Today Mauthausen is an attractive small town on the north bank of the Danube, east of Linz, but its historic status as a quarrying centre prompted the Nazis to site the KZ Mauthausen concentration camp here. Prisoners were forced into slave labour in the granite quarry and many died on the so-called Todesstiege (stairway of death) leading from the quarry to the camp. Some 100,000 prisoners died or were executed in the camp between 1938 and 1945.
The camp, which is undergoing gradual renovation until 2012, has been turned into the emotive Mauthausen Memorial museum that tells its history, and that of other camps such as those at Ebensee and Melk. Visitors can walk through the remaining living quarters (each designed for 200, but housing up to 500) and see the cramped and disturbing gas chambers. The former Sick Quarters now shelters most of the camp’s harrowing material – charts, artefacts and many photos of both prisoners and their SS guards. It is a stark and incredibly moving reminder of human cruelty.