05 September 2002

Austria/France 2002 - Thursday

Today was the day we had planned to make it to the abby at Melk and to the concentration camp at Mauthausen. We started by stopping at the Parndorf office, which led to checking email which made it 10:30 or so before we actually hit the road. It's a little more than 2-hour drive from Parndorf to Mauthausen but an easy road. You just get on the autobahn and go.

After we'd been driving a while, we decided to stop at a rest area on the way. Have I mentioned that European restrooms are an experience?? I don't know if this rest stop is typical but it was basically a pit toilet and even for pit toilets it was pretty disgusting. There was a hand-pump outside for non-potable water to wash with afterward. Luckily, I had a wet-wipe thing from the plane stuck in my purse. I still, felt scummy...

Onward to Mauthausen... We found the little village and got directions to the concentration camp at the Information Booth. We also got diretions to a nice restaurant to have lunch. A nice restaurant with nice (and FREE!) restrooms. It was a lovely place...it looked like an old house that had been converted into a restaurant with additions along the way. There was a large deck off one side where you could dine and look out over the valley that was obviously a new addition. The food was very good, even if we had no idea what we were ordering. I can muddle-and-guess my way through a French menu but haven't a clue when it comes to German. Anyway, whatever it was, it was tasty.

Then we headed up the hill to the concentration camp.

Mauthausen, as they explained it to us, was a work camp as opposed to a death camp like Auschwitz or Dacchau. there were 3 types of camps used in WWII by the Nazis...the extermination camps where, if you were sent there, there was no chance you'd ever come out again...you were sent there to be eliminated, plain and simple. Then there were the camps that were set up to be a type of prison where you, theoretically, could see the error of your ways, be "rehabilitated" and returned to society. In reality, few people were ever released by the Nazis and the vast majority died in miserable conditions. And there were the work camps. In the work camps, there was also the theoretical possibility that you could be released but their real aim was to "break" people and work them to death. Mauthausen was the latter type of camp. Prisoners there were forced to quarry rock for Hitler's grand building plans. Conditions were genedrally more deplorable than the prison camps. Very few people survived. When the American forces liberated the camp, one of their first actions was to bury 1,200 people followed by 300 per day after that...people who were technically alive at the time of liberation but were in such a state that they didn't survive much past it.

We toured the grounds with a tape player giving us a guided tour of the remaining barracks and grounds. There was also a short film in the museum that gave a lot of the history of the camp. It was the most appalling, dispiriting, horrifying experience of my life...and all I did was hear about it. Greg decided to go on to see the stone quarry and the "Stairs of Death" but Delinda and I had had enough by then and just waited for him at the car.

From there we drove back toward Vienna to finally see the monastery at Melk.

We got there an hour or so before closing time and about 15 minutes after they stopped selling tickets for tours. We did manage to see the cathedral sanctuary (in the Baroque style) and some of the public grounds before being kicked out. We still didn't get inside the monastery or onto the garden grounds. Next time...

Back to Neusiedl and the hotel for the night.