IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH: Living Outside the Gates of Mauthausen by Gordon J. Horwitz

IN THE SHADOW OF DEATH: Living Outside the Gates of Mauthausen

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A very different Holocaust book, which focuses on neither the victims nor the victimizers but on the ""innocent"" bystanders. The setting is Mauthausen, a complex of work and extermination camps in rural Austria, located fairly close to Hitler's boyhood home. There, as Horowitz (History/ Illinois Wesleyan Univ.) explains, hundreds of civilian employees were apparently privy to S.S. sporting events--such as throwing inmates into the deep quarry pit, driving them into the electrified fence, and feeding them heavily salted soups when they were dying of thirst. Many townsfolk witnessed beatings, executions, and death marches, and the majority of those who testified (both in subsequent trials and in interviews with Horwitz) felt that most of the pitiful prisoners they saw were ""hardened criminals"" who had ""died of weakness"" while performing normal hard labor. The most damning documentation of complicity in Nazi brutality comes from the aftermath of a large-scale escape that occurred in February 1945. The citizenry responded energetically to the S.S. call for help in rounding up the skeletal escapees, and many a Hitler Youth child and bustling housewife shot, bludgeoned, or turned in the easy prey in their community ""rabbit hunt."" An exceptional few Austrians risked all to harbor escapees, and others deeply regretted the human fuel of the crematoria fumes. But most of the ""forgetful"" countrymen of Kurt Waldheim here clearly stand accused of being passive and sometimes active auxiliaries to murder.

Pub Date: Nov. 5th, 1990
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan