I’ve had a couple of excellent days in Austria, where I met up with a local historian called Paul Angerer, who showed incredible kindness in giving up his weekend to drive me around the region and show me the various sites associated with my grandpa. Paul’s own history is around here; he has lived in and around Klagenfurt for most of his life, and runs an advertising agency for his main job – but in his spare time, for most of the last three or four years, he has been engaged in some heavy-duty research to write the history of Carinthia (this region of Austria) from all perspectives. Paul’s drive for information has taken him to archives all over the world, and he has even managed to combine it with his interest in mountaineering – he has gone off to find old plane crash sites after finding references to the crash in one of the records.
Paul and I share many odd connections; his grandfather and great-grandfather were also POWs, his grandfather being captured by the Partisans in Yugoslavia and eventually escaping, and his great-grandfather dying in a camp outside Moscow. His great-uncle was even prisoner in the main Stalag XVIIIa camp at Wolfsberg after the war, when the vacated camps that had been used to hold Allied POWs were emptied out and then used to hold Germans after their defeat. The same camp was the initial arrival-point for my grandpa after his capture in 1941. More than anything, though, Paul and I are massive history geeks, and ever since he came down to Domžale to collect me on Saturday and we chatted with Breda, we have really hit it off.
His has done some previous research on the camp at Weidmansdorf where my grandpa was held for most of the war, but he had never before seen photos from this camp, and so he found the stash of my grandpa’s that I brought with me really exciting. We’ve scanned them and I will start posting some. He also wants to use Geoff’s story in the book, which is some way off yet.
For my part, I’ve had the chance to go and wander around lots of sites to do with my grandpa, and also to learn a lot more about events around here and over the border in Yugoslavia during and after the war. There are also some interesting and very salient links to modern politics. I’m quite far along with working all of this into a blog post with more photos and maps and all sorts, but it is getting to be a bit of a blockbuster in length, and I also don’t have the right software to process the RAW files that I shot as my photos of the various sites. So watch this space for one of the Ben Specials – overlong, packed with information, and full of tangible excitement at the things I have learned. It has been a brilliant few days.
Here, for now, is a badly-processed JPEG of one of those RAW files – apologies for the quality but a better version will have to wait till I get to my home PC. I’m standing in the middle of a housing estate that now stands on the site of the Weidmannsdorf camp; what I am holding is an aerial photograph taken after the US air force accidentally bombed the camp in February 1945, killing six (possibly 7) POWs and a further six or more of the forced labourers who were housed in an adjoining camp. I am pointing at the spot where I am standing. In 1945 this would have been a parade ground surrounded by wrecked huts, a devastated vegetable patch, and the remains of a tennis court.