Robert Litterer 1903 - 1945
On 3 April, Harry Klauber had already been dead for three days. Two weeks he had waited for his death in the Mauthausen concentration camp, few had so longed for their last breath as him, for his heart stopping was the thing that made his survival possible. In place of Harry Klauber, Robert Litterer had died, a machine cutter from Warsaw who had arrived in Mauthausen on a prisoner transport from Groß Rosen. Litterer was one of 2,600 prisoners of whom countless were liquidated immediately upon arrival in Mauthausen; 400 of them, including Robert Litterer, were taken to the sick barracks.
Harry Klauber arrived in Mauthausen on 8 March 1945, coming from Stein jail to a concentration camp shortly before its disbandment. The guards no longer took so much time over the practice of terror. The hours of waiting by the wall were gone. Naked, rubbed down with petrol, head shorn with a blunt razor, this too was how Harry Klauber arrived in the quarantine barracks as one of 1,000 inmates who had only been admitted in order to be liquidated. Klauber was one of the last to arrive and only found space in the draft by the barred window, and so it was that camp clerk Werner Susdeck stumbled across him. It was a reunion after many years. Both had heard of the other, through third parties. Klauber had been nabbed; Susdeck had known about it and so had reorganised the network of comrades in late autumn 1938.
‘I bring three execution orders with me’, Harry Klauber was able to tell the camp clerk, between him stumbling and remembering. Camp clerks had access to the files, the quick aside about the execution orders in the draft from the window was the only chance of possibly escaping the deadly certainty after all. Of the network that Susdeck set about forming in the meantime in order to move him to the infirmary barracks, Klauber knew nothing. Two doctors colluded and signed the transfer, a Pole and a Czech.
In the infirmary camp, in the so-called Russian camp, where originally only Russian prisoners of war were supposed to be housed, Harry Klauber then waited in March 1945 for the death of Robert Litterer, who was ill with dysentery. Litterer died in place of Harry Klauber and Harry Klauber lived on as Robert Litterer, inheriting his prisoner number along with his name; there was nothing more the Polish machine cutter from Warsaw could leave him.
The prisoner, who was know called Robert Litterer, awoke only after the liberation of the Ebensee concentration camp. Days before he had only made it back to the camp on the shoulders of his bunkmate. Harry Klauber had reported sick a few days before the liberation and had been kicked into the infirmary. He could not leave Ebensee on his feet even after 8 May. On all fours he crawled down the mountain and lay down outside a farmhouse. Wrapped in a blanket, the inhabitants carried the human-like skeleton, weighing 30 kilogrammes, into the house, cleaned off the dirt and lice, laid him in white bed and fed him goat’s milk. That was Harry Klauber’s first night in a freshly-made bed; he was nearly crushed under the fluffed up covers.
Translation into English: Joanna White
This excerpt was adapted by the author from his novel April in Stein, published by Residenz Verlag. Robert Streibel: April in Stein (St. Pölten/Salzburg/Vienna 2015). The names of the concentration camp prisoners involved have been altered except for that of Robert Litterer.