Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
For those of you who have thoroughly educated yourselves about history, there is not really much new here. You already know about atrocities, including the concentration camps like the one depicted here in Mauthausen, Austria, which were nothing more than slaughterhouses for humans. But this really is not a documentary about a horrible period, place and people of the past that we can neatly define and conveniently cubby-hole as a historical event long ago while we pat ourselves on the back because we're so relieved we've advanced beyond such barbaric monstrosities. This is a documentary about a human condition that is still with us and being practiced this very moment as you read this, perhaps much closer to you than you'd care to admit.
The people that were murdered in Mauthausen are long gone and for the most part long forgotten, other than a reference to some categories we file them under "Russians" "Poles" "Jews" "children". As we think of a vague, generic picture of them (not too much in detail or else it becomes too painfully real and horrifying) we are mostly amazed how man's inhumanity to man could be so systematically orchestrated in such a cold blooded massive effort. This documentary is about the tourists and tour guides of Mauthausen and therefore, if you have the courage, ourselves. Starting with the chattering lively young kids who are shocked solemn the moment their young tour guide starts off immediately by explaining in careful detail life, torture and murder in the camp. The guide does not soften the blow of what happened or use sterile euphemisms, instead he leaves all the life, death, suffering and reality in as he explicitly details the murder and torture that took place. No one was disposed of in Mauthausen nor did unspeakable acts take place, instead they were murdered and the acts are openly detailed. The guides speaks vividly, frankly about their agony and deaths, as he walks the tourists through the same places these acts took place, discussing clearly what happened as they are crammed together in the gas chamber or facing the wailing wall or elbow to elbow in the barracks just like the prisoners who once lived their last moments as they were tortured and murdered there. This film shows a diverse selection of tourists from young international students to shocked elderly Germans and Austrians who never saw or fully admitted what was committed by their relatives, husbands, perhaps even themselves. Surprisingly the filmed responses by the tourists are extremely on target, particularly the young students many of whom say mankind is failing to learn from history because these same atrocities, perhaps in slightly different moderations and form, are going on today, right now. But then again, their responses are not so surprising. These people did not come here to go on a fun ride or eat a double cheeseburger, they came, for the most part, to look at an ugly piece of history and perhaps learn something about the human condition, maybe even themselves. Mostly they're the better part of the general public. The lesser part of the public that commit such acts, or allow them to happen or vicariously enjoy it when they do, usually will never go to such a place. But as one of the guides pointed out at one of the memorial plaques, a picture had been removed and someone has etched in a swastika in the marble. Either a prank in extremely bad taste or, probably more accurately, proof that genocide, war and mass murder are not likely to vanish any time soon.
Perhaps if we showed this film in every school everywhere it would be a start to reducing the frequency and degree of man's barbarism. With such a monumental effort being put into such horrific acts just think of what could be accomplished if that energy and force could be channeled into positive, life affirming deeds. This is a real must see movie. Shelve the blond bimbo parade or boyish shoot em up or whatever "must see" crap and watch this for a change. Change is completely possible here and now all you need is to make some positive moves toward change. Education is the necessary start, we must know who, where and what we are in order to do something about it.
This film was riveting from the beginning. There are very few films I watch in a single sitting as most are either not exceptional or real enough to be truly interesting. I do however wish the film had been edited better, it did lack a seamless flow that such an exceptional effort on such an important subject deserves. Nevertheless there are images I know will stick with me for quite some time. Particularly the young tour guide who so effectively, chillingly led his tour group through the camp and later admitted his grandfather had been an SS officer. As well, the head tour guide, who by his own admission was burned out and alcoholic, being eaten away by the pressure of working at such a place with so many ghosts and terrible karma. He reminded me of a policeman I knew who was all but destroyed by his job yet was inexplicably drawn to it, much like a moth to flame. An exceptionally chilling moment is when he points out that despite the vast size of the camp there are no animals or birds living there, even today. It is as though they can sense it is a place of death, even now. Perhaps these silly little creatures we like to pretend we're so vastly superior to really have a little more sense, and humanity, than we do at times.
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