Like many memorialized Nazi concentration camps across Europe, Mauthausen, the largest such camp in Austria, is in the process of being renovated for a new generation of visitors. First opened to the public in 1970, the exhibition at the camp, which attracted 200,000 visitors each year, was in need of updating in light of new historical research and new ways of presenting that history.
But unlike Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and the German camps of Dachau and Sachsenhausen, all of which are undergoing or recently underwent renovations, creating a new exhibition to tell the story of Mauthausen, where 100,000 prisoners, including about 14,000 Jews, were killed, involves the additional
challenge of acquiring or borrowing the objects that will help tell the story, which have been scattered across the globe.
“Many former prisoners, many survivors, took things home,” Barbara Glück, the director of the Mauthausen Memorial, said.
Mauthausen is about a 90-minute drive from Vienna, but Glück was sitting in a cafe in Brentwood at the end of a three-day visit to Los Angeles’ most prominent institutes dedicated to Holocaust memory. She talked about the various artifacts in Los Angeles that might help her tell the story of Mauthausen to a new generation.
Chief among them is an American flag created by liberated inmates of Mauthausen and given as a gift to Col. Richard Seibel, the American officer who liberated the camp on May 5, 1945. Seibel gave the flag to the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the 1990s — Wiesenthal himself was imprisoned at Mauthausen during World War II — and Glück said she was considering commissioning a replica for the new exhibition at Mauthausen.
Since the end of World War II, Austria as a nation has at times seemed less than fully committed to engaging with its role in the atrocities under the Nazi regime.
Austrian President Thomas Klestil acknowledged as much in his historic address to the Israeli Knesset, in November 1994.
“All too often we have only spoken of Austria as the first state to have lost its freedom and independence to National Socialism, and far too seldom of the fact that many of the worst henchmen in the Nazi dictatorship were Austrians,” Klestil said.
As director of Mauthausen, Glück is helping reframe the Austrian narrative of this dark chapter for a new generation, of which she herself is a member. Glück, 33, became the director in charge of Mauthausen and its satellite camps when she was just 26.
In many ways, Glück’s age works to her advantage. While her parents may have been reluctant to broach the topic of the actions of Austrians during World War II, Glück realized that she could dig into the past. Unfortunately, in the case of her grandparents, she realized too late.
“By the time I recognized I could ask them many questions, they had died,” Glück said. And unlike her grandparents’ and parents’ generations, Glück sees an increased willingness among Austrians to confront their past.
“It is our generation that can talk,” she said.