Historians Criticize Mauthausen Concert

Sent to various lists  May 3, 2000


On April 22, an article by Michael Hausenblas entitled "Of Admonitions To Remember" ["Vom Mahnen an das Gedenken"] appeared in _Der Standard_, a leading Viennese daily    It discusses the coming Mauthausen concentration camp  memorial concert  of "Beethoven's Ninth" on May 7th by the Vienna Philharmonic.


The article focuses on the Austrian government's refusals and indefinite delays of adequate funding for the memorial site's proper maintenance and historical documentation, while it is reportedly spending well over 1.5 million dollars on the concert. 


The article quotes historian and Mauthausen expert, Bertrand Perz's observation that "in the transition to the coming period without living [Holocaust] survivors, other memorial sites are focusing on historical documentation, while Austria focuses on grand propaganda gestures."   Perz complains that funding is urgently needed to interview Mauthuasen's survivors, which experts estimate to number at about 15,000.  (This is urgent since the survivors are all quite elderly.)   


Another historian, Florian Freund, notes that a lack of funding and reforms have prevented the camp's archives from being transferred to the University of Vienna, a move badly needed for their proper maintenance and use.  Hausenblas comments that, "it is politically much easier to sell a spectacle like the Philharmonic's Concert than the difficult to digest message of the camp's history." 


The historians also complain that funding for "a study of the camp which would involve international specialists has been blocked" by Austria's Interior Ministry.   Hausenblas notes that, "once again it is the survivors who carry the suffering in the interest of daily politics."   The historians note that the memorial site does not even have the necessary funding to properly fulfill a pedagogical function for the visitors. 


The Mauthausen camp was especially horrific, a stone quarry where hard labor was used instead of gas to murder the inmates.  The victims were required to carry large blocks of granite on their backs up the quarry's steep walls with almost no food or water and under extremely sadistic physical abuse.  Their average life expectancy in the camp was three to six weeks, where approximately 100,000 people were murdered in this fashion.  Even the pictures of the victims in their striped, coarse uniforms, densely packed, five abreast in endless stooped-over columns, struggling up the quarry's walls are horrific beyond all belief.


The organizers say Beethoven's 9th will be an "Ode to Freedom" that should "echo around the world from the quarry's cold stone walls."  Hausenblas writes that the "stillness that surrounds the place is louder than any pounding on a timpani, stronger than any symphony."   Sadly, however, it will be a useful propaganda gesture for Austria's far-right government and the Vienna Philharmonic--which forbids membership to women and people of color.


The article concludes with a paraphrase of Florian Freund's hard words.  "He labels the Philharmonic concert a 'laundry for brown spots' that is devouring many times over the yearly budget of the Mauthausen Memorial Site - which insiders whisper to be well over 1.5 million dollars." 


William Osborne