Interview Ernst Pacher

Well, I’d like to tell my story beginning with my birth. I was born on November 2, 1935, in the hospital of Wiener Neustadt, where I was baptized by the parish priest of Berndorf, baptized Roman Catholic.

Well, my father was, how shall I put it, a real… when there were the workers’ uprisings… my father was a Communist, and there is evidence for that from the times when he was a party member in Hainfeld, where he served as secretary and treasurer, yes, treasurer of the party. In the year 1932 he stopped with that because he was frequently caught… He was very good at drawing and writing, had a nice handwriting and made posters all the time and put the posters… well, the Pachers were mostly very good file cutters, up there in Sankt Aegyd there was a big file factory.

That’s how it was, in Berndorf he didn’t find a job, and he was permanently jobless, and when Hitler came and marched into our country in 1938, many left for Germany, well, relatively many, and there was a whole group of them... My godmother – she was my mother’s aunt too – told me that my father was a real Communist and a good man, she communicated with him, he always wrote from abroad, from Berlin, Potsdam-Babelsberg.

It was only later, unfortunately much too late, that I found out that basically my mother was the black sheep of the Grill family, but that shouldn’t [have been] any reason, because she was my mother, but today I understand why [the godmother] was always talking about [my mother] having betrayed my father, what I too suppose today. This I suppose today, but… well, in such cases the presumption of innocence should be applied, but this is really true, because not long thereafter she was divorced. Not long after the divorce, he perished, and together with him the whole group, there was one guy from Grossau, one from Vöslau, one came from Baden and one from Neunkirchen. And my aunt told me that this had been a resistance group.

Because I had not been adopted, my mother moved to Weissenbach, where I was taken care of by her grandmother during the day, and at night mom would pick me up, but frequently she didn’t pick me up, which upset her grandmother a lot, as I can remember, for she also had her own plans, she wasn’t that old yet, and well, sooner or later she [my mother] did not see any way out, and she put me in an orphanage in Baden. Yes, it was an orphanage then and was managed by a Catholic congregation, which after the war was for a long time still active at the hospital in Baden.

Yes, how shall I say, we had a good life there, but all of a sudden, it must have been during the summer of 1940, it was as if I had gotten below a sledgehammer, there were Nazis showing up, all of them young ones. These were such BDM girls, let us say, because they were all very young, but such unbelievable sadists as one has never seen before. They tormented us, they didn’t care at all. We were corralled into one group, on one side there were the girls, on the other side the boys, and she had an office room upstairs, for we had our bedrooms on the first floor and some washrooms. This was one very big [room] with a stone floor, a so-called terrazzo floor or whatever that was, as far as I remember, and there were many washbasins. And we had always to form up, “present!” and soap ourselves on command...

Yes, so it was, unfortunately. They tortured us more or less, those brutes: “Open the beds, close the beds!” And if she didn’t like something or whenever she was in a bad mood…, or we had to run down the stairs to the basement and again up the stairs, then again “turn around!” And everything had to go smoothly, and if someone turned around too late, we had to run again three times upstairs downstairs. Horrible, what they invented just to torture us, unbelievable, unbelievable. Today, nobody can imagine that. If I had treated my boys this way, they’d ask me whether I was mentally ill. Well, I survived this too, more or less, anyway.

And I don’t know how frequently, I can say… I cannot remember one occasion that I had an exercise book that was in order. Each time… then they made me stand for the whole day in the corner. She made me… there was a hallway. One could come up from the front and the back side through staircases, because we were in the mezzanine or whatever it was called, and then there was a hallway between the girls and the boys, and it had such corners. And in such a corner I had to stand the whole day with bare feet on the cold stone floor. This was such a horror, I shall never forget it. Because I was crying all the time, I got a headache, and because of the headache I cried again, and then I got several more slaps in my face, and this was terrible.

Our lunch used to come in so-called “kaps,” do you know what a “kaps” is? They were such big aluminum cups, that tall, with a lid, so they were tight. There was soup, one kaps for this and one kaps for that, almost always we got some kind of stew. We also got spinach and – now I come to this – beef for instance. Oh, I dare not even think of it, because even today that makes me feel nauseous. We had to…, if one… Because we heard her, when she came over..., we talked to each other when she was on the other side, and if we heard her coming, we stopped talking. And then she would come in, “Ah, what do I see? Again chitchatting! Everybody stand, hands up, stretch out your hands, up your hands!” – So she had all of us standing, for half an hour, three quarters of an hour, and frequently for an hour, too. Of course, after this the food was lousily cold. And now spinach and beef. The beef came with such fat lumps. Now I had to eat this and, of course, I vomited. I had to eat the vomit again. She would sit beside me and stuff it into my mouth. Incredible.

And then, of course, a group formed, and when we found out who had told on us, and because of whom we were punished, there was a collective punishment. And the Germanic women, the Piefke women, were sadistic to a degree that is hardly to figure, I wonder from where they had it. Today I know that they were bred by the BDM [German Girls’ Association], the so-called BDM, the same way as by the Hitler Youth; the girls were bred the same way as the boys. Well, at night he… We just slept in blankets, because we didn’t have any feather beds, we took blankets, when he slept, we waited until the guy was asleep. Then we put blankets over him, so he could not see who was beating him. And then, with all sorts of things, for instance, we put a toothbrush tumbler into a sock, we had an aluminum cup that was used to brush our teeth, we put the cup into the sock, twisted the sock and beat the guy all over his body. The next day he had plenty of bruises and black stains because a whole party, a whole group, had been beating him. Well, after this he would think before telling on us.

In winter for instance, towels in ice-cold water – we had no warm water, and we had to wash ourselves with cold water – we twisted the towel, folded it, twisted it again, until it became a real club. Then we put this club out on the window sill, let it freeze until bone hard, and with this thing we started beating, imagine that! Fortunately, I never got beaten, I wasn’t that long in any institution, just three years, and I was too young. And then I never said anything, for I didn’t dare to open my mouth there, I have to say that, because it was always dangerous, and I was afraid of them too, that I could get heat again, and so I have to say I behaved more or less neutrally. There I learned that, if you are quiet, if you don’t talk, and if you do what you are told to do, nothing will happen to you, and you’ll be reasonably all right.

Well, in the summer of 1943, and this is in my file as well, I returned home, and that was also a catastrophe. My mother was, of course, looking for a bigger apartment for so many children. So I came home in the summer in 1943, and in 1944, it was in April, May, when the story with the airplanes happened.

Well, this story with the airplanes, we were… When we waived at the airplanes, we suddenly realized that they were English, or French, but I think they were English. And then a Blockwart [Block leader] caught us, and he was a Blockwart from a different block, not my mother’s block, the Dopplergasse was his territory, my mother’s block was Schneidergasse and Rinnboeckstrasse, and he made such a fuss, of course, and reported it. Such idiots were still around at that time, and, of course, it was dangerous when we were up there, for they were shooting with the Flak. And if they were shooting with Eight-Eight anti-aircraft guns, with the grenades, all the shrapnel, but we had never thought about it. If they hit you, you are a goner. That’s why it was mandatory to go to the basement. Air raid shelter it was called. The Blockwart must have seen us and reported it.

Well, then they transferred me to Lustkandlgasse, and that was another disaster. Nobody was allowed to talk to anybody. When we were sent to the courtyard down there, of course, we went there with supervision, we had to walk in a circle in single file and were not allowed to talk to each other, and that must have been for about half an hour, and then we had to go upstairs again. In a higher area there was a ward, where there were beds, and I got one with a grid in the middle of the room, there were maybe five such beds, and we were under observation.

When I arrived at Spiegelgrund, I was taken to either [Pavilion] 13 or 15. There I had to go to a bathroom, you can call it bathroom, there was a bathtub, I remember it well, and a stool inside, and of course the big iron door. There I had to undress, and my clothes were taken away, and I had to go into the bathtub totally naked. They let the water in, and it was ice cold, and I had to creep into it. That was very hard, but I did not show it, because I thought that I must not do that. Otherwise they would have said: “You are a coward!” With such things they maltreated us permanently.

And then they led us to a pavilion. I cannot remember where I was first, either number 11 or number 9. Maybe because I was only 8 ½ years old, I was probably in Pavilion 9 first. But I went back and forth between pavilions 9 and 11, I know that. One time here and another time there.

I only knew that 9 and 11…, and that next to pavilion 9 was pavilion 7. Because when I had to stand for punishment, and it was freezing cold in the winter, I looked into the courtyard of 7. How shall I explain it, there were wounded people, and they were bandaged and so on, and those that had gone crazy. And once the orderlies told us that these were fighter plane pilots, or something similar, that had crashed or were caught by a searchlight and had gone more or less crazy, or had come under continuous fire in the war. It was said that they all were not normal anymore, because they played airplane up there. One climbed up a tree, I remember that very well, they played airplane, and then he jumped down, and they had to carry him away. That happened exactly opposite the garden of number 7. From pavilion number 7 we could look across there. There was a kind of porch up there, of course, it was made of metal with an iron grid, and a stone floor inside, where we had to stand as a punishment, and from there we could see it, and it was ice cold, therefore, I know this about pavilion 7.

In any case at Spiegelgrund things ran at a different tune. We only could say something or talk when it was allowed. And well, something good... I must say there were also some good experiences, and for a child at that time, if you were at Spiegelgrund, it was more or less improbable what could happen to you. For example, I had an abscess under my arm, a sweat gland abscess under my left arm, and I remember it exactly.

At night I could not sleep anymore because it was hurting, and I could not move my arm anymore because it was swelling up more and more. That meant that the danger of getting blood poisoning was probably very great. And Mrs. Windhager knew that. She was on night shift, or they called it night duty then. I remember that around 12:30 in the morning, I lay on such a thing in the ambulance, and there was a clock, and I looked at it, and it showed 00:30 or 00:15 AM. She grabbed me. I did not weigh anything, for we were just skin and bones, and she carried me out and said to me: “Hush, no word from you and make no fuss, for we must not be noticed. I carry you now outside and into the ambulance, and we open this thing, but don’t tell anything.”

And Mrs. Windhager explained it to me and said: “You know there is a doctor who put you on his list, and you get an injection, but I am going to prevent that, because when the abscess is open, it will be better and then…”

Well, now the story about the small cart. And the story about the cart is true, Mr. Kaufmann described it correctly, that is really true. But how he describes it, I don’t know, because we… As I told you already, we didn’t really get it. We saw that cart frequently, with either one or two persons in a specific dress on the way, and once…, while we were marching in rows of three, which we always had to do, we were, of course, curious, and we stared at them, and once one of them grinned back at us and said: “Do you also want to be in there?” We got really scared, for the grin alone was something sinister to me. Of course, the next time when we saw them we looked away, that means, “Don’t look there. Otherwise you end up in there, too,” you don’t know, because in those times you had to be prepared for anything. Sometimes some boys disappeared, and when you asked something like “Won’t he return?” or “Did he go home?” – “Don’t ask such stupid things, or you’ll end up there, too!” Such were the answers we frequently received from our orderlies – they were mostly female orderlies – so, of course, we didn’t ask anymore, we were no more curious. Being curious was also a problem, you had to watch yourself, even among friends you couldn’t tell such things, for you never knew who your friend was, and who wasn’t.

The end of the war was approaching, it was Christmas time. We did have a Christmas tree, but there were just many breadcrumbs, pieces of bread wrapped in tinfoil, and nothing else was on it, tinfoil, and pieces of bread were wrapped into it. I still remember it. And we sang a Christmas song, not “O Tannenbaum” or something like that, but we sang “High Night of the Bright Stars.” Have you ever heard of that song? The Nazis had their own Christmas song, and it was: “High night of the bright stars which are far away, today the world must be renewed like a young born child.” That means that we were singing more or less about Hitler I assume, because we had to sing it like this. So it wasn’t “Silent Night, Holy Night,” which I didn’t even know then.

And so the war came slowly to an end, and in March, April it was announced that the children could be picked up from Spiegelgrund. We knew that and had been told: “Your parents can pick you up!” Well, all of them were picked up, at least most of them, but a few remained, and my mother did not pick me up, she just told me:“ You were taken care of well enough there.”

And the problem was that we met them again later on, the same female and male orderlies were again in the institutions, that means there I was… I still remember that I had to celebrate my birthday at Breitensee. And from Bavaria I had…, because we had to learn to pray and go to the church, so that the priest might help us against the farmers a bit, so that they would not water down the milk which they had to deliver to the camp. Then I received a rosary from the priest, yes a rosary, and this was everything, it was a treasure for me. There in Breitensee, they stole it from me. Of course, I felt very bitter, and there I realized how it was with the children who were handicapped. There was one boy, he was, I don’t know what you call it, spas[tic]. His knees were bent inwards, and he had to walk like that. He was very brave. He got a cold, and he had to do exactly the same as us. Nobody was considerate of him. To his bad luck, he also wetted his bed, and this happened because he always was pushed around, and thus we were sorry for him. There I had a boy who had been with us in Bavaria, the two of us arrived together, and we joined the same group there. Also, he always burped, I mean he brought up the food like a ruminant and swallowed it again. And when the nurse or orderly – well you cannot really call them nurses, it was an orderly – caught him, she would, of course, scream at him. He was always treated like an outcast. And then, he used to wet the bed, he was not allowed to get out [of the bed], and they did not give him a fresh new sheet, nothing. And he had to lie in his wet bed again and such. He could not help himself. As punishment, he did not get any food, can you imagine? At a time when we got hardly any food, because there was almost nothing, they did not give him anything at all. Then when we had a piece of bread, we shared it and gave him something of it. Now it happened that he got a cold, no wonder, because it was cold in the winter, and it goes by itself that nobody helped him. So we went to the orderly and told her that he wasn’t doing well, that he was coughing a lot. He was hiding close to the heating behind a screen, where he buried himself in the sleeping room upstairs. We went to him and fed him. But he did not want any help from us, for he knew that we probably would get into trouble. And this really happened. When we told the orderly that he was not feeling well, and that he needed a doctor, that was all we needed. She told us that it was not our business, and if we’d continue like this, it would turn out bad for us too.

Such were the orderlies we had after the war, the same kind we had before at Spiegelgrund. That was a catastrophe in my opinion. Since then I became very cautious. As it happened, the boy was actually taken to the hospital. Probably somebody had a heart, looked at him and realized that he was in very bad shape. They rushed him to the hospital, and there he died. Now, I can remember that the head nurse, home mother or orderly as you called them, the one who was in charge in Breitenfeld, said: “Now, on top, I have to go to his funeral!” Well, we overheard that. We were hardened by our stay at Spiegelgrund, and as a small child of 4 ½ years I had been in a Nazi home in Baden. Between 1943 and 1944, I was at home for half a year, no longer, and then I was taken to Spiegelgrund. That means that you learn and acquire certain skills – not to do this and not to do that, and never stick out of the crowd. But this I’ve already told you.

What I saw myself runs by me like a movie. Since I involved myself in 1999, when they released this crook, this Gross, it runs by me like a movie. My wife tells me frequently that I cry out at night. I do not know why, and I just can’t say why. I cannot say anything and cannot remember whether I had dreamt something, but she tells me that I scream here and there, not always, but sometimes very loudly, she says. So I told her to wake me up right away, so I would maybe remember what I saw in my... But she refused and let me sleep because I would stop anyway, she said. It is sheer madness. All of this means that, what the psychologists say, that these things come back in a powerful way as you get older, that’s really true. At times this torments me, it’s madness…