had seen, and comments about the here and now seemed banal and inappropriate.
I am here in the area with my family now. We needed to decide whether or not we would visit the concentration camp as a family. The recommended age on the website is over 14 and school children from the area are around that age when they visit on school trips.
We decided that the boys, aged 14 and 15, would visit with their dad, and I would stay outside with Katie. She’s 10. Some children of that age might be ready, and it’s tough no matter what age to make face-to-face contact with a part of our history that is so shocking. Equally, we thought it important for the boys to visit, to learn more about what happened, and to come away stronger in the conviction that, no matter what, we are all the same.
There are several plaques and memorials around the site which ask you never to forget what happened. We are glad we visited.
Preparing to visit Mauthausen
We’ve often been asked how we incorporate lessons into the day. For most visits we make, to Ancient Greek ruins or famous landmarks or whatever, we learn whilst we are there and then afterwards by researching the internet to write a blog post or generally because it’s sparked an interest. The visit to Mauthausen we decided was something that we should research and prepare for in advance.
The concentration camp is open most days of the year, it’s 2€ entry for adults and 1€ concession. More details can be found on their website along with directions on how to get there. Campervans can park in the car park for a small fee.
Adam is going to continue from here…..
Mauthaussen was a grade 3 (being the most harsh) concentration camp during World War 2. There are only 2 grade 3 concentration camps, this one and Auschwitz.
Having learnt about World War 1 and 2 in school last year I already knew a few things about the concentration camps. We maybe spent half and hour talking about them and that was it.
At this specific camp there was a total of 122767 registered deaths and thousand more unregistered. They estimate about 320000 deaths at the camp, but it could be more. Go back and read that number again. When you read about this stuff in school you think 300 thousand people, it’s difficult to imagine what it means. But I think that’s because it’s just too bad to imagine. Remember this is just one concentration camp.
On average a person, just like yourself I hope, has between 150 and 250 stable social relationships (known as Dunbar’s number). Meaning 200 ish people you know well not just friends on Facebook. 250 is really the limit. If you think this isn’t accurate then try and name the date of birth, favourite food, favourite tv show of 200 people. Anyway my point is to make you realise how big 300000 is. Everyone you know, dead. Just imagine that.
Back to the camp.
Get dressed, line up again for soup or coffee, clean their bowl and put it in their locker. Then the guards would push them to go and get counted.
They only went to the shower blocks once every 4-6 weeks, and received mail once or twice a month. They would work all day at the quarry until 8:45, that’s the time you had to be in the barracks and in bed by 9.
The guards made the old men carry the heavy stones until they collapsed. When the men got to the top of the hill, sometimes the guards would play a game, they called it “domino”. When an inmate got to the top they would push him and his stone down and, well you could guess what happened.
The barracks and most of the buildings have been renovated and have been turned into museums. There are billboards and pictures full of information.
At the entrance you also get an audio guide in pretty much any language, you just enter the number of wherever you are and it will play a short dialogue.
Overall I think it’s a really good place to visit, but it does help if you have a little knowledge of World War 2, it just makes you realise how bad it was.
And I wouldn’t take young kids either. Lots of people from lots of countries died here, and there are memorials from each country.
Thanks for reading.