Testimony of Johann Folger
(June 24, 1947)
Summarized by Amaris Diaz, Crystal Allen, and Elijah Gay
Pima Community College, Tucson, Arizona
Johann Folger a German laborer was born in Munich in 1906. In 1933 he was arrested and sentenced to 7 years and 1 month for arguing with certain members of the National Socialist Party about the Reichstag Fuehrer [sic]. Released on April 11, 1940, (482) Folger was arrested again the following day (483). Folger said, “I was told at the police station headquarters in Munich that the police force was not large enough to supervise me properly, and in order to avoid a reoccurrence of 1918, men of my type had to be taken into protective custody.” He was labeled as a “professional criminal” and so he wore a green triangle (484). He believed they were wrong and said that “the greatest criminals of all time made me a criminal, although there was no reason given at all for it” (484). He had once served one year and a six months for a “real crime” [unspecified] (484), but no specific charges from the criminal code were brought against him in 1933 or 1940 (484).
In 1940 when he was arrested again he was sent to concentration camps, eventually ending up at Gusen on August 16, 1940. His duties while in the camp were initially as a prisoner and, from 1942 on, as a capo. As a prisoner he was in many details, all outside the camp, “pumping station, settling point, gravel pit, St. Georgen, dynamite detail, Katzdorf, mine [sic] construction, St. Georgen, cellar construction,1,2, and 3” (483). Folger was in charge of a detail of 20 men (485).
On the dynamite detail, Folger was in charge of 18 [difficult to read in the copy, perhaps 10] other prisoners who made a test tunnel where ten bombs and two air mines were brought to explosion to find out the underground tunnels’ vulnerability (500).
SS Technical Sergeant Knockl was in charge of the Russian prisoner-of-war camp (483). Under him was Block Leader Kuetreiber and Block Leader Tandler, who was also interpreter (485). He also knew SS Sergeant Becker (485). The Russian camp was made up of Blocks 13, 14, 15, 16, 24,23, 22 and 21 from October 1941 for “about a year” (485). Folger does not recall Tandler’s name associated with mistreatment in the Russian camp (486).
Folger says that Tandler was known as “The Father of the Russians” among the prisoners, not the SS. He cannot say if this name was ironical or not (486).
Camp Leaders Chmielewski and Seidler
Chmielewski was the protective-custody camp leader at Gusen until “about the middle of 1942” (486). Asked if Chmielewski returned at the end of 1944 or the beginning of 1945 Folger said, “Yes, I saw him there as a civilian, but he wasn’t protective custody camp leader any more” (486). Folger said Chmielewski was probably the worst and most terrible camp leader at Gusen. Chmielewski would visit the camps at night drunk and beat up the prisoners accompanied by block leaders and labor service leaders. Eventually SS Major Obermeyer “stopped these nightly visits” (487) by Chmielewski and the labor service leaders (487). The “main” (487) men surrounding Chmielewski were Jentzsch, Gross, Kluge, Kirchner, Brust, Streitweisser (487). Jentzsch was Chmielewski’s right hand man, according to Folger (496). He says it is possible that one of the accused at this trial might have been in Chmielewski’s group as well, but he doesn’t remember (487). The men he mentions also came into the camp in the evening, and he saw them there. He did not see Grill among them and did not hear Grill’s name discussed by prisoners the day after a night’s beating (488).
Seidler was quieter, but “perhaps more of a murderer” (487).
Folger testifies that around January or February in 1943, his barracks was gassed. He recalls hearing one gun shot being fired in the middle of the night. The next morning he met Capo Losen who was there with a truck of ten prisoners who were to take the corpses to the crematory. Folger entered the barracks and saw dead bodies lying in beds and in front of the door. [The following sentences are difficult to read in the copy]. Folger stated, “They had strangled each other. Some of them strangled each other, some of them strangled each other, and not many of us saw it” (498) The names mentioned in connection with this incident were SS Technical Sergeant Schmitt and Damnschke (498).
Folger says bathing-to-death of invalids occurred from October1941 to March 1942 (492) under Chmielewski (493). He recalls, “As far as I can remember it was said that only three percent invalids were allowed in camp” (493). Folger assumed the men who were selected to be in the death baths were hand picked by the camp physician (496).
He recalled two incidents. Of the first, he says: “It must have been the end of 1941. There I saw the Block Eldest Schroegler took approximately thirty or forty prisoners to the prisoners’ bath house, and then he returned alone, and I asked him what was being done there, and he told me that these men would receive a bath there (493).” “They had only their pants and an overcoat” [sic] (494). SS Technical Sergeant Hurst and Jentsch entered, and the prisoners started to scream “and then one could hear that they were beating them and approximately half an hour later they came out of the bathhouse again” (494). “That first group was the last 48 Jews drowned there, and the second time they were invalids from Block 32, and there I heard for the first time that they were to be drowned there, also” (494). Folger saw the men being taken to the bathhouse and asked what was happening to the prisoners. The answer was, “They are going to be killed (494).” “At the time I didn’t take any interest in it anymore because it happened nearly every day” (494). He also heard prisoners say that “Hans Losen” [very difficult to read this name in the copy] (495) also participated in these baths. Folger never heard the names of any of the accused or of Grill in particular associated with the death baths (495). Prisoners continued to talk about these incidents until February and March 1942. He also heard that “camp capo Losen” once drowned 17 Russians (495). The death-baths were so well known that everyone in the camp must have heard of them (501).
Living and Working Conditions for Russian POWs
Folger recalls that the 2,000 Russians who arrived in October 1941 all died (except those in infirmaries) by March 1942. Folgers says these men died from “Bad food; during the day they had to work in the stone quarries without socks, with wooden shoes; it was raining and snowing. They had very little clothes only a pair of pants, a thin jacket; and at noontime they didn’t get much to eat; they had to eat while standing up in the stone quarry; very long roll call and that is the reason why the people perished” (499).
Folger also stated that by March 1943 Gusen had about 30,000 deaths, mostly from “Bad food, not enough clothes, chicaneries, mistreatments” (499). He dismisses spotted fever as a major cause of death. “We had that too, but that wasn’t so important” (499).
Grill and the Mail
Folger only remembers Grill as a “nervous and vain man” (488) and explains the prisoners’ hatred towards him as a result of Grill’s having taken more out of the packages “than he was supposed to” (488). Prisoners called him the “Mail Robber” (489). He was disliked among the SS for his vanity. “I remember once an SS man told me that he, the SS man, intended to go bowling, and then he went to Grill’s room and asked him to go along. He called Grill by his first name, and Mr. Grill told this SS man that for him he was not Grill, but SS Master Sergeant Grill” (488). As to his treatment of prisoners, Folger recalls that once after all the mail was distributed, there were a few pieces of bread left. Grill threw them through the door in the group of prisoners. Grill knew well that prisoners were hungry and that they would jump for these breadcrumbs (489). Folger could not say if anyone was hurt by this. The prisoners did beat each other over the bread. Grill expected this to happen (501-502).
Folger went to the mailroom every evening with fifty to one hundred prisoners (489) when the mail was distributed. He and his work detail received food distributed from the packages the same day it was taken out. This, he says, was on the instruction of Commander Ziereis after Tandler had requested it. Folger had told Tandler that his men, who had to do heavy work, needed more food and Tandler suggested this to Ziereis (490). Folger says that this was never made clear to the other prisoners (491). All the prisoners had to fall out on Roll-Call Square when Commander Ziereis published an order that things must be taken out of packages that were too large (491). Folger recalls that the prisoners were upset with the packages they received. He stated, “Everybody would have been willing to give up something out of his package, but they all were very angry that the best parts of these packages were taken out” (492). The prisoners blamed Grill, SS Technical Sergeant Schmidtt and “the old man Reichert wasn’t very well liked either” (492) Prisoners did not think the things taken out of their packages were being distributed among other prisoners (492). At the time there were about 1,400 to two thousand delivered to the camp daily. Two, three, or four hundred were given out to prisoners daily (496).
Grill was said to have an “easy hand” (495) when beating prisoners. Folger does not remember him remaining in the camps in the evenings or living or sleeping there or “hanging around” (495). Grill lived in St. Georgen (496).
Johann Folger testified that there were two hangings, one in 1942 and the other in 1944. In one case, the Russian prisoner was said to have tried to escape and that he must be hanged according to the orders of Reichsführer SS Himmler, but he told another prisoner that he was innocent (500).
Source: KZ Gusen Memorial Committee Digital Archive Project