DDr Barbara Glück has been the director of the Mauthausen Concentration Camp Memorial since 2005. She understood our request right away and gave it her support. While the volunteers were on site at the memorial to take part in our film, I had the chance to speak with her, and our interview developed into a fascinating dialogue.
Director Glück, 2018 is the 80th anniversary of Mauthausen. What does this number represent?
On 8 August 1938, just 80 years ago, the first prisoners were brought to Mauthausen. But Mauthausen didn’t just fall from the sky. There is a history before that moment, one which led to the construction of the camp system. What happened 80 years ago cannot be taken aside from this other history and looked at separately. There was a process that led to it, and such processes can also happen today. That’s what we want to convey.
And since when has Mauthausen been a memorial site?
The memorial has existed since 1949. The camp was liberated by the US Army, and from the summer of 1945, the former camp was under the administration of the Soviets. In 1947, its grounds were handed over to the Republic of Austria by the Soviet High Command. Under one condition: Austria must erect a memorial here. Two years later, the memorial site was opened, and survivors of the camp accepted it the most readily. They would welcome visitors and lead tours. We now face the challenge of how to design the site so that, also without the active involvement of former prisoners, coming generations can also take something from it.
Seeing what can happen when a society becomes completely numbed and fails. Of course we know the value of human rights, but do we stand by those rights when we need to? How can it be that in the middle of a so-called civilized society, millions of people were murdered? When groups of visitors, often school groups, ask themselves these questions and begin to draw parallels to the circumstances of today, questions such as “How can it be that people are still being displaced, tortured, and abused?” That’s when we meet our goal. We reach it when visitors go home with more questions than they came with.
How do you see the issue of homophobia in relation to the concentration camp memorial? Has it also been an issue in your work?
Homophobia is a particularly tragic example of how Mauthausen and the history it stands for did not begin in 1938 or end in 1945. The persecution of homosexuals in the Nazi era and in postwar Austria cannot be equated with each other. But even after 1945, homosexuality was a criminal offence in Austria. This was until 1971, and only in 2005 were gay people officially recognized as a victim group. After the liberation of the camp, many homosexuals had to live with a doubled trauma. They knew they were in violation of the law and in fact living “illegally”. And this also forbade them to speak of the imprisonment and torture they went through.
What do you think of the Pink Triangle campaign?
You [Vangardist] deliberately chose to come to a difficult place, one that presents the project with a double tragedy. That is remarkably courageous, especially as homosexuals were only, as just mentioned, given recognition as a victim group in 2005. Still today, people are being hunted down, tortured and murdered. The crimes of National Socialism were possible because too many people chose to avert their eyes to what was happening. One of the key lessons of the past is to not look the other way, and today, individuals and activists like you are explicitly choosing to instead take a closer look. One history cannot be equated with another, thus the situation then cannot be equated with now. But we can select individual aspects to point out where events can be compared and where they threaten to develop in similar ways. The persecution of homosexuals is a good example of this because it began long before 1938 and still, unfortunately, persists today. This isn’t an isolated topic. There are larger themes of exclusion, prejudice, ignorance and, above all, looking the other way when other people, for whatever reason, are being persecuted. We have a Charter of Human Rights, signed by nearly every country in the world, and these rights can never be demanded often enough!
Can a person heal from hate?
I hope so. I believe in the good in people and I also believe that people can change. Otherwise I would have stopped doing this work a long time ago.
Find more information about what happened at the concentration camp Mauthausen:
Text: DDr Barbara Glück, Julian Wiehl & Michael Haller
Bilder: David Meran