Interview Karl Uher

Well then, from where shall I start? As I told you, I know from documents that I was at the district court Josefstadt at the age of eight or ten months because of my mother, and there they took me away from her and took me to the Lustkandlgasse facility.

So, what came next? Yes, I came to several foster parents. All in all, I had three foster parents. One [family] was in Jennersdorf. As a child, of course. Then I was with a foster mother in Rannersdorf, lower Styria. She was very nice, I wish I had had such a mother, but then it happened that I was at the wrong day and the wrong time at [the wrong place], when a barn burnt down. I was a foster child, she received some money for this, and she had a difficult life because people were envious and so forth. And I as a Viennese child in the province…, when something happened somewhere, [then] it was Schneider Karl, Uher. Because all these houses had vulgo names. Yes, then, this was during the Nazi period, the police took me to the mayor, the one to blame was me, and I was forced to admit that I had set the barn – it was a straw barn – on fire. First of all, until today I have never been a smoker, I never smoked. Nor did I set the barn on fire. But this way I was put into the educational facilities. And three months later it came out that their own son had been smoking there with a friend and thereby they had set the barn on fire.

Well, I was innocent and I got to Spiegelgrund. And there I spent seven or seven and a half months with Doctor Gross. I have to say one thing: It was there where I got diphtheria, whether I got it the regular way or whether I got it because he did experiments with children… My brother was also there, but then I didn’t know him yet. It was only in Mödling that I got to know him.

And what catched my eye at Spiegelgrund, maybe this is very important: We always watched a black car entering the facility, but we didn’t know that there [were] dying children or that they carried something away, yes. This happened suspiciously frequently, but we just said: “The black car has arrived yet again,” but none of us knew why and what for.

Yes, and then I [came] to Mödling, basically until ’45, until the changes of 1945. And there were orderlies, also members of the SS who were wounded. One of them was named Pawel, a big Nazi who turned himself in when the Russians arrived, and then they shot him. This goes without saying, doesn’t it? Then a certain Mrs. Weiss, then a Mr. Pumm, the hairdresser, who would always shave our heads bald. I had always to play chess since I liked to play it. Whenever I won, I got my head shaved, and this way I became a good chess player.

There were so many punishments in Moedling. I have to admit right away that I was not a good kid, I was quite alert. But I was shaped – if you want to put I like that – by the man[kind] or the civili[zation] of those times, for there was no complaining at all, only “Yes Sir, yes Madam,” or, what do I know, squats. He only pointed with his finger… up, down, or half up and swinging, what did I do? I did 20, 30 and then I stopped and stood still. Yes. Why? Well, I was made to stand in a corner and in the evening, when we kids went to bed, I had to go to the office, there were two of them, always at least two or three, and then I was beaten.

For instance, whoever got caught [was not allowed] to talk to anybody for a day, three days or a week. Whoever got caught was not allowed to leave the facility, or was subject to sanctions. These were the easier punishments; one always retains certain things in the back of one’s mind. Therefore I was often…, and I must say that too, the law of the jungle ruled in any such facility. I belonged to the stronger ones although I wasn’t the tallest one, yes, but fighting has frequently its advantages, and because of that I somewhat stood out. I was smart, but I had no role models. Who could have provided some guidance for me?

Well, there was no such one. Nobody took care of me. I never received a parcel or something like that… Yes, when I was in Moedling, after my father got to know me, my stepmother..., but then she didn’t have much herself because, how should I put it, she is half Jewish, and my father had to divorce her and so forth because otherwise they would have deported her to Auschwitz or elsewhere. She sent me two, three times a parcel, there were biscuits or sugar because I had told her... and a bread roll or two; there wasn’t much you could get in a parcel. And a portion of jam, too. I didn’t ask her for that. And I appreciate it very much. I know she had a difficult time, and father did send parcels home to her, one could say he was feeding her during the times of Hitler, yes.

Look, I never knew why I was transferred from one facility to another. This was methodically done. First, children should not stay together for a longer period of time, I never received a real answer, though I asked orderlies and educators. “Why did they take me away from this place? Why couldn’t I stay in one place?” – “This is not the way it is done, we don’t do that.” Like in companies, where people are transferred to prevent them from… too well, I don’t know exactly. I never found out the real reason. It could not have been… because otherwise it would be recorded somewhere. I know I was disobedient and naughty, I admit it. Which child isn’t naughty? I was a little worse because nobody set me any rules, and the rules they set were no rules, not for me. Don’t ask me why. I preferred to receive beatings or being in the punishment group. In Moedling I was in the punishment group. There was a stone floor, and a bucket of water was poured on it, and we had to crawl on our belly there. Then standing in line, cleaning up, changing clothes, to arrive impeccably at the school lesson.

We were locked away into the cellar. And there you get your breakfast, lunch and dinner. And there is no light, it is dark, of course, darkened confinement.

When someone was fooling around, and for example kicked me with his foot while we were standing somewhere and I hit back, of course I was caught. Although I was not the dumbest, I believe they singled out a child whose parents would never ask about it. I was basically an outsider, fair game, an easy target for everybody. Nobody came to me, nobody said anything, and complaining was impossible. When they pulled me by my hair – once they pulled out some of it – I just ran away to the director, Mrs. Hable, and told her: “Look at me,” and so on. And she came down and just said: “Well, something like that must not happen.” But when the children are asked, not a single one says: “Yes, I was beaten,” and this and that happened. That’s because most of the times I was beaten up alone by two or three... in the office room at night. Nobody saw anything except when I had bruises or something like that. Yes, that’s the way it was. Nobody dared to say: “Yes, some beating is going on,” or “this or that happened.” This cowardice is common in such institutions. Basically, they had all the rights. But I must say some of them were human and normal, but they were a minority, a real minority. Because the SS people, what shall I... When I was at Moedling, the order was to swim, [at] six o’clock, morning sport. I didn’t mind because I liked any sport. Lining up at the swimming pool. I couldn’t swim. One, two, three and we had to jump into the water, and after three to four days, there were no non-swimmers anymore. I threw my arms about and swallowed water, but after three to four days I started swimming like a dog.

A dentist – well twice a year a bus arrived and one could… When I or somebody else had a toothache, we could hit ourselves so the pain would be worse than the toothache itself. Well, there was nothing else available. And when the dentist came, he said: “Who has a toothache, who has a problem?” Checked whether any drilling or some other job... We were damaged in many other ways which a person realizes only later. When one thinks what one actually missed concerning health care. When you were sick with fever, you rested one to two days in a special sick room. Regarding care, there was nothing worth mentioning, you know. You got your tea or some wraps. One just lay there, and after two to three days of rest you were told to join the group again, and that was it. When you had a hole or some injury, it was not so... Yes, such were the methods in all these institutions. Thinking about it broadly, I believe Kaiserebersdorf was the worst, for as an adult your perception of pain is maybe different – I don’t know – from a child of two to three years of age.

I already told you that among the children the law of the jungle prevailed. Whoever was the strongest had a lackey who made his bed. Because every week we had duties like cleaning the toilet, the community room, sleeping quarters and serving the meals, and there was a list of who had to do which duties.

But the real strong ones, let’s say the strongest one in the group or who knows what, automatically…, that’s the way it was. He did all the work for him, you see. Surely he…, the orderly knows…, he doesn’t see it. But what he does is that he goes away, “I’ll be back in an hour,” and he does not care who carried out the duty. And if one of us was behaving in an “unsocial” way, we had to go to sleep at 9 o’clock, turn off the light, and we couldn’t read. So what were we to do? When there was a traitor or an informer, he got the “blanket,” as we called it, that is, he was beaten up.

But I suffered not only damage from those..., and I emphasize, not only at Spiegelgrund, even though this is the only institution they recognize. But the facilities where I was, like Moedling, which are believed to be mere orphanages, weren’t different, due to the SS people. There were two SS members, a woman called Mrs. Weiss, and it was no different. My punishments were harsher than in a prison. [In prison] they don’t say you are not allowed to talk to anyone, or correction and nothing to eat. You see that I didn’t go on a hunger strike for nothing.

Well, as a mother or a father they should look… But I was only scolded and beaten, disadvantages, and had to defend myself. And thus it frequently happened that I did something wrong. Well, if somebody attacked me and I lost a tooth, then I punched back so he lost three of them. It was just like that. Usually I was always peaceful.

Well, most of the beatings I received from a priest in ’48, ’49. Hits in my face that propelled me against the window, and I got a hole back here and so on, and I received treatment. And I want to add that it [was] more or less bad in those facilities because I was a child… Because of my experiences, I did not have any trust in priests or the church.

And because I was not very obedient, I unfortunately ended up in Kaiserebersdorf for 24 months, and I don’t need to tell you, there it was worse than any prison. The most difficult thing... When I arrived, there were criminal prisoners and inmates of educational facilities. I arrived there as an inmate and worked in carpentry in a two-year program. But in fact, for me it was maximum a year, a bit over a year. Then the prisoners left and only the inmates were there, I mean difficult children – and I don’t agree that I was a real difficult child, but nobody talked to me. I just…for example, there was one guy who had a key chain with 30 keys, and the first day I arrived I met this Dr. Mabuse, as they called him, two meters tall and 130 kilos. I went to him and he hit me on the head with his fist, we called this a brain strike. This strike hurled me three meters through the air and it dizzied me and such. Yes, once I went to him, the second time I stood there and did not go, no question about it. And what did I get? Correction. In the cellar, yes. When I had to stay there for 5 days, I got no food on the second and fourth day. So I went on a hunger strike: “I don’t need that,” I showed them. On the third day the priest came and told me to eat. So I threw the [?], the food after them. Because at a certain age I became – I don’t want to say an animal, but actually almost an animal. Because I could not understand why.

And when they released me, they told me: “We shall see you at the criminal court in three months anyway.” And I got some pocket money and a dress. What did I have? I could not go to the movies or somewhere else. That’s how it was. So I was in ’50, ’51 in Kaiserebersdorf. And when I was 19 years old, majority, they released me, you see, and my way through life continued, but those institutions, everywhere. For sure I was in six, seven, eight different institutions as a child.

Here, you can see it, I became a railroad inspector. Later I was manager at the port of Vienna.

I did not receive that much, I think I got 5600 Euros as compensation, which is great, no complaints. But they take their time and meanwhile 30, 50 or 200 have died. Not everybody reaches such a good age, yes.