Testimony of Joseph Kowalski given on June 13 and June 16th 1947

Summarized with Dahlia Flake

 

Biographical Information

 

Joseph Kowalski, a thirty seven year old locksmith and Polish national living in Linz at the time of the trial, was called as a witness for the prosecution (10). Before the war he worked “at a Polish Magistrate” (38) At Gusen, where he was a prisoner from August 2,  1940, to May 5, 1945 (10), he carried stones, “put stones together as a plasterer,” worked as a locksmith, as a stonemason, and transported coal to the SS barracks in a wheelbarrow. He was assigned to different details often, sometimes every few days or so, until 1943 when he was permanently assigned to be a stone mason. He worked inside both the protective custody camp and the SS camp. He constructed the brothel for prisoners as well as the brothel for the SS. Once put in a punishment detail for carrying too few stones, he also transported stones “for the construction of the tunnel” (48-49).

 

SS Guards at KZ Gusen I

 

Kowalski worked as a stone cutter in the large hall (12) which was elevated seven or eight meters above ground. This gave him a good view for fifteen or twenty meters. In the summer the stonemasons worked outside the hall to avoid the dust inside (12). Kowalski identifies Seidler as the camp commandant (10), and the SS roll-call leader at the time he worked in the stonemasons’ hall was Kiedermann. He says the first roll-call leader was Brust, the second was Damaschke, and the third was Kiedermann (13). While these men were in charge of large guard details, Schuettauf was in charge of the “distribution of the guards” (10), especially detail leaders and guard leaders who guarded the prisoners (13).

 

Schuettauf and the Chain of Guards

 

Schuettauf was in charge of a guard company outside the main compound of Gusen. There was a total of three or four guard companies of which Schuettauf eventually became commander. He was called “General Bauch” at this time (40) which means “Belly” (50). No guards were allowed into the camp or allowed to look in the camp except for the roll-call leader, the block leaders, and the men from the post office or guards taking part in executions (40). The prisoners would line up inside the camp on Roll-Call Square in their different details and the guards would take charge of the men as they came out of “camp 1 or camp 2, those camps surrounded by guards” (41). “In the case of larger details, for instance, St. Georgen, where bricks were made, and also the stone quarry outside the camp, there was a detail leader, there were guards, and there was also a guard commander” (41). Once prisoners arrived on the worksite, the guards were stationed around the detail to guard them and the detail leader walked among the men, showing them what to do along with civilian workers. Prisoners were prohibited from approaching guards (41). There was a wire around the Gusen Quarry, but not in all places and it was located at a great distance from the quarry (44).

 

Although guards were also prohibited from approaching prisoners, when they were changed every two hours or so, guards often beat prisoners, sometimes to death. Volksdeutsche Polish guards who had been drafted into the “army” (42) at the end of the war often talked to prisoners, Kowalski reports, and they said that guards were rewarded with cigarettes or furloughs for beating or shooting prisoners (42). Once the head of the Fire Guard, Gaertner, chased a prisoner toward the wire in order that he be shot (49) by guards posted on the tower between Blocks 17 and 9. The guard did not shoot the prisoner, however, but shot at Gaertner, who fled. A Ukrainian guard named Matejo told Kowalski that Gaertner was motivated by the hope that he would receive cigarettes from the guard (50).

 

Executions

 

From 1941 on Kowalski saw and heard Schuettauf order executions of prisoners (12) and order the detail leaders as to the treatment of prisoners (11). Most often, executions would be ordered in the afternoons, but Schuettauf stood in front of the Jourhaus in the mornings and afternoons when details were put together and guards were assigned (12). Kowalski also recalls Schuettauf giving orders to the guards standing in “front of the office between the barracks and the kitchen.” This happened most often in the afternoon (12). While Kowalski could not always hear Schuettauf’s exact words over the sound of the stonemasons’ hammers (13), he did see Schuettauf observing prisoners being kicked and beaten with rifle butts (14).

 

Kowalski recalls that the guards were not always given directions by Schuettauf, but when he did address the guards, the prisoners were beaten and some dead prisoners were brought back to camp from the work details, perhaps two or three out of 25 (14-16). In March or April of 1942, Kowalski saw Series [spelled Ziereis in connection with same incident on page  46] talk to Schuettauf near the kitchen between the “barracks with walls” (17) barracks 6 and 7 (46). He saw two men shot to death (17) behind the kitchen by six guards led by Schuettauf (46). Although the block leader chased Kowalski and other prisoners away, Kowalski heard Schuettauf give orders and then heard further shots. Kowalski also saw Schuettauf give orders when five Russian prisoners-of-war were shot in 1942 (17) and five young Poles under the age of 15, stone cutters, in 1944 (18). Nine times in Kowalski’s recollection prisoners were shot in this manner, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the afternoon, after having to partially strip. Prisoners would be called out during morning roll call to either be shot or taken to Mauthausen (53). There were seven or eight executions near the crematorium in 1944. One involved the execution of seven young Poles (55).

 

Grill and the Mail

 

Kowalski testifies that from the time he first saw him in 1941, Wilhelm Grill was a staff or technical Sergeant of the SS. Grill was in charge of censoring the mail which Polish inmates sent to or received from Poland (18). Kowalski never entered the post office himself but was told that Grill was in charge by the clerk who also told prisoners that Grill could give them 25 lashes for writing something that was not allowed in a letter (66). Grill would steal bread and sausages from the prisoners’ packages and give them to the hierarchy of personnel in the camp (21) (79), as well as other SS, and sometimes to “permanent” prisoners or prisoners who had special jobs in the camp (20-21). The number of packages that arrived at the camp was from 20 to 500 a day, up to 1800 a month, but prisoners got only one or two a month (56). Despite a 1942 order that heavy laborers should receive extra food from these packages, Kowalski recalls that this only happened for a short space of time (58). The Red Cross packages which he believed came from Switzerland (87) were also pilfered toward the end of 1943 and during 1944, although of the 2,000 men who worked in the stone quarry as well as those who worked at the tunnels, only a few received extra rations from the packages (58). One of Kowalski’s friends got Red Cross package with a packet of cigarettes, one or two tins and dry bread. He felt that most of the package had been stolen (79).

 

Grill and Bathing-to-Death

 

Grill also took inmates to the baths. In January of 1942 Kowalski saw the block leader of Block 32 [unnamed] lead invalid inmates to the showers. Brust, accompanied by roll-call leader Brust and Jetz [sic] who may have been the work-commitment leader” (19) made the prisoners take cold showers and ordered them to “stand and fall down and stand and fall down” in the cold water. All the SS present beat the inmates. Grill is said to have carried a whip made out of an oxtail or a stick. Perhaps 25 to 30 inmates died on this occasion. The corpses were taken to the washrooms of Blocks 22, 23, and 24, and then in the evening to the crematorium. Kowalski saw this happen three times, once in the winter of 1941 and twice in 1942 (19). Most of these victims were Polish or Spanish prisoners (20).

 

Corpses from Gusen Taken to Mauthausen

 

Kowalski also says that when new transports arrived and the Gusen crematorium could not handle the corpses, they were taken to the Mauthausen crematorium (20). “Our crematory was burning without interruption day and night. The rest was taken on a truck in the direction towards Mauthausen” (79).

 

Drying Tattoos on Human Skin

 

Kowalski also saw Grill removing human skins with tattoos from the hospital to dry in the window of Barracks 28, where the medical personnel used to congregate (21).

 

Beatings and Murder

 

Guards returning or arriving from the guard house often beat prisoners with rifle butts or kicked them if they did not work hard enough at their various commands, or if they were seen eating bread or a raw potato (74). Kowalski was twice beaten by Hartung (81). Kowalski reports that Willi Jungjohann was a work detail leader in the upper quarry where mostly Poles and Russians worked although the capos were German. Kowalski is not sure during what time frame Jungjohann held this job (21). Kowalski’s job was to transport the stones from the upper quarries of Kasten Hoffen [sic] and above that, Overbrook [sic]. Jung, as Kowalski calls him, was the leading stone cutter of the detail. He and the capos often beat prisoners, sometimes pushing them into the 20 meter deep hole. After these beatings, corpses and prisoners with broken arms and hands were set aside (21) where they could be watched (35).

 

Shooting of American Flyers

 

In July or August 1944 (23), around noon on a sunny, pleasant day (87) Kowalski saw seven or eight American planes crash near Gusen and St. Georgen. The flyers descended with what looked to Kowalski like “balloons” (22). Two flyers landed in a field near him and he saw SS men take one of them into the Gusen guard house (22). Kowalski saw “Jung” shoot the flyer two or three times with a rifle. Although prisoners were ordered into the tunnels during the air raid, Kowalski and a few others stayed outside (23) because the guards beat prisoners in the tunnels and there were dead bodies there (86). The tunnel entrance was only 4-5 meters, and entering was often chaotic and Jung would beat men who could not go in quickly enough (23-24).

 

Kowalski stood on a hill in Gusen when he saw Jungjohann point his rifle toward the flyer, heard shots, and saw the flyer fall (86). Kowalski did not see the second flyer shot but heard about it later from the Czechs, Poles and Jehovah Witnesses who were shot for taking notes about the incident (87). They saw the corpse of the flyer as the SS who caught them outside the tunnel led them through the guard house. Kowalski and the other two men received 25 blows for not going into the tunnel (23).

 

Murder of Willi Tuttas

 

Hartung, as Kowalski recalls, was a staff Sergeant and detail leader in the Kasten Hofen [sic] Quarry and detail leader of the stone masons (28). He once beat an American prisoner whom he thought had cut off a bolt in an act of sabotage. It is not clear what was done with the man. “The next day they brought him back to the stone quarry until up to the toilet” [sic] (29). The man was starved to death in front of the prisoners over the course of the next six days (29).

 

Gassing of Russian Prisoners-of-War

 

Kowalski remembers Tandler was a noncommissioned officer in 1941. Tandler was in charge of Blocks 13, 14, 15, and 16 where Russian POWs were kept. Block 16 was used as an invalid block. These prisoners were not allowed to go into the main camp. In March or April of 1942, 156 Russian prisoners were gassed to death under Tandler’s direction (24). Jetz, Zeidler [sic], Brust, and Slupescky (in a Tyrolean outfit) were also present during the gassings, which took place at approximately 10:00 am while half the camp was being de-loused. Camp Commandant Chmielewski was also there at 11:30. Guards made sure that stronger inmates could not escape the gassing inside the block. In the afternoon, Slupescky announced the prisoners were dead. The next day they were taken to the crematorium on carts (25).

 

In 1942 and 1943 Tandler was present as an interpreter when Russian POWs were hung for trying to escape (25-26). Another time Tandler gave a Russian POW 25 blows in the middle of Roll-Call Square and then, after Seidler ordered the prisoner taken to the crematorium, Tandler drowned him in a barrel of water in Barracks 4, forcing him to admit he had tried to escape on the coal car (26, 88).

 

Kowalski also recalls up to 650 people being gassed in 1945 (30) about eight weeks before the end of the war at around nine pm in Block 31 which was part of  the dispensary (32). Kowalski observed the beginning of the gassings from between Blocks 23 and 24 (32). At that time Kowalski saw Heisig patrolling the exterior of the barracks making sure that none of the stronger prisoners was able to escape (36). Kowalski was not able to see when the doors and windows of the barracks were opened in order to air it out because a “home guard” was present all night helping the fire guard control prisoners and keeping them from leaving their barracks to do anything but go to the bathroom (33). During this incident two Poles were caught by Kirschner trying to locate the position of the Allied armies on a map. Kirschner insisted they would be gassed despite the roll-call leader’s objections [unnamed] and then forced the men to stand in front of the guardhouse for a day. Heisig and Hartung were also guarding them. As many as 650 invalids were gassed along with the two young Polish men whom Kowalski says were perfectly healthy (30). Kowalski was working on the road to Mauthausen at the time and Zeigler [sic] yelled at him for not covering up the bodies with blankets. Hartung left that afternoon on a truck carrying the dead bodies in the direction of Mauthausen. The Gusen crematorium could not handle all the dead bodies (31).

 

At the same time as the gassings, the block eldest and room eldest of Block 12, of which Hartung was block leader, also killed people (32). Heisig’s duties at the camp included deputy block leader, detail leader in the stone quarry, and finally a detail leader in the Messerschmidt factory (33). One afternoon before roll call in January of 1943 or February 1944 Kowalski saw Heisig, who was deputy detail leader of about 1500 to 2000 men in the stone quarry at Gusen (34), order cold water to be poured on 30-35 “already weakened” people and then ordered them loaded onto carts and thrown into the coal bunker at the guardhouse (33). These prisoners were still in civilian clothes, but a section of cloth had been cut out of the back and thigh and a piece of striped prisoner-uniform cloth was sewn in to identify them as inmates (34). Kowalski explains that Heisig ordered the dousing to be done in the “ordinary manner” (35), which is to say that water was poured on anyone who “had weakened so much that he would fall to the ground” (35). Few got up again. Sick or injured people stayed in one spot where the capos responsible for them could keep an eye on them. At roll call, they were taken on carts to the “stone bunker,” and from there they were taken in a larger cart into the camp (35).

 

Very few survived this sort of treatment, perhaps one in two hundred. “People at Gusen who were too weak to work or to run were brought into a block of invalids where they later on were gassed or killed or bathed-to-death” (36).

 

Living Conditions

 

Breakfast was coffee. At mid-day prisoners received one liter to one and a half liters of soup. In the evening they were given one-third or one-quarter loaf of bread. Sometimes they received a small piece of sausage, a little margarine or a little piece of cheese. On Saturdays they were given a bit of jam and a spoonful of cottage cheese (80).

 

In 1940-41 prisoners donated money for the canteen, for which they signed up during roll call. In 1943 and 1944 50 to 100 Reichmarks were taken out of prisoners pay for plates, spoons and forks. If Kowalski earned 60 RM a month, he was given five coupons. Kowalski reports that his wage varied from 30, 32, or 40 RM per month, and he was given 2 or 3 percent of those wages in coupons. No money could be sent home. He was occasionally given beets or “three potatoes” in addition to coupons (82).