Take a day trip out of Vienna, Austria to visit a somber memorial to a dark time in our history.
First, a confession: My only knowledge of concentration camps is Auschwitz, in the town of Oświęcim, Poland. When I was planning my trip to Central Europe—Eastern Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia—I knew that I had to include Poland in my itinerary.
Unfortunately, booking conflicts in the form of cost, timing, and getting to Krakow, the town that’s a good jumping-off point to Auschwitz, prevented me from visiting. (Most trips to Auschwitz take about 30–40 minutes by car or tour group.)
Another alternative, taking the train from either Prague or Vienna to Katowice, a town slightly closer to the camp, is even more impossible: It would cost about €100 in train tickets and fees, and it’s five hours each way.
Fortunately, during my futile efforts to get from Vienna to Auschwitz, a random user suggested the less-known but still poignant Mauthausen Memorial in the town of Mauthausen, about 90 minutes from Vienna. The cost was still quite substantial: Because I booked my tickets practically last-minute, there were no discounts to be had. It was €70 round-trip.
I will say this: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether you have gone to Auschwitz or Dachau (Germany) or Mauthausen (Austria). What’s important is that you learn from the atrocities that befell our brothers and sisters, and strive to never repeat them again. Therefore, off I went.
There are two ways to get to Mauthausen, both will require you to walk 1.4 kilometers uphill from the Mauthausen Linzer Straße / Wasserwerk bus stop. However, if you are traveling from April 9 to November 1, 2022, the bus will stop at the memorial site.
I traveled in March, which meant that I had to walk. It took me about 30 minutes from the bus stop to the Mauthausen Memorial, walking at a leisurely pace and stopping a few times to catch my breath.
Vienna Hauptbahnhof (main train station, abbreviated as hbf) to Mauthausen Oö (main station), and then take Bus 361 (bound for Linz hbf) or Bus 360 (bound for Linz Hessenplatz). Get off at Mauthausen Linzer Straße / Wasserwerk.
Vienna hbf to Linz hbf, and then take Bus 361 (bound for Mauthausen Oö). Get of at Mauthausen Linzer Straße / Wasserwerk.
Entrance to the memorial is free. Audio guides in multiple languages are available for €3. You can also book a two-hour guided tour for yourself or for your group for €5. The site is not sprawling; you can see and read the material posted in the barracks in about an hour. Two separate permanent exhibitions, “The Crime Scenes of Mauthausen – Searching for Traces” and “The Mauthausen Concentration Camp 1938–1945” will take another two or so hours.
The cafeteria on-site is located close to the bookshop, near the entrance to the memorial. It serves a variety of sandwiches, snacks, and beverages (I got my first Viennese Schnitzel sandwich here) from €4.
One thing you have to remember while you’re visiting: The memorial can be overbearing at times. It will be too intense for children as well, so consider not bringing them.
I was listening to a recording of an American nurse who attended to the liberated prisoners in 1945. Something she said hit me hard: “You have a beautiful view, and yet people are dying.”
She was not wrong. On my way back to the bus stop, I took a couple of photographs overlooking the town of Mauthausen. They came out breathtaking. However, during the almost two years that the camp was in operation, I would bet that not a single prisoner had the chance to admire where they were; they were busy trying to stay alive.