Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mauthausen Concentration Camp

On Nov. 6, my roommates and I visited Mauthausen Concentration Camp, located in Upper Austria about 20 km from Linz.  The concentration camp initially was established as a single camp in 1938, but it expanded over time into the only category III concentration camp, the classification with the most brutal detention conditions.  Mauthausen had become one of the largest labor camp complexes in German-controlled Europe with approximately 85,000 inmates in 1945 and a death toll roughly between 122,766 and 320,000.  The inmates were put to labor as they worked in the quarries and on the construction of the camp.  The camp fulfilled two functions for the SS:  "to restrain political and ideological opponents of Nazism by interning, torturing and killing them and to act as a deterrent; and also to exploit their labour to the utmost" (

I watched movies and read books about German-controlled concentration camps, but it was a different experience actually seeing a camp.  I walked through the camp touring the different buildings.  I observed the sleeping quarters, the kitchen and laundry facilities, but worst of all, I was able to walk through the camp prison which also had the crematory located in the basement of the building.  Suddenly, the camp came alive for me as I set my eyes on the machine used to burn inmates' bodies.  I walked through the same path where the SS tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of people.  The SS used various methods to kill its victims.  Some inmates were beaten to death, hanged, or shot while sick inmates were frozen to death, starved, or killed by lethal injection or gas.  I toured the gas chamber then walked into the room where inmates were butchered.  The SS would cut out inked markings, or tattoos, on the skin of inmates and rip out gold teeth from their mouths.  It's unbelievably how people could be so cruel to other human beings!

As I kept strolling through the camp, I noticed several plaques, photos, and letters in memory of the people who suffered during this time.  I walked slowly down the "Wailing Wall," which was like a memorial with engraved, stone plagues indicating specific names of people who died.

At the end of the tour, I walked through the final building which detailed the history of the camp and the horrifying event.  Although the history was displayed in German writing on the poster boards, I was able to understand most of the event through the photographs.  It's amazing how these photographs even survived the event, but it was definitely sad to finally see these photos after touring the camp.  There were mostly men in the photos, who were stripped down to nothing.  It almost seemed like this was part of their ill-treatment, forced to pose nude for a photograph.  The photos left me disgusted at the people who treated these men with such disrespect.  The inmates looked as skinny as a toothpick, with every bone in their body popping out of their skin.  These photographs saddened both me and my roommates.

I left the concentration camp feeling depressed, but I learned a great deal after seeing the camp in person.  Although the experience was sad, it was also eye-opening.  I developed a greater appreciation for life, and simply all the things and people I have in my life.  An experience like this really makes a person feel grateful for all and everything.


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