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travel blog - Danube Overlook

Home | Austria | Austria

jimbaffico: Austria, Austria - 2008-09-14

Danube Overlook

Beautiful, beautiful Austria.  I stand on a Danube River hilltop and survey the green rolling farmland.  Patchwork perfect cozy farmsteads, woodpiles impeccably kept; neatly manicured lanes happily wending through the bounty; fields standing green as young corn in the fading gloom of late rainy September afternoon.  Beautiful, beautiful Austria.

The magnificent river glistens below like a languid silver snake.  The distant woods fade into blue and kiss the steel grey sky softly.  Even the dark rain clouds seem to hold the promise of something special and magical.  It’s beautiful, this Austria, beautiful.

I am motionless.  I stand in the cold and the wind atop that little hill and try to drink in the sight.  More and more of it I need.  More of it.  The tears continue to run hot down my cheeks despite my trying to erase them with the view of this beautiful, beautiful Austria.

I wish I had wings, so great is the need to flee this place.  I wish I had wings and could fly away.  Far away.  Immediately.  Now.  And forever.  Clean my mind, at the very least, from the acid vision just burned in.  Stunned, empty, angry, I stand. Shaken to the very core.  I cannot believe that I am biologically related to the baseness herein.

Down a stone stairwell I walked.  Naively, it turns out.  I should have seen the evil in the precision of the prison yard. Down the stone stairwell and turned right into the gloom of a darkened and empty room.  Into some sort of holding room.  Old, musty, dingy.  There was a little light coming from the two doorways to the adjoining room on the right.  Must be something there... 

 

A moment later, I am speechless.  I can’t believe what I’m looking at.  Standing there all by itself.  Like a piece of farm machinery awaiting its humble chores.  Grey black steel.  Simple.  Efficient.  Huge.  Eight feet high and six or seven feet wide.  With two large metal sliding racks that can be pulled out, loaded and shoved back in.  Each rack can take at least three bodies. 

I’m in a crematorium.  And this is the oven.  Not the like the little single body ovens from Dachau that we’ve seen so many pictures of.  No, not like those overworked messy singularities with ashes spilling out onto the floor.  This one’s of a much more serious size.  It can handle six bodies at a time: three upper, three lower.  The doors stand open.  The racks pulled half way out.  The floor has been swept.  There is nothing else in the room.

I go back out into the holding room and around to the other lighted door to see the other side of the oven.  Two more sliding metal racks.  Pulled out just the same as the ones on the other side as if to say, ‘see, this is how it worked.’  Doors open.  Floor swept.

It can handle a minimum of twelve bodies at once.  The racks are constructed like those metal basket emergency stretchers that fit under a medical evacuation helicopter. I stare and think.  I cannot process it.  It cannot have happened.  It’s just not humanly possible to think like this. To make something like this.  I cannot believe that men would kill other men and then put them in these devices in order to incinerate them.  

I turn awkwardly away from the door of the lighted oven room. I am totally alone in this place. In the darkness. And in the darkness of the hearts of those men who did this. I hesitate, feeling the impulse to leave. I want to say something, but no one is there to hear my thoughts.

I retreat back into the darkness of the holding room.  Then discover yet another large room, opposite the oven room.  Afraid of what I’ll see, I look anyway.  It’s the “shower” room.  With gas jets overhead.  And pipes and dials and controls.  Herd a couple of hundred in here, gas them, then let the functionaries waiting in the holding room drag the bodies over to the ovens. Neat. Simple. Clean. Efficient.

But, it cannot be.  Cannot be. I must have it wrong.  Then the insanity of it overwhelms me.

Before I know it, I’m on the stone stairs trying to make good my escape.  But something inside wells up and vomits out enough emotional shock and horror and outrage to stop me cold.  My feet won’t move.  I hold onto the metal railing for fear of falling.  I gasp.  I try to find myself in the welter of surging violent emotions.  I think only of breathing.  But nothing stops the acid vision from etching itself deeper and deeper into my consciousness.  Tears come, quite uncontrollably. I think I might pass out.

Minutes later I’m walking in circles outside the Camp.  There are memorials.  Hundreds of them.  Big, small, ugly, beautiful, they litter the place with cries to remember the dead.  Remember the murdered.  Remember the incinerated.  

Remember THEM? I want to scream!  Remember THEM?!  I laugh. WHY?  Let them rest in peace.  It does no good to remember THEM!  It can only assuage your own pathetic feelings of grief and remorse to remember them!  Strike all these memorials down, I say.  Get rid of them. All of them.  And create a new one! One huge unforgettable memorial.

Make a memorial to the bastards who did this!  Find out their names and immortalize their villainy. The designers, the construction workers, the pipe fitters, the architects, the truckers, the carpenters, the plumbers, the masons, the guards, the maintenance men.  Find out their names.  Those oh so efficient oven-makers. The officers and masters of this place. Find out their histories.  Find out what villages they came from and then carve their names and histories in large bold letters into the twenty foot high walls of granite blocks for all the world to see.

Let humanity know just exactly who it was that did this worse than heinous thing.  Carve their names large into these prison walls so that no one will ever forget THEM.  Let the world see and remember WHO THEY WERE!  Inscribe THEM on the tablets our our collective memories.  And let their families live forever with the knowledge that their progenitors were monsters worse than Satan.

And so I hurry to the hilltop.  And wait for the rest of my party.  Hurry to the hilltop and put my face into the chill wind.  And try to stop the anger from overwhelming me.  Try to sprout wings and fly away.  From this Mauthausen Concentration Camp on a hilltop in beautiful, beautiful Austria.

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