The guided tour of the Mauthausen Memorial confronts the visitor with the question, how was it possible to murder one hundred thousand people in the midst of society, in a civilian environment. This question has developed into a major focus of the site's visit. The explicit underlying assumption of the tour's Narrative is that both perpetrators and victims were recruited from society, and without society's interest and active support the concentration camps would not exist.

The guided tour's course is divided into three themes which coincide with the memorial's topography. The tour begins with the camp's environments, exposing its integration into society; it continues by looking into the camps staff, the SS, and closes with victims.

1. The integration of the concentration camp into society.

2. The Perpetrators.

The second part of the tour is the area of the former SS camp, still outside the camp's wall. Most buildings of the SS camp were dismantled after the war, and today national monuments representing different nations are standing in its place. One building, the concentration camp's headquarters, was not dismantled and is used by the memorials administration. With the dismantling of the SS camp, crucial physical evidence of the concentration camp's reality vanished, such as the civil registry office, a riding stable, and a movie theater. The opening of the memorial site after the war met with local criticism, and articles in Austrian newspapers claimed the memorial has no place on Austrian soil. The formal Austrian claim was that Nazism was a German phenomenon, and Austria was its victim and cannot be held responsible for the perpetration of its policies. The fact that Austrian society was no less integrated into the Nazi Reich than German society and no less supportive of its policies was intensely suppressed.

Buildings such as Civic Registry Office exemplify this integration. In a filmed interview with three elderly women from the town of Mauthausen one of them describes her wedding to an SS man, which took place at this civic registry, with glistening eyes, reminiscing about the lovely wedding party and the wonderful music band, all taking place in the SS camp, some 30 meters distance from the concentration camp's wall gate. She talks of the many adorable, good looking SS men, exposing the normalcy of relations of her time, totally unimaginable to her grandchildren's generation. The SS officers were living with their families next to the camp. Their children went to the local school, and they participated in the local cultural activities. The SS had a soccer team competing in the local league, with people coming to watch the games at the soccer field vis-à-vis the sick camp. All this was utterly natural since they were situated in the heart of the Reich, and not in a foreign or potentially alienated environment.

The common image of the SS, exposed through expressions of Austrian school children visiting the memorial today, are of people everyone feared. This expression serves as a cornerstone of the Austrian victim's myth, construing the SS as so brutal and scary that no person in his right mind would oppose them. The SS is not depicted as an admired elite unit every young man dreams of joining, nor its men as being one's loveable grandfather.

3. The victims.

4. Resumee

"In the middle of nowhere" / Workshop 3

One of the challenges in the pedagogical work at the memorial sites are the narratives the visitors bring with them regarding the National Socialist era. Paul Salmons shows the participants an interesting way to broach the narratives in today's society regarding the role of the civil society by including a topographical model in the hall of the visitors center at the end of a guided tour:

Demystification: taboos and the sanctitiy of memorials / Workshop 3

Portraying the reality of prisoners in a concentration camp is an enormous challenge. At Mauthausen we have found this to be more difficult for us than dealing with the civilian society as well as with the perpetrators. The following sequences show a discussion in one of the memorial's barracks, which used to house the concentration camp's prisoners.

The first sequence shows how education at a memorial site battles with taboos. There is a dominant tendency to treat the memorial site as a sacred space. It is forbidden to smoke inside the memorial’s walls, and teachers forbid their students to eat as a sign of respect. The victims are often seen not just as regular people, but different.

It begins with Angela Tiefenthaler describing what the guides do in the barrack with the group: Part 1

In the next sequence the difficulty of making history tangible is being discussed. The conversation then moves on to touch upon the issue of the memorial site as a sacred space: Part 2

In the next sequence Paul Salmons connects the dilemmas on the sacredness of space to the text of Roman Frister used by the guides at this station: Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

"We were only doing our job" / Workshop 2

The common underlying narrative in Austria (and elsewhere) is that concentration camp guards were obliged to doing their duty; that they had no choice but to fulfill their murderous obligation. This narrative is often surfacing in discussions with visitors during guided tours. In the following sequence Daniel Tscholl addresses the issue of "duty" in understanding the actions of the guards: Part 1

Jean Améry, survivor of Auschwitz, has shown how dependent people are on others in forming their identities. He called himself a “Hitler Jew”, explaining that it was Hitler who successfully turned him into a Jew, an identity he himself did not assign himself before the Nazi racial laws. The following sequence addresses the role that degrading and humiliating the victims played for the identity of the perpetrators: Part 2

History does not only reveal the past, it also conceals it. Representing the past inherently involves making sense out of events, providing them with a plot, with coherence and meaning. The stories societies tell about their past is always a product of their culture, their perspectives and self image. In the following sequence Paul Salmons focuses on how the Mauthausen Memorial conceals the perpetrators through heroic monuments: Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Master-narrative, language, new approaches / Workshop 1

The working group 1 presented their preliminary foci and main questions as well as new ideas regarding the narratives at the Mauthausen Memorial. 

Examples of the questions raised are:

The group also expressed how difficult it is to talk about the lives of the inmates during a tour. One solution might be a biographical approach that helps to show individuals instead of groups. In order to avoid the reduction of the inmates solely to their role as victims, it is also important to look at a victim’s life before, during and after the experience of victimisation.

Another difficulty is the presentation of the perpetrators in general. The fact that there are few places within the guided tours where the focus lies on the perpetrators makes it even more complicated.

The working group 1 then presented a draft for a different master-narrative which focuses on “what happened to different people at this place, what did they do?” and the relations between the three groups (bystanders, perpetrators, victims).

The Think Tank discussed if perhaps we should avoid to use labels such as “victim” and “perpetrator”, and just describe people and their actions. There is also the option to discuss the question “who is a perpetrator?” with the groups. Paul Salmons remarked “Maybe if it’s a good question in here, it’s also a good question out there (for the groups)”. While today we call the SS-guards “perpetrators”, at the time most of these people didn’t consider themselves perpetrators.

Further questions discussed by the Think Tank were e.g.