This is the fifth and last part of my chronicle about our trip through the Romantikstraße, you can read the rest here:
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (1 of 5)
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (2 of 5)
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (3 of 5)
- Romantikstraße, the Romantic Road (4 of 5)
The Mauthausen concentration camp (1938-1945) was one of the first massive concentration camps in Nazi Germany, and the last to be liberated by the Allies. The construction started just two weeks after the Anschluss, when Austria was annexed into the Third Reich. Since the beginning it was labeled as Stufe III (Grade III), which meant that it was intended to be one of the toughest camps, and never lost this horrible classification. Mauthausen was mainly used for incarceration and extermination through labour of political prisoners, forced to work both in the expansion of the camp itself and in granite quarries nearby. Their daily lives were shaped by hunger, arbitrary violence and death.
The main complex in Mauthausen was declared national memorial site in 1949 and it’s also a museum since 1975, 30 years after the camp’s liberation. As they state in the web:
The Mauthausen Memorial is a former crime scene, a place of memory, a cemetery for the mortal remains of thousands of those murdered here and, increasingly, a site of political and historical education. Its task is to ensure public awareness of the history of the Mauthausen concentration camp and its subcamps, the memory of its victims, and the responsibility borne by the perpetrators and onlookers. At the same time it seeks to promote public critical engagement with this history in the context of its significance for the present and future.
The visit is completely free and you only need to pay for the guided tours and workshops, although there is a free audioguide app for the complete memorial and museum. We chose the latter option and it was very useful and interesting.
Several weeks have passed since our visit and I still remember perfectly the sensations that I experienced there. In addition, we had the bad luck that it started raining when we arrived and halfway through the visit it started to rain very very hard. I have seldom seen so much rain. Maybe it was good luck, because it forced us to stay inside the barracks and prevented us to hear anything else but rain and thunders despite being surrounded by groups of visitors in other buildings. The climate was aligned with the sad and withered spirit of the place.
Before entering the remains of the concentration camp, the visitor has to cross a couple of dozen memorials, erected by various countries and collectives that lost their citizens in Mauthausen. Curiously, some of these countries no longer exist (like Yugoslavia), others did not exist at that time (like Ukraine) and most striking of all, one of the memorials is dedicated directly to the Spanish Republicans (as you can see in the featured image), since several thousand political prisoners from the Republican side were taken there. Some memorials were large and epic, others small and humble, but all were breathtaking.
Even now in 2017, there was not a single flag of Spain in the whole camp other than the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) one, even inside the secular chapel where the flags from all the victims waved. I think it is a lovely and wise gesture.
Thanks to the deluge, during the last part of the visit we had the camp practically empty for us.
After having visited Auschwitz last year, the visit to the rest of the concentration camp inflicted less impression on me. Some anecdotes and brutal events of Mauthausen are unique, but both the figures and how to show what happened at Auschwitz are much more overwhelming.
I won’t go into more details about the camp itself to avoid any spoiler. Mauthausen is an essential visit whether you have visited other concentration camps or not. Please go.