Interview Alfred Grasel

The first memories are actually none at all, only of the concentration camp mostly and of the [children’s] homes. Look, it is easily explained, then from the documents you will learn more. My mother, I was two weeks old, I was born June 21, yesterday was my birthday, and on July 5 she gave me away. She said she was homeless and took me to Lustkandlgasse to the former Foster Care Service. And from then on, I went through all [children’s] homes and some foster homes that I didn’t know about anymore, but which one can see in the documents.

In 1931/32, I found a foster home with the Thuma family, where I later on noticed, in 1938, that she was an illegal Nazi. Those were actually six years that were pleasant, in freedom, when I had school and also friends. Those were actually the six years I keep in good memory.

That was 1932 until 1938. And then she gave me away in 1938. I read here that she said I stole from her. I don’t know what, but that doesn’t matter. But she was an illegal Nazi, and I am of Jewish origin, probably.

Everything else is only memories of homes, of all the homes. Among them are homes I didn’t even know about anymore, like Dreherstraße, the Central Children’s Home on Bastiengasse, the Mödling Orphanage, [that is], the Hyrtl Orphanage, the Spiegelgrund, then the Foster Care Service, then Dreherstraße, then Juchgasse, the home for apprentices, and then the concentration camp.

Actually, memories of the Hyrtl Orphanage are positive. Well, what does it mean positive? I don’t remember enough. In any case: We did sports, played soccer, and we also got time off there. I still remember that we went shoplifting in a candy store there. We were a few boys and said to the salesman: “Up there, that’s what we want.” And he climbed up, and in the meantime we stole everything down there. These are things that stayed on my mind. If I think today how poor this man was at the time, who lived from this meager wage, and we stole from him on top of it! But we didn’t have anything then!

The Spiegelgrund came after Mödling. At the time, I was again a bit privileged; I participated in fetching the food. They also had a train with an electric engine, and I had to bring the food with this engine to the pavilions. There I also was a bit privileged because of my age. I was one of the oldest because I was already 15 then, all the others were younger.

I was difficult. That is also written everywhere. I am not ashamed. I was a difficult boy. But this is not surprising. If I think about it today, it makes sense, if only coercion... My children grew up freely, today, all of them have made it. The grandchildren have master’s degrees, engineers and so on, but in freedom, without coercion. I had to do everything the others wanted me to. Of course one resisted, and of course one wouldn’t always do things the way others wanted, and of course bad stuff happened.

The Spiegelgrund, I remember, was definitely very bad because I escaped twice, one can see this here. Once I ended up in the hospital, and once, I know, I was in a cell, in a room, how and why, I don’t remember. I felt terribly nauseous, but more than that I don’t know anymore. For a few days I was, I don’t want to say unconscious because I still know this, but I was “not here,“ perhaps indifferent, perhaps entirely apathetic or something similar.

Hunger. There was always hunger. Hunger. It wasn’t very rich, the food. Today, I no longer know what we had, I don’t want to tell stories. I know about the concentration camp, where there was almost the same every day, cabbage soup or this turnips soup. But they were hungry all the time because nobody [got] too much… It wasn’t according to calories, one would see to it that they wouldn’t starve, but that they wouldn’t be full either. That way, they kept them more under control. But from the Spiegelgrund, I remember few events. The fifteen months – I escaped twice – went by fast.

The running-away was actually easy because I was in freedom with the train. By train I had to leave from the kitchen and to the pavilions, also to the tuberculosis sanatorium – next to the youth pavilions there was the tuberculosis sanatorium. I could get in there and then over the fence, and for several days I was free. How long, I no longer know, one can see this in there. Each time, they caught me. Once it was my foster mother who returned me, and the next time, they got hold of me in the Prater. We had escaped and didn’t know where to sleep, so we [slept] in the Prater. Where today the Giant Ferris Wheel is, there used to be two storm boats, these were two wagons, approximately the size of this room, 30 people were sitting inside, it was swaying, and there we slept. And just as we were getting up in the morning, down there was the Order Police, the police was there. And then it was already over, that time. That was the second time, and the first time my foster mother had called, so they fetched me.

I received injections, but what? If you ask me, I don’t know, what they all … vomit injections. I don’t want to say anything here, I don’t know, in any case injections where they told me: “You won’t run away anymore.” Where I felt terribly nauseous, and then I don’t know anything anymore, then I was – not unconscious, I wouldn’t say that, I don’t know anything from that time. I was in the cell and apathetic, slept, but didn’t sleep, I don’t know. That lasted for days, until one day they fetched me and brought me to the Roßauer Lände, this is the police jail, there we were in a cell with 50 people, and from there it went on to Germany, also there to the police jail on Alexanderplatz, Berlin, and from there to the Moringen concentration camp.

I always believed it’s going to get better, always thought to myself, it will be freer. I was OK with everything, and a trip by train, etc. was pleasant, nice. Who knows how we will fare now, etc. Well, I got there to the concentration camp, and then the drill already started, with the measuring and the screaming: “Sir, stand straight!” – Actually they didn’t say “Sir”, just “Stand straight!” – And then there were no more names, just numbers. My number, by chance I remember it, because I remember numbers, was seven-sixty-eight. Approximately 1000 young people were in this concentration camp.

The first impression was actually none at all since [we] were sorted and then we were in B, Block B, “Beobachtung” [observation]. Actually, I was in Block F, it was called F: “fraglich erziehungswürdig” [doubtful whether worth educating], so “perhaps we can still make something out of them,” that is how it was called. And I was assigned to sorting potatoes. As newcomer. And we had to sort potatoes down there in the basement: small, medium, and large. I think the purpose was only that all would get the same size. Nothing else, not that one [would get] more or less. And I stole a few potatoes and took them with me. And we had such a small oven in the barracks, and we baked them. Of course, the SS smelled it. “What’s that?” There was no choice, I came forward. For that there were 15 blows on the naked butt. One had to undress, kneel over a stool, and count: “one, two,…” And in the end: “Inmate seven-sixty-eight has gratefully received 15 blows.” That was the requirement: “Gratefully!” Sadistic to the core. These are the memories. And later I got to the “Muna,” we went there daily by car – I estimate, Volpriehausen must be about 40 km [25 miles] away – to the ammunition factory, and there underground, 540 meters [1770 feet]. It was, naturally, pleasantly warm. And the advantage was that we had to bathe daily. This was a potassium salt mine. We had to completely undress upon entering, put on our work clothes and hang up the stuff, as it is done in a mine, and in the evening, on the way back, again showering and again the work clothes, so that we could shower daily with lukewarm, not cold water, but lukewarm water. Cleanliness was the only big advantage. But otherwise there was very little food there, also in the concentration camp, and beatings were all the time, canings, then there was crawling. The entire block got as punishment…, there is a…, it is called “field of blood,” it is noted in the records, where one had to crawl on one’s hands and so on, as punishment, until one was sore. Sadistic to the core, that was the SS. Toward the end, in 1944, it became even worse because the good SS people went to the army, and then the “Volksdeutsche” were brought in. The majority of them didn’t even know German well. Romanians, Bulgarians, that is, Volksdeutsche who come from these countries, who, of course, were sadistic through and through. Who thought, God knows, they are emperors or what do I know. With the young people one can do whatever one wants. These are memories from that time, a terrible time.

These were crates with each, I no longer know it today, six or nine grenades, which are this big, I had to load them, load them onto the mine cart, then bring them to the mine shaft, they got above ground and there they were loaded onto wagons. That I didn’t do, others did that. I was only down there at the engine, and production was carried out by Polish and Russian women who were detained, and the young people were, in fact, just unskilled laborers. Loading, passing along, bringing, and so on. And I was lucky to be at the engine and to command: Hall 2, we will pick them up now, or now we will take it to the mine shaft, or from the shaft we’ll take the mine cart, the new ones, the empty ones down again and to couple, and this was my task all day long.

Work time was about ten hours, approximately, but I don’t want to just say anything, but I guess, we left in the morning at six, and in the evening at six we returned home, half an hour travel time, changing, I estimate that work time was ten hours that we actually worked there.

In the evening there was then sports and standing as punishment because there was always something, really sadistic. They exploited it when there was any minor incident, that the entire block was punished. And then to bed. And that were straw mattresses where one was glad if one could sleep.

In the morning, at wake-up time, on the opposite side, one can see it here, there were the washing rooms, crossing the yard, washing cold, etc., and the latrines, that is, the toilets too; and then at 6:30, today I no longer know the time, I would have to tell you a lie, it was called, not standing as punishment, but roll call. They would count us, then load us into the cars, and then we would drive away. Usually, these were three cars, I guess, approximately 100 people who would always drive from the camp to the ammunition plant.

There were various blocks. The F, Block F, then the politically questionable, then those doubtful whether worth educating, then those unfit for education, there was a block, most of those were sent away. I think they were gassed or something, those who were totally unfit. There were also those. Troublemakers, for instance, someone who didn’t want [to comply] at all. Suddenly, he was no longer here, he is gone. He is on “recreation” or what do I know. After all, nobody said anything. Also, they weren’t accountable to us and didn’t tell us anything, where this one or that one was. But there were always punishments.

There were lots of jobs: road construction, then a certain Piller company, which [made] such electromotors, there one would work, then in highway construction, agriculture. The young people worked, I estimate, in ten different places. The majority was in Volpriehausen in the ammunition plant. Most of them were employed there because work is tough and abundant, the ammunition. First the unloading of the individual parts, then, after production, the loading of finished parts and so on and transportation and such, where they could use the young people. Because production itself was done by the women, whereupon a lot got ruined, and, of course, these were foreigners, Polish or Russian women, I don’t know what they were, but I assume such countries.

They were inside the hall and worked there; and there was the SS who was guarding, because nobody could escape, because these were 540 meters [1770 feet], one would have to go up the shaft by elevator. Only very few SS people were down there, there were more ordnance technicians, army ordnance technicians who were in charge, but SS… No possibility for escape, and nobody did escape. And they had their work, and one didn’t know about anything. Actually, it was very peaceful, if one tells it that way, because they sat and worked, how, I don’t know. I only loaded and drove away and then back again. One actually saw little. One didn’t know much.

When today…, after all, we always visit, somewhere there must be pictures, there are 54 graves that were found there in Moringen, who are buried in Moringen. So you can imagine, 54 young people, I believe, there are 54, between 16 and 19, died in those three years I was there, so something must be wrong. And they lie at the cemetery in Moringen, they have a burial place of their own, which is honored every year, and there were three additional dead people, they went by car, I remember that, they went by car, and the car plunged down the slope. And in the car, on the bottom, there were iron panels, and on the iron panels there were benches to sit on, but those iron panels were not affixed. The car turned over, and three were dead. Nobody knew about it, but I couldn’t find peace, but we then found it on the graves, three dead persons. I believe it was January 1945, I don’t know anymore.

And then I had this serious injury, on February 22, 1945. At the end of the shift, I had to clean the engine, and why did he back up the engine? I stood at the wall, and the engine was in front of me, and he backed up.

We were closer than the two of us. Because he sat here, and I cleaned in the back. He just waited until we were done, and then above ground. So this was entirely on purpose. Now he said, the “Stabsführer” [staff leader], that I wanted self-mutilation, that I started the engine. Impossible, of course!

But this isn’t normal, I “wanted to commit self-mutilation because I didn’t want to work.” Now he said [this], the Stabsführer, at the interrogation, he said [this] when they asked him how that happened. But I couldn’t do anything against it. I wasn’t even unconscious. Still today I know exactly, it was in the evening, around nine. I just no longer know how the surgery was, afterward I don’t know anything anymore.

Thus, I am 100% disabled. Crushed foot, open fracture and everything, fractured pelvis on both sides, and, and, and. But I was lucky that the physician, the camp physician, Dr. Wolter-Pecksen, an illegal Nazi, but a physician, treated me and actually saved my life. Because they wanted to take me to Göttingen, from Volpriehausen to Göttingen it’s about 40km [24 miles], the university clinic is there, but probably there I would have become a victim of euthanasia. Since one would say “life is nothing worth anymore.” But we were unable to go because there were heavy snow banks, it was a hard winter, the winter of 1944/45. We had to go to the camp, and the physician operated on me. I have 23 sutures and 18 clamps on my foot, and he helped me through all those months.

This was down here, and the tubes went through here, so that the pus, etc. would flow out. And every day with the scalpel the wild flesh, it [took] seconds, but those were terrible pains. And so I asked him: “Doctor, take off the foot!” So he said: “I have already taken off enough.” So did what he could, I must say, and I give him credit for that. He continued working also after the war, with the medical practice. He could continue working under the Americans.

I [stayed] until June, I was the last, two or three were in the camp because the others went on the death march, the entire camp, the young people were gone, just a few in the camp hospital remained.

I was in the camp hospital. Until one day Americans entered. The first impression was, right away a sturdy Negro, a Black. “Oh, I thought. What’s that now?” And the weapon at the ready, but I wasn’t afraid, I thought to myself, what’s happening here, and immediately he gave out Marlboro, cigarettes. But at the time I didn’t smoke, didn’t even know how to light a cigarette. [That] was my first impression of the Americans. But with a smiling face, the Negro. But what’s what, we didn’t know anything. I was lying in the hospital because liberation was in May, and I was discharged only in June.

There was no liberation because the camp was empty. In early May, one should [find] this somewhere in other records, I don’t know, they went on the death march, they say death march because so many perished, lost their life, away from the camp, the SS with the young people. In the camp there were only a few left, those in the hospital and nothing else. I remember I was lying in... The looting, there were the store-rooms, the population, the people of Moringen, looted the store-rooms. Inside, where the clothes [were], I mean the young people didn’t have anything proper, clothes and so on. I still know that. There was turmoil, so the doctor said: “Well, they are looting the camp.” But there was nobody left anymore, except for the physician and the medic and a few convalescents. Then in June I obtained discharge. I received the letter at today’s memorial place, I still know this, two ladies were sitting there, and they gave me the letter. Unfortunately, I no longer have it, the letter of discharge. I even don’t know what was written in it. And from there I went to Vienna. By foot, by hitchhiking, and so on.

In June I was ready [to go] home by foot. But the wound in the front was still open, I then went to Rudolf Hospital in Vienna for treatment.

And thus I came to Vienna, but I have, you must imagine, no mother, no father, no brother, I have no relatives, nobody. Here I was, and now what next? Now I had to look, I had to work after all. Right away, with my open foot, I found work in Essling as unskilled laborer in street paving. And I slept in the hotel, in the third district, and the hotel cost, I believe, 5 Schillings, and I earned 7 Schillings. So that wasn’t interesting for me. Now, of course, I looked where I could find girls, but it wasn’t the thought of having sex, rather, when I would find somebody, I had gained a night somewhere.

Because, I have to tell you, I have, actually except from the concentration camp, I have everything, how shall I put it, I erased it from my brain. I repressed everything. Because it’s pointless. Look, I came to Vienna, I was all alone. And now I have to live. And now, of course, I looked, there was no concentration camp, or someone who would torment me or beat me, that was irrelevant to me. Rather, I had to see how I will live today. What do I get, where can I work. So that I didn’t do anything but work. I worked seven days. Obviously, the family has grown. We had our first son in 1946. In 1946, 1949, 1951, 1954 the children came. There was no pill, no abortion at the time. We had to…, we had a small room, half of the room, at my mother-in-law’s, of course, we slept in one bed, thus, there is naturally much more sex, without thinking about love, and, thus, the children came, because four children, that’s already a very large family. But today I am happy about it. My eldest son passed away, he is not in this [photo] anymore. And, thus, the memories have faded because I repressed everything. Of course, the concentration camp memories, on some days they are here. Beatings or standing as punishment or crawling. Everything. But this I also repressed. Because I started a life. Look, from unskilled laborer… I retired as hotel manager.