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Shofar FTP Archive File: documents/reviews/shadow.death

Newsgroups: alt.revisionism,alt.skinheads
Subject: Holocaust Almanac - "In the Shadow of Death" - a review
Summary: A review of interest to those researching Mauthausen, the Nazi
         death camp in Austria.  The book deals with the residents of the
         area, and how they reacted to the camp, its administration, and
         its inmates.
Followup-To: alt.revisionism
Organization: The Old Frog's Almanac, Vancouver Island, CANADA
Keywords: Hartheim,Horwitz,Mauthausen

Archive/File: holocaust/austria/mauthausen shadow.death
Last-Modified: 1993/11/02

New York Review of Books, October 8, 1992
by Istvan Deak

An impressive work exclusively devoted to bystanders is Gordon J.
Horwitz's "In the Shadow of Death." His subjects are the Austrians in
and around Mauthausen, a town located close to a notorious Nazi
concentration camp, although not one primarily for Jews. Only 40,000 of
the 119,000 people who died there between 1938 and 1945 were Jews, and
therefore the people who lived near the camp (or camps, since Mauthausen
had many subsidiary establishments) did not necessarily think of the
camp inmates as Jews.

Set up in 1938, soon after the 'Anschluss' of Austria, the Mauthausen
camp housed German and Austrian criminals, "asocials," political
prisoners, homosexuals, Jehova's Witnesses, and later, Poles, Spanish
republican refugees handed over to the Germans by Vichy France, Soviet
and other POWs, as well as, of course, Jews. With a large stone quarry
at its center, Mauthausen camp was a thriving business enterprise for
the SS but it was also a particularly brutal place. One form of
punishment consisted of having to run up the 186 steps of the quarry
shouldering a heavy slab of stone. The SS called those who fell, were
pushed, or leaped into the pit "Parachute Troops" ('Fallschirmja"ger').
In 1940 a gas chamber was set up in nearby Castle Hartheim, at first to
kill only mentally ill and retarded Germans and Austrians, but later
camp inmates as well. Subsequently, a gas chamber was set up in
Mauthausen camp itself, with Soviet POWs as its first victims.

The center of Mauthausen, a small town of about 1,800, almost
exclusively Catholic, inhabitants (there had been no Jews there before
the war), was three miles away from the camp. The local people, as
Horwitz's interviews and documents show, regularly witnessed atrocities
being committed whenever new arrivals were driven across the town, or
whenever local farmers and workers had to go near the quarry. A public
road led directly across the camp, and although those using it were
forbidden to linger, they heard and saw enough for the atrocities to
become widely known and often discussed. Even in the early years of the
camp, inmates were shot in full view of the peasants and left to die on
the roadside. Eleanore Gusenbauer, a farmer, filed a complaint in 1941
about the tortures and the random shootings: "I am anyway sickly and
such a sight makes such a demand on my nerves that in the long run I
cannot bear this. I request that it be arranged that such inhuman deeds
be discontinued, or else be done where one does not see it."

Complaining was not without its risks: some who protested what they saw
happening were sentenced to a stay in a concentration camp, and when a
man called Winklehner threw bread and cigarettes to the inmates, he was
taken to Dachau camp, where he died. All in all, however, the locals
learned to live with the camp. They resented the rowdiness of the SS but
profited from the business the SS brought to the town. The civilians
employed at Castle Hartheim soothed their consciences with the knowledge
that they were not directly involved in the gassings. Near Hartheim,
parts of human bodies littered the countryside and tufts of hair flew
out of the chimney onto the street: but neither this nor the smell of
burning flesh prevented the staging of popular candlelight festivals at
the castle. Even the monks at the famous Benedictine monastery nearby at
Melk accepted the sight and stench of the local subsidiary camp and

On February 2, 1945, when hundreds of Soviet officers escaped from the
camp, townspeople joined in the hunt. Only a dozen made it to freedom,
thanks in part to a couple of brave local inhabitants, who thus helped
persons who were clearly seen as the enemy. During World War I,
Mauthausen had served as a gieant POW camp; it must have been difficult
for the townspeople to distinguish between prisoners of war, common
criminals, political prisoners, and innocent victims. Still, the
passivity and silence of most of the population is disheartening and so
is the wave of acute anti-Semitism that swept the region immediately
after the war, as it did throughout Europe from the Netherlands to
Poland. Today, despite some efforts by the Austrian government to
preserve the memory of the camp, no one really wants to talk about what
happened in Mauthausen. Horwitz, who managed, after much effort, to find
revealing sources, concludes: "The efforts to address the past are
minimal compared to the enormity of the deliberate silences, evasions,
and distortions of a generation that slowly, mutely fades into the

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