Interview Rudolf Karger

Well, I can tell you, when all of this was found, that is, my things, and I read it through, and it was a disaster for me. For one year, I was unable to say anything. I completely retreated from everything, I was weeping like a child because I couldn’t understand that people could be so mean and send us there, and they knew what was going on there, at Spiegelgrund, the guardians. And all the lies they wrote about me and my family, all this [hurt] me terribly, and I was knocked out. For a year, I was knocked out. It is impossible to talk about Spiegelgrund because it was… I was brought there at the age of eleven, yes, I was eleven years old then. So first I was at Lustkandlgasse, two, three weeks for observation, and then they sent me to Spiegelgrund, well it was… I cannot remember a single day without punishment, there was not a single day without punishment. And bestial punishments they were, sadistic punishments. They made us stand for hours, and what was also terrible, we knew precisely that, when a specific nurse was on, we had to stand the whole night from evening to morning in front of our beds, with nothing on but our nightgown. In the summer, the windows were closed and in the winter they were open, can you imagine? That was totally normal.

Yes, I was born in 1930, in Vienna, and I had two more sisters, and the tragedy was, we all were born out of wedlock, and it was an absolutely shameful thing in these days, it was just horrible. Of course, we were raised by our grandmother, but legal guardianship was with the Youth Welfare Office. I grew up on Thaliastrasse, and we lived in a one bedroom flat in a municipal housing project, and frequently we were twelve people living in this apartment, eight grown-ups and four children, since the son of my aunt was there, too. And you can easily figure out the tensions and frictions in the year 1930, when eight people were living in one apartment, eight grown-ups, and only two of them had a job. But overall this didn’t play any major role, we muddled through somehow, but in 1938, when on March 12 they occupied Austria, things went very bad. First of all, one of my uncles said a couple of days before the occupation: “Who needs this Hitler in Austria?” and this became publicly known, and they arrested him already in the night of March 12, 1938, and they brought him to Dachau. That was one thing.

And the second thing was that we were out of wedlock. None of us was in the Party, none of us had a [pro-Nazi] criminal record, we were from the Youth Welfare Office, and so we were ill-suited for the entire regime. I should have become member of the Jungvolk [Youth Organization], that was mandatory then. From the age of 10 to 15 there was DJ [German Youth], and of course, I didn’t join them, and they noticed it pretty well. And there were parades on Thaliastrasse, where I was supposed to salute the flag. Well, of course, I didn’t do that. The chieftain came out, slapped me twice in my face for not saluting the flag, and the whole thing was carefully noted.

My family was horrible for me, first of all because we were eight people, and one uncle of mine was constantly beating me, which was the main reason that they brought me to Spiegelgrund. He had been with the Foreign Legion, ’29, when the [?] was. He came back after five years and lived again with my grandmother, his mother, in our municipal apartment. I don’t know what he had against me, maybe I looked like my father or because they had to feed us, and they had nothing for themselves. But they had to sustain us somehow. In any case, I was constantly beaten by him. To do homework with him was a deadly task. Once I had to write the figure eleven, and I put the two ones too far away from each other, and I thought, wait a minute, I strike out the last one and make a new one closer to the first one, but I didn’t get that far, because the next moment he nailed the composition book to the table, while I was already lying under the table on that… And well, Oma, my grandmother, his mother, she couldn’t always [interfere] with her son, and when I knew that he would come home to sleep – he didn’t always sleep at home – then I went up to the attic and slept on the attic floor because I was afraid. I knew exactly, when the grown-ups went to work in the morning I would be beaten, which he constantly did. Once he beat me with his hand in plaster, he beat me throughout the whole apartment until there was no more plaster on his hand. I was in […] then. And my grandmother, she meant well, told everything to the Youth Welfare Office. She told them that I hadn’t returned home, they were looking for me, they thought I was…, but I was sitting in the attic, I was afraid, and when he [my uncle] had left, I went down again, but my grandmother immediately ran to the office and told them that I again disappeared, it was a disaster, that’s what it was.

As for Lustkandlgasse, I only know that I got there, that they undressed me completely naked, and that I was passed around, and then I was transferred to Spiegelgrund after 14 days or 10 days. Spiegelgrund I remember very well, it was a beautiful autumn day, someone let me into the ward, I remember it was Pavilion 7 or 9, and nobody was there, and I had a look around, there was a nice hallway, everything clean, shipshape, and there was a nice day room and a dormitory with about 20 to 25 beds, a little room – charge office, a bathroom, well, and then there was a little hallway and well, such small cells, the size of a regular cell, with a lock and a peeping hole, and I thought well, is this where they lock up the fools, I don’t know. Yes, it caught my eye, but in the beginning I thought it looked pretty nice, but everything was locked and behind bars. Then, after about an hour, they came back from where they had been, about 20 to 25 boys of my age, and the nurses greeted me and so on, and I thought, well, this cannot be too bad, at my uncle’s I was beaten, and here I will have at least my quiet. But it turned out to be the opposite, and already the next day I knew that this was no good at all. Always punishments, nothing but punishments, standing as punishment, slaps in the face, standing before the beds. And what was especially mean: they took care that nobody made friends with anybody, and whenever they punished us they used to say: “For this, you can thank this guy!” There were always automatically frictions between us, there was no friendship between us, they didn’t want that, the nurses or the sadists – I don’t know how to put it. Yes, it was lucky, unfortunately I have never met anyone [of them] after the end of the war, because I think if I had met one of them – they were all in hiding – I think I would have attacked them, because it was so miserable, what they had done to us.

Yes, I experienced one year at Spiegelgrund, and, as I said, it was enough, punishments, always punishments, punishments, punishments. I also made an attempt to escape, Zawrel too, did Zawrel tell you the measures after the attempt to escape? No? I’ll tell you. After a medical examination, I was in the tram with two nurses, and, what shall I tell you, we passed Thaliastrasse. And – feeling homesick – I just stepped out during a tramstop. I went up to my grandmother’s, who was fortunately at home. But already after only two hours, the two nurses came and took me and brought me again to Spiegelgrund, and they promised my grandmother that nothing would happen, but I already knew what would happen. I hadn’t even reached Spiegelgrund, when they slapped me in my face that I thought I would be deaf forever. The other boys were forced to stand in the hallway as a punishment, then they pushed me down to a chair and shaved my head, well, they pulled my hair out rather than shaving it, until I was bald. Then they undressed me, took me to the bathroom, which was standard practice, the bathtub filled with cold water, they threw me in and dunked me over and over again. I couldn’t breathe anymore, so I pulled the plug; they became angry, pulled me out of the tub, and then I had to stand for a quarter of an hour under the cold shower. I was not allowed to leave the shower, for they would have killed me, and they were entitled to do so. And then followed the usual procedure – when someone had done something wrong, the others had to suffer, too, and they were forced to line up. Then they threw me out of the bathroom, and I was forced to walk naked through the Salzergasse. Does that ring a bell, Salzergasse? Left and right the boys are standing, and you have to walk the path between them, and they can beat you, that was the Salzergasse. And then they brought me to Pavilion 15-17, the special department for children, where there was this Gross, just that at the time I didn’t know yet what this meant. They had such small cells, and I was in such a small cell for about 14 days or three weeks, dressed with just a shirt, with barely anything to eat, and I got lots of shots. I vomited, because these vomit shots where commonly known, we got them frequently, and after 14 days, three weeks, I don’t know exactly, I was transferred to the punishment station, and I went to this punishment station at Pavilion 11, where I met Zawrel, who was there and used to escape all the time, and they got him back each time. And then we had military drill. And what was miserable, for hours or the whole day they forced us to tear apart our beds and remake them again properly, tearing and remaking. That had to be one line, 20 beds, the sheets had to be precisely folded, all forming one line, and this never worked out. Our entire day consisted of tearing open and closing sheets and blankets, and then, as punishment, standing soldier-like in front of them, such was our [life], and this life I experienced for one year.

The punishment group. Yes, Pavilion 11 was a punishment group. There they put all those who tried to escape and speak up in their group, and well, there were many adolescents that were not dumb, but all of us were unsettled and disturbed. That was caused by the circumstances. And, yes, there were some in my age group who were outright hysterical, ill-tempered and all of these things, who could not be brought under control, and they were transferred to the punishment station, too.

Only animosity, like I said before, and when something happened, it was “You can thank him for that!” Automatically there is such anger, well it doesn’t matter, for it was just a pretense for them, this “You can thank him.” Here, real friendships never developed, that was impossible; to the contrary, there was more hate than friendship. Either there was envy of the other’s food – if somebody got a bit more bread, the others became jealous or so. They liked to do that, when they distributed the food. Well, there were those who flattered a bit, and they got an additional ladle afterwards and the others, well... There was no friendship. Perhaps two of them got together, but I never experienced that. And I never looked for a friendship with someone, absolutely not. Nothing good will come of it, I said.

Well, the daily routine was like this. When we got up, we had breakfast. Which was most of the time only a soup, a roux soup and a sort of coffee. But that was fake coffee, of beechnuts, or whatever. Well, and then our day started, yes? We had to get up, of course, we had to wash ourselves first, we had to fold our garments and put it on our chair, very precisely, everything neatly in one line. Then we went in that day room, and whenever we talked only a little bit too loud, we were immediately punished by having to stand still. Yes, by standing still. And always when there was this nurse, she slapped us. First we had to stand in line, then she dealt out the slaps, right and left. Most of all, we were punished by making us stand still. At Pavilion 13 there was a school, but I never went there. I don’t know why. Well, I suppose because we were undesirable or not worth living. They had a school there, and I don’t know who went to that school. Later I found out that a school was at the Pavilion 13, but I never went to school the whole time. There were just punishments, and we had to do forced marches. For instance, someone had escaped, we had to fetch him from Praterstern, that’s where he was held by the police, and it is at least ten kilometers to Praterstern, from where we had to bring him back. Those were forced marches, and when we would go to the courtyard, we also had to walk for two hours. And when somebody passed by, we had to shout automatically “Heil Hitler.” And if one of us shouted too early or too late, we got slapped as soon as we were gathered as a group. The person who caused it got an extra slap in the face, and we were punished by having to stand still. There wasn’t anything else. And then, once a week on Tuesday, which I will never forget, we had semolina with skim milk, which was disgusting. There were such small pieces, I won’t forget that, and Plefka Herbert could never swallow that stuff. Then two orderlies grabbed him, took him by his nose, we had to stand in punishment in the meantime, [they] fed him, and whatever he vomited was shuffled back until the plate was empty. Every week the same happened with the semolina, and we had to watch it until this scene was over. Well, it was not, not…

And there was another thing that was interesting. Once a month I was allowed to have a visitor, not only me, but there was a time in general – fixed for visitors. And they put up benches in the hallway, where our relatives sat with us, and the orderlies walked back and forth telling the visitors how nice they are to us, and what they do with us. As soon as the visit was over, we were slapped in the face, and everything the parents had brought us was confiscated, and we never saw it again, whether it was a piece of chocolate or a Gugelhupf cake. That was also one of those great things.

I never told my grandmother what they did to us, for she certainly would have come as soon as she had learned that they were beating us up, and what else they did to us. She would have gone straight to the director, would have gotten very angry, and she would have probably ended up in a camp herself. So I didn’t tell her this. Well, I just told her that we were fine and such. Subconsciously, I had already gotten the message. Besides, they were constantly threatening us and warned us that we’ll see what will happen to us. “Yes, you’ll see.” Then we saw the wagons, two wagons used to transport the dead people. We didn’t know who was inside. These were children whom they had killed at the Pavilion 15-17, we had seen this a well.

Well, at noon we went upstairs, there we had a beautiful Christmas tree, up to the ceiling, but nothing was on it. After the meal we had to stand there from 12 o’clock on until 7 o’clock. I do not remember exactly. Until 7 o’clock in the evening, we stood in front of the Christmas tree and were not allowed to move. And then we were allowed to go to sleep. That was our Holy Night. Of course, we were not given any gifts. Neither gifts nor anything else. That was our Holy Night. And we were still lucky, for we stood there for hours, nobody dared to move, for we knew we would get a slap in the face if we’d move. That happened every day. Form a line and on it goes! Left, right, left, right, no tender caresses, my dear, they had perseverance, those bastards!

Once I soiled my pants during a forced march, till today I remember, and that happened on Breitenseer Street, and I had to go to the toilet, for number two, they didn’t let me go. I wasn’t allowed to make a pit stop, and I made in my pants. As soon as we got back, I was sent to the bathroom, and there I had to wash my clothes by hand, all by myself, and I did not get new clothes, for it took one, two days until they were dry. Until then, I had to walk around in my shirt. Well, they should have let me go to the toilet, but that’s the way it was. And I got my slaps in the face. We don’t even have to talk about it, for it happened automatically.

I arrived at Spiegelgrund on September 1, 1941, and remained there until September 3, 1942. Then I came to Mödling, where it is registered from September 4, 1942 until July 7, 1943, about [ten] months. And it happened very suddenly. Until now, nobody has told me why. But I assume that they needed the pavilions because there were already many wounded people and also Germans, people who were held, girls and women, what do I know, but they needed the pavilions. When we arrived in Mödling, we were about 70 to 90 boys from Pavilions 7, 9 and 11. The former Hyrtl Orphanage, which was an orphan home until 1938, a real orphanage, and when Hitler came, the Nazis took over and made a juvenile correctional facility out of it.

Well, only military drill, only military. We had to perform drills like crawling on our bellies, throwing hand grenades and mockups, and then we had political instruction. We had to learn everything about Hitler, the Party. And if we forgot – the next day we were queried all that stuff we had heard –, we had to crawl on our bellies again. But not with the hands, we had to crawl with the whole body, and if someone [was slow], cold water was poured over us. That’s the way it was.

Well, when there was an air raid alarm, we had to get dressed, even though we were sleeping, because usually it happened during the night, we had to get dressed and go to the attic. When a bomb would hit, we were supposed to put it out. There were buckets of sand and carpet beaters. Well, no bomb hit us. But we were supposed to extinguish firebombs. They did not send us to the basement, where we could have been protected, no, they chased us up to the attic, where the bombs would kill us, ridding them of us. Well, such was the Hyrtl Orphanage.

Later, my grandmother, who never let go, got my uncle out of the concentration camp, and got my sister out too, who had been with me at Spiegelgrund for half a year. After this, my sister came to Theresienfeld, a strict monastery, where they still used corporal punishment, and she got me also out, because she never stopped writing to Hitler and to the nuns – I tell you, she was everywhere and did everything… After I had spent half a year at Spiegel…, in Mödling, I finally was allowed to go home. But I could not stay with my grandmother. My two sisters were already living with foster parents, and so I ended up with foster parents in southern Hungary, in the Batschka area, with Volksdeutsche, there I actually had a very good time, but it did not last long, for the Russians were already advancing, and I had to go back again. Well, my suffering was not exactly over yet, because the Youth Welfare Office was still over me, in full force, they came and sent me to, I was already 14 at the time, to Juchgasse, that was the home for apprentices. But they didn’t find an employer for me. I was waiting for 14 days, three weeks, and they said that somebody would pick me up and take me to an apprenticeship place. But that was not the case. Instead, I was drafted to the home anti-aircraft units, that is, at the tender age of 14 years I was drafted. Of course, I escaped, and I managed somehow until… – it was already February 1945 – I managed somehow for two months, and then the war was over. That was my exciting experience, but things continued somehow, for I had to trade on the black market, everybody did that at that time, I mean, I don’t know whether you are familiar with this, but then we had nothing to eat, and food stamp rations were tiny, and everybody did illicit trades. And I did it too, and with saccharin, but they caught me, and I was slightly punished. And what did the Youth Welfare Office do? They assigned me to Kaiserebersdorf as an inmate. I was there for four years, until I reached legal majority. Kaiserebersdorf had a very bad reputation, for it was believed that only murderers or thieves were there. I don’t know. But most of them were only children and juveniles packed off by their parents, or the Youth Welfare Office had sent them there because they were undesired. I stayed there until I was legally an adult, and I was fortunate that I could learn there, but it took a lot of effort on my behalf. Well, once I escaped, and then I did not have a good relationship with the principal, he did not let me study. I had to do janitorial work, I had to carry coal and to sweep the court. One time, when the director was on vacation, the head inspector came, and I asked him if I could go studying something. And he said sure, you can learn, and he sent me up to school, he asked what I wanted to learn, and I said I wanted to become a tailor. Then I went up there, tailoring, and started my apprenticeship. I got good grades, have you seen them already? Just A’s and B’s I have, nothing less. Well, I finished the apprenticeship, and all of a sudden I was released from Kaiserebersdorf. I was 20 years old.

Well, tough, it was not so easy then. I had learned my trade, and I had already met someone, then I made 270 schillings a week. Later I bought an apartment with my fiancé. The apartment cost me 8000 schillings back then. That was a lot of money. So I quit my job and carried coal and made 700 schillings a week. This was a difference, I bought the apartment, paid it off, and furnished it, and then the marriage fell apart.

I handed in the divorce papers. But my wife didn’t want to get divorced. For ten years, I went to my foster parents in Düsseldorf. They had fled to Düsseldorf then, and when I came back to my wife after ten years, she agreed to divorce me. And then I worked at the theater, and for a while I worked in a brewery as a truck driver. And then I worked as a costume tailor at the Theater an der Wien, and toward the end, I worked for a travel agency. Then I retired. But it wasn’t that exciting – my life.