Spiegelgrund Survivors Speak Out

  • Video Interviews with Contemporary Witnesses of the Viennese Youth Welfare System

    Twelve survivors of the Viennese Spiegelgrund facilities as well as of other institutions and camps tell their life stories. At the center are childhood memories—set between Austrofascism and National Socialism—that are characterized by the difficult social conditions at the time, by adverse family circumstances, and by the coldness and violence prevailing in those institutions. These accounts reveal the brutality with which the National Socialist youth welfare system proceeded against social outsiders, but also highlight the glaring continuities after 1945. The uncut video recordings and transcripts of these interviews will be kept at the Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance for future research and education purposes. Excerpts of the interviews will be presented in the exhibition at the Otto-Wagner Hospital as well as online. These versions constitute selections made from a total of 45 hours of video material and are subtitled.          
  • Alfred Grasel

    “There was always hunger.”

    Born out of wedlock in 1926, his homeless mother gave him away when he was 14 days old. Subsequently, he was placed into various homes. From 1932 with foster parents who had him institutionalized in a children’s home on May 13, 1928 for being “difficult.” Again various stays in institutions, finally in 1941 at the Am Spiegelgrund facility. At age 16, on October 1, 1942, deportation to the Moringen juvenile concentration camp. Forced labor in underground ammunition factory. Severely injured by a warden. Following liberation, extended hospital stay. After 1945, initially unskilled laborer and construction site supervisor, finally hotel manager.                       
  • Karl Hamedler

    “I was being beaten all the time, I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

    Born out of wedlock in Vienna in 1930. There he grew up with his father. In the wake of abuses by his father, he ran away from home in 1942, was caught, and brought to Spiegelgrund (Pavilions 15 and 17). Transferred to the Mödling educational facility, followed by further stays in institutions. Later on released and used as anti-aircraft defense aid. Deserted in 1945. After the war, odd jobs, then carpentry apprenticeship.        
  • Karl Jakubec

    “They were not interested how we were doing as individuals, rather they were interested‚ ‘what can I try out on this one, what can I continue researching’”

      Born in Vienna in 1939. Was taken away from his parents already as a baby and referred for observation to Pavilion 15 to the Am Spiegelgrund facility. Subsequently, in various children’s homes (Foster Care Service Lustkandlgasse, children’s home Frischau near Znojmo, Moravia). In 1944, again transfer to Spiegelgrund, then to an institution in Hütteldorf. In August 1945 again to Spiegelgrund. Released from institutional care in 1955 at age 16. Worked later on for the Vienna municipality.                        
  • Rudolf Karger

    “There was not a single day without punishment.”

    Born out of wedlock in Vienna’s 16th district (Ottakring) in 1930. His mother passed away in 1936, his father failed to care for the children. Grew up at his grandmother’s place in extremely crowded conditions. In March 1938 an uncle was arrested and deported to Dachau. Following abuse by another uncle at age eleven, at first to the Child Foster Care Service. Following two weeks of observation, he was taken on September 1, 1941 to Spiegelgrund for one year. In the wake of an attempt to escape, severe abuses and several weeks of observation at Pavilion 15 or 17, then in the correctional group at Pavilion 11. From September 1942 until July 1943 at the Mödling educational facility. From there to a foster family in Southern Hungary until he fled from the approaching Red Army to Vienna. Shortly before war end, he evaded draft into the home anti-aircraft defense and struggled along until liberation. After liberation, he was caught illicitly trading saccharin and detained at Kaiserebersdorf for four years. Following release in 1950, tailor‘s apprenticeship, worked in various professions, among others, at the Theater an der Wien.          
  • Alois Kaufmann

    “I was just a thing.”

    Born out of wedlock in Graz in 1934. His mother placed him for care in a monastery, later on, various foster families. For unknown reasons, he was eventually transferred to the Child Foster Care Service and from there to Spiegelgrund, Pavilions 15 and 17. Was detained there until liberation. After the war, Kaufmann joined the SPÖ (Socialist Party of Austria). He has dedicated himself to bringing the crimes committed at Spiegelgrund to the public’s awareness. He is the author of several books and plays, in which he deals with his experiences.              
  • Leopoldine Maier

    “And the term ‘unworthy life’ is still ringing in my ears.”

    Born in Vienna in 1935. Her mother kept her father’s identity a secret, presumably because of his Jewish descent. Transfer in 1943 to Spiegelgrund where her mother was only very rarely permitted to see her. In 1944, her mother succeeded in getting her released from Spiegelgrund. However, in 1945 she was again detained in an educational facility. After 1945, nurse in Vienna.          
  • Ernst Pacher

    “And the problem was that we met the same orderlies again [after the war], they were the same as before.”

    Born in Wiener Neustadt in 1935. His father, active in the Communist Party, had been unemployed for an extended period and, in 1938, went to Berlin in search of work where he passed away. Since his mother was no longer able to take care of him, she placed him in a Catholic orphanage in Baden when he was four and a half. In 1940 it was taken over by a National Socialist organization. Until summer 1943 in this facility, then back to his mother. In spring 1944, caught waving to an enemy airplane, as a result, transfer to the Child Foster Care Service and subsequently to Spiegelgrund. In April 1945, evacuation resp. escape of the institutionalized children to Bavaria. After the war until 1949 at the Spiegelgrund facility, later on apprenticeship as a locksmith in Mürzzuschlag. Four children.          
  • Ferdinand Pauer

    “Everything barred, everything locked, no contact to the outside world, nothing at all.”

    Born in Vienna in 1930. His father died in a work accident. His mother was unemployed and unable to provide for her three children. In the wake of a desperate suicide threat, she was hospitalized at the psychiatric clinic “Am Steinhof” and the three children were taken over by the youth welfare service. Stays in various institutions, finally transfer in 1942 to Spiegelgrund. In December 1945, transfer to the Mödling educational facility where he stayed until he attained legal majority. Afterward jobs at ÖBB (Austrian Federal Railways) and the postal service.              
  • Franz Pulkert

    “The violence was commonplace at the time.”

    Born in 1938. His mother emigrated a few months after his birth to Lübeck, Germany, leaving him behind in Vienna. His father was in the army. The first six months he spent at the Central Children’s Home on Bastiengasse. Afterward via the Child Foster Care Service on Lustkandlgasse to foster parents in Burgenland. After two years, for some time with his father and new wife. However, following the birth of another child, they returned him to the youth welfare services. At around age three, he came to Spiegelgrund, among others, to Pavilion 15. Released after two years. In December 1944, again to Spiegelgrund where he witnessed liberation. After 1945 until reaching legal majority, at Lower Austrian institutions in Wimmersdorf and Eggenburg. Jobs in various professions. Eventually he worked as a driver at the Vienna Transport Services for 38 years. Married since 47 years, one daughter.      
  • Ferdinand Schimatzek

    “I was always afraid and made sure that I didn’t do anything wrong.”

    Born in Amstetten in 1939. He never met his father, who died in 1943. Pressured by her surroundings, his mother took him to the Child Foster Care Service when he was three months old. After three months there, to a foster family in the St. Pölten district, Lower Austria. Afterward for a short time with his mother. In October 1943, because of “behavioral problems,“ to the Spiegelgrund psychiatric clinic for children. In January 1945, to the Pötzleinsdorf children‘s home. After the war until 1953, at further institutions near Vienna (Hinterbrühl, Mödling), afterward locksmith apprenticeship. Finally, army career until retirement. Two children.      
  • Karl Uher

    “We always watched the black car entering the facility, but we didn’t know that there were dying children.”

    Born in Vienna in 1932. Was taken to the Child Foster Care Service on Lustkandlgasse. Afterward with several foster families, the last one in Styria. There he was wrongly accused of arson and was transferred to Spiegelgrund in August 1940. In 1941 to Ybbs and in 1942 to Mödling, thereafter until 1951 intermittently at home and at various educational institutions, among others, for two years in Kaiserebersdorf, Vienna. Worked from 1953 for the Vienna municipality, among other things, as operating manager at the Vienna Harbor.            
  • Friedrich Zawrel

    “The children in my class knew, they talked about concentration camps, it seems that all adults at the time must have been deaf.”

    Born in Lyon in 1929, grew up in Vienna. Since his mother became homeless, he was placed into the care of foster parents starting in 1935. From 1938 in various educational facilities: Central Children’s Home Vienna, Mödling educational facility, afterward again with his biological parents. Based on his father’s alcoholism, he was labeled “hereditary defective“ and eventually transferred to Spiegelgrund, where he was initially detained for nine months. Afterward in various facilities: Dreherstraße/Vienna, Ybbs/Danube, Mödling, and again Spiegelgrund, Pavilion 17. Escaped in 1944 with the help of a nurse, but was caught. Until evacuation of the institution in 1945 detained in Kaiserebersdorf, Vienna. Taken to court in 1975 for theft. There he again faced Dr. Heinrich Gross, who was by now active as a forensic expert. For his expert opinion, Gross used parts of the expert opinion on Zawrel from his Spiegelgrund records. Was sent to the Stein correctional facility and released only in 1981 in the wake of a public debate and two trials around the role of Heinrich Gross. Was active for many years as a contemporary witness. His story became the basis for books, films, plays, and a puppet show. Friedrich Zawrel died on 20 February 2015.