Another early morning and a day of travel.
Another Bucket List item checked off.
Today, Najeeah and I woke up at 5:30 am, gathered our belongings, and headed to the U-Bahn to meet our group at the Institute by 6:00. From there, we boarded a charter bus and started our merry little (sleepy) journey to Salzburg, Austria– the birthplace of Mozart and the city featured in The Sound of Music. I had to make a phone call to my cellphone provider about fixing my international data plan, but after that I fell fast asleep and napped all the way to our first destination.
After driving for about a three hours, we arrived at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, a camp used in World War II to house prisoners of war, political opponents, and others who the National-Socialists (“Nazis”) imprisoned and/or exterminated. I have always had an interest in World War II. I hesitate to phrase it like this because I hate the events that occurred, but I really enjoy learning about concentration camps, the Holocaust, and Hitler’s reign because I find it so cruel and so unbelievable that someone could hurt so many innocent people and convince others to go along with it. I have always wanted to visit a concentration camp, so I felt very humbled to be able to walk one today and to learn more about what took place there.
The sky was gray and a weak yet chilly wind blew as we walked the streets where so many people had suffered long ago. At one point, it began to drizzle a cold sad rain that felt very fitting for the somber, reverent mood of the camp. There were memorials erected all throughout the grounds, and an audio-tour helped guide me through the area as I learned more about the camp’s history. It was so different to walk the ground and to learn about what had taken place there. I felt almost as if the audio-guide was too clinical about providing the history of what happened. It is so difficult to describe the feelings that I experienced there, and to be provided with all facts and no emotion to supplement them seemed incorrect on some level, although I understand why the tour was the way it was. I took many pictures of the place because I wanted to share them. It is absolutely vital for us to recognize the wrongdoings of the past in order to avoid reliving them in the future, so I think people need to understand what the concentration camps were like, the inhumane treatment that was commonplace there, and the necessity to change the way we treat others in order to better our world and keep the Holocaust from occurring again.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp
The gate into the concentration camp as seen from the front.
The entryway into the concentration camp.
The entrance to the camp as seen from behind. Where the poles are on top of the gate’s arch a statue of an eagle once stood, but it was torn down by prisoners when the camp was liberated as a sign of rebellion against the reign of terror.
Monuments/memorials at the camp.
The Stairs of Death. Prisoners would have to climb these stairs with heavy rocks on their back and then carry those rocks back to the camp. The Nazis often shot them or pushed them off the stairs to their death below, hence why the stairs are called the Stairs of Death.
Monuments and memorials built in the camp.
Left: the living quarters where prisoners resided, getting six hours of sleep per night or less (often less).
Right: buildings such as the cafeteria, the prison, the crematorium, the laundry, et cetera.
The entrance into the living area of the camp.
Approximately 2,000 people would sleep in this room every night, often 2 per bed (4 per bunk since the beds were bunkbeds) with uncomfortable woolen blankets (if they were provided a bed and a blanket). Some quarters had only pallets with straw for the prisoners to lay on.
A washbasin where the prisoners would wash themselves every day with no privacy. Imagine 2,000 people using this room at once. The tour stated that even though the water was ice cold, it was vital that the prisoners continued to wash themselves because it symbolized a will to live.
A crematorium. Sometimes as many as ten bodies were stuffed into one of the slots and burned simultaneously.
The place where ashes of those burned in mass cremations were scattered. Notice the cross between the bushes.
A table where autopsies were performed on dead prisoners to do research and understand the human body better.
The concentration camp prison. There is one just like it on the other side of the camera.
A quote from one of the living quarters.
The markings used to identify various prisoners in the camp. Patches with these shapes were stitched on the prisoners’ clothing.
A painting from the concentration camp’s chapel depicting Jesus as a prisoner in the camp.
I struggle with this picture a lot. I find the view to be absolutely stunning, but I am extremely hesitant to call anything about this concentration camp “beautiful.” How do we find beauty in such a horrific place without losing our hatred for the wrongs that took place there? How do we find beauty in such pain?
I was shocked to see how close together the prisoner camp living quarters were. Learning about how sickness was rampant in the concentration camp with little to no medical help given to those who were suffering, I can easily imagine illness being spread from person to person across the camp, making the work even more challenging and decreasing one’s will to live. Even with quarantine camps existing within the space, not all illness was eradicated. Thus, illness and germs were brought from various nations and combined into one concentration camp. People were exposed to germs they weren’t normally exposed to and had to live in filthy conditions, thus it is no surprise that disease was so common at the camp. What is a surprise to me is how anyone could deny another aid that could help save their life or increase their quality of life, such as medical attention. It is so inhumane to deny medical care to the sick! (Not that the things that were taking place in the concentration camp were any more humane… It was all horrific and sad.)
We toured the camp alone or in small groups, so we did not finish our tour all at the same time. After I finished my tour, I returned my audio guide to the Information Center and ate lunch with several girls in the bistro located in a different area of the main office. I ate the most delicious strawberries I think I have ever tasted in addition to a hot dog that I’m not convinced was cooked. It tasted fine nevertheless, and I topped it all off with a Sprite. After drinking water for the majority of the trip, a cold, bubbly Sprite sounded marvelous.
We then left Mauthausen for Salzburg. I was told the drive would only be forty-five minutes, but I fell asleep and seemed to be asleep much longer than that, so I’m not sure how long we actually drove. We came upon the most quaint hotel, and after checking in, we lugged our luggage up to the top floor and freshened up quickly. Then, we departed for downtown Salzburg where a man named Erich led us on a tour of the area. The buildings were gorgeous and magnificent, and he gave us a lot of historical information on the places we saw. I was especially intrigued by all the buildings and squares he pointed out that were featured in The Sound of Music.
This (with the red dome) is the abbey where Maria became a nun in The Sound of Music.
Our tour guide, Erich, explaining to us that the ornate signs on top of the shops used to explain what the shop did or sold in picture format for those who couldn’t read.
Erich helped us purchase bus passes and then let us explore the area on our own. We ended up eating in a restaurant famous for its beer. For dinner, I ate a bratwurst, potatoes, and i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e sauerkraut. I eat sauerkraut from time to time at home and I like it decently, but I have never had anything like this! It was delicious, and it might have been my favorite part of the meal.
Digesting our dinner, the group decided that we wanted dessert, so we located a place that sold apple strudel nearby and started walking in that direction. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed, so we took the bus back to our hotel. After being back for a few minutes, we all decided that we really wanted dessert, so we walked to a nearby restaurant in pursuit of apple strudel. Instead of strudel, I ordered something that started with the word “kaiser” and was a cake native to Austria. It came covered in powdered sugar with applesauce on the side and was less sweet than I expected, but it was still very yummy!
We then came back to the hotel and got ready for bed. Katie tried to download The Sound of Music so we could watch it before our tour on Friday, but it wouldn’t download so we all kind of did our own thing and then fell asleep.
It was a different day than I expected, but it was still very enjoyable! I am thankful that I got to learn about and experience the concentration camp this morning to understand it better. I don’t like Salzburg as much as I have loved Vienna so far, but it might just be that I tend to love cities and this is a new place that I’m not accustomed to yet. We’ll see how the next few days play out!
Goodnight from Salzburg!