Leopold Engleitner (23 July 1905 – 21 April 2013) was an Austrian conscientious objector, as one of Jehovah's Witnesses, and Holocaust survivor who spoke publicly and with students about his experiences. He was the subject of the documentary Unbroken Will. Before his death Engleitner was the world's oldest known male concentration camp survivor (held in Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrück), and the oldest male Austrian.
Born in Aigen-Voglhub, Austria, Engleiter grew up in the imperial city of Bad Ischl. He studied the Bible intensively in the 1930s and was baptised as a Jehovah's Witness in 1932. In the period up to World War II he faced religious intolerance, even persecution, from his immediate neighbourhood and the Austrian authorities, first by the fascist regime of Dollfuss and then under Nazi Germany.
- Spring 1934: 48 hours in Bad Ischl prison
- Winter 1934/35: 48 hours in Bad Ischl prison
- 5 January 1936 - 30 March 1936: imprisonment in St. Gilgen and Salzburg
- 19 September 1937 - 14 October 1937: detained in Bad Aussee prison
When Adolf Hitler occupied Austria in 1938, Leopold Engleitner's religion, ideologies and conscientious objection to serving in the Army brought him into conflict with the Nazis.
On 4 April 1939 he was arrested in Bad Ischl by the Gestapo and detained in Linz and Wels. From 9 October 1939 to 15 July 1943 he was held in the concentration camps Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrueck. In Niederhagen he rejected a proposal to renounce his beliefs io return for his release. Despite brutal and inhumane treatment, his will – to stand for fair principles and to refuse military service – was unbroken.
In July 1943 - weighing only 28 kilograms (62 lb) - he was released on condition of his acceptance of lifelong slave labour on a farm.
After returning home he worked on a farm in St. Wolfgang. On 17 April 1945, three weeks before the war ended, he received notice to enlist in the German army. He fled to the mountains of Salzkammergut, and hid in an alpine cabin and a cave, hunted by the Nazis but never found.
On 5 May 1945 Engleitner was able to return home and resume work on the farm as a slave labourer. When in 1946 he tried to leave the farm, his request was rejected by the labour bureau of Bad Ischl, on the argument that the slave labour duty imposed by the Nazi occupation was still valid. Only after intervention of the US occupying power was he released from the duty in April 1946.
- 4 April 1939 - 5 October 1939: prisons in Bad Ischl, Linz and Wels
- 5 October 1939 - 9 October 1939: deportation to concentration camp (prisons in Salzburg and Munich)
- 9 October 1939 - 7 March 1941: Buchenwald concentration camp
- 7 March 1941 - April 1943: Niederhagen concentration camp in Wewelsburg
- April 1943 - 15 July 1943: Ravensbrück concentration camp
- 22 July 1943 - 10 April 1945: forced labour on a farm
- 17 April 1945 - 5 May 1945: call-up to the German army; flight to the mountains
Rehabilitation and recognition
In the years after the war Engleitner continued facing isolation and intolerance, and only after the author and film producer Bernhard Rammerstorfer documented his life in 1999 in the book and documentary film Nein statt Ja und Amen, did the larger public become aware of him. Engleitner and Rammerstorfer held lectures at universities, schools and memorials in Germany, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and the United States.
Though already far advanced in years, between 1999 and 2012 Engleitner travelled with his biographer and friend Bernhard Rammerstorfer more than 95,000 miles across Europe and the USA, to schools, memorial sites, and universities, as a witness of history to ensure the past was not forgotten, and he became a model of tolerance and peace.
Once a persecuted concentration camp labourer and outlawed conscientious objector, he was honoured in May 2007 by the Republic of Austria and the Federal Republic of Germany for his courageous stand during the Nazi regime and for his tremendous awareness-raising activities with:
- The Golden Order of Merit of the Republic of Austria from Austrian President Dr. Heinz Fischer.
- The Cross of Merit on ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany (Knight's Cross) from German President Dr. Horst Köhler
In 2003 he was awarded the "Silver Order of Merit of the Province of Upper Austria" by the Upper Austrian governor, Josef Pühringer.
In 2006 he was awarded the Elfriede Grünberg Prize by Antifa, an anti-Fascist initiative in Austria.
In 2008 Engleitner was presented with the "Ring of Honour of the Town of Bad Ischl" by the municipal authorities in Bad Ischl, the town where he grew up.
In 2009 he received the "Badge of Honour of the Town of St. Wolfgang" from his home municipality, St. Wolfgang.
Books, films and documentaries
In 2004 the book and the film Nein statt Ja und Amen were translated into an English version called Unbroken Will, and were presented in the USA by a tour including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, Columbia University in New York and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
In 2006 Engleitner and Rammerstorfer made a second tour through the United States. They gave lectures in Washington, DC, (at Georgetown University and Library of Congress), New York (at Columbia University), Chicago (at Harold Washington College), Skokie (for the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois), Palo Alto, in the San Francisco Bay area (Stanford University) and Los Angeles (at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust).
Locations of their third, 2009, US speaking tour were: Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts; Florida Holocaust Museum, St. Petersburg, Florida; Palladium Theater at St. Petersburg College, Florida; Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, California; University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Moorpark College, California; Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, California.
In 2005 Rammerstorfer released a new German biography and DVD Nein statt Ja und Amen – 100 Jahre ungebrochener Wille. The book also contains a short biography of the German conscientious objector Joachim Escher: Escher was detained between 1937 and 1945 in several prisons and the concentration camps Sachsenhausen, Niederhagen and Buchenwald; in Buchenwald he was servant to the former French government members Georges Mandel and Léon Blum, whom the Germans kept as hostages.
The French version of the book entitled Une volonté de fer was released in 2007.
In 2008 Rammerstorfer released a new version of the German book, entitled "Ungebrochener Wille", which Engleitner and Rammerstorfer presented at Frankfurt Book Fair 2008, 2009 and 2011.In 2009 the new English book Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man-The Story of Nazi Concentration Camp Survivor Leopold Engleitner, born 1905 based on the latest German version was released at Harvard University. The Austrian president, Heinz Fischer, described in his foreword the book as "a milestone in correspondence about the horror of Nazism." Brewster Chamberlin, director of archives at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC from 1986 to 1997, wrote a preface. Further prefaces were written by the founder of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service, Andreas Maislinger, Franz Jägerstätter and Leopold Engleitner, and Walter Manoschek, from the University of Vienna, "No more War!"
In 2009 the new English book Unbroken Will: The Extraordinary Courage of an Ordinary Man-The Story of Nazi Concentration Camp Survivor Leopold Engleitner, born 1905 based on the latest German version was released at Harvard University. The Austrian president, Heinz Fischer, described in his foreword the book as "a milestone in correspondence about the horror of Nazism." Brewster Chamberlin, director of archives at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC from 1986 to 1997, wrote a preface. Further prefaces were written by the founder of the Austrian Holocaust Memorial Service, Andreas Maislinger, Franz Jägerstätter and Leopold Engleitner, and Walter Manoschek, from the University of Vienna, "No more War!"
In May 2009 the songwriters Mark David Smith and Rex Salas from California wrote the song "Unbroken Will" for Leopold Engleitner. On 22 May 2009 Leopold Engleitner was presented with the song during an event at Moorpark College. The singer Phillip Ingram interprets "Unbroken Will". The song is available for download on the website www.unbrokenwill.com as well as the lyrics.
The Russian translation of the book Unbroken Will (Несломленная воля) was released in Russia in 2009. Engleitner and Rammerstorfer presented the book in Moscow at the Central Journalist House and at the book store "BIBLIO-GLOBUS" in September 2009.
In 2012 Bernhard Rammerstorfer produced with A. Ferenc Gutai the multi-award winning documentary film "LADDER in the LIONS' DEN - Freedom Is a Choice, Nazi Concentration Camp Survivor Leopold Engleitner: A 107-Year-Old Eyewitness Tells His Story." The USA premiere took place at Laemmle's Town Center 5 Theatre in Encino, Los Angeles County, in November 2012 with Leopold Engleitner present. The German version, "LEITER in der LÖWENGRUBE", was released in Austria in March 2013. In April 2013 the film was awarded "Best Documentary Short" by the Fallbrook International Film Festival 2013, of Fallbrook, California, and "Best Short Documentary" by the Rincòn International Film Festival 2013, of Rincòn, Puerto Rico.
Engleitner is the subject of Rammerstorfer's educational DVD Unbroken Will. which contains the full documentary plus films of special events relating to Engleitner's awareness-raising activities from 1999 to 2004, as well as material on the Holocaust for use in schools in English, German, Italian, and Spanish.
In 2006 Rammerstorfer produced the documentary Unbroken Will Captivates the United States, relating to the 2004 US tour. which was premiered at the Laemmle's Music Hall 3 Theatre in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles.
Rammerstorfer also produced the documentary Unbroken Will USA Tour, relating to the 2006 US tour, which was premiered in the USA at the Laemmle's Sunset 5 Theatre, West Hollywood, in 2009.
The 2016 award-winning documentary "Taking the Stand" also features Engleitner.