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).

Read more: Introduction Material

 In her station at the northern fence of the former protective custody camp, Ines Brachmann addresses the mass escape of Soviet POWs and the following chase by SS and local civilians in February 1945, known as the rabbit hunt. By citing civilians who remembered encounters with the escapees in interviews in the early 1970s, Ines Brachmann opens the discussion on interpreting decision-making in civil society. She introduces and issues quotes to the group, such as the following: 


 Alexander Cortés, who reads this quote, shares his interpretation. To him it seems, that the quoted person reports, that they were uncertain whether to be afraid of the inmate or the consequences they might have to face, reflecting on the words „I don’t know … in the end, we did report“.

 Paul Salmons argues, that he has a different understanding of this phrase „I don’t know“. To him it seems that the reporting person doesn’t remember why they actually reported and fear is not really a factor, neither in the description nor in the historical scene.

 Through all this, different underlying narratives get involved, when stories are told 25 years after the events. As Léontine Meijer-van Mensch points out, this leads into analyzing memory and a post-45 discourse. Picking up this remark and Rebecca Ribareks comment on the fact, that the people reported twice, Christian Staffa says what he makes out of the quote:




After having implemented the feedback of the second Think Tank on the station in the memorial park, Paul Schwediauer and Lukas Strasser present the current concept of the station. During the first part, the participants receive one of two pictures (one showing the French monument and a map of the memorial park today, the other one showing an aerial view of the same spot from 1945 with the buildings of the SS) and are asked to go to the place shown on the respective picture. Having arrived there, Paul Salmons suggests a different use of the two pictures and comments on the interesting question of the function of the monuments this station can spark:


Material and gender

Léontine Meijer-van Mensch comments on how the gender aspect, both in regards to the guides and the visitors, plays a role in choosing material:


garage court guards
BMI/Fotoarchiv der KZ-Gedenkstätte Mauthausen

In his trial station in the garage court Daniel Tscholl is aiming to explore the inderdependencies between guards and prisoners. The source material he uses to frame it, shows two different photos shot in this very place.

The first one is showing a SS ceremony during which the camps commander was decorating a group of SS-guards. If a guard decided to stay in the camp for several years - and his performance was considered commendable - he was awarded in this manner. The tasks Daniel Tscholl suggests concerning the photograph are:

1. Where was the picture taken? Where could the fotographer have been standing?

2. What do you think did this ceremony mean for the different participants (the commander, the awarded, the others)? How do you think they felt in this moment?

3. How do you think they saw themselves? What was their self-image?

garage court prisonersBMI/Fotoarchiv der KZ-Gedenkstätte Mauthausen

The second picture is framed by the following informations: "The prisoners in the camp could be tortured or murdered at any time, they had literally no influence over their own lives. Their living conditions were created in a way that, due to lack of toilets, food or clean drinking water, sickness rather than health became their normal physical condition.
The SS, terrified that epidemics might spread beyond the camp walls, descided to chemically delouse them in the court yard - in order to protect themselves. There was no concern for the health let alone dignity of the prisoners.

The group's tasks for the second photograph are:

1. Where was the picture taken? Where could the fotographer have been standing?

2. What is the SS-fotographers perspective? How do the people lookfrom there?

3. How do you think these people saw themselves? What was their self-image?


After some minutes of dealing with the tasks the workshop participants came back to discuss the station and the material used. Paul Salmons was especially focusing on the perspective of the photographer, who could have been potentially the same (guard):



Going on with the analyses of perspectives, Paul Salmons deepens the issue by comparing the focus on the camp commander in the first photo ...



... with the wide shot of the prisoners in the second.



Reacting to this, Daniel Tscholl is arguing that the obstacles in engaging with the prisoners, which may surface in guided tours, might be related to the fact who enpictured them:



During the first Think Tank Workshop, the working group 1 presented some of the problems and questions that emerge while using material such as quotes, photographs, drawings etc. in the pedagogical work: Is there a main goal regarding what visitors should learn at the memorial site and if so, how can the material support this learning process? How can we establish a connection between the past and the present? What defines useful material?

It is obvious that material used within the guided tours has to be historically correct. But does it have to be representative of more than one group of inmates? This was discussed within the Think Tank. Since different places and different groups might require different impulses, strict criteria for “good” material could even be counterproductive.

Teachers may believe that the “authentic place” alone has a special effect on the students. Nevertheless, since the memorial site today can’t convey an authentic impression of the former concentration camp, material and stories are still needed. The guide’s task therefore could be to create the authenticity that the place alone cannot convey. 

Free business joomla templates