Interview Ferdinand Schimatzek

Well, the date of my birth is known. I was born on June 3, 1939, in Amstetten, in what was then called Niederdonau. My mother, Schimatzek Anastasia, housewife, a Slovenian, came during the era of the Schuschnigg government to Austria, and it was here where she met my father. I never met my father in person, he died in 1943 and – this is very interesting – had been a participant in World War One.

He was wounded, and one of his legs was amputated, and he received a pension by our blessed Emperor Karl, an amount of 75 crowns, but I don’t know whether this was a monthly pension, I couldn’t find out. But interesting... One must image that my mother didn’t tell me anything about it, not even in later years. Of course, the good man didn’t have to serve in the military. He was a mechanic, a machinery mechanic and was working during these times in the Scheibbs district, I think it was in Gaming, for a company named Wor…, today it is the Worthington Company. They made steel flasks for submarines, war material, and there were labor camps and so on.

I was born in June and as early as on September 20, ’39, they urged my mother, I was sent to KÜST [Children Foster Care], where I spent three months until December 20, when I came to a family, to foster parents, and this was the Schlüpfinger family in Kirchstetten, municipality of Totzenbach, which today is in the St. Pölten district.

So for two months I was in the…, at the age of six months they put me in the KÜST, such a baby, this is insane, for three months in the KÜST, this is horrible, later I got the shivers while thinking of it, I was in the KÜST, and from November ’39 until 31 May 1943, I was in Kirchstetten, that is, in the municipality of Fuchsberg, there are photographs, I was there and took pictures, well, I was there, and on May 31, I returned to the parents, and on October 9… Of course, there were medical certificates, “well fed, burnings on upper and lower arm,“ where I got these I don’t know, probably at my foster mother’s, my mother didn’t know. And then I was transferred to the mental health clinic of Spiegelgrund.

Yes, I can remember these things, the terrible things that were there, the harsh order and discipline. I also remember the so-called “vomiters,” the vomiting pills, I remember these quite well, but only after I had heard of them later again. I felt I had to vomit with an empty stomach, and had low back pain, too, this was a real punishment. I also remember an extremely simple Christmas celebration there, I remember that there was a kind of an opportunity to play and an opportunity to learn, but only due to my case history, these well-known case histories, which they had for everybody and which was in such an envelope, and here they made a final report, now, here I made drawings, these are such things. Further I have translated [from the] Kurrent script – and I want [to read] shortly, because memory now is somehow…, here it is written in Kurrent script, and these things tell maybe more than I am able to tell, yes.

“…on 19 December 1944, October ’44”, sorry, this was written shortly after my arrival. “Ferdi is a calm child, during the first days [he was] somewhat shy, one had to ask him several times to get an answer out of him.” I read it word by word, as it is written in Kurrent script. “Right away he got along very well with the other kids, he isn’t quarrelsome, and he is good-natured. He is shy with the orderly, talks very little and follows directions. Today, Ferdi offered his help to work for the first time, he was very apt at wiping the table.” Well. “The boy says that he feels bored here.” Well, ennui, I guess I was probably bored here, “because he cannot always go outside, one can see how happy he is when he can go to the garden or on a walk. He feels right away better and walks confidently around.” [signature] Nurse Grabner. This came probably from my staying in the countryside with my foster parents, this longing for the outdoors.

Dr. Illing is in there, too, who performed the physical exam. He diagnosed me with “milieu damage number 21,” and so I was “transferred today to the children’s home at Pötzleinsdorf.“ Well, it was already January 1945, and the Borman order came. Here we have an intelligence test according to Binet-[Simon]. Not very lauding, I must say in hindsight, but interesting nonetheless. And there were some observations regarding my group behavior: “In the beginning, Ferdinand was a little shy, he only answered when asked, but soon he became friendly and cooperative. A few days ago, he went to the nurse and told her that he was bored. ‘I want to help,’” I offered. “And when he was told to clean up the tables, he did it very skillfully.“ Well, he too noted that. “With his comrades...,” – these are just repetitions. “Ferdinand participates in all games and sings the tunes of songs in front of the others. But his pronunciation is not always clear. On visiting days, he has trouble parting with his mother. He would only do this with tears in his eyes.”

I only remember the hunger, that a child has, we were always looking forward to the mealtimes. Well, in the morning we had breakfast, but I cannot recall what kind of breakfast we had. After this, we were already waiting for lunch. After breakfast we went outside to do a lap inside the walls of the Steinhof compound. And in the afternoon we sometimes sang children’s songs – of course, Nazi children’s songs.

And I remember also that during the Nazi period and the NS ambiance, I was extremely respectful toward the authorities, I mean, the immediate supervisor. I was afraid and made sure that I didn’t do anything wrong. I also recollect the huge dormitory rooms lit by steely blue light that was shining into every nook and cranny. We slept there probably only because we were dead tired. I don’t know. And interesting – as a child you don’t really notice such things.

Yes, yes, I don’t know why, but it must have been a mixture, for my mother – that time they took me away from her, she could not educate me because she had to go to work, and I was romping around in the back streets with friends. I understand all of it for she had a difficult job at the metal grinding plant, galvanization, the most horrible work, galvanic baths. Later on she worked at Bablik Brothers in Brunn [am Gebirge], sheer madness. I could not breathe when I picked her up a couple of times. And she had to zinc-coat the masts and the buckets, and she had to do piece work. Geographically speaking we lived in Vösendorf on Dresdner Street, where there is today, that is, [was] then, the Konsum grocery store..., and the Brunner galvanization plant was in Brunn am Gebirge. The morning shift was from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. There was no bus transportation, so she had to walk. Just imagine – to walk from Vösendorf to Brunn am Gebirge. One is already dead by walking one way.

And then comes the story at Spiegelgrund. When the Red Army was approaching, it was said – it is written in these [papers] – that the children had to be transferred. It was a Bormann order – I gave it to you – to transfer the children.

Well I remember the trip, which was scary and shocking, and we were somewhat left on our own, we were vegetating. As a child one looks for some corner, driven by self-preservation, and sits and [wants to be] connected. But it seemed to me that nobody cared about me. And I know that I ate raw potatoes, and we ate grass, for they made us stay on a meadow which was a horse paddock. And I remember this because a child was severely injured by a horse. Fortunately not me, but I was scared out of my wits, sleepless nights under the sky, and looking at the dates, it was quite a long time. And then all of a sudden we were assembled, put on a train and sent to Vienna.

Because my mother and probably my stepfather took the initiative to put me to the orphanage in Mödling, it used to be the Hyrtl Orphanage, but the name was misleading – at the turn of the century, it was for gifted children, and later it became a guarded, strict education facility for juveniles. I was put in there, and lo and behold I was best in class and so forth, I studied well, got good grades, it was wonderful, and interesting again: It happened that one of us got the permission for a visit by his parents and for a trip outside with them, a so-called furlough. And I was the one who was chosen.

The educational style, well, things went on as usual, as Dr. Schaukal was writing, because the kids were beaten, harassed on end, we had to shine shoes – one had already applied a box of shoe paste, but the shoes were never clean enough, and if someone spoke up, he was immediately smacked in his face.

Well, order and discipline, authoritarianism, National Socialist educational methods as in the Napola [Nazi boarding schools]. Because some of them had already been active in this field before the war. With the shoes, I remember they told us: “Mud on the bridge.” [?] Or I remember when he said: “[Clean the] closet! I shall be back in two hours!” and so on. And we polished and polished. There was a wooden floor with wax, and we had to rub it with a cloth and to scrub and scrub with a brush on our knees, and all we received was that we could stay up a little longer. And that was it.

So I stayed with the master, and l liked working there. And becoming a metal worker pleased me, and I passed the apprenticeship examination after I had handed in my graduation piece, everything was great. And then came the time when my stepfather and my mother had two children who were adolescents, and my stepfather and my mother took me out of the apprentice home. I was a teenager, 14 or 15 years of age, and I had to watch over their two kids. That was the main purpose why they had taken me out, and thus I finally was at a home. As to my life’s structure, I never had kown a family life like growing up with sisters and brothers. No, that kind of family I never had, only institutions and institutions. And that was… Well when I came home – It was during the time of my apprenticeship – I finished the vocational school, and it was time to serve in the army.

When I went to the military, I was stationed with the 5th battalion at the former Fasangartenkaserne, where I got my training, was discharged and returned to the metal workshop. But then, I thought working there with the cold iron was not so great, and I just did not like it anymore. I preferred the [chance] of an extension of my military service. One had the opportunity of adding six more months. During that time, I enlisted permanently, and I felt very comfortable with the army for I had already learned well enough how to behave in a group...

For instance, [once] I was promoted three times within one year, can you imagine? On the 1st of April, on the 1st of June and on the 1st of September: promoted to corporal, to sergeant and to platoon leader – well, it was wonderful, and I think in a way my education at Spiegelgrund and at the other educational facilities had contributed to this.

I never met my biological father, and I had no family life then. My own family life I had only later on, my children are doing very well, my daughter will soon turn 49. She is a master hairdresser working at Linzer Street, and she has a nice house in Gablitz and two grown-up children, while my son who also lives here, but is right now on vacation, has a good position at the headquarters of Bank Austria.

In my job I made it to service class five, that is senior technical inspector, which in the military would be the rank of a major, if you compare the salary. I am contented, and I am reasonably healthy.

Well, that was basically my professional path, yes, my path. Now I have – let me look it up, I just want to… – Here I have such a bundle of notes, where I have written: “It is impossible to draw a line under it – going from one home to another, from Spiegelgrund to a retirement home.”