On Friday students of level 2, 3 and 4 history classes, as part of their studies of Germany 1918-1945, went to Mauthausen Concentraion Camp – which is roughly 20km outside of Linz, Austria.
The concentration camp was different from Auschwitz, which had been visited on a previous history trip, in that Mauthausen was a slave labour camp, mainly for prisoners of war. It was constructed after unification (Anschluss) with Austria in 1938 and ran until liberated by the Americans in 1945. During this time roughly 200,000 inmates were imprisoned, of which between 80,000 and 100,000 were killed by various methods (including a gas chamber, torture, disease and starvation). Mauthausen was built atop a large granite quarry, where prisoners mined and cut the stone for construction projects such as those seen in Nuremberg. This linked very well to our previous excursion as it showed how the illusion of the Nazis at Nuremberg for the German people was built from the horrors of Mauthausen.
Mauthausen was also different in that it was not hidden from the local population and the students saw evidence of the twisted lives of those living around the site, and the attitudes of people living around the area since. The students were accompanied by our expert guides, who not only gave many pieces of evidence for the students to study — writings, drawing, and aerial photographs — but also challenged the students to explain what had happened and how they could interpret the information. Our students rose to to give thoughtful and intelligent responses.
It was also poignant that there were memorials to the victims constructed by nearly every European nation, to give a sense of the scale of death from this site. Something that, as Townshend is built on international co-operation, was reassuring for the future, and hit many students as they saw memorials in their own languages, and with their own symbology.
As has always been, the students on the trip were excellent in their behaviour, attitude and dignity at all times. As a history teacher, I feel it is my duty to teach and show these atrocities to our students so that they will be the ones who say “no” to anything remotely like this in the future, and to understand that despite all the horrors the Nazis and other groups tried or are trying to this day, it will not work. Such ideologies have always been, and will continue to be, defeated. Certainly I felt that this is the message that had been taken by all upon completion of this trip.
Many thanks to all who helped this to work.