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8,000 remember Nazi atrocities

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8,000 remember Nazi atrocities
Survivors of the Mauthausen camp. Photo: APA
21:19 CEST+02:00
Around 8,000 people gathered Sunday to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp in Upper Austria.

Despite bad weather, over 8,000 people from more than 60 countries gathered together in a solemn ceremony some 20km from Linz, to once again remember the barbaric actions of the Nazi regime.  

Established on August 8th, 1938, the camp was finally liberated on May 5, 1945 by the U.S. 11th Armoured Division.

Initially built to provide slave labour to the nearby Wiener Graben stone quarry, the camp was populated mostly by Hungarian Jews and Russian soldiers, and followed a strict policy of "Vernichtung durch arbeit" (extermination by work).

A contemporary eye-witness account by Olga Wormser of the atrocities records the following:

"Eighty-seven Dutch Jews were sent to the quarries separated from all the other prisoners. There they encountered the effeminate SS men known as 'Hans' and 'The blond Damsel'. With pick handles these two flailed this pathetic group who were digging in the mountainside. By 11:30, 47 of the 87 lay dead on the ground."

"They were butchered, one after another, before the eyes of fellow prisoners helpless to do anything. That afternoon, four more were killed. They were taken to the cliff top and told to fight. When two dropped to the rocks below, the victors would go free. Two dropped, but the victors were immediately pushed to join them."

The total number of victims of the camp and its sub-camps is estimated to be 150,000.

Senior Austrian politicians were present at the commemoration, along with dignitaries and diplomats from a host of foreign governments, each determined to "never forget."

The chairman of the Mauthausen Committee of Austria (MKÖ), Willi Mernyi, spoke eloquently of how the Nazis valued people's lives in purely economic terms, as units of labour - and when those lives were unable to work, they were killed.  

A comparison was drawn with people with disabilities, whose lives were not valued under the Nazis, and would therefore face rapid extermination.

The rise of anti-semitism, xenophobia and right-wing extremism were seen as encouraging this type of thinking, and moral courage would be required to counter this trend, Mernyi said. 

In Mauthausen and its subsidiaries, more than 200,000 people were illegally imprisoned, and most of them lost their lives in the most barbaric of conditions.

Such a situation should never again be permitted to occur - and for this reason, a regular remembrance of the actions of the Nazis was essential to maintain conditions of liberty and peace in Europe and around the world, Mernyi added. 

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