Historical source material plays an important role in narrating history. In order to help the visitor understand the historical reality source materials, texts or photographs are used throughout the guided tour. The texts are personal accounts, describing a scene or a situation in or around the concentration camp which the author witnessed. In so doing the author opens a small window into the past, a snapshot, enabling us to view the memorial's grounds with different eyes. A similar role is played by, e.g., an aerial photo taken by ally planes in March 1945.

Having the historical source in one's hands reduces the participants' dependence on the guide as a source of knowledge and understanding. Historical material can be and should be interpreted. Visitors' unmediated ownership of a historical source puts him/her in a better position to think independently and negotiate its interpretation and meaning. Thus having it at ones disposal supports individual contending and interpretation of source material and through it interpreting history (and thus responsibility and empowerment of the individual participating).

The use of source material can fulfill several roles, assuming that the texts are carefully chosen (which is not to be taken for granted). It allows for historical accuracy and the authority of a historical source. It also enables a conciseness, which is difficult to achieve in a freely spoken presentation. Since the average time visitors spend at a memorial site allows for a guided tour of approximately two hours, in which enormous grounds and highly complex themes need to be covered, conciseness is a very important category. Additionally the source used needs to have the potential for awakening interest, i.e. present interesting contents and be comprehensible.

But the use of material is aimed to achieve more than this. An important methodological challenge here is to find texts that contain some of the moral issues the site's tour is contending with. The following text can serve as an example for this. It can be used to depict the routine exposure of society to violence, torture and murder:


Mrs. Gusenbauer, a farmer living at Marbach number 7, community of Ried in the Riedmark, filed the following complaint:

"In the Mauthausen Concentration Camp, at the Wienergraben, prisoners are constantly being shot. Those of them who are not hit accurately lie there next to the dead for hours, sometimes even half a day long. My property is situated on a hill next to the Wienergraben, and one thus becomes an unwilling witness to such atrocities. I am not well as it is, and such sights take such a toll on my nerves that I will not be able to endure this for long. I ask that an instruction be commissioned to cease such inhuman acts, respectively be done elsewhere where one does not see it."

Source: a letter from the police station in Mauthausen to the local government in Perg concerning the complaint of Mrs. Eleonore Gusenbauer pertaining to inhuman treatment of concentration inmates, 27th of September 1941.


Mrs. Gusenbauer's complaint offers a snapshot of the concentration camp's integration into the Reich's society. It thus sets the stage for understanding historical reality, as well as for challenging mainstream assumptions relating to attitudes and collaboration.

After introducing the sources, the next stage would be to develop a discussion within the group on the meaning of these historical facts for us, the individuals standing today at this site. Standing with a group at one of the guided tour's stations, e.g. on the edge of the quarry walls, is intended to unfold a compact workshop of some ten minutes. The use of source materials, the narrating of a context, the observation of the site and the posing of questions are the structural elements of such a workshop. 

In order to optimize participation the format of the sources must be well thought through and well prepared. The size of the paper (A4 respectively A5), lamination, and distribution among the participants is an important factor in enabling a discussion. Participants need to be able to take a good look into the sources, especially when these sources challenge them. Viewing photographs also demands more than just swift glimpse in order to take them in. Distributing the right amount of copies to enable individual work, but also small group discussions (we tend towards three to a group) plays an important role in participants' involvement.


Free business joomla templates