The atrocities the Nazis put the Jewish people and other minorities through in the camps, is well known to be horrible, but many people don’t know the half of it. Hitler had a number of camps in which to imprison these people that he had decided were “undesirable” for one reason or another. Some were even German people, who disagreed with Hitler’s ideas. They became the political prisoners. They were treated no better than their minority counterparts. Disagreeing with Hitler was a fatal choice for the most part.
Mauthausen was the main political concentration camp in Austria. Mauthausen was not an extermination camp like Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nevertheless, it is estimated that about 100,000 people died at Mauthausen between its inception in 1939 and May 5, 1945, when it became the last camp liberated by the Allies. Sadly, like most of the camps, the liberation came just hours or days too late for some of the prisoners. These unfortunate ones died just prior to the liberation. Their strength gave out, just when rescue was so close.
Mauthausen was a little bit different than the other camps. Probably the greatest difference was the fact that the camp was in close proximity to a rock quarry. Near the quarry was a set of rock stairs known as the Stairs of Death. Most of us couldn’t imagine how a set of stairs could be considered such an instrument of death, that they would become infamous, but that is exactly what these stairs did, and it is shocking. One of the survivors of Mauthausen gave this account saying, “Inmates were given light clothing and wooden (clogs) and put to work in the stone quarry. This involved carrying heavy stones up 180 steps, known as the “staircase of death” because of the beatings, shootings and fatal accidents to which the crowded mass of inmates was exposed to there. The food was totally inadequate for the heavy labor performed, and a stay in Mauthausen was indeed synonymous with “extermination by work.”
Apparently, climbing the stone steps carrying heave stones was not the normal work performed at Mauthausen, but rather a deliberate punishment and death. The unfortunate prisoner or group of prisoners who made the guards angry, found out just how horrific this particular punishment was. One of the most famous incidents involved 47 Allied aviators transported to the camp. These men were essentially murdered in September 1944. Maurice Lampe, a French political prisoner, testified at Nuremberg saying, “For all the prisoners at Mauthausen, the murder of these men has remained in their minds like a scene from Dante’s Inferno. This is how it was done: at the bottom of the steps they loaded stones on the backs of these poor men and they had to carry them to the top. The first journey was made with stones weighing 25 to 30 kilos (55 to 65 pounds) and was accompanied by blows. Then they were made to run down. For the second journey, the stones were even heavier; and whenever the poor wretches sank under their burden, they were kicked and hit with a bludgeon. Even stones were hurled at them… In the evening when I returned from the gang with which I was then working, the road which led to the camp was a bath of blood… I almost stepped on the lower jaw of a man. Twenty-one bodies were strewn along the road. Twenty-one had died on the first day. The twenty-six others died the following morning…”
The sight of it was enough to make the description difficult for a man who had seen his share of horrific scenes in his lifetime. Anyone who had been in the camps, or through the camp, or involved in liberating the camps knew first hand the viciousness of the Nazi regime. Once they witnessed these atrocities, they could never forget what they saw. It was a scene that shaped them for the rest of their lives.
While islands don’t float and can’t flip over, they are subject to one hazard that can sometimes end with their disappearance…erosion. This isn’t a situation that many of us would ever notice in our lifetime, but on one island…Holland Island, located in the Chesapeake Bay, erosion quickly became a problem. In 1910, Holland Island, considered the most populated island in the Chesapeake Bay, was thriving with 360 residents. Besides historic Victorian homes, there were many other homes, shops, a school, and a church.
Despite its historic value, erosion gradually ate away at the island which greatly concerned its residents. Erosion just doesn’t care about historic value, sentimental value, or even about people’s lives. It is just a part of nature, and if a piece of ground doesn’t have a solid base, and plenty of vegetation to keep the ground in place, wind, rain, snow, and in this case, water from the bay will eventually erode the ground to a dangerous level. That was the situation that Holland Island found itself in 1910.
In 1914, in an attempt to try to slow the erosive loss of their precious island, the residents had stones shipped in to build walls and tried to even sink ships in an attempt to slow it down, but nothing worked. Finally, giving up, most of the residents tore down their homes and moved inland. Many of the buildings still remained, but the town was largely a ghost town. When a tropical storm hit in 1918, it damaged the church. By 1922, the few people who had stayed finally left after the church closed down. One man, in 1995, tried for 15 years to preserve the island, spending a fortune, all to no avail. Finally, the last house crumbled and fell, ending the fight to save Holland Island.
One memory from when I was little is of Grandpa’s rocks. He had many of them, because he was a rock collector. Grandpa went many places to find his rocks…and no place at all. That’s because great rocks could be found just about anywhere, and you never really knew what they could look like until you put then in a rock tumbler and polished them up. Then, even the rock that had seemed so plain, could turn into a beautiful stone. To find that special rock, you had to have an eye for it, and my grandpa really had an eye for it.
He had some beauties. I always wondered how he could find so many beautiful stones…and where he could find them. I liked to looks for pretty rocks too, but aside from an agate or two, I never really turned up much that was very pretty, much less stunning, like his were. Of course, I didn’t have a rock tumbler to bring out the beauty, but still, I’m not sure that I would have had the eye for the rock that had the potential to become a beautiful stone.
Grandpa spent years looking for rocks…possibly his entire life. I can picture him as a little boy, looking around and finding a rock here and there that had touches of color in them. Maybe some pinks or whites mixed in with the gray or black that most of us see. When I think of rocks, they are all plain and ugly, but I have to wonder how many beauties I passed up because my mind couldn’t see inside the rock…couldn’t see the rock’s potential, but Grandpa could see it. He could see inside the rocks…see their potential, and he knew how to bring the inside of the rock out and turn it into a beautiful stone.
It was almost as if Grandpa knew how to talk to the rocks…coax the beautiful stone out of the simple gray or black rock. Maybe it’s just because he was able to see the beauty in many things. Grandpa had so much love to give. And he wanted to share his love of nature with his family. They would go on rock hunting treks. The kids got to do what so many kids would love to do…hunt rocks and bring them home. And nobody stopped them from bringing their treasures home…and then he could take those treasures and turn them into something more. Of course, I don’t suppose Grandpa had a rock tumbler back in those days, still a little water could bring out the different colors in an otherwise Plain Jane of a rock, I’m sure. Eventually, with the invention of the rock tumbler, Grandpa was able to show the rest of us what he was always able to see…the beauty that lies inside of the rock.