Austria: Ex-ski champion Nicola Werdenigg compares migrant tents in Greece to Mauthausen concentration camp

“This idiot seriously compares the migrant camp #Moria, abandoned due to fire, with #Mauthausen, where 100,000 people were murdered by forced labour, hunger, disease and gassing during the Second World War,” a Twitter user criticises the ex-ski racer for her posting about the migrant camp. He is not alone in his protest, many users think that such statements trivialise the Holocaust – and that this posting by Nicola Werdenigg (63) was in bad taste.

For example, the Ex-Liste-Jetzt activist literally wrote during her privately financed “fact-finding mission” in Greece: “The visit to the burnt-down camp #moria triggers similar feelings of unease as Mauthausen. People are locked up in concentration camps in the EU. We will not stop making the serious human rights crimes public.”

The use of the terms “Mauthausen” and “concentration camp” in connection with asylum accommodation in Greece is indeed not unproblematic: As every compulsory school graduate in Austria knows, the victims of National Socialism imprisoned in concentration camps had no possibility to leave – migrants can very well return to their countries of origin at any time.

Equally problematic is Werdenigg’s insinuation that “the EU” would lock people up in concentration camps: The political leadership in Brussels does make some mistakes in asylum care, but to accuse the EU leadership of deliberately destroying human lives and deliberately torturing migrants – as was common in concentration camps at the time – is a massive provocation or a dramatic ignorance of the conditions in the camps of National Socialism.

Due to the immediate reactions, it must have quickly become clear to Nicola Werdenigg that she had gone a step too far with her choice of words: The ex-ski racer tried to backpedal, denied her intention to trivialise the Holocaust – and continued to formulate harshly: “I did not make a Holocaust comparison. I am reporting on the ruins of a current hell that has been reopened a few kilometres away. People are being destroyed here. Simply because we are not supposed to speak the truth for a thousand reasons.” And Werdenigg rebuked the critics, “Since, as you say, you cannot imagine what is being done to people here, perhaps you had better not judge what I call a concentration camp. Thank you.”

200,000 people were imprisoned in the Mauthausen concentration camp, 120,000 of them were murdered by the Nazi regime.

The Moria asylum camp was located in the interior of the East Aegean island of Lesbos. In March of the previous year, 20,000 people temporarily lived in the camp, which was designed for 2800 people; it was Europe’s largest refugee camp and a so-called EU hotspot. For years, the camp had been in catastrophic conditions due to overcrowding. On the night of September 9, 2020, several young migrants from Afghanistan set fire to the camp, which almost completely destroyed the camp and the refugees’ belongings, leaving 12,600 people homeless. Some of the people were taken to the Greek mainland, and a temporary tent camp was set up for 7800 people on the coast near the already existing Kara Tepe camp.

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