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Mauthausen Archives - St. Stephen's University

NEVER

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

Not once could my feet fall flat on the uneven stones. Not once could I ease the tension in my knees and legs. Not once could I lose focus to make the next step.

Never will I be able to imagine what it was like.

The ‘Stairs of Death’ at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria are appropriately titled for their history, as well as the sense of demise that comes to those who visit. Most prisoners of Mauthausen Concentration Camp were forced to work as slave labour in the quarry. Prisoners, who weighed an average of about 110lbs, went up and down the stairs 16 times in one day, carrying stones anywhere from 80 -120lbs.

With nothing but a half empty 24oz bottle of water in hand, I made my way down the path. After six steps I became frustrated. The stones were so unevenly placed that my ankles were rolling and my feet began to get sore (I was wearing Nike runners). I soon approached the steep decline of the stairs and my frustration quickly became a jumble of emotions from deep sadness to infuriating anger. Each step was a struggle. The steps were tilted up or down, crooked, lopsided, anything but straight and flat. There I was, a 150 lb, relatively healthy woman, not deprived of food, water, sleep, or hygiene, frustrated by the stairs. Trying to imagine what it would have been like in the conditions of the prisoners in the 1930’s/40’s? Impossible.

NEVER will I be able to imagine what it was really like.

We Are The Grateful Living

By | 2016, Europe | No Comments

I have been struggling for weeks trying to think about how I can summarize my two month trip into 250(ish) words. Do I only write on an event that happened after the last blogs were posted (ensuring I won’t write on the same topic)? Do I write on my favourite thing I’ve seen or something funny that has happened? Or what about the most beautiful thing I’ve seen?
None of those things touch on the topic that has impacted me the most this trip. That’s because none of those questions look at the ugly topic of death.
Jokingly, I have become the resident vampire on this trip because of my strange fascination with graves, tombs, and crypts. I have literally started “punch dancing” at times because of my excitement.
The two events that have impacted me the most, though, were not due to excitement, but to sorrow. These two events were visiting Mauthausen and Vimy Ridge.
Mauthausen was the hardest. This was my first time seeing a concentration camp and really understanding the depth of what happened in World War II. The hardest part for me was walking into a room about the size of the Red Room, hearing that around 200 people slept there every night, and, at the same time, being hit by a scent that reminded me of happiness and summer vacation with my family.
Vimy was also very hard for me, but in a very different way. We were standing on Canadian soil learning about how catastrophic World War I was. It felt a bit like home, and I started to feel a connection to the Canadians who died there. This connection was then amplified when I saw (for the first time as far as I can remember) my mother’s maiden name twice in the list of Canadians who died there. I did not expect to be as impacted as I was, but for the rest of my time at that colossal monument I could feel my heart racing. Questioning if I was related to these two soldiers, if I had other family I didn’t know about, or even what the soldiers were like.
Over all, these two events really opened my eyes to the sorrows, and to the hopes that these tragedies will someday end.