Who is Walter Schreiber?
Walter Schreiber was born in 1908 and died in 1999 at the age of 91 in Vienna. He studied civil engineering at the Technical University in Vienna and worked first on the construction of the alpine high altitude road "Großglockner-Hochalpenstraße" as assistant to the construction manager. After an extended period of unemployment he emigrated to the Soviet Union in 1932 and worked on the construction of refrigeration buildings and alcoholic beverage factories in Bryansk, Spassk, and Petrofsk until 1935. In 1936 Schreiber went to Germany, where he worked first for the Tesch Corporation and then, from 1937 to Aug. 31, 1945, for the Huta Corporation. Schreiber was employed as a senior engineer in the branch office in Kattowitz from Jan. 11, 1943, until the evacuation of Upper Silesia in 1945.
After the war Schreiber worked for the Municipal Construction Office Directorate (Stadtbauamtsdirektion) Vienna, the Austrian Danube Power Plants Society (Österreichische Donaukraftwerke AG), the Jochenstein Danube Power Plant Society (Donaukraftwerk Jochenstein AG) and the Verbundgesellschaft Vienna. After well-deserved retirement he lived in Vienna, mental capacity fully in tact, until his death.
Why is Schreiber Interesting?
What is so interesting in the professional life of this Austrian civil engineer? He worked as a senior engineer in the branch office in Kattowitz for the construction activities of his firm and was also responsible for constructions in the concentration camp Auschwitz and its sub-camps.
He was interviewed about Auschwitz in the year 1998 by Dipl.-Ing. Walter Lüftl, who had been President of the Austrian Society of Civil Engineers until 1992. Answers that are of interest for historiography are found in the following:
Lüftl: In which areas were you active?
Schreiber: As senior engineer I inspected the civil project of the Huta Corporation and negotiated with the Central Construction office of the SS. I also audited the invoices of our firm.
L.: Did you enter the camp? How did that happen?
S.: Yes. One could walk everywhere without hindrance on the streets of the camp and was only stopped by the guards upon entering and leaving the camp.
L.: Did you see or hear anything about killings or mistreatment of inmates?
S.: No. But lines of inmates in a relatively poor general condition could occasionally be seen on the streets of the camp.
L.: What did the Huta Corporation build?
S.: Among other things, crematoria II and III with the large morgues.
L.: The prevalent opinion (considered to be self evident) is that these large morgues were allegedly gas chambers for mass killings.
S.: Nothing of that sort could be deduced from the plans made available to us. The detailed plans and provisional invoices drawn up by us refer to these rooms as ordinary cellars.
L.: Do you know anything about introduction hatches in the reinforced concrete ceilings?
S.: No, not from memory. But since these cellars were also intended to serve as air raid shelters as a secondary purpose, introduction holes would have been counter-productive. I would certainly have objected to such an arrangement.
L.: Why were such large cellars built, when the water table in Birkenau was so extremely high?
S.: I don’t know. Originally, however, above-ground morgues were to be built. The construction of the cellars caused great problems in water retention during the construction time and sealing the walls.
L.: Would it be conceivable that you were deceived and that the SS nevertheless had gas chambers built by your firm without your knowledge?
S.: Anyone who is familiar with a construction site knows that is impossible.
L.: Do you know any gas chambers?
S.: Naturally. Everyone in the east knew about disinfestation chambers. We also built disinfestation chambers, but they looked quite different. We built such installations and knew what they looked like after the installation of the machinery. As a construction firm, we often had to make changes according to the devices to be installed.
L.: When did you learn that your firm was supposed to have built gas chambers for industrial mass killing?
S.: Only after the end of the war.
L.: Weren’t you quite surprised about this?
S.: Yes! After the war I contacted my former supervisor in Germany and asked him about it.
L.: What did you learn?
S.: He also only learned about this after the war, but he assured me that the Huta Corporation certainly did not build the cellars in question as gas chambers.
L.: Would a building alteration be conceivable after the withdrawal of the Huta Corporation?
S.: Conceivable, sure, but I would rule that out on the basis of time factors. After all, they would have needed construction firms again, the SS couldn’t do that on their own, even with inmates. Based on the technical requirements for the operation of a gas chamber, which only became known to me later, the building erected by us would have been entirely unsuitable for this purpose with regard to the necessary machinery and the practical operation.
L.: Why didn’t you publish that?
S.: After the war, first, I had other problems. And now it is no longer permitted.
L.: Were you ever interrogated as a witness in this matter?
S.: No Allied, German, or Austrian agency has ever shown an interest in my knowledge of the construction of crematoria II and III, or my other activities in the former Generalgouvernement [German occupied Poland]. I was never interrogated about this matter, although my services for the Huta Corporation in Kattowitz were known. I mentioned them in all my later CVs and recruitment applications. Since knowledge about these facts is dangerous, however, I never felt any urge to propagate it. But now, as the lies are getting increasingly bolder and contemporary witnesses from that time like myself are slowly but surely dying off, I am glad that someone is willing to listen and to write down the way as it really was. I have serious heart trouble and can die at any moment, it’s time now.
We are grateful to this contemporary witness, who asked us to wait to publish his testimony posthumously.
Other contemporary witnesses, like the SS-leader Höttl who also died in 1999, took their knowledge about the origin of the six million lie with them into the grave, without even caring whether the truth they held would at least be made known posthumously.
We will keep Herrn Dipl.-Ing. Dr. techn. Walter Schreiber in honorable memory.
First published as "In memoriam Dipl.-Ing. Dr. techn. Walter Schreiber" in Vierteljahreshefte für freie Geschichtsforschung 4(1) (2000), p. 104f.