(Ignore typos and formatting please, my laptop is dead and my nook hates blogger and html code etc) ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________I have always been intrigued by atrocity and genocide. No, not in some Charles Manson fashion, but more in awe of the strength of the human spirit despite all odds, and, in justaposition, the incomprehensible ability for man to abuse others, and enjoy doing so.
In college, I had the opportunity to travel during the month of January with my classmates and one of our university professors, taking a course in whatever, wherever. My senior year was upon me and I yearned to go somewhere, anywhere. There were two courses; Spanish in Uruguay (available only to Spanish or Latin American majors and minors, drats) or Austria. Sure, Austria looked gorgeous on a postcard, but it kind of didn't interest me. Growing up in an area modeled after Switzerland in order to attract tourists via cheese factor, and the fact that German food made me think, "yuck", I could have thought of many more places I would rather go. But, with no more opportunities avaialable, I booked it last minute.
Our course in Austria was Interpersonal Relations, but we got other educational opportunities like watching a marionette show or going to a concentration camp. My curiosity got to me, and I emotionally prepared myself to visit the site of utter atrocity, Mauthausen.
We entered through a castle-like building, one that felt kind of institutional, as if a school or hospital tried to emulate a castle, on a budget. The architecture did not say, "enter and die", more just "yup, we were built by the government but wanted to look a little fancy". As we walked up a stone staircase, I couldn't help but think, "this place is kind of pretty", a thought I wanted to supress. The wintery snow had mostly melted and you could see homes nearby, fireplace smoke dreamily puffing into the winter skyscape. The camp also featured sculptures, part of a post WWII memorial to the lives lost, which made it feel more like a museum than a place of death. Many buikdings had been destroyed or built over, so all you saw was mostly crumbled ruins. I stood over by a hill near a quarry where people worked themselves to death, and it just didn't look like the place where atrocities happened. I always imagined a desolate field of swampy mud, treeless plains, coal smoke stained everything, endless train tracks. Instead, you saw a picturesque village among rolling hills. But then, it struck me. These gorgeous homes and orchards, cobblestone lanes and clock towers, all looked onto the death camp. Unlike America, land of the new, you weren't looking at tract homes but rather hundreds of years old homesteads, homes that were there when the camps were occupied. These residents had to have known something, but were probably scared to death of speaking up. That saddened me the most.
As we left, we passed a newer part of town that was built after WWII, atop little satellite death camps. A haunted, blood stained earth had become newer homes and grocery stores. A sign advertised a Mauthausen McDonald's, and I felt queasy. I did not eat the rest of the day, as I thought of a restaurant built over the ashes of children, a restaurant with food, something the people in the camp dreamed of as they died from famine and exhauation, or worse.