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.