Danube Bike Tour

Concentration

And so we leave the lights and glam of Vienna to continue our exploration of the landscapes and cultures of the Danube. Yet how apparent it is becoming that we are passing through cultures, each unique and each special. But these differences will form a post I am still mulling over. But this I cannot ignore.

Mauthausen sits on the Danube. Deep into Austria. Rarely heard of. But it carries a dark shadow. Above a pretty town sits a holocaust memorial to those who died, were tortured, murdered, starved and who were treated in the most inhuman of ways because they did not fit the “political norm”. Anyone who spoke out, dissented, was of the wrong creed in the minds of those with the power to decide.

Some of the “names”

Wikipedia can only estimate that between 122 and 320 thousand people were murdered here. The reality is we simply do not know. How cheap a life.

It did have a gas chamber but it’s preferred techniques of resolving the ‘problem’ was to force work the inmates to death. Literally. With any excuse to maim and murder if ‘rules’, however tenuous, were disobeyed. Can you imagine prisoners being forced to push fellow inmates off the top of a quarry cliff before having the same done to themselves.

Each country who had citizens killed in Mauthausen has erected its own memorial

I am left numb. I simply do not comprehend how we can be indoctrinated to either give or to carry out the order to act thus. And yet, with little reading, it is apparently all too easy, at a national level if the appropriate political and social conditions abide. what happened at Mauthausen happened within the lifetime of my parents. It happens elsewhere today. And it will continue to happen. I wonder how often we will, as then, turn a blind eye.

Example. Our Government does not speak out on the current atrocities in Yemen because it supplies arms to their opponents. A nation stays quiet.

As we travel up this river I realise I have friends whose parents escaped such persecution – crawling under barbed wire fences. I know others whose relatives died as a result. I even know people whose relatives were part of the machine that gave and carried out the orders. Here, in this place, it all comes together. This is where such things happen. Where protagonists melted back into society after the event – never to face the music, just as records and faces were lost.

The huts were designed for 300 inmates. They often held 2000. The foreground shows the shadows of former huts.

Memorial to those who did not make it

Disposal unit

Someone’s brother, father, mother, friend, enemy

Forced hard labour in commercial quarries – inmates were required to carry 50kg stones up the “stairway of death”

The gas chamber – imagine closing that door

Mauthausen

We have now visited Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Germany. I have looked across the Danube to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think of their recent pasts. The mixed races, creeds and classes in each. I think of the lovely receptions I have received. I think of subdued responses and wonder why that might be. I think of the smiles and jokes. Of those who interacted and those who did not.

And I wonder how close and yet so removed this has been from my life. A television screen. Newspaper ink on my fingertips over latte. £5 to a raffle cause.

I think of the places I see in the news where this is happening today. And how little is done to make a difference. I feel very naive.

I think just how small Mauthausen actually is for all it’s past. Through the estate on a hill. Follow the brown sign. The buses come and go, as do we. The birds sing, the sun is hot and the view is serene. And the smell of summer is just so beautiful.

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