Mauthausen is a beautiful town in Upper Austria. Oopma bands play while locals dressed in lederhosen sing drinking songs and chug local cider. The town is as picturesque as a Norman Rockwell painting only German style. Yet there’s a rather large elephant in the room. At the far end of town lies a huge concentration camp called the KZ. That’s gotta wreak havoc on property values.
For as serious as the subject matter is, “KZ” is a downright weird documentary. Viewers get to take a tour of the KZ along with high school students and elderly people. It’s as if the KZ is a tourist attraction but it’s a death camp. One tour guide we follow bears a striking resemblance to a skin head. He explains the torture and torment that went on with such cold intensity, one high school student gets woozy and passes out. We’re right there with the student because the details of the torture in the camp are spelled out vividly and with a strange detachment by the guides.
It’s hard not to laugh as director Rex Bloomstein interviews locals who seem oblivious to the fact they live in the houses of former nazi officers. Some local women were married to these officers and one jokes about how the wedding she had in the KZ was the most beautiful ever. Soldiers said “heil Hitler” after the wedding ended. There’s even a McDonalds in Mauthausen. It’s all just so…strange.
Yet the film is also disturbing because the details of how the prisoners were killed has rarely been so out in the open. It’s tough to hear and we see it’s even more difficult for those actually on the tour. But then again, one guide shows a group the showers where hundreds were killed and explains how there used to be 16 showers still attached, but people have taken them as souvenirs. Why would you take a shower head from a Nazi death camp as a keepsake?
“KZ” is a totally engrossing and extremely disturbing doc on many levels. We see the effect the camp has had on people or the lack of effect it’s had. One visitor signs a guest book with a message that the sons of Israel should take the tour thinking of how they treat Palestinians. The overwhelming message of “KZ” is that unless we face the atrocities and mistakes of the past, we may be doomed to repeat them again. It’s a powerful message delivered in an intriguing way.