Testimony of Jan Janusz Kamienski
(June 17, 1947)
Summarized by Eric Weigand
Pima Community College, Tucson, Arizona
Jan Janusz Kamienski was a twenty seven year old Polish national. At the time of the trial, he was unemployed and studying medicine in Augsburg, Germany. He was a prisoner in Gusen I from June 6, 1940, until February 9, 1943. For his first two months in the camp he carried stones. For two months after that he was on the camp-cleaning detail. The remainder of his time at Gusen he worked in the Kastenhof Quarry (128) where he was clerk in 1942 (133). Kamienski was transferred to Dachau as an electrician (153).
Of all the defendants, Kamienski said he was most familiar with SS Sergeant Wilhelm Grill (129a). He states that Grill was in charge of the mail room, and censored mail and packages prisoners received on holidays. After 1942, Grill censored the packages they received from home. Under Grill’s negligent administration, prisoners were not allowed to write letters for three months in 1942. Kamienski’s parents became worried and wrote a letter to the headquarters of Gusen I in June or July 1942 (129a). As a result, Grill called Kamienski into his office for “interrogation,” which prisoners understood to mean a beating (129a-129b). Grill shouted at Kamienski, “You Polish swine, why didn’t you write a letter home?” (129b) Kamienski reminded Grill that prisoners could not write home for three months. Grill beat Kamienski repeatedly until Kamienski answered that he had not written home “because of his own carelessness” (129b). Grill then made Kamienski sit and write a letter to his family which read “I am well, I am healthy. Your letter I have received with great joy and I thank you very much for it. Your loving son.” (129b). According to Kamienski, beatings of prisoners by Grill were a daily occurrence (129b). Grill beat prisoners in Block 3 with an oxtail whip for adding an extra word to their letters (132).
Kamienski testifies to the fact that Grill stole food stuff from packages that were meant for the prisoners (129b). In December, 1942, Kamienski received a package that was supposed to weigh approximately twenty-two pounds but all that was left was a loaf of bread and some spilled marmalade (129b-130).
“The bathing of invalids” took place, according to Kamienski, from approximately September 1941 until October or September 1942 (130) mostly in the afternoon or evening under the supervision of Camp Leader Schmielewski [sic] and SS Master Sergeant Lynch (146, 162). Kamienski tells that the naked invalids were taken in large groups. He goes on to describe them as “walking skeletons” (130). In March or April of 1942, Kamienski was in the dispensary visiting his friend the “wardmen” (131). On leaving, he tried to “pass through the gate that was between Block 27 and Block 28” (131) but was stopped by the gatekeeper. From the door of the dispensary, he witnessed a group from Block 32 being taken to the baths (131) at the end of Blocks 27 and 28 (142) by SS Master Sergeant Grill and block eldest of Block 43 [sic], Karl Schraegle [spelled Shroegle on 130-131]. After getting the group to the bathhouse, the inmates understood what was going to happen to them. They were beaten with sticks and kicked to make them go into the baths by SS Technical Sergeant Brust Brust and the Block Eldest of Block 32. Grill stood in the entrance and kicked or beat inmates with a stick he held in his left hand (131). Those who remained lying outside in front of the bathhouse were dragged into it by Brust and the block eldest of Block 32. Approximately 25 to 30 corpses were taken to the washroom in Block 22 and those still alive were lead back to Block 32 by Block 32’s eldest (132). According to Kamienski, the bathhouse was “a covered building. In the center of the floor was a depression approximately 30 centimeters deep. The sides were cement walls. During the bathing the drainage was closed so that the water rose to the edges” (132). The invalids were then forced to go into the water after receiving beatings. In their weak state, most of the invalids fell into the water and drowned (132).
Erick Schuettauf or, as Kamienski calls him, “General Bauch,” meaning “belly”(129), was the “commander of one of the companies in Gusen” (133). While his duties concerned the guards only, he also became involved in the treatment of prisoners (149). According to Kamienski, when Schuettauf gave orders to his guards, prisoners knew well that beatings would occur shortly thereafter. Kamienski discusses one instance when Schuettauf threatened SS Sergeant Peist with a report if he didn’t get some prisoners in the lower Kastenhof Quarry to “start working” (133). The capos and head capos were called together and ordered to take care of the problem in work detail Kieppe 2, where mostly Russian POWs worked with sand. This order was shortly followed with a severe beating of those prisoners, after which 35 to 40 bodies were carried away (134). Kamienski was told by a member of the SS that Schuettauf had even told his guards that if one of them shot a prisoner, they would receive cigarettes and a furlough (134). Kamienski even over heard Schuettauf telling his men “not to consider us [prisoners] as human beings, but as murders and criminals, and that they ought to shoot us to death or to beat us to death. And furthermore, for doing that they would receive cigarettes and leaves” (150).
Conditions in Kastenhof
Kamienski reports that conditions in this quarry were so bad up to 150 prisoners were killed there a day (133). As clerk in Kastenhof, Kamienski was personally responsible for telling the roll-call leader how many prisoners were returning and how many corpses were returning (150).
Tandler took charge of the 2,000 Russian prisoners of war (POW) who arrived in the camp in November or December, 1941 (134) and occupied Blocks 13,14, 15 and 16 (150) as well as the young Russians in Block 24 after 1942. By March 1942 only a few were still alive (134). Tandler, who didn’t speak Russian well, was in sole control of the Russian POWs wherever they worked. Most worked in the Kastenhof quarry where Kamienski worked. From the first day they went to work after being quarantined for six weeks, Tandler mistranslated the orders for the Russians, and then he beat them severely for not carrying the orders out properly (135).
The Russians were also grossly underfed, receiving only half the rations that the rest of the prisoners received (135). Russians would, when leaving the camp for the quarry, pass to the left of the garbage from the kitchen. The prisoners would “jump over” to the place with the food, “potatoes mixed with dirt” (136), and get as much of it as they could. They were then beaten heavily as Tandler watched. According to Kamienski, in his two and a half years at Gusen he had never before seen people so run down and beaten they would eat manure (136).
The Russians worked on the ground in the quarry pushing material in the carts on the narrow gage railway. Half an hour before prisoners returned to the camp, the “kippe” where filled with dead or half-dead bodies, the half dead on the bottom, by Tandler’s order, so that the dead would crush them to death. They were taken back to the camp on the rail-lines, where prisoners could see those still alive open-mouthed and struggling for air while the SS abused them (137-138). Once in the camp, these bodies were “dumped (137). The SS block leaders would kick those still living in the head, saying things like, “Look at that dirty pig. He is still alive” (138).
In approximately February 1942, Block 16, which was 90% Russian, was gassed by the guards (138). Tandler was personally present on July 20, 1942, when a Russian officer was hanged from a lamppost by the kitchen. Kamienski stated that Tandler was present at 3 or 4 executions, probably as an interpreter (139).
Because the worst criminals were specially selected to fill positions in the camp, such as block eldest and room eldest, Kamienski testified that they would steal half of the food that the Russians were supposed to receive, either for themselves or to give to a friend. Even prior to this theft, the Russians’ food was already halved from the normal prisoner ration (139). Kamienski recounts an example where the Block Eldest of Block 15, a prisoner wearing a green triangle, gave away a loaf. When prisoners lined up for their food, so much had been stolen fifteen rations were missing. To compensate for this, the block eldest took the 15 weakest prisoners of Block 15 to the washroom and had them strip naked. He then made each one drown the man in front of him, and then be drowned himself until all fifteen of them were dead (139-140).
Attitude of Other Prisoners to Murders
Kamienski testified that although the screams of those being bathed-to-death could be heard as far away as roll-call square, those prisoners who worked ten hours hard labor would come back to camp so tired they could barely eat before falling asleep. There were two groups in the camp. One worked ten hours a day. The other were “prominent people” (144) prisoners had free time and spent it playing soccer or playing cards and “did not have time to discuss the murders in the camps. Some of them, only those of the group of intelligent people, showed some interest in that regardless whether they had a position or not” (144). Only “special occasions, executions, shooting” (144) were generally discussed by prisoners. While prominent prisoners, who were mostly German until 1942 when some Poles were given positions as block clerks, could play soccer on Sunday, the only spectators where block elders. Everyone else was resting. Polish prisoners were also doctors or technical people (145). Many prisoners knew about the murders in the washrooms, but few new the details (149).
Source: KZ Gusen Memorial Committee Digital Archive Project