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Gustav Kleinmann (1891–1976)

 a  “In October we go in a transport to Auschwitz (in) Upper Silesia, get food for two days and off we go. Everybody says it’s a one-way ticket, only Fritzl and I don’t mope, I tell myself that you can only die once. In the freight car are Stefan Heymann, Bauernschreck, Fr. Sondheim, Jupp Rausch, Leser, all of them polit(icals). Arr(ived) in Ausch(witz), (we stand for) 8 hours at the famous ramp, finally they unload us at night, everybody says that we’re in for it now, as Auschwitz (is) quite infamous for its gassing, but they let us live and lead us into the camp, since there are 400 of us prisoners and all of us are able craftsmen.”

(Gustav Kleinmann: “Tagebuch eines Konzentrationers.” In: Reinhold Gärtner / Fritz Kleinmann, eds.: Doch der Hund will nicht krepieren… Tagebuchnotizen aus Auschwitz (Thaur: Kulturverlag 1995), pp. 11–28, here p. 18. (Transl. KL))
 b  His son Fritz Kleinmann described things as follows: “My father had volunteered for every possible type of skilled work. If Stolten, the work supervisor, called for roofers, my father ran up; if glaziers were in demand, he put his hand up. There was no work he didn’t think he was capable of. When I said to him one evening that I feared what would happen if the SS discovered that he hadn’t mastered these types of work, he replied that he would have mastered them before the SS could figure it out.”
(Fritz Kleinmann: “Überleben im KZ.” In: Reinhold Gärtner / Fritz Kleinmann, eds.: Doch der Hund will nicht krepieren… Tagebuchnotizen aus Auschwitz (Thaur: Kulturverlag 1995), pp. 34–114, here p. 67. (Transl. KL))

“Every day the transports go past us here, all of them closed and sealed freight cars. But we’re well aware of what’s going on. They’re all Hungarian Jews, and all this is happening in the twentieth century.”[1]


Born in Saybusch, Upper Silesia, in 1891, Gustav Kleinmann came to Vienna as a 15-year-old, passed his apprenticeship certification examination as an upholsterer, and served as an Austrian soldier in World War I. He was wounded several times in combat and was decorated for his bravery. In 1917, he married Tini, and the couple had four children. From 1923 on, Gustav Kleinmann worked as a master upholsterer in Vienna’s 2nd District. Together with his son Fritz, Gustav was arrested, interrogated, and beaten by “friends” on November 10, 1938, but he was released again the next day because of his service in the war. Just under one year later, in September 1939, the two were deported to the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was able to avoid being separated from his son. Gustav Kleinmann survived two years in Buchenwald, where his work details included several weeks of forced labor in a quarry. He describes the period of his imprisonment in a secret diary: “(I) work to forget where I am. The camp gets smaller each day, the mortality rate is high, and so it goes.”[2]


In 1942, the father and son were sent to the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp, where Gustav worked first as a carpenter and then as the camp upholsterer.  a  On May 10, 1943, Gustav, a “half-Jew,” was Aryanized along with 16 others and regarded from then on as a “political prisoner,” which resulted in an improvement in his treatment by the SS. Of his 400 Austrian comrades from Buchenwald, only 100 were still alive. Gustav Kleinmann worked in various areas, finally as an upholsterer at the I.G. plant, where he made blackout curtains.  b 


On  January 18, 1945, Gustav and Fritz Kleinmann, along with thousands of other inmates of the Auschwitz camp complex, were forced to go on the death march. After Fritz escaped, Gustav trudged on alone, passing through the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp, toward Celle, where he was liberated by the British on April 14, 1945. Ten days later, on April 25, he took matters into his own hands and headed for home with another Viennese, Josef Berger. On foot and part of the way on a bicycle, he made his way back to Austria, where he found his son Fritz once more. After a prolonged struggle, Gustav Kleinmann got an apartment in Vienna again and was able to open a workshop. Two of his children, Edith and Kurt, had managed to leave Austria in time. His wife, Tini Kleinmann, and their daughter Hertha had been deported to Minsk in June 1942 and were killed there. He married Olga Steyskal, his second wife, in 1948. In addition to the diary written at great personal risk, behind whose dry formulations, abbreviations, and matter-of-fact language the camp’s harrowing conditions are perceptible, Gustav Kleinmann wrote a poem in the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1940: “Steinbruchkaleidoskop” (Quarry Kaleidoscope). Gustav Kleinmann died in Vienna on May 1, 1976.

(SP; transl. KL)


Gärtner,Reinhold / Kleinmann, Fritz, eds.: Doch der Hund will nicht krepieren… Tagebuchnotizen aus Auschwitz. Thaur: Kulturverlag 1995.

[1] Gustav Kleinmann: “Tagebuch eines Konzentrationers,” in: Reinhold Gärtner and Fritz Kleinmann, eds.: Doch der Hund will nicht krepieren… Tagebuchnotizen aus Auschwitz (But the Dog Just Won’t Kick the Bucket... Diary Comments from Auschwitz) (Thaur: Kulturverlag, 1995), pp. 11–28, here p. 22. (Translated by KL)

[2] Kleinmann: Tagebuch, p. 13.