The march to Mauthausen
Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at 7:18AM
Michael Scher in Austria, Concentration Camp, Germany, Mauthausen Memorial, Third Reich

Gate to the garage yard in the Mauthausen concentration camp (Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Martin is the amazing young man who took me on my tour. He did his year of national service at the former Nazi concentration camp, mostly giving tours. He works on projects for green energy in his regular job. As an Austrian, he gives all of us hope for a better future.

I was relentless during last year's all-day tour, I'm not sure we even had lunch. During our walk-through of the camp, I noticed and objected to leaving out the critical stage of how people were arrested by the Gestapo, and how it was a completely legal and normal police function. I discussed that in my earlier post Dispatch from the Wittgenstein Villa.

The archives of the Gestapo are still extant in Vienna. Since my trip, I've tried to interest people in Vienna to house some of those archives at the camp. Visitors to the camp should be able to hold in their hands the piece of paper from the Gestapo that condemned someone. It's that letter, and not the camp itself, that marks the breaking point with all of civilization and starts the march to Mauthausen.

The camp is a cross between a bitter, awful prison and a factory of death. But it's misleading, and a step in the wrong direction, to focus exclusively on the camp. Frankly, if you go to a slaughterhouse you expect to see animals herded, managed and ultimately executed. If you go to a prison, you expect to see people demeaned and corralled. I'm not saying these things aren't disgusting and horrible, of course they are. 

But the unique horror of the Holocaust does not reside in the camps, whether they were labor death camps or camps of execution. The horror resides in the work of the Gestapo. Culturally, legally, and politically as well as socially, if you became an enemy of the Third Reich you were no longer human. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, all manner of professionals, including great philosophers, collaborated in this terrifying, total recasting of civilized society.

The shame and missed opportunity of the Mauthausen Memorial is the absence of the Gestapo records. Just to be standing in the physical place of the camp shocks you, but to hold in your hand the letters and administrative orders of the Gestapo would be even more compelling and the teaching moment for one history's most compelling lessons.

By the way, this is one of the reasons I feel so strongly about press freedom and sites like the FCPA Blog. It took the creation of a police state to enable the coming of the Holocaust.

I can't imagine why Martin, a fine and sensitive young man, wrote to me now. I've not heard from him in some time. His letter is something that my wife says I should frame and put on the wall. From time to time I might look at it and say, I accomplished something in my life. Perhaps these ideas will continue forward through him and someday I might see an archive of the Gestapo at the camp.

When I started studying the Holocaust at age 18 during my first year at Columbia, the word Holocaust did not exist and my teachers thought it was extremely weird that I wanted to study the camps. Now I receive this letter from another generation.

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Dear Mike,

I just wanted to let you know that our tour in Mauthausen obviously had a sustainable impact on me and the way I do my guided tours. Last Sunday, I had a group of random adults at the afternoon guided tour. And in our tour the topic “How could this all happen? How was that LEGALLY possible?” made up an important part of the discussion. I think that the lines of thought that you and I worked on together are valuable and also help other people to better understand the “how” and to be more sensitive to current and future societal and political developments in Austria, Europe and the world. Thank you for that!
Best wishes from Austria,


Michael Scher is a senior editor of the FCPA Blog. He has over three decades of experience as a senior compliance officer and attorney for international transactions. He can be contacted here.

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