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March 19, 2002
Konzentrationlager Mauthausen (Russell)

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On March 19th, our last day in Salzburg, we awoke to threatening and overcast skies.  By the time we departed at 11:00 AM it was raining, and it continued to rain for the rest of the day.  This was a stark contrast to the very sunny and warm weather we had had just one day before.  The dour sky matched our sadness as we left Salzburg, but it also created an appropriate frame of mind for our next destination: the Nazi konzentrationlager (concentration camp) at Mauthausen.

The small town of Mauthausen lies halfway between Salzburg and Wien (Vienna) and north of the Danube River.  On a hill above the town, the Nazis during World War II established a work camp from 1938 to 1945, where criminals and political prisoners were forced to work in the rock quarry below.  Of the 206,000 prisoners who came here, more than half died of starvation or overwork.

Today, the site is preserved as a park and museum; we saw several large groups of high-school-aged students on field trips here (one group spoke French, another Italian).  We didn't spend too long inside the museum itself; the photographs were much too graphic for Cameron and Joss, as were the furnaces, crematorium, and execution room downstairs.  Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- our senses can only take so much before our minds shut down and we become numb to the horrors that are recounted to us.

We did much better outside, on the grounds of the camp that are now preserved as a park.  Here, every country that lost citizens in the camp has established a separate memorial.  Italy created a huge wall with photos and names of her victims; England erected a single obelisk; other countries created various statues.

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We were very moved by what we saw and learned here.  On the Todesstiege ("stairway of death"), prisoners were forced to carry stones from the quarry to the camp up a long and steep path --some of the uneven stone steps were 1.5 metres high.  Outside the barracks, a statue marks the spot where a Russian general was forced to stand naked in -20 weather, while the Nazis poured water over him until he slowly froze to death.

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The Todesstiege (now paved) overlooking the quarry

We feel that these places are important to visit as part of our collective educations.  Cameron and Joss were much more comfortable here than they were at Oradour in France.  They asked questions: "Why were the Jews forced to wear yellow stars?"  On his own, Joss took one of his very special Euro coins that he has been carrying around in his pocket for months, and put it into the donation slot at the children's' memorial.  As Gail remarked, "Every now and then, you know that you're teaching them the right things."

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