May 26, 2009
May 26, 2009
On Tuesday, May 26, 2009, Leopold Engleitner, the oldest living male survivor of the concentration camps, visited the Reagan Library to sign copies of Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man by author Bernhard Rammerstorfer. Unbroken Will is a book about Mr. Engleitner’s life.
On April 4, 1939, Leopold Engleitner was arrested in Bad Ischl by the Gestapo. From October 9, 1939, to July 15, 1943, he was interned in the concentration camps of Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrück. In Niederhagen concentration camp he refused to sign the “Declaration” renouncing his faith, even though doing so would have meant he could go free. Despite the appalling treatment he was subjected to in the concentration camps, his iron will – his determination to stand up for just principles and his refusal to fight – could not be broken. Leopold never lost his optimism. In the concentration camp, he even bought a suitcase for the journey home it seemed impossible he would ever make.
In July 1943, weighing less than 62 pounds, he was released from Ravensbrück concentration camp on condition that he spent the rest of his life performing forced labor in agriculture. After returning home he worked on a farm in St. Wolfgang. Three weeks before the end of the war, on April 17, 1945, he received his call-up papers ordering him to join the German Wehrmacht. He refused to comply with the call-up and decided to risk fleeing into the mountains of the Salzkammergut. There he hid in the Meistereben alpine hut and a cave. He was hunted like an animal by the Nazis for weeks on end, but they could not find him. On May 5, 1945, he was able to return home.
Leopold Engleitner’s life proves that it was possible for an ordinary man to reject Hitler’s regime of terror. Unbroken Will tells this incredible story.