Today was my last day in Europe, and I like to think I did it justice by packing as many experiences as possible into one day. I have always been interested in the history of the Holocaust and I have read a lot of Holocaust literature, so when I heard there were a couple people looking to go visit the concentration camp memorial at Mauthausan with our free day, I was very ready to join them.
Mauthausan is a small town that is an hour and 45 minute train ride followed by a 20 minute taxi ride from Vienna. I will say that the travel part of our journey was quite a fun adventure. It felt very empowering to be able to navigate through a foreign country with no command over the native language and still make it to and from our destination smoothly.
I cannot say that my experience at the concentration camp was fun, but I can say that it was extremely meaningful and astounding. The memorial was set up with an audio tour where we could listen to information about various marked places around the camp. It was crazy for me to see the roll call locations, the barracks, the washrooms, the granite quarries, the crematoriums, and the gas chambers that I have read so much about. Since Holocaust literature is written in such vivid detail, I felt very connected to everything I was seeing because as I was walking around I could imagine the images from my readings in my physical surroundings.
What astounded me most about my experience at Mauthausan is that the town of Mauthausan and the surrounding countryside is so beautiful. It was heartbreaking for me to see the juxtaposition of the utter ugliness of the camp with the pristine Austrian landscape. It amazes me that such horrible things could happen in such a beautiful place.
When I woke up at 6:00 AM today on the one day we had to sleep in, I spent a solid 5 minutes looking at the time trying to decide whether I really wanted to go through this whole journey for the sake of this concentration camp or if I just wanted to go back to bed, wake up in a few hours, and just spend more time in the city.
Now having seen what I saw, I can definitively say that I made the right decision. In my days in Europe I have seen not only the beautiful and rich cultural history of Europe, but I have also explored some of the darkness of the reality of human experience on this beautiful continent.
As I write this final blog post I just want to emphasize what a fabulous 10 days I have had. I have learned so much and had so many new experiences. I like to think I took full advantage of this incredible opportunity and I would like to sincerely give thanks to everyone who helped make this possible.
It has indeed been an incredible trip back through time, but tomorrow we come home. We come back to reality and hopefully lessons from our past and lessons from our music will continue to guide our futures.