Interview Franz Pulkert

I was born in Vienna, grew up in the Central Children’s Home, the first six months at Bastiengasse, my mother more or less abandoned me there after six months. When the Germans arrived in Austria, she emigrated to Lübeck and left me here. And so I was sent further from Bastiengasse to Burgenland, to foster parents. During that time, my father was in the war, and I stayed there for two years, approximately. But then my father fetched me, we then lived on Wattgasse in the 17th district, but then there was already a stepmother. I thought at the time that this was my real mother, since I never knew my real mother since I was a small child, and that was actually the first mother for me. And from Wattgasse, my stepmother took me to the Foster Care Service on Lustkandlgasse. In the meantime, she had already had another son, and that was, of course, her own son. And thus…, [she’d hit me] with the carpet beater, that was common, these methods, but actually that didn’t [bother me] that much, for me, this was the mother, and that’s it. So I got there. From Lustkandlgasse, I was sent to Spiegelgrund, I was approximately three years old then. I was there for two years, and even in Pavilion 15, the well-known killing pavilion, there I was for two years. What happened there, I no longer remember, I was too young. And from there, I got back home to Wattgasse. And then my stepmother [took] me again to Spiegelgrund. But then, I was already six years old. So in 1944, I went to school here in Vienna, and then got again to Spiegelgrund in December 1944. I was already six years old, went to school there at a pavilion, I believe Pavilion 18 it was then. And I stayed there until August 1945, there I witnessed the end of war, at Spiegelgrund. And from there, I was then sent, this was a kind of night-and-fog operation, to Wimmersdorf to the children’s home.

Spiegelgrund, the streetcar went there at the time, number 47. And it was again in winter, in December, my stepmother brought me up there, no, this was not my stepmother, because I came up there from the welfare institution on Lustkandlgasse, they brought me up there. And actually it was winter, well and it is…, therefore, everything was dark somehow, but I can say it, when I was up there at age three, I don’t know anything anymore, what they did there. And at age six, a kind of train was driving around Spiegelgrund, such a small one, it always [transported] food and laundry, and actually this fascinated me, driving like the [Prater] miniature railway around the premises, which were very much spread out, the pavilions. And we went to school like this, normally to school there, and we had such lessons. I can remember one thing, one had to greet nicely, and once I did that so sloppily, somehow, I just did it like the Fuehrer himself, he also used to do it just like that. I entered once like that and did only… I had to stand outside in the corridor, hands straight, and they put books on them, until the hands… I can still remember this, always greeting properly, that we had to do, that’s what they liked.

One went to school there. That started in the morning, so at first one ate breakfast, then one went to school, nicely, with the typical salute, but what they learned there, one learned a bit here and there, but that was too little, it was always just in passing, they kept bringing up the history of the German Reich and such things. But I cannot remember any proper lessons, that there were such things at all, that we did proper math, or the way one does that at school, that they didn’t do. Either they didn’t want that we’d learn this… I then received a report card where it said “did not pass,” from first grade. When I came to Wimmersdorf, there was a report card, it said not passed, that was it, that was all it said.

There wasn’t much, coffee and bread, a normal breakfast, nothing special. In Eggenburg it was exactly like that. In Eggenburg, one got coffee for breakfast, and there was such a loaf of bread, and they cut it into eight parts, and so one received an eighth of bread, dry, without anything. Therefore, I was always ten kilos underweight. I never recovered, that is, until I got married, I was always underweight, when I was married, now I added a bit more, but then I was always slim, I was always slim, and tall I also have always been. I couldn’t add anything from the food, somehow one was always hungry. That was the same in Wimmersdorf, it just… But we were always hungry.

And as I said, the nice thing was, when I was in the children’s home, one saw that the war was over, because in Vienna, one had…, I [heard] the air raid warnings and all that, that was always such a howling, and at Spiegelgrund they had already…, so that we wouldn’t always need to run down from our floor, they put mattresses in the basement, and we slept in the basement when there were these attacks. And next to Spiegelgrund, there was the anti-aircraft defense, those cannons one would already hear and partially see. And from up there, from Spiegelgrund, one could see so well down on Vienna, and that was somehow eerily beautiful, it was dark, and then it burned all over, and there were always flashes in the distance, like summer lightning, from the canons and so forth. We saw the anti-aircraft defense as they kept lighting up the sky with floodlights, for the airplanes. As a child, one doesn’t think much about it. Of course, fear of the bombs, after all we heard about everything that… Because of this, school was also interrupted, it was always announced, bomb attack, everything is locked and finished, one wasn’t allowed outside.

Actually, Spiegelgrund was for me, as a memory, I cannot say that there were excesses or such at the time, at age six, one didn’t learn anything, not much, one only kept seeing these Weekly Newsreels, up there in the movie hall, and about the war and so on, but otherwise nothing was done, and that way I didn’t complete first grade. And in Wimmersdorf I had to start first grade in September 1945, I didn’t know anything, neither writing, reading or anything else, nobody cared, I had to start there from scratch, in Wimmersdorf, and I was practically seven years old. I was in Wimmersdorf until age 14. And as I said, people would always say, well, Spiegelgrund, but, in fact, it all went on. So one got to Wimmersdorf, the treatment, the beating, the kicking, and so forth, that was exactly the same there, that is, those seven years. We only had female supervisors, and certain supervisors were overdoing it, that is, with the brooms, with anything they got hold of, they mistreated us, practically.

And everything had to have its order, bed-making, armylike, I have said anyway, the children’s home was more armylike than the military service, to be honest. When I came to the army, they said: “Wow, what’s going on here, and one has to make the beds.” To this I’d say, I have learned that in Wimmersdorf, also with the toothbrush, precisely measuring with the cup, how to fold the bed linen and everything. There, everything had to be armylike, we were marching all the time and so on, according to the whistle, one blow marching, two blows stopping, that’s the way it went. And it was said that here there were also more Nazis, during the war there was some kind of institution, I don’t know, there were rumors. And the Russians kept searching whether something... All the time figures were wandering around in the forest, still in 1945, there were some scattered Nazis or whoever that was, they kept sneaking around plain-clothes, and the supervisors always said: “No, this is dangerous with those people.” And they also threw away all their weapons there, and we could have found all sorts of things: grenades, pistols, everything, bullets, it was lying around there in heaps.

Because I can remember in Wimmersdorf, in Wimmersdorf there was always a guy who would come, he was 14, 15-years old, some guy. He was still in Wimmersdorf and was drafted into the army from there, at 14 they were sent to the war, and he returned, arm gone, blind, and full of splinters, till today I think of him, he always had this black hand, and he was even allowed to sleep-over in the home, he had been a boarding pupil, and then in the war as a 14, 15-year-old who had to pay so dearly. He would always come to the home in summer, he would stay for a few days. I always remember this black hand he had, and blind and the face… full of splinters, I always remembered him like that. That was the only [place] where he probably could see something, the home and everything and the surroundings, and he would always come…, he could always sleep over in the home for a few days, he even slept with us in the children’s rooms, that is, with the 13, 14-year-olds, and he could stay overnight and also ate with us and so on…, that were his personal memories probably that he had. He was also always treated well by the principal and so on.

And the principal, I remember him like this: As I get there for the first time, the next day I see the principal, he was almost 1.90 meters [6.2 feet] tall, he came in breeches and with the horsewhip, I always thought he looks like these SS guys, such an attire he had already then.

And he probably must have been someone higher up during the war, one kept hearing about that, they were all some Nazi figures. And as I said, the educational methods continued along these lines, one thinks that existed only during the war, but at the time all that [continued] the same way… And the supervisors, the teachers, they themselves had been part of the system.

That was Wimmersdorf, except for the beatings which happened all the time. And there was also a supervisor, a certain Aunt Lotte, who kept singling me out, I don’t know, I always got the slaps, probably also for the others. She always targeted me, and with the broom, ten left, ten right, and then she has…, she always had such a large toilet key, then she clobbered one’s finger right away, so that one [got] rather blue [fingers]. Today they would be jailed if they did that at school, this kneeling, standing, that was always common practice anyway if something [was wrong]. One wasn’t really a good kid, I wasn’t one either, I must say, but even for trifling reasons, right away they would hit, and the teachers stood at the blackboard with the cane. But, as I said, one forgets, one somehow represses. Today, I only think about the beautiful landscape that existed at the time.

In Wimmersdorf there were always these fights among the boys, sometimes one had a blue eye or was boxing around, whoever was stronger, but one stopped as soon as one was on the floor, and that was the end of it. In Eggenburg, I must say, there were already 18-year-olds, so there it was quite violent, it was the rule of the jungle, not so much the supervisors, I cannot say that any of them would have done something to us, but the youngsters. The bigger ones always turned on the small ones, top down… This one against that one and sometimes the other one, the weaker always… And I must say, in Eggenburg there were also sexual incidents, I must say that.

It is difficult, to be honest, I actually don’t want to get into this. I don’t want to get into this. Because there were always those, it always affected the weaker ones, mostly those who somehow didn’t dare or such, mostly it hit those hard. Then some guys would let loose on him somehow, sexually harassed him, as they say today. And the supervisors didn’t do anything about it, although they knew, but they didn’t do anything, or that it would have reached the principal’s office, nothing!

But, of course, often there were terrible brawls at Eggenburg, they would beat each other up quite a bit. And the typical “blanket,” as it was called, “he gets the blanket today,” because it was always like this, it is best one has three things: see nothing, hear nothing,… Those were always the… If, let’s say, he complained about this or that one, one had to… During the night, they would throw a blanket over him, and four, five [guys] would hit him. That’s roughly how it was then.

And the violence, that was commonplace at the time, I mean, with my parents this wasn’t different either, because my mother wasn’t any better, and I can remember when I for the first time [talked about] Spiegelgrund, I had to go to a psychiatrist concerning this compensation. And the psychiatrist asked me, from the City of Vienna, that’s where the psychiatrist was, and he asked me and says: “Well, and did your mother also beat you?” So I say: “Yes, with the carpet beater and with all sorts of things.” To this he said right away: “Yes, in this case, at Spiegelgrund, you were again among your ilk.” After which I thought to myself, this is in today’s times, in the 1990s, that one [still] receives such answers...

So I received a medal from the mayor, as contemporary witness, the Golden Merit Cross. I see this rather as a kind of war medal, for having endured these times, and not for Spiegelgrund, right? Or else, more or less, they mollified us, now we want quiet already, let’s put a medal around them, and we’ll have peace and quiet.

But I find the compensation, well, just that it came too late, much too late! Hundred thousand schillings, had I gotten that as a twenty-year-old, that would have been something! Then we needed an apartment, etc., that would have been it! Afterward, if I wouldn’t have had it, the other things I would have bought also without it. But that’s how it was, it wasn’t, let’s say in the sense that I’d say, yes…, it was a compensation and that’s it. I often used to say, I should get a compensation from Wimmersdorf as well, there I was beaten for seven years, I should actually receive more from there than from Spiegelgrund.

I have been saying that one only ever talks about the Wilhelminenberg, on TV one always hears Wilhelminenberg. But there were dozens of institutions where the exact same things happened, also Christian ones, they weren’t any better either. And I imagine, the supervisors then, they all were themselves obsessed with the German Reich. One cannot shake this off just like that from one day to the next.