Interview Ferdinand Pauer

My mother... was then a trained cook, and she subsequently got to know my father. He was a widower, who already had two children, he was from South Tyrol, and, regrettably, he wasn’t very smart, he produced three children, but was unable to provide for us. He had a work accident, he died on Weber Street in the 20th district, I can show you the whole thing. We weren’t provided for. My mother didn’t get any job, and no kindergarten. It wasn’t like [today] then, and in her despair she [went] to the police station and said: “If you don’t give me a job, I’ll commit suicide.” That’s the reason she was immediately taken to Steinhof [psychiatric hospital]. This was reason enough that… Steinhof. She was then put under tutelage and... and then the ordeal started. And then we, the three children, were split up.

Yes, here all the misery began. One day in the morning, there is knocking outside, but like crazy. We lived on the raised ground floor. But already then, as a child, I was afraid. Because that was horrible. I jumped down right away from the raised ground floor, that was on…, on what it’s called, in the 3rd district, I’ll remember in a moment. And, of course, I was injured, and I was then taken to the KÜST [Child Foster Care], from there we got on the former Josef-Hackl Street to this monastery, Antoni Monastery, and there I thought that this was glory on earth, a wonderful duvet, hot chocolate in the morning, and then we were transferred to Spiegelgrund to… Everything barred, everything locked, no contact to the outside world, nothing at all.

Among other things, there was up there also the Steinhof anti-aircraft defense. Today, it doesn’t exist anymore, today the district heating is nearby, such a concrete base, and there was a pavilion only for war invalids. And [one] learned about that only later on: Those who didn’t have arms or legs, they all died from pneumonia. That is, they stopped feeding them. And we looked out of the window, we lived on the lower floor, at the time, we didn’t know better: “Did you see, the fools are driving by again.” Grey clothing, jacket, slippers, white shoes, socks, with the funeral cart. We didn’t know what this was all about. We only said: “Look, here they drive by again those fools.”

There wasn’t much. It wasn’t “You are Mr. Pauer, and you are this,” that was irrelevant, you were a number, finished. If you didn’t obey, you’d get a punishment. There wasn’t much, not much of a choice. You can’t say: “I want this bed, or I want this or that,” there was no such thing. This is yours, and that’s it. We had to make our bed, straight as a ruler, that precise, otherwise it was torn apart, and you had to do it again. That was the education at the time.

I don’t even want to get too much into the other stuff, because the kind of cruelties that were going on…, as I said, if someone wetted his bed, anyway just wee-wee, we had there an entire row of showers, and not just him alone, but all those who slept in the same row had to get out and under the shower. Cold, of course, that’s obvious, and then waiting till one was dry. That was… Or, for instance, there were punishments…, except when food was canceled, that was the worst. If they canceled the food, that was the worst.

As I said, by 8 p.m. there was lights out, except if there was an alarm. If you had to go to the toilet in the time until 10 p.m., you [had] to report to the nurse, and there was a punishment. The punishment was, you’ve heard it already, the shower. Nothing to eat the following day, arbitrarily, no dinner or no lunch, whatever they decided. You couldn’t rely on anything. They had all those extra...

Oh. For every bagatelle. Fingernails, for instance, she’d come, you had to show your fingers. Splat, another slap. The next day, your food was cancelled. Bagatelles. Or during sports, if we were doing something that you were unable to do. I never quite managed to climb up the pole. I didn’t have the strength. Same thing at the rope, although I really... I didn’t get all the way up. That was, how did they call this, how did they say then, “refusal,” or what do I know. I don’t refuse, I can’t do it. Then again, again, again. Then I couldn’t look at this rope anymore, because… To this day I can’t. I never tried again. I have such bad memories of it. Swimming, swimming, there I performed... But that didn’t exist at Spiegelgrund.

We were all emaciated, we had no strength. He’d say: “Do twenty pushups,” and you know anyway, and he right away kicked you in the ass. “So what’s up, you lazy bum?” Well, he didn’t say bum, but some such expletive.

A ruler on top in front, and jumping up the stairs squatting. And if the ruler fell down, the same again. But not one floor, three floors up. You don’t manage to do this a second time, you stumble over. And then there is punishment, no food, or something else. We were so fixed on that, so that we wouldn’t do any nonsense, or talk loudly. If the educator considered it to be noisy, you had to stand outside, if he was disturbed while reading. There are so many bagatelles that today are no longer relevant, where nobody knows anymore that there are such things at all. Today, kids clamber about and have fun, and have a bike and a soccer ball and table tennis, and what do I know what else, and a telephone and a mobile phone and a camera, all that didn’t exist then. We really only lived from hand to mouth. Who knew whether we’d still be here the next day. It was said we’d be shipped off. You’d also hear some rumoring, but… You’d hear the clock chime, but not strike... You didn’t find out anything either.

Once a week they’d come, you had to hand over your underpants, you’d stand there naked, handed over your underpants, but in a way that everybody could see whether there was a brown stain, or a white one.

Oh, this was always a party, when one…, oops, he has a line in the pants, everybody would laugh. Back at his but, he has a comma in the pants. Thirty boys would watch, what the pants... You had to show it, whether it was intact. Because they were washed and redistributed. Nobody had pants of their own.

So, short pants, either you had striped ones or a green garment. Short pants, a jacket, either striped, that is, not striped like this [horizontally], but like that [vertically] or a green garment, there were only two [options]. So everybody knew right away that you were from this facility. And long stockings. But vain as we were, we got hold of a rubber band, turned the stockings inward, so that we had knee-length socks. We were vain. Someone might have seen us running around with long stockings. Silly, right? But when it got cold, we would pull them up. And there was no heating in the rooms. In the recreation room, yes. I can remember. We had Mikado sticks, chess they had there, and, what do you call it, “Mensch, ärgere Dich nicht,” and that was all, that was all. No other games, or something or a pad for drawing, all that didn’t exist, these were all scarce goods.

“Spiegelgrund has stolen my youth.” True, because I didn’t have any childhood. I didn’t have any childhood. Absolutely nothing, no toys, there was no such thing at all. And as I said, no radio, we couldn’t even listen to the radio when there was a soccer game or something. Yes, when there were those propaganda broadcasts, on the “Volksempfänger” [radio receiver], but that wasn’t of interest to any of the children, to me not at all, I was too young for this.

And we had too…, today we call it mixed vegetables, but these were all those whole beans and spinach leaves and everything, “barbed wire.” Everything was mixed together here. This was the German diet, or what do I know. Even if it’s raw, you just eat everything, main thing the stomach has something inside. But to utter wishes? A second helping? Say, are you nuts? No such thing at all, no... It was just that we didn’t starve, but we didn’t grow either. One could see this from the way I looked. And then fruits, here and there an apple, that was the utmost. As I said, we went to the fence, where the wild vine grew, the woodbine, we rolled up the leaves, squeezed them and ate them, or else the lime leaves, we gathered the nuts, opened them, and when we had about ten, we’d put them in the mouth. Or this, what is it called, bear’s garlic. We ate just about everything that was possible, right?

I tell you honestly: The time I [spent] at Spiegelgrund and in Mödling, the camaraderie, this I miss today. Camaraderie existed then, nobody had more or less. And if someone had really problems, we would all help out together. Up at Spiegelgrund, where there was the Steinhof anti-aircraft defense, there was a farm. There were pigs, cows, everything that could be, fruit trees. And when the time came, when the rotten fruit would fall down, we were allowed to go up there, we were allowed to take the rotten fruit. That was something. No knife, we’d just bite it off, spit it out, the rest you’d eat. That much humane they were at the time. It was a large area. Nothing was lacking, nothing was lacking. They had pork, had beef, had milk, butter, cheese, had everything, honey, as I said, they had everything, jam. The Russians then collected it all.

We were down in the basement, we were always hungry. There wasn’t a day when we weren’t hungry. And when the Russians were here, they looted the entire stock, the Russians, the amounts of food and everything they were hoarding there. Summer and winter, we had to run around in short pants, in long stockings and short pants, we had no winter coats, I didn’t know there was such a thing. Or no long pants, not at all, everything was there, except that we didn’t get it. And then the Russians came. Before, they did some propaganda: “Yes, they will come and cut off your nose or your ears,” and how shall I say, gruesome. In effect, when the Russians came over, they were…, by my standards they were nice, the Russians. The Russians came up there, “dawei, dawei, dawei,” “up, up,” and he saw what we looked like, he had such husks, took out some bread, broke it and gave us bread. That was the first thing we got. That was at the time a wonderful thing, right?

And then in December ’45, we heard that we were going to be sent out to Mödling, on a truck [we were] taken there by the Russians, on an open truck, out there to Mödling. There was the east wing, that was the only one, in all the others were the Russians, where before our… Well, I don’t want to mention names, those had been inside there, and had eaten and drunk themselves silly. And then there were the Russians inside with their officers. This small crew, they were poor devils themselves, they didn’t have anything either. Well, the first thing was to tear down from the doors, from the gaps, the tapes, because it had all been gassed, because there was so much vermin. I can still remember it was “Krampus” Day [December 6], and they write it was October, I can…100 percent that it was “Krampus” Day, doesn’t matter. Well, what did we get, pea soup, that was the utmost. Up there, there were no window glasses, these were such combs…, the windows covered with paper combs. No heating, nothing. We were freezing like donkeys. But it did get better after all. Then we had a large walnut tree in the center of the yard, and the Russians just poured out everything they received. An entire truck with spinach arrived, it was dumped, and each one had two buckets, one with water, one…, we would take the sludge into our hands and rinse it, the cabbage leaves into the other bucket, the other sludge we’d throw away. We really ate everything, there was nothing that...

The Russians celebrated Christmas with us. A beautiful tree, and there were gifts. On each place two apples and a braided yeast bread. A small braided yeast bread. So for us, this meant all the world. We listened to the rubbish he told us, and just couldn’t wait to eat. We did everything, only to be able to eat already. I must say, personally, I can’t say anything against the Russians. They were nice to us at Spiegelgrund and out in Mödling as well.

You know, this was a time when you really had to look after your survival, to ride it out at all. As I said, I got out of there with 19 kilos, I went to vocational school on August 1, 1949 and – I can still show you a photograph – using a children’s ticket, I went to vocational school. I was such a small midget.

Well, when I think back, I didn’t have any vacation, no Christmas pay, no vacation pay, in summer washing myself at the well, in winter I was allowed to wash myself once in the laundry, in the wooden washing trough, that is, to have a bath. Dire conditions! I had a small room where I slept, with a concrete floor. I photographed it today, because the tenant moved out, it is exposed, I photographed the room from outside. A kerosene lamp, a wash basin, that was all what was inside. No heating, nothing.

I can’t step into an airplane. I have claustrophobia, I can’t. When I’m in an elevator, once this happened to me, the elevator got stuck, I started screaming, I threw a fit. Therefore, I have never boarded an airplane. My wife would have loved to fly once.

Oh God. I tell you if one… all that. Actually, I always was too much of a coward to take my kids, one after the other, and go over all that with them. I thought, it’s none of their business. That was my life. It’s none of their business.

Regarding childhood, I can envision something nicer. That is, in Mödling it was already more easygoing, I could walk around freely, that is, we didn’t have to keep in step. With those idiots, you always had to walk in step and what else. And when, as I said, the one... would show up, to shout “Heil Hitler” and all that. Do you know how annoying that is, when you stand in the cold, shivering, and he gives a speech, uninteresting, and then we also had to sing, “Oh you lovely Westerwald,” and what do I know what else. Till today I know all of those songs. It was a horrible time. I don’t wish it on any child today to go through such a thing.