A Place Called Mauthausen
While a visiting professor at the Catholic University in Eichstatt, Germany, I took a Saturday train from nearby Munich to the small Austrian town of Mauthausen, an idyllic market community that lies just fourteen miles east of Linz and nuzzles peacefully along the north bank of the Danube. In the evocative description by historian Gordon J. Horwitz, it “sits amid lovely rolling hills whose fields cover the Austrian landscape like the bedspread of a giant.” 1
Less than three miles from the town's center, however, stands a reminder of one of the most brutal chapters in human history. There, in a moral interruption of the Austrian landscape, is the hilltop site of a former Nazi concentration camp. Portions of the thick granite walls of the camp—8 feet high and 462 yards around—are immediately visible. The Mauthausen camp draws relatively few visitors. Although Austrian schoolchildren make a compulsory trip, it remains a place whose story is not widely known.
From 1938 to 1945, Mauthausen was the central Nazi concentration camp for all Austria. Unlike the extermination camps in the former Polish territory—Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka, Auschwitz, and Majdanek—Mauthausen was not a killing center specifically designed to carry out genocide. Rather, Mauthausen was a labor camp that, early on, was primarily a place in which inmates mined the rich resources of the local granite for the SS, the elite corps of the Nazi Party. Here, in an imposing and frightful pit whose walls rose some 300 feet in height, the inmates worked up to eleven hours per day, shouldering heavy blocks of stone. The Mauthausen quarry birthed hundreds of thousands of such stones for streets, monuments, and buildings throughout Hitler's Germany. After 1943, most