Birth to death is the natural progression of life. Unfortunately, this truism only applies to humans but not to attitudes. Bigotry, inexplicably, never dies, as evidenced by the rise in attacks on Jews and other minorities in America today. Where are the lessons learned from the atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War II?
Take a metaphorical walk with me back to 1938. The Nazis were constructing their death camps; Mauthausen, a work camp in Austria, was one of them. While it is not as well known to most people as Dachau and Auschwitz, Mauthausen was a major concentration camp.
Here are a few of the alarming facts about Mauthausen:
- This was a forced labor camp with prisoners working nine to eleven grueling hours a day in the rock quarry.
- Malnourished prisoners were literally worked to death, carrying 100 pound blocks of granite up the 186 rough, slippery steps out of the quarry.
- Sick prisoners were killed by being pushed to their deaths from the top of the quarry, by being shot, or by being gassed.
- Women prisoners were sent to work as sex slaves in a brothel set up here for the Nazi workers.
- Not only Jews, but also Jehovah Witnesses, Gypsies, criminals, and homosexuals were imprisoned and tortured here.
- Of a total of about 190,000 people imprisoned in the Mauthausen concentration camp and its subcamps over seven years, at least 90,000 died.
Eleven million victims in total were tortured and killed in all the Nazi concentration camps. This number is equivalent to eliminating the population of both Los Angeles and New York City today.
NEW ALARMING STATISTICS
While these statistics are startling, there are new alarming numbers. NPR reported that since January 2017, according to the JCC Association of America, there have been 69 bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in 27 states and one Canadian province. Bigotry, therefore, was not buried forever in Hitler’s bunker. Like a vampire, it resurrects from its tomb to feed on the innocent.
MAUTHAUSEN CONCENTRATION CAMP MEMORIAL
While most bigots commit their crimes wearing a dark cloak of anonymity, the Nazis brought their hate into the daylight. Today, when you approach the Mauthausen Memorial, its idyllic setting belies the evil enacted there.
Visitors walk freely through the entrance gate, knowing they can exit at any time. It is impossible not to imagine the prisoners’ panic when they entered this place, knowing they had no freedom to leave.
THE SCULPTURES: MENORAH AND BARBED WIRE FENCE
Bold sculptures dot the Memorial’s landscape to remind us not to forget the lessons taught here. In victory, a menorah rises majestically and decisively above the rolling plains.
In contrast to victory, this sculpture sets on the cliffs above the infamous rock quarry, a reminder that bigotry is as cruel, painful, and hostile as a barbed wire fence.
THE SCULPTURES: MOTHER GERMANY
To the right of the barbed wire sculpture is a mournful statue representing Mother Germany.
On a wall behind her are the prophetic words written in 1933 by Bertolt Brecht, German poet and playwright. The English translation is the following:
“O Germany, pale Mother,
How your sons have hurt you
So you are sitting among the nations,
A thing of scorn and fear.”
This is a message for all nations and is applicable for the United States at this time. This is our lesson from Mauthausen. We cannot allow the small minority who harbor hate in their hearts to speak for the majority of our sons and daughters who believe our country’s credo of “all men (and women) are created equal.”
OUR DEFINING SCULPTURE: MOTHER LIBERTY
In fact, now is the time to be defined by our country’s own Mother Liberty who gloriously lifts her flame of freedom in a “world-wide welcome” for all regardless of nationality, religion, or gender. After all, our legacy is to be the land of the free and the brave, not the land of the bigots. We are better than that. Always have been; hopefully, always will be.