Ruth: Today we spent the afternoon at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp. It was built by its first prisoners shortly after Hitler annexed Austria. Its location was chosen for the granite quarries which would provide the much needed granite for new monumental buildings in Nazi Germany. For a time Mauthausen and its satellite camp Gusen were the only category III camps, with the harshest conditions of confinement and the highest death rates of all the camps in the German Reich. 190,000 people were deported to the camp between 1938 and its liberation by the US army in 1945. At least 90,000 prisoners died here, the majority worked to death in the quarries. Many others were shot, or executed in the gas chambers. Half of the deaths occurred in the last four months before the camp was liberated.
Housed in the infirmary, where very few prisoners ever received any treatment, is a wonderful museum that tells the story of the camp from a collection of first hand accounts. The museum is very honest in its telling of Austria’s complicity with the Nazis on the national and local levels. The citizens of Mauthausen watched the prisoners unloaded and marched up to the camp as they continued their every day lives in their holiday resort town below. They did, however complain that the smoke from the crematorium was bad for their thriving tourist industry.