Please sign in to post.

Mauthausen Day Trip

Hello again RS and Friends,

Firstly, thank you for all the trip planning help so far - so helpful! Here's my question du jour: I am planning a day trip to Mauthausen between a few days in Salzburg and Hallstatt by train; does this seem doable for those that have traveled in this area before? Here's the schedule that I found:

Salzburg - Mauthausen (9:12 - 10:58)
Time in Mauthausen (about 5 hours) for traveling to/visiting the museum/memorial and lunch (any ideas for lunch?!)
Mauthausen - Hallstatt (15:59 - 18:47)

Cheers,
Ashlee

Posted by
3461 posts

This looks like it will work . Probably best to pack a bit of lunch , when we visited ( mid October ) all I recall seeing there was an automatic coffee machine . Better to be prepared forehand , Do some reading about this place before you go , it will help to understand it in context , not as an abstract entity .

Posted by
16883 posts

Note that there is no bag storage at the train station. At Mauthausen, you have to walk about a half mile from the taxi drop point to the museum to store larger bags (inside the gates, not the info office outside). See this described in Rick's book, as well as a farmhouse restaurant near the parking lot, closed Mondays.

Posted by
5625 posts

We snacked on nutrition bars when we went years ago, and weren't really hungry after visiting the site - very moving and sobering. Five hours should give you adequate time.

Posted by
11613 posts

I spent at least five hours there, but I stopped quite often just to appreciate the place. I was coming from Linz, and took a taxi from the train station to the memorial. There is also a bus, but I don't know the schedule.

Posted by
4694 posts

I have been to the memorial site and accompanied a Jewish group from the US. They all agreed that the memorial visit was disappointing as the presentation has everything so "cleaned up." I think it is important to understand that Mauthausen was a work camp. Basically, they felt that the living quarters were made to look like something you would see at a summer camp. Also, you don't really see much except a bunch of monuments from various countries and a basement room, which was unclear exactly what it was. There is a new exhibit which is nicely presented telling the history of the camp. Overall, for them, it lacked emotional impact. The fact that it took the Austrians decades to decide how to present the site speaks volumes. I don't plan to go back. I definitely would not spend 5 hours there. Mauthausen is also no where near Salzburg or Hallstatt, so you are really veering off the path by making this trip.

Posted by
251 posts

Ashlee, I found Mauthausen to be a very moving experience and site well worth visiting (2-3 hours; 5 may be a bit too long); en route to Salzburg, we had a rental car so logistics were far simpler.
--> Emily. Thanks for your frank assessment and recommendation; while I may disagree I appreciate your perspective and willingness to share on the forum.
With the horrors of WWII scantly touching the US (landscape, infrastructure, etc. but certainly not our men and woman who served) some of us will only have limited time and access in order to visit and reflect at a few sites, many of which are "cleaned-up" (i.e., the Documentation Center in Nuremberg or Dachau) versus Oradour-Sur-Glane which has remained virtually unchanged.
Lastly, the art at Mauthausen (memorials) were very moving and have long remained in my memories of visiting Austria.

Posted by
3461 posts

Craig has saved me from a bit of typing , in that I completely concur with his remarks , One further item however . The comment " I think it is important to understand that Mauthausen was a work camp " while technically true , puts too fine a point on this . I have heard this sort of remark many times ( i.e. Dachau was a camp for political prisoners , as an example ) This was a horrible death camp as well , where hundreds of thousands died unimaginably cruel deaths . Mauthausen was one of the worst . Remarks of this nature always have the scent of apologia for what happened in these places . That the above poster found that a group of Jewish visitors were bored or otherwise unmoved by their visit does not make them arbiters of a visit there . We had a different experience - entering the complex , we encountered a group of 15 to 17 year old Austrian public school students who entered with an attitude of uncertainty and left with tears in their eyes . Having read remarks like this before , I only wonder whether this is insensitivity or something deeper . As noted it may be somewhat a stretch from the perspective of travel , but I have often done that to see what I thought was a meaningful destination . Here is the link to the Wikipedia piece on Mauthausen . reading it will provide a realisitic view http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauthausen-Gusen_concentration_camp

Posted by
3461 posts

" Although not the only concentration camp where the German authorities implemented their extermination through labour (Vernichtung durch Arbeit) , Mauthausen was one of the most brutal and severe. " ------------- Quotation from the Wikipedia article referenced above .

Posted by
4694 posts

Steven - I am not sure what you are implying, but I would add that the visitors I accompanied felt let down by the Austrian government and the site. They felt that the presentation did not accurately reflect the horror that was experienced there. The cabins, for example, look like a place I might consider sleeping in. There are bunk beds, lots of space, wardrobes, etc. The guide we had admitted that the reality of life in that cabin was harsh, crowded and horrible. As someone who lives in Austria, I feel that I can say that Austria still struggles with accepting its role in the atrocities of the war. We were told by our guide that it took decades for the government to agree how how to present the camp to the public. As for my mention of this being a work camp, I have experienced visitors in the past who were expecting more of an Auschwitz-type experience. I think that mentioning it was a work camp for Eastern European political prisoners is important to understand.

Posted by
3461 posts

I am not implying anything , I straightforwardly made comments that I felt were rather clear . I will continue -- you indicate that you and your fellow visitors found the site " like a cleaned up summer camp " or words to that effect . What did you expect to see ? , the physical detritus of the Nazi ideology ? When I visit a war museum , I am not expecting to see war dead scattered about . Some sense of propriety ( and practicality ) needs to inform how this is presented , You tell me that the delayed presentation of the camp speaks volumes , but the guide does not tell you why , what conclusion does anyone draw from that ? It does insinuate that the place is not worth the time . I would not draw that conclusion . As far as an " Auschwitz like experience " , It was there , right before the eyes of anyone who took the time to look - the crematoria in " the basement room " and the Piano wire noose for hanging inmates in protracted agony , all , right there . I have not , as yet , been able to visit Auschwitz , but I have visited Dachau and Terezin and the experiences all vary greatly . Again , to be clear , the references to any of these places being anything less than they were from a de facto perspective , is insensitive and , as I said , often an apologia for what went on there . In fairness, I point out , that while many of the camps began in somewhat different mode , that evolved quickly , after 1940 , to death camps .

Posted by
328 posts

I have visited Dachau a number of times but my first and only visit to Mauthausen was this past October. For me there were very different experiences and both very moving experiences. As Emily says, I got the distinct impression "that Austria still struggles with accepting its role in the atrocities of the war", and why wouldn't they? It is a horrible thing to come to terms with.

For me, the memorial felt half-finished in many ways. As though, one part of the Austrian people wanted to remember so that it never happened again and another part of the Austrian people wanted to forget that anything like that could happen in the first place. (Granted, there was some construction going on when we were there, which probably added to this feeling.) It really gave me a sense of what the country has had to deal with to come to grips with such a horrific thing being part of their history - and their recent history at that. It was such a different experience from Dachau, and one that I felt helped create a more complete picture of what having these death camps (work camp or not, they were all death camps) in their backyards really meant to the country.

One picture from the museum that will stay with me forever is of a half dozen average citizens looking at a shop window in the town of Mauthausen. What is displayed in the window is a series of pictures of the horrors that were happening in the camp. The picture was dated shortly after the liberation of the camp. I was left wondering what those citizens must have been thinking upon seeing the horrific reality of what had been happening in their backyard.

I also think five hours may be a little too much time. The museum was interesting and I suspect you will probably find that the most valuable part of your experience.

Posted by
5625 posts

Having not visited any other Nazi camp, I can't directly compare Mauthausen with the others, but the things I recall having the greatest impact at Mauthausen were stepping into the gas chamber with the bogus shower heads in the ceiling, the doctor's "physical inspection device" that delivered a bullet to the head, the stained slab for examining corpses/removing gold fillings, and the tiny block of food (maybe like the nutrition bars we had, but much smaller and likely far less tasty) that some Nazi scientist had determined was supposedly the optimal, minimum daily amount of nutrition a prisoner would need to eat to survive while there. The museum showed the color-coded patches used to categorize and identify prisoners -- Jews, Spaniards, homosexuals, etc. Its displays also left the impresssion that they were saying the Austrian politicians and citizens of the day were victims of being overrun by German Nazis, and that this camp was not an Austrian concept.

The walk to and from the quarry, with its memorials, was also memorable. There was a group of Italians wearing red scarves, survivors and their families I think, visiting that day, and they appeared to be filming a movie or TV program. Even with most of the barracks torn down and no bodies or crematory fires burning, it was clear this was no recreational summer camp!

Posted by
36 posts

Wow - I was not anticipating initiating such a lively discourse! Thank you to everyone for your input and advice, it is greatly appreciated.

Posted by
11613 posts

To respond to Emily, I agree with you in your assessment of the Austrian government's treatment of the Shoah/Holocaust in general and the Mauthausen memorial in particular. Even the Jewish Museum in Vienna conveys less a sense of the reality that other museums in other countries express. At Mauthausen, I found the quarry and the staircase of death to be far too pretty (more of a garden-like setting), compared to photos and drawings done by people who experienced the camp while it was in operation.

As Steven said, the workers in the quarries were so badly treated that many of them died while doing forced labor. The death toll among prisoners at Mauthausen was one of the highest of any camp.

As for spending so much time there, for me it was a pilgrimage. At a practical level, I needed to separate the memorials and monuments, which were very moving, from the exhibits and from the site as it probably was during operation.

Posted by
9363 posts

I agree completely with Steven. Mauthausen was a shocking and sobering experience for me. When I was there, many years ago, if you came into the "basement room" from an outside door, there were signs designating what the rooms were used for. But if you came into the area from the museum, you had no warning about what you were about to encounter - the crematoria. And the other evidence was still there. Yes, there are memorials in the gas chambers, but the "showerheads" are still there, too. There are photos in the museum showing the rooms in use (for example, piled bodies in the cold storage area). It's unfortunate that the group Emily referred to felt no emotional impact from such things, but they are there to see. One of the most poignant things about Mauthausen for me was the beautiful setting it is in. The view from the barbed wire is rolling green fields, and the camp itself borders a wooded area. To be able to see those things, and see life going on as usual outside the fence must have made it all so much worse.

Posted by
4694 posts

We were emotional about the fact that we did not have an emotional impact. This is my point. For example, when we went to the basement "shower" room, our guide insisted it was just for showering. We questioned that repeatedly, but the guide was undeterred and insistent. I also saw no photos. Please don't misunderstand what I am trying to say - this site was a horrible place, but the presentation of this horribleness is severely lacking, in my opinion. Again, the Govt of Austria took decades to decide how to present this site, arguing over and trying to whitewash their involvement. Over those decades, unfortunately, much of the site was lost and re-purposed. As someone who lives in this country, I see daily the scars the war left behind and the impact it continues to have in politics. Look up the FPO Party, for example. A much more meaningful visit for me is a walk through Vienna with a guide specializing in Jewish history. I was amazed and angered by the deep and dark history emanating from buildings I walked past countless times.

Posted by
9363 posts

Of course things could have changed since I saw it, but Mauthausen has been open for decades - I was there in 1976. The photos were in the museum in the basement of what was the administration building (across from the holding yard). Did you not see the crematoria in the next room over from the museum? I probably should go look at current pictures on their website to see if it the same as my pictures. It's difficult for me to understand such a different response from mine. I'm not questioning your assessment, just curious why it is so different. I lived in Austria, too, for a time and I know they have issues with their war involvement, so perhaps it is just different now.

Posted by
4694 posts

The memorial was opened in 1975, thirty years after the end of the war. The visitor center opened in 2003. We were shown a small room with 2 ovens that we assumed were crematoria, but we're told hey were used for burning clothing. There was no signage in the room to explain anything.

Posted by
3461 posts

" We were shown a small room with 2 ovens that we assumed were crematoria, but we're told hey were used for burning clothing. There was no signage in the room to explain anything. " And you and your fellow visitors Bought that ?? Where did you all think you were ? This didn't take insight , only eyesight !

Posted by
4694 posts

I didn't say I bought it, so please get off the high horse. I am simply, again making my point that the presentation is poor.

Posted by
4478 posts

Hi Ashlee,

My husband & I toured Mauthausen as part of the Germany, Austria, Switzerland RS tour 11 years ago. I only knew the surface-level details at the time, but I felt an overwhelming sense of evil when I walked through the entrance door - in fact I remembering pounding my fist at the door....definitely not my ordinary behavior! Walking through the Mauthausen tour gave me visuals & the desire to value those who had experienced it by learning more afterwards, so in that respect, I feel like it is definitely worth seeing.

By chance if you're ever in Boston, MA there is a walkway memorial that is extremely well done with quotes between steam columns with numerous identity numbers engraved up the columns - quite an experience to walk through.

Posted by
3461 posts

" I am simply, again making my point that the presentation is poor. " Well that was certainly abundantly clear from the start .

Posted by
36 posts

Thank you again for all of your suggestions and insights, it's quite the interesting topic.

Posted by
4694 posts

You can share your experience, Steven, and I have a right to share mine.

Posted by
216 posts

I had to add my comments about this topic. Since Mauthausen is a scant 25 mi. from my home town, we always have had a strong opinion about the KZ and its sordid history. Only now the Austrian nation acknowledges what tragedies were committed there, and the public is well-aware of the impact such a place of remembrance and atonement has. I strongly recommend anyone who has the time and inclination to visit the site to do so. Best connection is via bus from Linz, because across the Danube the only other rail station is in Enns (and then you'll still need to go by car or taxi).
The Austrian military takes its oath there, and many school groups visit the concentration camp regularly. There is no denying that many of the most terrifying site exhibits no longer exist, but that's not because we Austrians want to 'pretty' Mauthausen up. It's just that after WW2 some of the buildings were razed and others cleaned up. Some of that work was done by inmates and quite a bit more was done by local residents. This makes the camp no more inviting than visiting others in the KZ system. After 70 years, though, you still are enveloped by the stark walls, the memories of thousands who died on the Death Stairs or the quarry, and by the plaques and other memorials erected by individuals and national groups. It helps to read up about the camp history and also learn about its relationship to the surrounding communities. But also be mindful of the times - anyone speaking up about what was going on in there, or anyone who harbored the escapees, could count on a firing squad. That also went for the locals who helped during the Mühlviertler Hasenjagd (the major escape event). We all need to take note and reflect on individual responsibility. Visit Mauthausen and think about the contemporary parallels - Cambodia, Bosnia, Abu Ghraib . . .

Posted by
36 posts

Thank you for your input, Martin - I really appreciate it!

We have decided to splurge a bit and do a private tour of the area. I'll post about our adventures after we come home in July!

Thanks again to everyone; you have solidified our dedication to traveling to this important and divisive site.

Posted by
3461 posts

Martin , I hope that your eloquent comments will be taken to heart by everyone who reads them . As it is often said " Jamais Rien "

Posted by
12898 posts

Yes, I've heard of that event called the Hasenjagd, an euphemism for a horrific event. How many civilians abetted in the track-down and never confessed?