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  1. Martin Antonenko A Fixture

    The Story Of Louis Häfliger

    On April 28, 1945, the Swiss employee of the "International Committee of the Red Cross" (ICRC) Louis Häfliger...


    ... arrives with a transport of 19 vehicles at the Mauthausen concentration camp in present-day Austria, which was still under SS control at the time...:

    Prisoner is actually a bank clerk in Switzerland and has taken extra leave from his employer for this mission!

    He is one of the dozen or so daring men who accepted a secret offer from SS chief Heinrich Himmler:

    In March 1945, in order to "make good weather" for his secret peace negotiations with the Western Allies (to save his own skin!), Himmler offered that ICRC delegates could go to the Nazi concentration camps to accompany aid transports .

    However, this promise was linked to the condition that the delegates concerned would remain in the camps until the end of the war.

    Louis Häfliger is one of these volunteers!

    The camp commandant, SS Standartenführer Franz Ziereis...


    ...behaves completely negative at first, but after consultation with the head of the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (Reich Security Main Office), Ernst Kaltenbrunner...


    ...forced to accommodate the ICRC delegate in the camp.

    In order to at least have some control over him, he assigns him an officer's room, which was actually already owned by SS Obersturmfuhrer Guido Reimer...:


    And as luck would have it, the civilian SS man is also a "bank clerk" (as they said back then) - and Häfliger quickly manages to develop a good relationship with him.

    The two don't exactly become friends, but Reimer tells the ICRC delegate a secret that neither the Red Cross nor the Western Allies know about:

    Not far from the actual camp, in the villages of St. Georgen and Gusen, there are two top-secret satellite camps - Gusen I and II...


    ...in which prisoners live who produce "Messerschmitt 262" jet fighters in two extensive underground tunnels with the code name "Bergkristall"...:




    And on May 2, 1945, Häfliger learned that SS chief Himmler had personally ordered camp commander Ziereis to release all Mauthausen prisoners - there were still around 50,000 to 60,000 people! - drive into these two tunnel systems and then blow them up!

    The tunnels still exist today...:




    Häfliger spontaneously decides to prevent this murderous operation!

    And he even manages to get his roommate Reimer to help him!

    On May 4th, with the help of SS Obersturmfuhrer Reimer, Häfliger "requisitioned" an SS jeep and painted it white with paint that Reimer had also organized.

    In a prison block, the two have a large Red Cross flag sewn!

    In the early morning of May 5, 1945, Häfliger, Reimer and an SS guard driver hired by Reimer who knew the area and had local knowledge drove from the camp to St. Georgen.

    At the mayor's office, Häflinger, who, being Swiss, naturally speaks German, asks where the US tank spearheads are. Reimer's SS uniform is legitimation enough!

    The deputy mayor is well informed about the situation and Häfliger the direction.

    You drive on.

    A little later they meet a US patrol not far from the village, 23 men with two half-track vehicles of the 41st Cavalry Squad...


    ...which is led by Staff Sergeant Albert J. Kosiek...:


    The Swiss can persuade the American to liberate Mauthausen with his people!

    Kosiek immediately contacts his captain by radio - and sets his men on the move in the direction of the concentration camp.

    At noon the GIs, led by Häfliger in his white jeep, appear in front of the camp gate and take the concentration camp without a fight.

    Staff Sergeant Kosieck can be seen in the middle of the next two pictures...:



    SS Obersturmfuhrer Guido Reimer and the SS driver are already in prison! Prior to this, Reimer - at Häfliger's insistence - had given the order to defuse the explosive charges already installed in the tunnel systems.

    Prisoner's act saves the lives of 50,000 to 60,000 concentration camp prisoners!

    Happy end? No! Because now comes the dirty part of the story

    Afterwards, Louis Häfliger is not rewarded or at least praised by the International Committee of the Red Cross for his courageous actions - but by ICRC President Carl Burckhardt...


    ... personally fired without notice!

    The justification is downright grotesque!

    Burckhardt accuses Häfliger of violating the Red Cross' absolute neutrality rule with his actions and of having "become a party" by siding with the doomed prisoners!

    And that's not all: when the bank where Prisoner works found out about his expulsion from the ICRC, they fired him too!

    Häfliger will no longer be able to work in his profession until 1958 - and not at all in Switzerland!

    He had to emigrate to Austria, became an Austrian citizen and found a job with the "National Registerkassen AG" in Vienna, where he worked until his retirement in 1973.

    He died in 1993 in Podbrezová, his wife's Slovak home community.

    And what became of the other participants?

    SS camp commandant Franz Ziereis was shot dead on May 25, 1945 in Gusen while attempting to escape.

    SS chief Heinrich Himmler committed suicide on May 23, 1945 in Lüneburg.

    SS Brigadefuhrer Ernst Kaltenbrunner was hanged in Nuremberg on October 16, 1946.

    Here we have all three in a photo that was taken when Himmler visited "Bergkristall": Ziereis is in the middle, Kaltenbrunner is on the right...:


    SS Obersturmfuhrer Guido Reimer was sentenced to death by hanging on August 14, 1947
    was later changed to life imprisonment. He had committed acts of violence in several concentration camps.
    Reimer was released from Landsberg prison on December 16, 1952. About his
    further life is not known.

    US Staff Sergeant Albert J. Kosiek received an award for his actions in Mauthausen - of course - survived
    the war and died on October 19, 1982 in his hometown in Illinois.

    ICRC boss Carl Burckhardt stayed in Ant until 1948, received numerous awards and became an honorary citizen of the city in 1950
    Lübeck, since, in the opinion of the responsible authorities, it is essential due to the city's classification as an "open city".
    contributed to the rescue of Lübeck's historic old town. In 1957 the Carl Jacob Burckhardt
    high school named after him.
    He died in Switzerland on March 3, 1974.

    It was not until 1977 that Louis Häfliger was awarded an Order of Merit for his courageous deed in Mauthausen - not by Switzerland or the ICRC, but by the Austrian state...:


    In 1950 the Austrian Minister of Justice proposed him - unsuccessfully - for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1988 Austria and Israel did this again together - again unsuccessfully.

    The Austrians named a street a Vienna after him...:


    Und das IKRK brauchte sage und schreibe bis 1990, um Louis Häfliger zu rehabilitieren!
    Nap likes this.
  2. Nap A Fixture

    Another fascinating story , brace man indeed

    Thanks Martin


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