Testimony of Stefan Szmura
(July 17-18, 1947)
Summarized by Jan-Ruth Mills
Pima Community College, Tucson, Arizona
A Polish national living in Lipstadt, Stefan Szmura was a prisoner in Gusen I from January 27, 1941, to May 4, 1945, where he worked in the Kastenhof and Gusen quarries (154), as a stone cutter from February 1941 to March 1944 (168), in a camp detail and finally in the Holzplatz Detail (154).
While working as a stonecutter, Szmura saw the capos lead the work details to the quarry and saw the detail leaders take the guards assigned to them (168). The labor-service officer “wrote the details’ cards, that is to say how many people were to be on that detail and who would lead it and the detail leader took that guard and went out to the detail with it; and those who took details out for some distance to work had a guard detail attached to them who read the cards and I don’t know how many guards he had with him” (169). From his workplace inside the halls he could not see if officers actually gave orders, but he reports that sometimes Himmler or other top SS visited and then prisoners would be driven to work even harder (169). In answer to a question from the defense about whether he ever saw guards in the area of the stone quarry, Szmura answered, “You could see them looking uphill on one side of the Kastenhoffen” [sic] (170).
Szmura could not see what route the guards took to the quarry in the morning because they were stationed before he arrived. But the evening was different. “After the evening roll call, they just went anywhere, wherever they pleased” (171). When they were relieved during the day, they would take the most expedient route, either around the quarry or over the rocks and through the quarry to pass by the buildings and bread store (171). On one such occasion, an SS slapped Szmura for failing to take off his cap (172).
Extermination and Labor
In the winter, many prisoners lost their lives in the sleet and snow and were carried back to camp. It looked like “a review of invalids” (169). They would sometimes be carried back to camp by other prisoners, one prisoner taking the legs, and sometimes taken back on a cart. At roll call, the invalids would not be able to stand but would be put on the ground in front of their blocks “...you would see them lying there, their shirts went up, their bodies would touch the bare ground and they would be lying there for an hour or more. There would be ten such invalids at least ten for every block” (170). In the winter of 1942 Russian prisoners would carry 50 dead bodies back to camp on sleds, and Chmielewski would laugh (170).
Grill and the Mail
Grill would only allow five lines to be written in letters containing the words, “I am healthy. I am well off. I receive packages also money. Regards to the parents and so on, your son” (155). Szmura assumes this was Grill’s decision because he recalls being able to write four pages every other week in Mauthausen, but says that they were limited to writing once a month (155, 161). The rules regarding how many lines one could write were posted in the barracks by the block clerks who said “it was ordered” (161) and that the order came “from the orderly room” (161). Those who attempted to write more had their letters returned and some were reported, which resulted in 25 lashes across the buttocks (155). Szmura was told that even the dying in the dispensary had to write that they were well and had received their packages (174).
Packages were censored in the SS residential barracks on the other side of the Jourhaus gate. Szmura was present on one occasion near Christmas 1942 when Szmura saw Grill, prisoners, and the kitchen capo in the barracks surrounded by oranges and food from the packages. Szmura was ordered to dispose of the waste paper from the packages (175) Grill also removed cigarettes, baloney and chocolates from packages (155). Bread and margarine from the packages were given to work details, but the more valuable contents were given to capos, the firemen and the block eldests (156).
The packages were opened in Block 2 inside the protective custody camp. Prisoners Sunajek, Nogaj, and Krause worked there. Krause was clerk of Block 2, then Block 3 before working in the post office (161), and he was also room or block elder in Block 4 (172). Krause also had an affair with one of the women in the brothel which cost him his position as clerk (162). “He organized all sorts of articles from parcels which came in and carried them to his woman in the brothel” (172). Although Szmura did not see his package being opened, he says he knows the contents because his mother had written to him about them and because he saw Grill “take away a loaf of bread and part of a bologna” (162).
Szmura was not aware of any rule that prisoners should only be allowed enough food for two days (162). First Sergeant Fuessel, Master Sergeant Reichert and Block Fuehrer Iffert were not involved in censoring the packages, according to Szmura, but only in distributing them (162). Fuessel was known for taking little from the packages (176). Chmielewski and Seidler also distributed packages. The mail was distributed in the evenings only (176).
Grill and Bathing-to-Death
Szmura also testifies that he knew Grill was involved in bathing invalids to death (156). One Sunday evening (163) he was in the dispensary in Block 21 and on his way back to Block 17, which was near the crematorium (163). As one left the dispensary, there was a gate between Blocks 27 and 28. Going along the road toward Roll-Call Square, facing the square, there was a bathroom to the right and a washroom for either Blocks 21 or 22 on the left (177) There was a pit, perhaps for refuse, between Blocks 31 and 24 (178). He passed the wash house and paused for a few minutes (163). Several capos were outside washing (179) and he looked in before being beaten with a stick and told to leave (163). Chmielewski (156) was present wearing a leather coat and a bent hat with a rim (179). Also present was the “at that time the roll-call leader, Gross, and then Seidler” (156). The SS were wearing green coats with darker velvet collars (179). Also present were the eldest from Block 32, the invalid block (156).
The meter wide double doors to the washroom were fixed at both sides to the ceiling and the floor with bolts. On this occasion they were both open (181) Inside the wash room water was standing to the depth of about one foot (179), red from the blood of prisoners (180). He said some of them yelled “Jesus” and “Maria” in Polish while others yelled out in Spanish. Grill, with an oxtail whip in hand, would order the prisoners “to fall down into the water and to get up and then to fall down” (156). Prisoners who tried to leave were beaten and forced to stand under “the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th shower heads and nobody was allowed to stand between the shower heads” (156). When asked what the cause of death was, Szmura says that these exhausted men were beaten and forced to stand in a cold shower in the winter of 1942 (156).
The following day, a Monday, as he was sweeping the street in front of the crematorium for a plate of food from the crematorium capo he recognized the corpses as those from the bathing episode the previous evening (163). He saw corpses with marks indicating they had been beaten (156). In addition to recognizing them the crematorium capo told him they were brought from the bathhouse (163)
Tandler and the Young Russians
While working as a stone sculptor, Szmura had occasion to observe Tandler’s treatment of the young Russians who worked first in Hall 3 and then Hall 2. One Sunday afternoon (157) in May or June of 1944 a young Russian escapee was brought back to camp by Ziereis. (156) Szmura was lined up outside of Block 3 for the evening roll call and saw from a distance of perhaps three or four meters (174) as Tandler, acting as an interpreter, struck the man on the face and asked him about the escape. When the young man would not reply, a wooden horse was brought in and Tandler, Ziereis, and Chmielewski “conducted the beating” (156) across the man’s bare buttocks (156). When the man did not respond, Ziereis took Tandler’s whip and beat the man himself, then ordered that he be taken to the crematorium and shot (156) which Tandler and Seidler promptly did (157). Ziereis then drove out of the camp with his son in the car. Later Russians who worked in the crematorium said that the prisoner was in fact shot (157, 164). Although Szmura did not see how the man died or if he died, he reports that anyone who attempted to escape was killed (164).
Szmura recalls Hartung as the work leader at Kastenhof Quarry as well as the leader of the firemen and driver of a truck within the camp (158).
Engineer Wolfram and Death of Willie Tuttas
In the winter of either 1943 or 1944 between Hall 1 and the blacksmith’s shop was a machine used to dig up sand which had a belt three-quarter to one centimeter thick all around it. One day the Capo Schimmel (perhaps not his real name 159) and Engineer Wolfram yelled that a piece had been cut out of this belt (158). Wolfram told Schimmel that if the perpetrator were not found he would “take up the whole spare time from noon and evening and have you exercise” (158). That afternoon Seidler, Hartung and Schimmel indicated the culprit was the American prisoner Willi Tuttas (159), a worker in the stone quarry. Hartung took him from the quarry (160), or from the “hole” (164) to “the bunker” where he starved to death after nine or ten days. The Polish stone cutter Kalemba told Szmura he had seen the corpse of the American in the crematorium with marks on his hands indicating that he had tried to eat his own flesh (160). Szmura could not say if Hartung had responsibility for the prisoner once he was in the bunker (164).
SS and Selections
Although Seidler was responsible for the administration of the camp, Szmura reports that “every SS man could kill a man and do whatever he wanted and was not responsible to Seidler or anybody else. The same goes for the Germans, the block elders, and the capos. They killed people and they were not responsible for it” (165). “It was quite simply the aim of the SS to kill as many people as possible. The SS would say either you are in good health and then you can work, or you are not well, in which case you must be removed. There were no sick people here” (181). At every roll call Chmielewski, Roll-Call Leader Brust or Yentzsch [sic], whom SS prisoners called “invalid welfare officer” would select prisoners thought to be too sick to work (183). Szmura recalls one Saturday afternoon in 1941 when perhaps 2000 or 2500 invalids were selected “to go special blocks” (182). Everyone was afraid of being selected, but on this occasion, even if an inmate looked well he would be made to run fifty meters back and forth “on the double” (182) and if he limped he would be selected. The entire administrative staff was present, including Grill, and the selection took the entire afternoon. “It looked like a horse sale, a sale of horses at the fair” (182).
Gaertner and Executions
Szmura recalls Gaertner, who was on the fire brigade, sometimes gave him food (165), but also says that he was always present at “executions, shootings and the black market” (166). On one occasion in 1944, as Szmura looked along the street passed Blocks 21 and 22 and past the crematorium, he saw men waiting between Blocks 17 and 18. Although he could not see the place where they were shot, he saw Gaertner lead them to that place one by one and then heard the shots. Seidler arrived for the execution on a motorcycle (167).
Szmura recalls the hanging of a Russian man who had tried to escape which he says all prisoners and SS “on the other side” witnessed (166) [It is not clear, however, if he is speaking of the “other side” of the courtroom or of the camp] “More I cannot say. I was standing in the back” (167)]
Source: KZ Gusen Memorial Committee Digital Archive Project