Testimony of Wilhelm Grill
(June 20, 1947)
Summarized by Rocklyn Winchester
Pima Community College, Tucson, Arizona
At the time of the trial, Wilhelm Grill was a 31-year-old construction locksmith from Bayreuth, Bavaria.
Grill and the Hitler Youth
In 1933, Grill was a politically uninterested (319) 17-year-old locksmith apprentice (317). As a young fellow he was impressed by the great organization of the Nazi Party. Information on other parties was only found on little posters and notes (319). He was influenced, as well, by the alleged successes of the Party. “One could see after 1933 that all the hate among the parties had disappeared. All over Germany constructions was going on, reconstruction was going on, the workers in the factories received jobs again, and people became happier than they were before, they were easier satisfied” (320). He believed that the program of the Party would save Germany from economic and political depression (319). This belief was partly due to the fact that his poor father’s business began to improve after 1933 (319). In the spring of 1934, by his own volition, he joined the Hitler Youth (318, 351); prior to this he had no connections with the Nazi Party or its organizations (317). He believed that all Hitler wanted was peace (320). This is what he was taught by the Hitler Youth and Waffen SS (320). He never thought that Germany would go to war (320). If he and other Germans had known what Hitler was going to do, he wouldn’t have come to power (320). He was in the Hitler Youth until April 1935 when he joined the Waffen SS (318).
Army Service and the Waffen SS
Grill joined the Waffen SS voluntarily because he had lost his job in 1934 (318). He was with the Waffen SS from April 1935 until April 1938 (318). On page 351, the dates he gives for his service in the SS are April 1935 until March 1938. He says, “I was in the NSDAP from May 1, 1937, until the end” (351). While in the Waffen SS, his first unit was Guard Group Elbe (318). While stationed in Torgau, he worked as a company clerk (318). The Guard Group Elbe was in charge of guarding men he thought of as reformatory prisoners who came from Berlin so that their conduct would be corrected (319). When he left the Waffen SS in 1938, he went into labor service for seven months and then joined the army (322). He was in the army until 1940 (322) (351) when he was wounded by a machine gun bullet during maneuvers of the 61st Infantry Regiment (322). Because of his wound, a disabled right hand, he was discharged from the Wehrmacht and thus returned to civilian life (322). After being discharged from the army he was reexamined by the Waffen SS and pronounced fit for service on home front (323). He was assigned to the post office at the concentration camp, Mauthausen, where he understood his only duties would be to run the post office (323). He served in the Waffen SS from May 10, 1940, until May 5, 1945 (351).
Contact with Concentration Camps
The first concentration camp Grill got acquainted with was Dachau (320). He, as well as all German people, believed that concentration camps were for the “enemies” (321) of the Nazi Party who needed to be locked up and re-educated for some time until they ceased to be enemies of the German Reich (321). It was impossible to hear anything else about concentration camps because former prisoners spoke cautiously about their experiences. Grill had met such a man (321). This was probably due to mistreatment (322). Grill didn’t know if prisoners had to take a vow of secrecy (321). In 1942 and 1943 he began having doubts about the concentration camps (322).
When asked by the prosecution to assess the conditions in Gusen I, he says that in 1942 conditions were very bad until the ban on the receipt of parcels was lifted. After that they improved and could be classified as “average” (352). When asked to compare conditions between Dachau and Gusen, Grill says that he never entered the camp at Dachau and so could not offer a comparison (353).
Service in the Post Office
Grill worked in the post office at Gusen I from November 15th, 1940, until August 14th or 15th of 1944. (323). Prior to arriving at Gusen, he was sent directly to Mauthausen (323) where he spent four days training in the post office (323). As far as he was concerned, he only intended to take charge of the mailroom (323). During six months of continued training at Gusen, the postman from Mauthausen visited Grill frequently. After this training Grill took charge of the Gusen post office (330-331). He remained supervisor until 1944 when he was released of these duties by SS Colonel Ziereis (324).
Head of Criminal Matters and Welfare
After April 1942 (224) he did not really participate in the business of the camp (325), but since the office of the head of the local party ward Ziereis was in the same SS barracks (324) outside the protective custody camp (325) (327) as the SS mail room, Grill continued to go to this barracks every day after Ziereis put him in charge of all criminal matters for the Nazi Party. After the 14th or 15th of August 1944, when the bombardments and the “retreat refugees came into our area” (224), Ziereis put him in charge of the Refugee Welfare Department of the National Socialist Welfare Organization as his main duty. Ziereis wanted his office at Gusen because this put the center of the party in the approximate geographical center of the ward (324).
As head of the NS Welfare organization, Grill says that he had to take care of hundreds of refugees after 1943. Several nights a week, this work kept him from returning to his home in the SS Settlement in St. Georgen an der Gusen. The work that kept him at Gusen was “Work for the Welfare Organization, for the party, and caring for the refugees” (342).
From January to October of 1941, he lived in Mauthausen (324) in the Restaurant Arras (341), and from January of 1942 until the second of May 1945 he lived in the SS Settlement in St. Georgen (325-326). Occasionally, when he first arrived, he slept in the camp Gusen while on duty (342) However, after 1943, he only returned home 3 or 4 nights a week but “remained on duty” for the “National Socialist Welfare Organization, for the Party, and caring for refugees” (342).
While Grill was in charge of the post office at Gusen I, no other SS men came into the post office and took articles from packages (336) (363). If he had seen it, he would have reported it because he had signed the order of Reichsführer SS Himmler which punished mail theft by hanging (337). Grill did authorize giving extra food to the prisoners who helped in the post office so that they wouldn’t steal it and be punished (364) (338).
Restrictions on Prisoner Mail
Not all prisoners could receive mail or parcels. This determination was made by the Reich Security Main Office in Berlin (376). Russians could not write letters (350). On each letterhead going out of the camp, prisoners relatives were told that they could not send pictures or sketches “and so on” (329). These regulations were issued from Mauthausen in accordance with the Reich Security Main Office (330). New prisoners were informed about these rules through interpreters and block clerks (331).
Until October 1942, prisoners could only receive parcels at Christmas (326), and a four pound weight limit was imposed (355). After October 1942, prisoners could receive parcels at any time (326), and the limit was raised to the limit set by the parcel post, 40 pounds (335) or 20 kilos (375). The inmates relatives had been warned with an enclosure in the outgoing mail about what could and could not be sent to inmates in parcels (362) explaining to them that they were only allowed to send food, and could not send letters, tools, pictures or medical supplies (374).
Grill and the Reception and Distribution of Mail
Before the change in the restrictions on packages in October 1942 (226) the reception and distribution of mail began at 7:00 am when a truck from Mauthausen took Grill, an SS guard, and two prisoners to the train station at St. Georgen. The mail arrived on a passenger train and, once unloaded, was taken to the post office in St. Georgen to be sorted (325). At about 9 or 9:30 am the camp mail was handed over to them and they returned to the SS mailroom and sorted prisoner from SS mail (325). Censoring of prisoner mail was always done in this SS mailroom outside the camp (328) (332). In the afternoon, Grill took the outgoing SS mail to the post office and returned around 4 pm when he helped with censoring if there was enough time (325).
After the restrictions on packages changed and picking up parcels and censoring parcels became part of his responsibility (226). Grill’s duty day would begin at 6:30 am and end at 10 pm (342). The first day under the new regulations, 300 packages arrived in the first shipment. The number increased to from 700 to 800 a day by the middle of 1943 (326) although the average weight remained 4 or 5 kilos (375).
By 1943, the Reichsbahn was unable to take care of the volume of packages and Gusen I was given its own mail car which was taken every morning including Sundays from the station at St. Georgen directly to Gusen by way of the special tracks in front of the camp (326). “From the moment the mail car was opened until the time the last parcel was disposd of, always a civilan employee of the German Post Office, of the Austrian post office at St. Georgen was present” (328).
The parcels were taken to the SS mail room outside the camp and checked with the parcel post receipts (328). Here the parcels were sorted (332). After parcels were checked with the parcel post cards and it was determined, as far as possible, that the addressee was really in the camp, the parcels were loaded on a large vehicle and brought through the gates of the Jourhaus to the parcel mailroom (328), a single room in Block 2 which was “solely the censoring office for parcel post for prisoners” (332).
The parcels were unloaded and “all parcel post cards went through the filing system of the camp office” (328). The camp post office had cards on all inmates who were permitted to write and receive mail (376). Grill also received daily reports on prisoners who had died or were transferred (376) “to outside details” (328). After the unloading and filing, mail that did not belong to Gusen was prepared that evening (328) to be shipped back to Mauthausen or St. Georgen (337) the next morning (342). Packages of dead or transferred prisoners were returned or forwarded without exception according to Grill (363). This initial “check-up” (328) took until late afternoon (328).
At this time, the package was censored. The man in charge of censoring it was the only person to handle it (333). Anything not permitted to be sent to prisoners such as underwear, pictures (359), drawings or money baked into bread or large items of clothing such as pants (handkerchiefs were allowed) was removed (361). Items of clothing taken out of the packages were tagged and sent to the storage room (362). Money, if sent in a letter, was confiscated. Grill says it was turned over to the person in the office in charge of the prisoner’s effects and the amount was credited to the addressee in a book the prisoners themselves kept (330).
Once censored, the package “went into a special drawer” (333).
In Grill’s presence, (336) after the evening roll call, parcels and regular mail were handed out to prisoners (334) by the SS man on duty in protective custody camp (333). The prisoners lined up in front of the post office for parcels. A prisoner in front of one of the post-office doors would call out the name of addressee (335). “On the long parcel table, another prisoner was sitting who got from the prisoner his signature for the receipt of the package; next to this prisoner the employee of the post office who checked the prisoner as to the number and name in accordance with the address on the package; next to the employee stood the SS man on duty in the protective custody camp was standing with the package and he showed him this parcel and in accordance with his orders he took out the food” (335-336). Grills says food was always removed done by a protective-custody-camp SS (336) never one of the postal censors (336) (360).
Food was taken out and redistributed to prisoners according to instructions given by Ziereis in 1942, when the rules regarding the receipt of packages changed. Colonel Ziereis instructed that each prisoner could only receive as much food as he could eat for two meals. The excess from the package was either given to prisoners who did not receive a package or to juveniles or to those who worked very hard (336) (360).
The food taken out was placed on a table directly behind the SS who had removed the food (336). At this time, a portion of bologna or bread or sausage would be cut off and placed on the table behind the SS and the rest put back into the parcel given to the prisoner (359). On page 360, Grill says that it was the SS man designated by the security camp commandant who determined how the food would be distributed to which inmate. “He made portions of those remaining food stuff. He knew how many details would be entitled to additional food, whether there were twenty or thirty he would make the appropriate number of portions. Inmates would file in on one side, get their additional food and file out on the other side” (360) On page (336) Grill says that certain work details would have slips from the protective custody camp leader to allow them to get food. (336) The original regulation regarding the distribution of this extra food read that the protective custody camp leaders were supposed to be in charge, but Grill imagined that this responsibility became too much for them, and so they appointed the roll-call leader or labor service leader or some other high ranking non-commissioned officer to do it (337, 361).
Grill says that block leaders never came into the mail room while he was working there. Nor did he go into the camp except once or twice. However, after his duties took him away from the mailroom, corporals were left in charge of censoring, and at this time block leaders with higher ranks might have taken “some liberty” (337).
Foreign mail, including Red Cross packages which occasionally arrived for French or Spanish prisoners was censored in Mauthausen (334), and so they would arrive at 4:30 already opened (334). This mail was also handed out after evening roll call (334). Of all the packages received, 80% of them were from Poland (333). The largest part of these Polish packages consisted of butter, bread, bacon, and sometimes cigarettes and sausage (334). Red Cross packages did not arrive regularly. In fact, until 1943, only one man, Guyer, received packages from the Swiss Red Cross (334). The Red Cross packages consisted of tobacco cans filled with meat, fish, cookies, and chocolate. German packages were the only packages in which oranges and chocolates came. Grill recalls these details because a triplicate list of the contents came with the package and had to be signed and returned to Prague (334). The Red Cross packages to French or Spanish prisoners were censored at Mauthausen because they had censors there who could read French or Spanish (364).
Until 1943, Grill censored mail himself, but he increasingly took on a supervisory role (329). In the mail room, Grill personally supervised four to five SS men who censored the mail and packages and a detail of five or six prisoners (328) who filed the prisoners’ incoming and outgoing mail according to their filing system, affixed stamps on outgoing mail, and loaded and unloaded parcels (329). Two prisoners in the office kept it clean (333). Grill and the man from the Mauthausen post office trained additional censors for two or three months, but eventually Grill only helped with the censoring if there was a great need for him to do so which he says happened two or three times a month. Three SS men usually worked at this job, relieving each other (333).
After October 1943, Grill ordered that only short letter could be written because of the overburden of work (365) only after the main post office at Mauthausen directed him to do so (367). From October 1943 until his duties were terminated in August 1944, 1-2 SS censors censored 25,000 letters and 15,000-18,000 packages per month. Grill had tried to get more censors at Gusen, since Mauthausen had 10 or 12 censors, but had not succeeded (365).
Reports on other camps, and anything against the Reich were cut out of a letter (330). Sketches and drawings were burned (330), and pictures were returned to sender (329). Usually, Grill would let the prisoner see the picture and then return it to the sender (329). Money that was sent, was given to the office that took care of personal effects of prisoners, and the addressee was accredited the amount. The prisoners took the book that held this information (330). Wine, liquor, pants, money hidden in baked bread or fats, and drawings or sketches in bread were confiscated as well (361). The mention of work methods, sickness, and work places was forbidden by the camp commander (367). Underwear was also forbidden (359).
After the 14th or 15th of August, 1944 after Grill was transferred to work in the Welfare and NSDAP office, he never returned to the mailroom, which was now under SS First Lieutenant Riemer (365). As the bombardments increased, disrupting mail service and the retreat from the eastern front proceeded, the volume of mail decreased (366).
Beatings Associated with the Mail Room
Grill admitted to personally beating prisoners who violated mail regulations with a few slaps or hits with a stick. Prisoners used code words and bible citations to give information about the conditions in the camps or about food ration, which was forbidden (339). Prisoners were also forbidden to write that they had not received all the contents of their packages (374) but had to say that they had received everything (375). He would write reports only on those prisoners who had been warned once, or even two or three times, but if the same prisoner violated the rules Grill would write them up and they would be punished by transfer to a punishment detail or with 25 lashes or with an entry in the prisoner’s personal records. Reporting every such violation would have taken too much time and would have brought a more severe punishment (339). Grill’s personal beatings were to prevent heavier punishment on the prisoner from the camp commander or the authorities (338) such as longer terms in the concentration camp. Grill claims that many prisoners were released from Gusen in 1941 and 1942 (339).
As an example Grill offers the instance when Krause took an uncensored letter to a prisoner. Grill punished him to prevent further occurrences (338). Grill says that Krause decided to let Grill punish him because a report would have meant more severe punishment (338). On questioning by the president of the court, Grill said that in punishing Krause himself rather than reporting him, he did not have the discretion to do so according to the SS. This incident was a matter of the post office, Grill explained, and did not concern the camp commander (375-376).
Grill also says, “I myself can remember two cases of burglary in the post office, where several packages had been stolen, and furthermore during the receipt of packages at the time when all the parcels were handed out prisoners took the parcels addressed to other prisoners by faking the number of the other prisoner on their arm as well as on their chest and put the number on their own shirt, and in this manner they were able to receive the parcel of the other prisoner who was on night duty. For the employees of the post office and the SS men in charge of handing out the parcels, of course it was impossible to remember the name of the face that was supposed to have received the package among the many hundreds of prisoners” (340). Those who received parcels were often robbed by other prisoners not ten or fifteen meters from the post office. Grill said these thieves were punished. There were criminals among the Germans as well as the Poles who needed to be punished to deter crime (340).
A Soldier Following Mail Orders
Grill estimates that aside from the prisoners working for him in the post office, he came into contact with as many as a thousand prisoners a day, depending on the number of packages, while he worked at the Gusen camp post office (340). The name Grill became synonymous with the post office and therefore with the censoring of mail and the removal of objects from packages (340). In regards to his conduct in the mailroom, Grill says that he was following strict orders correctly. “I was a soldier and carried out my duties in accordance with my instructions as a soldier (341).
“We were bound by orders which came down from the Reichsführer SS or from the camp commandant. We simply had to carry out such orders without making many questions (350) about such orders. Himmler himself was quite often in the camp and saw the conditions there and gave his orders accordingly. Had we not carried out these orders we would have been subject to the most severe punishment by the SS Corps without any questions of consideration whatsoever” (351).
Chmielewski and Drunken Beatings
In regards to the accusations that he and Chmielewski went through the camp at night and pulled prisoners out of their beds and beat them, Grill says that he was never at Gusen between 1 and 2 am but went home when his duties were over at 6 pm. While on duty as officer of the day, Grill had nothing to do with the protective custody camp but only with the SS barracks and the camp headquarters’ staff. The block leader on duty had responsibility for the protective custody camp from one evening until the next. He stayed in the Jourhaus until the proper signal was given, and then toured the camp to make sure the lights and fires had been put out (343).
Grill claims he had no relationship with Chmielewski because the mail room had no connection to the custody camp. Chmielewski asked Grill to report incidents in the mail room to him, and when Grill did not, the camp commandant developed a disliking for him and had him punished for it on a few occasions (344). Grill says he had little contact with other members of the headquarters staff. As evidence that Chmielewski disliked him, he offers the example of a time when the camp commandant broke all the windows in the post office and shot out the lights with his pistol (345). Grill heard that once after Chmielewski had been drinking in the non-commissioned officers club with SS Master Sergeant Jentsch and SS Tech Sergeant Kluge all three had gone through the camp (345). Grill does not believe they were the only two SS to be involved in beatings resulting in death (268).
SS in Camp
SS Master Sergeant Jentsch was head clerk of the SS under Chmielewski. Schmidt was head clerk under Seidler. “The labor commitment leader and role call leader during the time of Chmielewski was Brust, Kluge, Damaski [sic], and Knockl” (345)
Deaths in the Camp
Deaths in the camp occurred in many forms. Prisoners were shot when trying to escape, killed by electrical current, baths, gassing, hangings and undernourishment (347). Grill personally participated in one execution by hanging as a spectator. Grill was ordered to attend the hanging, but he did not personally carry out the hanging (347). He never participated in deaths by baths. He heard about the deaths from Krause (348) who had worked in the post office from 1941 until the middle of 1943 (353). Grill says his knowledge of the causes of death in the camps was hearsay. He heard about them from the prisoners who worked in his post office (353), Krause and Nogai (354). Later in this trial (376), Grill acknowledges that his post office received daily reports about which prisoners had died and which were transferred, but declined to estimate under oath how many deaths were reported daily except to say that in the number who died in 1942 was greater than in 1943 or 1944 (376).
During his service in Gusen I, from1940-1945, he only saw two dead prisoners carried past the post office, shot while trying to escape and so could not offer testimony other than hearsay about the gassings or bathing-to-death or other means of death at Gusen (353). During his work at Gusen I, he never had anything to do with prisoners’ living quarters (340). He never went into the camp after 1 or 2 am because he did not reside there. He only went into the barracks (343).
Chmielewski and his inner group were the only ones who knew about the deaths by gassing and baths (349). Spotted fever was one disease that was very prevalent in the camp. It even took the lives of many SS men (346), forty SS men in the fall of 1941 when the camp doctor and Chmielewski ordered the delousing of the protective custody camp as well as the SS barracks and “my own barracks” (355). But Grill never heard of the gassing of 156 Russians. Russians were not allowed to write letters and so he had no contact with them in his position in the post office (250). He never heard about the gassings until he was a prisoner at Glasenbach (354).
Grill wasn’t allowed into the inner camp until 1942 when he received a pass with a photograph. Until that time he had to enter accompanied by a block leader (349), he was never as far back in the camp as the baths are described to be. Grill suggests that Kowalski and others have confused him with Tech Sergeant Gross, who looked like Grill but was a great friend of Chmielewski’s so much so that Chmielewski took Gross with him when he left for Hertogenbosch in Holland (350). On 358 Grill testifies that he was so well known in the camp as head of the post office it is unlikely that anyone would mistake him for someone else (358).
Tuttas, Wilhelm, inmate and victim (Prosecution Exhibit P-25 Mauthausen Death Book, Mauthausen Trial page 332, Schuettauf Trial page 503).
Source: KZ Gusen Memorial Committee Digital Archive Project