Forced Laborer Submitted a Familiar Signature

Der Standard (07/09/04)
Andrea Waldbrunner

Guy Gault had only one piece of evidence that he had worked as a French forced laborer in Vienna: a letter from Federal Chancellor Raab, signed by his secretary, Ludwig Steiner. Today Steiner is head of the Reconciliation Fund and Gault visited him in Vienna.

Vienna - In 1942 Guy Gault was doing well in Austria and that was nothing to be taken for granted because as of that year he was a forced laborer in Vienna. But because he was so lucky in the Nazi firm to which he was assigned to work as an orthopedic specialist, he wrote a letter after the war to Federal Chancellor Julius Raab. In that letter he thanked him for the "memories of friendliness shown by the Austrian people."

It was this letter from Raab which was signed by his secretary at the time, Ludwig Steiner, which paved the way for Gault as a forced laborer to be compensated by the Austrian government.

Until now the story sounds like another one of the fates of 150,000 forced laborers with which the Reconciliation Fund has dealt over the past few years. But one small detail makes the story somewhat special: The letter of gratitude from Raab to the forced laborer was signed with a simple signature, "Steiner." And this "Steiner" was secretary to the Chancellor.

Today he is head of the Committee of the Reconciliation Fund. That is where Gault handed in his papers in order to receive compensation. Because he had no proof of his forced service in the orthopedic firm "Volkert," he sent in his letter signed by Steiner. And, Ambassador Steiner exclaimed, "I am familiar with the signature." Some months later the eighty-two year-old Gault, who lives in the southern part of France, was compensated with 2,543.55 euros.

The two men met together for the first time. Mr. Gault had so many experiences to tell from his times in Vienna, such as the burning of the opera house after its bombing - "it was on a Monday, I remember." And how he experienced the street fights between the Russians and the German Armed Forces. How a German solder first shot at a Russian and the Russian shot back, killing the German with a shot in the head.

"Unmastered" History
He remembers well that he was able to move about because he didn’t have to work in a camp. He was even invited to dinner by the Volkert family. But very little did Guy Gault speak of his experiences with the Gestapo. They interrogated him because he had brought pamphlets with him about "Vive de Gaulle."

Basically he is very careful since one never knows. The French forced laborers are considered to this day as collaborators of the Nazi regime. He has experienced that his own Red Cross never concerned itself with people like himself. In fact, he was better looked after in Vienna. His application for compensation as forced laborer was concluded with the words: 'Vive l’Autriche."