Testimony of Oskar Tandler given on June 23rd 1947

Summarized by Jayne Turner and Nick Kendryna

 

Biographical Information

 

Oskar Tandler, a 57 year old weaver (395) was born in Lodz, Poland. By the time he moved in 1904, at the age of fourteen, he spoke “perfect Polish” (408). A Sergeant in the First World War, Tandler was a prisoner of war from 1916-1918 (395, 408). He tells the court he was treated “very well” by the Russians when he was a prisoner of war (429) and learned Russian at that time (408). After his discharge from service, he returned to his occupation. In 1920 he published an invention for his business (395-396).

 

Tandler joined the NSDAP March 1, 1937. He denies any involvement in the SA or SS before the war but explains that because of his knowledge of Polish and Russian which he revealed in “muster meetings” (396) before the war started in 1939, he was drafted into the SS Oranienburg Sachsenhausen, Berlin, July 20, 1940 (396). He remained at Oranienburg for only one day and was transferred to Mauthausen. He arrived at Mauthausen on the 22 or 23 of July and remained there for only eight days. Because of his previous experience, he received weapons training before being sent to Gusen I on August 3, 1940 (397). When asked what his rank was, he stated “At that time it didn’t matter at all whether one were a non-commissioned officer or an officer candidate, one had to do duty as a guard” (398) He was reinstated to the rank of Sergeant on February 12, 1941, and did guard duty in the First Guard Company outside the camp. For the most part he was used as a messenger because of his age. Guards were instructed to keep prisoners from escaping and to not beat prisoners (398).  As long as he was on guard duty, he never saw a prisoner beaten (399). He was transferred to the headquarters staff in the beginning or middle of June 1941 where he reported to Camp Commandant Chmielewski (399). Tandler received all his orders from Chmielewski (423). He also was an interpreter for all of Gusen I (402). In March or April 1942 he became detail leader in the “industrial yard” (403). Some of his details included the breeding of angora rabbits, charge over all construction materials, and charge over the cabinetmakers’ shop (403). Then in June or July 1942 he was put in charge of “the Young Russians” (403). He became a block leader in July 1942 (416).

 

Tandler is asked a series of questions about statements he made in an earlier interrogation:

 

Asked if he recalled saying in the earlier interrogation (416) that he was a block leader “from the end of 1941 until November 1943” (417). Tandler explained, “That has to be understood in this way, that one could be used at all times as a block leader as well as an interpreter or as a detail leader” (418).

 

In the earlier interrogation, directly after this answer, Tandler had explained his duties as block leader. “I had to look after the welfare of the inmates, to see that there was cleanliness and discipline in the blocks over which I had charge, that the inmates got their food distributed in the right manner and that there was discipline among them” (418). Tandler, during this trial, says that he had only meant to explain the general duties of a block leader when he had answered this earlier question about his own duties as a block leader (418).

 

In the earlier interrogation, he had then been asked, “As block leader, where you in charge of other inmates?” His answer had been, “Yes, in the block I was in charge of there were only Russian inmates. They were under my orders and I had to take care of their food supply and see that they were clean” (418). Tandler, in the present trial, says that he does not recall having made this statement: “Not in this sense” (418).

 

He was unaware that he was referred to as the “Ukrainian” (429).

 

Chmielewski and His Group

 

SS Captain Chmielewski was in charge of Gusen I until he (Chmielewski) left sometime in 1942. Tandler got to know Chmielewski’s group, (399) “the officers in the immediate vicinity of Chmielewski’s office” (400),  Tech Sergeant Gross, Kluge, Fassler, Jentzsch, Dameshke, and Brust, the latter “one of the quietest men I have ever gotten to know as a role-call leader” (399). Jenstzsch was in the SS office, the right-hand man of Chmielewski. Gross and Kluge were labor-commitment leaders. Brust and Damaschke were roll call-leaders about whom Tandler says, “I do not include them in the group around Chmielewski” (399). Chmielewski’s group consumed large quantities of alcohol which led to violent behavior. Under the influence they would break everything in the non-commissioned officer’s club (400). Chmielewski’s group consisted of only active SS men (401).

 

Chmielewski gave Tandler the Detail Well Construction Weihe [sic]  “approximately from the beginning to the middle of November 1941” (401) which he completed either at the beginning or the middle of 1941 (402).

 

Duties of Interpreter

 

After the Detail Well Construction ended Chmielewski made Tandler the interpreter of Polish and Russian for all of Gusen I (402). Tandler had to interpret for the Political Department in inheritance cases, criminal investigations, and divorce cases. His main interpretation work was for work details. He had to tell inmates how to use their tools and tell them what work had to be done [presumably in Polish](402) until the Russians arrived, and then he was translator for the Russian block and for the work details (403).

 

Wilhelm Grill

 

Tandler told the court that he never saw Grill with Chmielewski’s group. He testifies that the only time he saw Grill was when he went to the post office. Grill went home after work. Tandler also testifies that he rarely saw Grill at the non-commissioned officers club and does not remember with whom Grill associated. If he was in the non-commissioned officer’s club, it was only to drink a beer and then “disappear again” (401). On cross-examination, Tandler tells the court he only heard about Grill (425). He testifies that he heard prisoners cursing about the censoring of the mail, and he relates a time he saw a Pole reading his mail that had been censored (425). In his interrogation, he admits to hearing prisoners cursing Grill about the way he beat them, but in cross-examination he denies it (426).

 

Young Russians

 

In June or July of 1942, approximately 300-400 young Russians came from Mauthausen and were put in Block 24. SS Technical Sergeant Kluge was in charge of the block for three or four weeks until he was given the job of labor commitment leader (404). Initially just the interpreter for the young Russians, Tandler took charge of the young Russian block from “the end of June, the beginning of July 1942, until May, 1944 with the exception of the time from November, 1943 until March, 1944, during which time I was sick” (404) (416). He characterized his relationship with the young Russians as “a father to his family.”  This characterization was given to him not by the Russians but by his “SS buddies” (404). He told the court that when the young Russians marched to work, they sang. At first they sang German and Russian songs, but SS Captain Chmielewski forbade them to sing any Russian songs (405).

 

According to Tandler the young Russians’ average day went thus: A half hour after roll call they were marched, singing, to their place of work where Tandler handed them over to an SS man, a skilled worker, under whose tutelage they worked as apprentices to become stone cutters (405). The Young Russians worked shorter days than the older inmates.  They worked a half an hour after roll call and they returned a half an hour earlier (405). Tandler gives the court a description of a Wednesday afternoon: “On Wednesday afternoon I drilled them in marching while they were singing or did athletics, and on Wednesday afternoon at 2 o’clock I went with them to a movie” (405). Saturday afternoon they were “altogether free” (405). Tandler tells the court that he enjoyed marching with “the boys” (405) and that they enjoyed it as well (405). He denies that, as Pedro Gomez testified, he used singing and marching as a form of punishment which killed many (431). He tells the court that he knows they enjoyed it because after he had received the orders from Chmielewski that the Russians had to sing (405), several inmates who spoke German (ten to twenty) offered to write the German words in Russian so that others would be able to sing (406).

 

No relationships were built between young Russians and the older Russians because they were prohibited from going into the prisoner-of-war blocks. The young Russians did not wear striped uniforms. “They were clothed in captured Belgium uniforms, trousers, jackets, overcoats, and caps” (406).

 

He told the court that none of the young Russians from Block 24 were ever executed (404). As to the charge that one Sunday afternoon in summer 1944 (414) he, Seidler, and Ziereis beat a young Russian prisoner who had tried to escape, then kicked him and drowned him three times in a barrel (413) before taking him to the crematorium to be shot, Tandler says this never happened, and that if it had happened during roll call, as reported, the whole camp would have witnessed it. He says that in the summer of 1944 he worked as detail leader in Lungitz at the airplane manufacturing detail, but also says that on a Sunday afternoon, all prisoners would say “during noon roll call on Sunday all prisoners are in camp”  (414).

 

He also denies Pedro Gomez’ testimony that prisoners contracted tuberculosis as a result of hard labor. Tandler states that the young Russians would receive an extra meal because of their hard work as they were supposed to, contradicting Gomez’ testimony. He also contradicts Gomez’ testimony that the block leader would steal the young Russians “regular meal” (431).

 

Russian Prisoners-of War (POW)

 

Tandler says he never beat a Russian POW (415).

 

The Russian POWs arrived at Gusen I at the end of September or beginning of October 1941 (416). For the first four to six weeks, they were put into “quarantine” (419) and then sent out into work details at the beginning of December, mostly to the stone quarries to be used as stone cutters (419). They were in Blocks 13, 14, 15 and 16, which became known as the “Russian Camp” (406). Tech Sergeant Knockl was in charge of the Russian Blocks. “Block leader and detail leader in the stone quarry were SS Staff Sergeant Becker and  SS Kuehtreier  (408). Later, Smernov, a Russian and former captain of the Cossacks was added as a block leader and also served as interpreter in the camp when Tandler was with outside details (408).  The Russian blocks were fenced off from the rest of the camp and there was wire going around the fence. There was a guard posted and no one was allowed to enter. The only persons allowed to enter the blocks were Russian block leaders and Tandler, but only in his function as interpreter (406). Tandler tells the court that he had no administrative position or authority within the Russian camp (406). Other than for interpretation, the only time Tandler came to the camp was when one of the block leaders wasn’t present or to supervise food distribution (407). He denies ever being block leader in the Russian camp even after a witness of his, Lutterbach, told the court he was (422). He tells the court that it was understandable for the prisoners to think he was a block leader, as anyone on duty may have seemed like a block leader to them. He relates that even some SS officers thought he was a block leader, but he insists that he was never block leader in the true sense of its meaning (423).

 

Tandler says that he never heard anything about the gassing of Russians in Block 16 or other crimes while in the camp, although “Lately I have heard a lot of stories about it” (408). He denies ever having heard, as Kowalski testified, of the gassing of 156 Russians  or ever having stood near Jentzsch in the camp, or with Jentzsch, Seidler, Brust or Slupinski while Slupinski wore a Tyrolean outfit. He does remember one evening when Block Leader Knockl told the block eldests that prisoners had to clear the barracks the next morning because their barracks had to be disinfected and that gas would be used (409).  When gas was used for “disinfection,” he says that the windows and doors of Blocks 13, 14, 15, and 16 were sealed with paper strips. He didn’t see this done, but he saw the paper strips later (410).

 

According to Tandler the Russians were infested with vermin when they arrived (410).  Daily checks were made to see if they were infested. If the infestations were not too bad their clothes were taken to a disinfection installation “solely for the delousing and disinfection of clothes” (411).  He says that the first time he recalls a gassing for the purposes of getting rid of vermin was 1941 (411) in the summer (412) when the fleas were so bad “not only the inmates’ camp but also the SS barracks and the industrial yards were infected. The whole camp was done over because the plague was so bad one only had to walk on the street and be beset with fleas” (411-412). Individual barracks were gassed again in 1942 and 1943 but not the entire camp (412).

 

Tandler again stated he has no recollection of the gassing of Russian POWs in Barracks 16 and says that he did not observe, on being asked, if those administering the disinfection of barracks wore gas masks (412).

 

He tells the court that when the Russian prisoners arrived “from a front collection camp” (410), they were badly undernourished (410, 429). They used to pick up garbage, such as old potato peels and carrots (419), and put them in their pockets for later consumption (411, 419). Tandler’s “attention had been called” (411) to this, and he himself saw how they filled their pockets with garbage to bring back into the camp and that they ate “this garbage without cleaning it first and that they ate quite a quantity of it while outside the camp and ate quite some quantity of it while inside the camp, that their pockets were literally filled with this garbage. I made them empty their pockets and told them that they not only made themselves sick by eating this stuff but also endangered the health of the entire camp” (411). Tandler says the Russians’ eating of garbage was the cause of the typhoid epidemic in January 1942 (419). 

 

Kamienski had testified that while the Russians were in quarantine they were only given half a ration and that is why they would eat garbage (432-433). Tandler denies Kamienski’s testimony that some of them ate manure (433).

 

“Freezing” of the Russians

 

The worst deaths came in January 1942. Tandler tells the court that no one gave consideration to the fact that the prisoners were weak and undernourished. Everyone had to work whether they were able to or not. Tandler describes January 1942 as being a “hard winter” (419). He goes on to testify “during the month of January a few hundred of them were brought back from the stone quarry frozen to death or nearly frozen to death. For this reason out of my own initiative several times I went to the camp commander Chmielewski. He told me: ‘That is none of your business. Take care of your own affairs”’ (419). Work was stopped at the end of January when the number of deaths increased (420).

 

Tandler states that he was never a detail leader in the work details of Gusen I and so had nothing to do with the prisoners being taken to work or the manner in which they were loaded onto cars (420). Staff Sergeant Becker and Kuehtreier were the detail leaders and block leaders in the stone quarry (408).

 

Tandler denies Krause’s testimony in which he (Krause) states that those Russians who survived the winter were gassed in the spring (421). Tandler also denies defense witness Lutterbach’s testimony that Tandler was a block leader in the Russian camp when many Russian’s died (422). Tandler explains that he was an interpreter for the Russian block, that he got his orders directly from Chmielewski, and so both SS and prisoners mistakenly thought he was a block leader because he was one of the few allowed in the POW camp. “Neither SS nor prisoner if they had no assignment were allowed inside the camp. No, for this reason they were unable to know and to find out what I was doing in this camp” (432). 

 

Tandler also denies (433) Kamienski’s testimony that Tandler beat the Russian POWs and kicked them with his feet when they did not understand his poorly translated orders on their first day of work in January 1942, and that by March 1942 almost all of them had died (432).

 

Deaths at Gusen

 

During the middle of December 1942 a large number of inmates died (419). The most deaths at Gusen occurred during the fall of 1941 and winter and spring of 1942 (433).

Bathing-to-Death

 

Tandler does recall hearing about bathings-to-death while at Gusen. He did not witness these incidents and cannot estimate how many died, but he did hear about it often (433).

Tandler states, “Invalids were given baths and many of them died on account of it” (433). According to Tandler Chmielewski and his group were responsible for administering these baths at night after consuming large quantities of alcohol, and that they were known for doing other things [unspecified] as well (434). He goes on to say, “I never saw anything like that, and I wouldn’t have let them do it if I had seen them” (434).

  

Executions

 

Tandler recalls that a Russian was brought down from Mauthausen in either 1941 or 1942, but says that he witnessed this Russian’s execution as a spectator (424). In an earlier interrogation, he had said he never saw an execution but only heard about them (425).

 

Tattoos and Soap

 

Tandler says that he never saw any tattooed skin being dried or heard about soap being made from human beings. He calls these stories “fairy tales” (432).