Escape from Internment

Table of Contents

Escape to Lhasa 1944 - 1945
By Peter Aufschnaiter

Behind Barbed Wire
Essay by Rolf Magener



Nanga Parbat - Reconnaissance 1939

Himalayan Journal, Vol. 14, 1947, pp 53-58.

By Lutz Chicken

This article, which had long been awaited, arrived only a very few days before going to press. Fortunately the author's English is good and needed but little correction. He has also taken the trouble to put heights in feet instead of in metres. The promised map not having materialized, one of those in Bechtold's Nanga Parbat Adventure has been reproduced with slight amendments. But it is hoped that Paul Bauer will be able to send the expedition map and also their photographs.

Peter Aufschnaiter also has an article under dispatch, but it is long overdue. He has been handicapped by not having his kit with him in Lhasa. He arrived there in January 1946, after almost unbearable hardships, together with Harrer, the only other survivor out of the four who escaped from Dehra Dun six months previously. Aufschnaiter is working on an electric power station for the Regency Government in Lhasa, while Harrer is doing reasonably well as a trader. Both are apparently quite content to remain where they are for the present.- Ed.

The steep north-west flank of Nanga Parbat which rises from the Diamir valley was attempted in 1891 by A. F. Mummery. He was the first to try to conquer this peak, one of the highest summits in the world, 26,650 feet, and he did not return from the terrific task that he had set himself. Most probably the audacious pioneer and his two porters were killed by an avalanche while he was exploring the Diamir glacier for a possible route to the Rakhiot valley. In 1932 Nanga Parbat was approached again by an expedition under the leadership of Willi Merkl. This time the route chosen started from the Rakhiot valley leading through the north-east flank, and it was by this route that all subsequent expeditions endeavoured to find an ascent to the summit. Although this route was first considered to be the best and only practicable one, the experiences of later expeditions gave reason to doubt whether the long ascent (about 9 miles from Camp I), necessitating nine camps to reach the summit, was not too serious a handicap. Moreover, avalanches and bad weather conditions seem to be rather frequent at this side of the mountain where they had been encountered by both the expeditions of 1934 and 1938. These difficulties induced P. Bauer, the leader of the 1938 Expedition, to look for the possibilities of more practicable routes. Advised by him, Dr. Luft, who was to lead an eventual attempt on the summit in 1940, investigated the north-west face from the Diamir valley. He took many valuable photographs of the flank from the valley and from the expedition aeroplane. Taking into consideration that the line from the bottom of the Diamir valley to the top of Nanga Parbat is only about 3 miles long, although the route would be a very steep one, it was decided further to reconnoitre the north-west flank of the mountain for a possible ascent route, and this task was to be carried out by the German Himalayan Expedition of 1939.

The leadership of the expedition was conferred on Peter Aufschnaiter, an experienced Himalayan mountaineer who had been with P. Bauer at Kangchenjunga in 1929 and 1931. The other members were Heinrich Harrer, who had been with the party that made the first ascent through the Eiger north face in 1938, Hans Lobenhoffer, and Lutz Chicken, a medical student.

The party left Rawalpindi on the nth May via the Kaghan valley and the Babusar pass, and reached the Indus valley near Chilas on the 22 nd May. Entering the Bunar valley to the south of the Indus and proceeding through the narrow gorge of the lower Diamir valley, we reached the moraine of the Diamir glacier. The Base Camp was established on the 1st June, on the north bank of the glacier at 12,600 feet, below the rocky western slopes of the Ganalo ridge. Opposite this ridge, to the west of the valley, the dark mass of the precipitous Mazeno ridge, corniced with hanging glaciers, rises, while to the south-east the rocky summit of Nanga Parbat towers above the glaciated north-west face, the ice cover being interrupted only by the three ribs climbed by Mummery. At first sight this appeared to be the most fascinating route to the top. Farther east, not visible from the Base Camp, the Diamir flank is more rocky, several ribs leading to the north peak of Nanga, which is separated from the summit by a glaciated saddle, the Bazin pass.

The first week was spent on reconnaissance from the south slope of the Ganalo ridge, just opposite the Diamir flank. An ascent starting from the Diamir valley towards the north peak and crossing the upper Diama glacier was taken into consideration. However, the snout of the glacier, about 400 feet above a steep rock wall, and the fact that the approach to the ascent along the lower Diama glacier is exposed to avalanches coming down the Diamir couloirs, made the route appear very difficult. An attempt to reach the north peak by this route was therefore abandoned.

Our attention was now attracted by the few rocky ribs pointing to the north peak, and later we chose one of the middle ribs as probably most practicable.

The Mazemo Ridge

On the 13th June Lobenhoffer and I climbed the historic Mummery route to the top of the second rib, where, extraordinarily enough, we found a piece of wood about 10 inches long. Was it a vestige of Mummery? Above the third rib the spacious Bazin glacier breaks off precipitously above the rock walls of the rib, endangering the route. We returned to Gamp II, below the ice-fall of Diama glacier, the same day. A few days later we saw an enormous avalanche starting from the snout of Bazin glacier. This avalanche covered the whole amphitheatre of the Diamir glacier, sweeping also over the top of Rib II, where we had at first intended to bivouac. So this route was also abandoned. During the next weeks we saw several avalanches coming down near the Mummery ribs, though none of the size previously observed. Our hopes now turned to the middle rib from the north peak. From the Ganalo flank, Aufschnaiter and Harrer had examined the various ribs, and selected this one which apparently offered the best chance for an ascent.

On the 15th June Aufschnaiter and Harrer established Camp III at 18,000 feet on the right bank of the lower Diama glacier, above the ice-fall and opposite the ascent to the middle rib. The route to Camp III seemed fairly safe below the rocky spurs of the Diama flank, though the snow couloirs between the ribs showed avalanche fans. From this camp we tried an ascent and climbed up to approximately 20,000 feet. Through a system of couloirs we reached a broad ice slope covered in its lower part by hard frozen snow, which facilitated the climbing, but higher up there was bare ice. This slope was exceedingly steep and in its uppermost part we had to cross the rib, to the right of the slope. There the rock was covered with loose stones and broken slabs. We had to start very early in the morning as from noon onwards there is stone-fall of increasing intensity along this route. Farther up, from our highest point, the rib ends below an ice rampart. In July Harrer and Lobenhoffer reached this point at about 20,300 feet (Camp IV). The route would have to lead from this camp to a small platform above the ice wall from where, over snow slopes, the north peak could probably be ascended. We never saw avalanches on these slopes and, in Aufschnaiter's opinion, in this upper part of the flank a practicable route could be found. The lower part of the route is the steepest until the platform mentioned. On the last day in Camp III we discovered that the track between this camp and Camp II was also considerably endangered by avalanches, as one big avalanche crashed down during the night, covering our tents, pitched at a distance of about half a mile from the slope, with snow. Still another came down from one of the couloirs reaching the route, just when we were on the way down to Camp II.

For the last ten days of June the Base Camp looked like a hospital. Lobenhoffer, from a neglected angina, got a septic fever with temperature up to 104° F. - a dangerous condition, especially at the height of 13,000 feet above sea-level. Fortunately our dispensary was very well equipped and Prontosil had a good therapeutic effect while Sympatol prevented circulatory failure. One of our Bhotia porters had broncho-pneumonia. Both recovered slowly and at last could be transported to lower altitudes where their convalescence made more rapid progress. While I had enough medical work in the Base Camp, Harrer and Aufschnaiter made some smaller excursions. Before leaving we climbed the Diamirai peak, 18,270 feet, from where we had an excellent view, especially into the higher parts of the flank.

Nanga Parbat from the Diamirai glacier;
Mummery's supposed route marked. -----;
x indicates spot where wood was found, 1939;
o indicates point reached in 1939.

It had been the original plan to proceed after the reconnaissance of the Diamir flank to Gilgit and explore Rakaposhi for practicable ascents. However, on the 8th July we received information from Gilgit that the permission to approach Rakaposhi could not be granted and Aufschnaiter decided to start for another exploration of the Diamir flank. So we returned to the Base Camp where we arrived on the 13th July. The climbing conditions of the flank had deteriorated considerably in all respects. The layer of frozen snow which had covered the ice in June had melted away and we had to scramble up the steep slopes over bare ice. Now, more than ever, the crampons with twelve spikes were extremely useful. Harrer and Lobenhoffer reached the top of the middle rib by an ascent which they considered as difficult as one of the hardest climbs in the Alps. The danger of falling stones was permanent, and not as in June limited to the hours of the afternoon only. On the other hand, there were less avalanches in July.

This second attempt gave us the experience that this route, and most probably every other ascent through the flank, would hardly be practicable in July, while in June a team of good mountaineers with excellent porters could possibly accomplish the task. The porters ought to be of the best quality, as the extreme steepness of the slope and the changing conditions of the 'ice cover' demand from these men considerable courage and alpinistic skill.

The weather had been perfect from the beginning and the sky, although at times clouded in the afternoon, always cleared up overnight. Only occasionally we had slight snowfall or rain at the Base Camp until on the 25th July the weather conditions changed for the worse, but it was almost time for us to leave the Diamir flank.

On the 23rd July Aufschnaiter and I climbed the western peak of the Ganalo ridge, point 22,370, where we had a most fascinating glimpse through clouds down to the sunny Indus valley, 18,000 feet below. The ridge connecting our unnamed peak to the Ganalo peak did not offer any possibilities for a route to reach this rock and ice pinnacle.

None of us had been with previous Nanga Parbat expeditions and all were lacking the direct Rakhiot side experience. To gain a final opinion over the Diamir flank it was obviously necessary to see the Rakhiot side of Nanga, where so many German mountaineers had lost their lives in the struggle to conquer one of the great heights of the world, a struggle which on Nanga Parbat had become the dutiful task to carry on the effort of the dead.

On the 26th July the expedition party left the Diamir glacier - Harrer and Lobenhoffer with the bulk of the transport down to Bunar Rest House in the Indus valley, from whence they proceeded to Rakhiot bridge, Aufschnaiter and I up to the Kachal Gali from where via Patro and Jiliper pass we entered the Rakhiot valley. It was the most imposing view I have ever had, when after the descent through fog and moisture we rounded a corner and suddenly the gigantic amphitheatre of the Nanga with her satellites to the east, towering above the Rakhiot glacier and its tributaries, opened before our eyes. Overcome by this magnificent scenery, we walked down the grassy slope to the left bank of the Ganalo glacier. The Diamir valley, compared with these wide spaces, appears narrow, and there one feels deep down, as in a crevasse, between walls rising 10,000-12,000 feet above the valley bottom, only 2 miles broad. The Diamir scenery leaves a grave, if not sad, impression, while this Rakhiot side gives a sense of enthusiastic joy.

To arrive at a conclusion about the results of our expedition, it can be said that although the old ascent over the Rakhiot slope appears to be technically easier than any route through the Diamir flank, the latter presents many favourable features, and it would have been for the leader of the 1940 expedition to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of both alternatives and to decide which route would have to be taken for the next attempt on the summit.

Nanga Parbat and North Peak from Diamirai Pass.

While Harrer and Lobenhoffer proceeded from Rakhiot to Astor via Bunji, arriving at Srinagar on the 19th August, Aufschnaiter and I went to Gilgit where we paid a visit to the Political Agent at Naltar. At Gilgit we were treated very kindly by the small British colony which rendered every possible help. We owe special gratitude to Lt. Strover, Assistant Political Agent in Ghilas, whose guests we had the honour to be on several occasions, for his kind assistance rendered in many ways.

On the 22nd August the expedition assembled at Srinigar to leave on the 24th for Karachi. We had left Germany during the political crisis of spring 1939, in the firm belief that peace would be maintained. In the Himalayas newspapers and other means of information about the political situation were obviously very scarce, and it was only on our return to the civilized world that we realized the imminent danger of war. We came to Karachi to embark for home, but fate had decided otherwise. We were interned and were not to climb mountains for years.



Diamir Side of Nanga Parbat - Reconnaissance 1939

Himalayan Journal, Vol. 14, 1947, pp 110-115.

By Peter Aufschnaiter

Peter Aufschnaiter; Bild aus WikipediaIn the course of four expeditions between 1932 and 1938 it had become apparent that the Rakhiot route, while being comparatively easy, at least up to the final ridge, was dangerous on account of avalanches. Actually only one of the two disasters that had occurred was caused by an avalanche, but on other occasions there had been narrow escapes, even in 1938 when all the movements had been worked out by Paul Bauer with great caution. Bauer, therefore, had sent two members of his 1938 expedition, U. Luft and the late S. Zuck, to the Diamir valley in order to get a near view of that side of the mountain as a possible alternative route. The reports and photographs they brought back, together with photographs taken from an aeroplane, seemed to encourage a more thorough investigation, the more so as Finsterwalder's map showed that such a route was only about one-third the length of that of the Rakhiot side.

The party which was to make this reconnaissance, in the summer of 1939, consisted of H. Harrer (Graz), one of the Eiger north face team, L. Chicken (Bozen), H. Lobenhoffer (Bamberg), and myself (Kitzbuhel). In Bombay Chicken fell ill and had to remain behind for medical treatment, while we others continued our journey to Rawalpindi. There three Darjeeling Bhotias joined us, and after a few days of rearranging our sixty or so loads, we started on 11th May by car. In Balakote our luggage was taken up by local coolies and we followed the road up the Kaghan valley. Above Gittidas Gilgit scouts came to meet us and, after crossing the pass, we reached Babusar, the summer headquarters of Lt. Strover, the Assistant Political Agent, who accompanied us down to Chilas. From there we followed our caravan, which had gone via Thak bridge, to Bunar rest house where we stayed for several days to set apart a number of loads for our proposed excursion to Rakaposhi later on. For the transport of our luggage porters came down from the Bunar district to meet us, and proved somewhat troublesome.

On the way from Bunar rest house to Halala we had our first near view of the main summit of Nanga Parbat, rising a sheer 20,000 feet above our viewpoint. From Halala our route, which had already been reconnoitred by Harrer, crossed the Bunar river, and leaving behind the village of Dimroi we followed a path up the gorge-like valley of the Diamirai river as far as Ser, the last village, beautifully situated on a high shelf. On the next day, after an easy ascent to the Diamir Side of Nanga Parbat, Reconnaissance 1939 111 summer pasture of Kachar and past the snout of the Diamir glacier, we reached a suitable place for our Base Camp, at about 4,100 metres, on the right side of the glacier just opposite the Diamir peak (1st June). To make our base comfortable we built a hut as a store-house.

After a few days we started for a first reconnaissance, ascending the slope of the Ganalo ridge to about 5,800 metres, from where we had a fine view of the superb but sombre mountain scenery which Nanga Parbat presents from this side.

Couloirs on lower part of North Peak

The first thing to attract our attention was a glacier coming down the slope of the north peak of Nanga Parbat along the ridge connecting this with the Ganalo peak and forming the uppermost source of the Diamir glacier. This glacier had been recommended to us for closer examination, but apart from its hazardous approach up the narrow trough of the Diamir glacier (in which Mummery disappeared with his two Gurkhas), it is swept crosswise in many places by avalanches from both sides, so we ruled it out at once as a practicable route. Although the incline is somewhat less severe than the rest of the Nanga Parbat wall, it is steep enough for avalanches, and there is no break or suitable place for a camp. Besides, it breaks off with an ice-fall down to the Diamir glacier.

West of this glacier Nanga Parbat presents a wall with little relief, consisting mainly of gullies and very steep snow or ice slopes, while the ridges rise little above the general plane of the wall. As may be expected from such a mountain face, no obvious route presented itself at first sight, but after some time we thought we had found one by piecing it together bit by bit. Its most prominent feature was a rock 'pulpit' as we called it, forming the edge of a snow terrace. Starting from the Diamir glacier the route was to lead up a steep snow slope on to a rock ridge and from there over difficult rock and steep ice to this 'pulpit' and the terrace, which would be suitable for a camp. Behind the terrace there is a snow slope, which at times seemed to be blank ice, over which, on its western side, a rock ridge must be gained leading to a wide snow-field below the Bazin gap (1) - also the goal of Mummery's party. These are only the bare outlines of this hypothetical route as I remember them without any notes at hand.

We returned to the Base Camp and after having completed preparations started once more, this time joined by Chicken, who had arrived from Bombay recovered from his illness. Crossing the Diamir glacier we ascended a moraine ridge on the true left side of the great ice-fall which becomes the Diamir glacier and joins the main glacier. On this ridge we made Camp II, commanding a fine view down the glacier and out to the highest peaks of the Himalaya to the west.

Lobenhoffer did not feel well, and accompanied by Chicken, who, as a medical student, was our doctor, returned to the Base Camp. Harrer and I went farther up the ridge on which Camp II stood until we came to the level of the Diamir glacier proper. We crossed along the foot of the Nanga Parbat wall under the nose of several hanging glaciers whose greenish-white snouts looked down threateningly from their dark rock gullies. Not far from the big snow slope which was to be the beginning of our route we crossed over to the right side of the crevassed Diamir glacier, there being no suitable camping-ground at the foot of the Nanga Parbat wall. The place we chose was a nice one, lying near a scree slope of the dry ground of a lateral moraine. This camp, about 5,250 metres, compares favourably with the Camp II of the Rakhiot side of the same height.

From it Harrer and I started early in the morning, together with two Bhotias. Crossing the Diamir glacier we began the ascent by holding to the western side of the great snow slope below a high rock tower where some rocks jutted out from the ice. We hoped to gain height by climbing in places on these rocks, but they were more difficult than they had seemed from afar. Nevertheless we could ascend fairly speedily along snow gullies between rocks, the snow being favourable, not too hard and not too soft. We were greatly aided by our crampons with twelve spikes, two of them horizontal. Finally we set out on the open slope, and traversing somewhat to its eastern side we climbed upwards, almost in the line of fall. The inclination of the slope was steep and our two porters disliked work of this kind. They complained bitterly, and it was clear that they would never again agree to set out on such a task.

Ascent towards North Peak. Mazeno ridge to right.

Harrer, who was leading, steered for two small rocky patches which, though not rising much above the surface of the snow, promised a place for safe belaying and resting. Several times during the ascent falling stones came off the ridge and once or twice took the form of small rock avalanches. At the outset we had hoped to reach the rock ridge and therefore had prepared for a light bivouac, but with loaded porters we were a rather cumbersome party, and in view of these falling stones we decided to return. The height reached was about 5,900 metres; in a few hours we had climbed 650 metres. For the descent I followed Harrer's example by using a piton in one hand and an ice-axe in the other, thrusting them alternately into the hard snow while my feet found hold with the front spikes of the crampons. After reaching the base of the slope Harrer returned to the Base Camp where Lobenhoffer was still lying ill as reported by Chicken, who had come up to join us.

One or two days later I ascended the slope again with Chicken to a point slightly higher than before, and after traversing some blank ice came to the rocks of the ridge, from the crest of which we were separated by only a few ropes' lengths. The rocks themselves were treacherous - wherever touched they broke away. We returned to the camp, but when Harrer and Lobenhoffer arrived next day the latter was still unwell, and, in view of the difficulties of the ascent, I decided to postpone a further attempt. During the night a tremendous avalanche came down from the hanging glacier east of the great slope, and next morning, 20th June, as we were starting from Camp III, another avalanche crashed down from the hanging glacier west of the slope, but both were clear of the route.

When we arrived at Base Camp Lobenhoffer had to lie down at once. Fever, never much below 104° F. for many days, weakened him so alarmingly that we, and he himself, feared for his life. Later on, when he seemed a little better, we others climbed the Diamirai peak, on which Mummery and his party had been. There was a good side-view of the Nanga Parbat wall and the Bazin snow-field, which seemed of tolerable inclination. We suspected that Lobenhoffer's illness was connected with altitude, and planned to carry him down to Ser and, after his recovery, to go to Rakaposhi and give him an opportunity of regaining his old strength en route. At this time Lt. Strover came up to visit us in the Base Camp, having covered the distance from Halala in one day. To our great dismay we heard from him that Major Galbraith and his wife had been drowned in the Hunza river. We had received a letter from Major Galbraith in his capacity as Political Officer in Gilgit when he wrote, in friendly terms, that he personally saw no objection to our going to Rakaposhi.

As expected, Lobenhoffer recovered almost at once in Ser, and after a few days we descended to Bunar rest house. It turned out that we could not go to Rakaposhi after all, so we returned to the Diamir valley and to our Camp III, at the side of the Diamir glacier. On the way between Camps II and III lay masses of avalanche snow which had come down after a snowfall during our absence. From Camp III Harrer and Lobenhoffer made a last attempt to reach the rock ridge below the 'pulpit', and they succeeded, although the big snow slope had changed for the worse. At first accompanied by Chicken and myself, they went on alone on the rocks below the rock tower, and traversing blank ice for several ropes' lengths succeeded in overcoming the treacherous rocks of the ridge, the crest of which they reached in the afternoon. They had difficulty in finding a place on the narrow ridge for their small tent, and were not quite safe from falling stones which passed over their heads, hitting the ridge some distance away. According to Harrer, the rock above them, although difficult, looked feasible as far as they could see. They descended next morning, endangered several times by falling stones. The point they reached was about 6,000 metres.

Bild aus Wikipedia
Diamir face (west face) of Nanga Parbat (8125 m)

The Diamir side of Nanga Parbat has the tempting advantage that, assuming its feasibility and the preparations of steps and pitons, it would allow height to be gained considerably more quickly than would the Rakhiot approach. The difficulties of this route are probably akin to some of the more difficult climbs in the Alps. Lobenhoffer compared it to the Sentinel Rouge, which he had climbed shortly before leaving for the Himalaya. A team of mountaineers, skilled and experienced in tackling difficulties of ice and rock of this kind, would probably prefer the Diamir route to that of the Rakhiot side. A team of at least seven climbers would be required, as some of them would probably have to prepare the way in order to leave a reserve for the final assault. The climbers would have to do a lot of load-carrying in addition, as only few porters would be willing and capable of going on such steep exposed rock and ice.

In these last days Chicken and I climbed the western Ganalo peak (approx. 6,400 metres), and had fine views of the Nanga Parbat wall and the upper part of the Diamir glacier, which now had an avalanche track over almost its whole length.

Up to the end of July the weather had been favourable, with only a few spells of really bad weather. But the higher reaches of Nanga Parbat were shrouded in mist almost every afternoon, probably causing snowfalls on the mountain.

When, at the end of July, we left our Base Camp for good, Lobenhoffer and Harrer went with the bulk of the luggage via Bunar rest house to Rakhiot bridge, while Chicken and I made our way to the Rakhiot valley. During these days we had a lot of heavy rain. The Rakhiot side with its wide open spaces of glaciers and pastures impressed us deeply as being in marked contrast to the austere Diamir valley. The glaciers look easier than anything on the Diamir side, but when we climbed from the Base Camp of previous expeditions to the memorial cairn carrying the many names of our dead friends on top of the big moraine near Camp I, the inevitable 'express train', in the form of a huge ice avalanche, crashed down from the wall on to the glacier route to Camp II, throwing up an immense cloud of ice dust - an awe-inspiring but sinister warning, shattering the sunny peace of this unforgettable landscape.

Early August we paid a brief visit to the new summer residence above Nomal of the Political Officer Gilgit, where we discussed plans with Major Battye for a new expedition to the Diamir side. This, according to a letter received from the German Himalaya Foundation, was planned for 1940. Chicken and I then travelled down the 190 miles to Bandipur as fast as my several attacks of malaria would allow. In Srinagar we met Harrer and Lobenhoffer and together we hurried on to catch our Hansa boat in Karachi, which, however, never arrived. In those anxious days my comrades attempted a rush to Persia, but were caught in Las Bela. At the outbreak of war we were interned and by autumn 1941 eventually came to a camp in Dehra Dun.


(1) The Bazin gap is shown in Bauer's map in the Himalayan Quest as in the ridge joining the main and the north peak, height about 35,500 feet.



Prisoners of the Raj

By Roger Croston

Originally published in “The Alpine Journal 2006"

April 29th 2004 marked the sixtieth anniversary of the escape from internment of Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter of the 1939 reconnaissance of Nanga Parbat. The pair were, however, not the only prisoners to escape the Raj, a few of whom are still alive. The survivors’ recollections and other material, unpublished or less well known than Harrer's Seven Years in Tibet, reveal more information about the expedition’s preparation and the adventures of fellow internees’ escape attempts over the Himalayas.

The attempts to climb Nanga Parbat, at 8126m the world’s ninth highest peak, are well documented. Following Merkl’s 1932 expedition the mountain was regarded as "German". By 1938, 29 mountaineers had been killed on the Rakhiot route, which induced Paul Bauer of the Munich Alpine Club (AAVM) and leader in 1938, to seek a better route from Diamir. Therefore, in 1939, at Bauer’s request, Peter Aufschnaiter assembled a lightweight expedition of himself, Max Reuss and two others, with a full-scale attempt proposed for 1940.

In January 1939, Bauer wrote to the Foreign & Political and to the External Affairs Departments, New Delhi, proposing the expedition. A letter to the Foreign Office, London, noted the other climbers as Ludwig Vörg and Andreas Heckmair, who with Heinrich Harrer and Fritz Kasparek had first climbed the Eiger’s north face in 1938. However, at short notice, Harrer, Hans Lobenhoffer and Ludwig "Lutz’ Chicken replaced Ruess, Heckmair and Vörg. This selection of the final team was the result of a lengthy, complicated and difficult power struggle between Bauer and the authorities. Space here does not allow for a detailed account of this episode, for which see Peter Mierau’s well-researched book “Nationalsozialistische Expeditionspolitik” of 2006.

Regarding permission, NW Frontier Province Government, India, had no objections and agreed that a liaison officer was unnecessary "provided rates for coolies and supplies are fixed through Agency in advance and that Aufschnaiter can speak Hindustani sufficiently well to deal with coolies …"

Hastening to depart, they left without visas. Aware of this, and keen to help, Kenneth Mason, first editor of the Himalayan Journal and friend of Aufschnaiter, wrote to the India Office, London, in April:

"My dear Peel, I advised Aufschnaiter to postpone his departure as it would be impossible to get word regarding his application to go to Nanga Parbat before his date of sailing… In his letter he asked the specific question whether present political relations had prejudiced his chances. I replied that I could not say, but I did not think so, though “rather naturally, after recent happenings, we were all pretty disgusted at the way the Munich agreement had been cast aside; and that as a result, even an elderly man like myself had much less leisure than in normal times, owing to the crisis.” I have had the following reply from Munich: “My dear Mason, Thank you ever so much for all the trouble you have taken, if we had not you, we would be at a loss. The [Munich] Consulate did not give us the visa. We are starting now without. If we would not go, we should have to pay the passage in the Lindenfels plus the passage to Egypt by an Italian boat; now we have gained some 19 days. In the meantime it will have been decided at least if they will allow us to enter Indian soil, or not. If not, we can go back from Port Said."

Peel replied, 6 April: Dear Mason,

"I have just had your letter .....informing us that the party had decided to start in anticipation of permission being granted. It is really rather tiresome of them. If we get the Government of India’s decision in time we will consider your suggestion of telegraphing Aufschnaiter at Port Said."

A flurry of diplomatic telegrams was exchanged between London, Germany and India and permission was granted.

In June Aufschnaiter wrote gratefully to The Resident, Kashmir, from Base Camp:

"I have received a letter from Bauer … he expresses his great satisfaction that our party was granted permission. I am convinced that all quarters in Germany who get knowledge of it will appreciate particularly this attitude at the present time."

The archives show the British did everything to help, though the German government was requested that longer notice be given in future as German expeditions were making a habit of setting off without permission. A note to the British Secretary of State, however, indicates some concern:

"In the present state of international affairs it is obviously necessary to be vigilant in regard to the activities of German expeditions…the policy of the Foreign Office is still to treat German applications in the same way as other foreign applications. We have always maintained friendly relations with Dr Bauer… and Aufschnaiter is a friend of Mason and apparently not a Nazi. In any case this expedition will not apparently have much opportunity to engage in undesirable activities."

To which Peel added the comment:

"I do not suppose this expedition is likely to be mischievous, though it has caused us a great deal of unnecessary trouble by failing to apply in proper time."

This, therefore, clearly refutes the cynical post-war speculation that the 1939 expedition was directly sponsored by the Nazis or that it was involved in espionage.

At the expedition’s end, having climbed Diamir Peak (5570m) and Ganolo Peak (6400m), with war immediate, the mountaineers sought voyage home on the ship Uhlenfels which, however, had been instructed not to approach India. Unable to find other ships or aircraft, Harrer, Chicken and Lobenhoffer attempted to reach Persia via the Principality of Las Belas, Beluchistan, whose ruler, no friend of the British, might be of help. Unbeknown to them, they were being watched: Indian News Agency Telegram, Simla. "Karachi, 30th August. Defying Government order directing them not to leave city limits four German residents are reported to have left Karachi last night under mysterious circumstances for unknown destination.’ Word reached the India Office where an official noted

"I’m afraid they are going to have considerable difficulty in getting home unless they left India before 29th August."

The attempt ended abruptly when, after bivouacking, they were arrested for travelling without papers. Interviewed in 2003, Harrer recalled,

"We were not "arrested’ but were involuntarily taken to Karachi. Newspapers stated that aliens leaving main roads were liable to ten years’ imprisonment. The superintendent of police received us with "Well gentlemen, you lost your way while hunting, didn’t you?’ We replied 'Yes, Sir!* We were much relieved by this act of kindness."

Archived intelligence relates:

"The superintendent of Police….. stated there was nothing suspicious about them, except an intense desire to get away to Germany before war broke out. There was no case against them… The four came prominently to our notice on account of the rush tactics they adopted in getting to India... We are now trying to find out something about them and if they did any serious climbing."

All four were interned in the Central Internment Camp, Ahmadnagar, west of Bombay, and their baggage impounded. Although civilians, they were "Prisoners-of-War’ under the Geneva Convention. The censor returned Aufschnaiter’s maps and books, including Bell’s Colloquial Tibetan as being close to Bombay these were thought to be harmless, little realising the prisoners would later end up near the Himalayas. In 1941 they were moved to Deolali, north east of Bombay which provided an escape opportunity when Lobenhoffer and Harrer jumped from the back of a moving truck. They were immediately detected and recaptured.

Deolali was unbearably hot with dusty, poor accommodation, so all went on hunger strike. Internee No. 1775 Rolf Magener, interviewed in 1999, related how an investigating senior British Officer walked into a melee of prisoners by now intent on murder and asked "Gentlemen, whatever is the matter?" His self-assured behaviour saved his life. Consequently, the authorities directed an interned architect to design a purpose built camp with all facilities at Premnagar, Dehra Dun, Mussoorie, 120 miles from Tibet.

The move there provided another escape opportunity, as archived: "Superintendent of Police, Delhi. On the evening of 10th October 1941 a train conveying internees from Deolali to Dehra Dun halted for two hours at Delhi. It was discovered Lobenhoffer, internee No. 1085, was missing. He was re-arrested at Puri, Orissa, 13th October. The arrangements by the Military escort for the safe custody of these internees appear to have left much to be desired. Lobenhoffer escaped’ properly later. Upon arrest, he described himself as a "Government Official". Later, he claimed to be an army officer which in fact he was. He had been commissioned on 1st January 1938 as a Lieutenant in the "100th Mountain-Chaser Regiment.’ He claimed he had been detailed to accompany the expedition. However, the archives state: "There is nothing in our papers to show that Lobenhoffer was, as now claimed, detailed by the German High Command to accompany the Expedition." He persuaded the British to treat him as an “Officer Prisoner of War” and he was transferred to Canada, where he pretended to be mad and was repatriated under a prisoner exchange scheme.

Harrer, still determined to escape, had few resources, so one night he crept to the Italian sector to meet General Marchese who could finance escapes but needed an experienced Himalayan fellow traveller. In 1999, Magener related that Marchese had visions of ultimately making a triumphal return march down the Via Del Corso in Rome. Escaping by night in June 1943, they put a ladder over a sentry-post - as they ran off the alarm was raised. A sentry grabbed the ladder from the assisting Magener and threw it away - and an incredulous Magener simply walked back unpunished to his hut. After 18 days, Harrer and Marchese were confronted and arrested by an Indian, the multi-lingual Chief Forester of Tehri-Garwhal. Shortly afterwards, they were amazed to be joined by Aufschnaiter and Father Carl Calenberg, a Jesuit priest, who had escaped six days later. Back in Dehra Dun, Camp Commandant Colonel Williams received them with: "You made a daring escape. I am sorry, I have to give you 28 days.’

By now, five others as well as Harrer and Aufschnaiter had also plotted to escape, including fluent English speakers Magener and Heins von Have. Magener had been interned in Bombay; von Have in Dutch Indonesia, from where he, with 1,320 other civilians, was sent to India in 1941 after Japan entered the war, in three crowded, unmarked ships; his was sunk by the Japanese with the loss of 500. After landing in Bombay, he escaped with Hans Peter Hülsen by jumping from a moving train. They were soon recaptured. A second attempt ended with Hülsen’s death, when, under police escort, they leapt from a bus, the door of which swung back, killing Hülsen. Also from Indonesia were Friedel Sattler, who planned to cross the Himalayas to reach the Japanese in China, and Bruno Treipl who, in 2004, related how badly the Dutch had treated them until they were embarked on the ships - their captors knowing Japanese aircraft were likely to attack. He was grateful to end up in British hands to be treated in exemplary fashion.

Another plotter was Hans Kopp, interned in Iraq. He had previously escaped Dehra Dun with Edmund Krämer, a renowned wrestler who could overthrow a bull. They smuggled themselves out in a dung cart and reached Tibet where, according to Magener in 1999, one night they huddled together to keep warm enough to stay alive - when Kopp had a nasty realisation. Krämer was a giant of a man who had deserted the French Foreign Legion in Morocco before the war along with a fellow German. They had crossed the High Atlas, but Kraemer arrived in Germany alone and would tell nobody what had happened to his compatriot. Kopp now guessed that Kraemer might have killed his former companion in similar circumstances at high altitude and eaten him in order to survive. Kopp spent the rest of the night a very worried man indeed. Finding the conditions too severe, the pair gave up their attempt of crossing Tibet and, pretending to be Swiss missionaries, they headed for Goa seeking help in New Delhi from an Indian car dealer friend of Krämer’s who betrayed them. Returned to camp they were paraded before Colonel Williams, who let fall a newspaper from in front of his smiling face - their escape was emblazoned in bold headlines across the front page. They received the inevitable 28 days.

Camp Dehra Dun 1941

Internment Camp Dehradun


Pictures from Dr Lutz Chicken, 2008

All seven would be escapers assembled. Magener had noted that the unguarded, fenced alleyways - the "Chicken Runs’ - between camp sectors led to a gate where passes were never checked. Accordingly, he and von Have disguised themselves as British officers complete with swagger sticks, in charge of the others disguised as a bogus native wire repair gang. On 29th April 1944 at 2.30pm, having broken through the wires into a "Chicken Run", they boldly marched through the main gate with the guard presenting arms - a heart stopping procession none of them would ever forget.

They split; five headed for Tibet while Magener and von Have went for Burma and the Japanese. This necessitated using fast trains and bluff. Their play-acting as British officers succeeded and reaching Calcutta they travelled onwards as Swiss businessmen eventually to cross the front lines into Burma where the Japanese captured them as suspected spies. Mistreated until known to be German allies, they were sent to Tokyo to be regaled as national heroes. Interviewed in 1999, Magener could still not believe "why this lunatic undertaking succeeded at all.’

Meanwhile, in the Himalayas, Sattler, badly affected by altitude and exhaustion returned to camp where his 28 days solitary were spent recovering in hospital. Now there were four, who, 19 days from camp, crossed Tsangchokla pass (5240m) into Tibet. Ordered to leave they travelled to the Sutlej river where the altitude afflicted Treipl also gave up, his goal of reaching the Japanese via the Gobi now seeming impossible. Back in camp he too received 28 days. The remaining three, intent on staying in Tibet, headed to the Spiti river making slow progress. Without Aufschnaiter’s spoken Tibetan - how valuable that language book had been - they would have got nowhere. At Tradom, they requested permission to go to Lhasa. In November, having waited months for a reply, Kopp’s patience ran out. Offered work in Nepal, he thought to claim asylum. Given a military escort approaching Kathmandu, he was taken straight to the British Embassy – the trap had sprung! He reentered Dehra Dun on Christmas Day without receiving 28 days from the long-suffering Colonel Williams, as he had honestly believed Nepal was neutral.

Now there were two, both hardy, experienced mountaineers, mentally and physically fit for lonely and strenuous life at altitude. Again ordered to leave, they appealed to Lhasa for permission to stay. Months later, learning the war was over and knowing they would still be imprisoned if they returned to India, they illegally set off for Lhasa, making an incredible grim winter journey across the Changtang plateau, reckoning such an approach to the capital might go unchallenged. According to "Confidential Weekly Reports’ of the British Mission, Lhasa, they were being watched throughout – the British Raj had long tentacles.

“17th June 1945: The two internees were in Kyrong. They had been seen taking surveys and distributing medicine in exchange for supplies. 26th August: The order to turn out the internees across the Nepalese border - no action seems to have been taken. 20th January 1946: The two reached Lhasa on 15 January. They were reported to have been dressed as Tibetan nomads in tattered sheep skin Chhupas, it is said they had a donkey, carrying their few effects. They have been staying in the house of a Tibetan official who picked them up in the streets… Government are at present interrogating them. It is learnt that a few Tibetan officials and Chinese have called and have given them clothes and provisions. Tibetan Government has also given some presents. 27th January: It is reported that the two are now permitted to go about the city. The Dalai Lama’s parents entertained the Germans and gave them presents of provisions and cash. It is reported that the Dalai Lama himself [then aged 11] asked his parents to entertain them. 10th February: The Germans have expressed their wishes of going across China overland; it is reported that Government has issued a warning stating they should be prepared to go back to India. 24th February: The two, for whom Tibetan escorts and the transport are now ready, were told to leave. But are reported to have requested the authorities to remain until the younger one, who is said to be laid down with some trouble of his hip, gets better. 24th March: Tsarong Dzasa has suggested to Government that for the meantime the two should remain in order that Government may benefit of the younger one’s [actually the older Aufschnaiter’s] knowledge of agricultural tree planting schemes. 14th July: The Austrians have added wine making to their activities, and have produced red and white wine from black and white raisins respectively. A number of people seem to have suffered from drinking these concoctions. 6th October: Harrer is teaching English to several sons of Tibetan and Nepali traders. It is said that he has been asked by Tibetan officials to supervise construction of tennis courts. He seems to be quite popular in Lhasa.”

Interviewed in 2003, Harrer was most amused and fascinated by the accuracy of British intelligence. Actually, they had an unknown sympathiser in Sikkim in the shape of Arthur Hopkinson, British Political Officer Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet who himself had been a P-o-W in the Great War. He was influential in allowing the Austrians to remain in Lhasa as he thought it no use to reintern them. (Interview 30th March 2004 with Robert Ford, a British radio operator in Tibet 1945 -1950).

Other internees attempted to reach Tibet, including Ludwig Schmaderer (Nanga Parbat, 1938), and Herbert Paider. In Sikkim, they and Ernst Grob, a Swiss, who owned a machine shop, had made a magnificent lightweight first ascent of Tent Peak (7363m) on 29th May 1939. On 24th March 1945, Schmaderer was undergoing a medical examination outside the wire, ready to be sent to Deoli, a secure camp south west of Agra, with another 22 who had made escape attempts, when he made a run for it. Before the guards could shoot he was hidden in jungle. Creeping back at night he contacted Paidar to arrange for him to escape three days later. Paidar made a repeat of the dung-cart ruse, this time hiding under empty meat tins. They travelled the same route as the others to the river Spiti, where, while Paidar set up camp, Schmaderer, who otherwise worked as a baker in Munich, went to buy provisions. Meeting hostility in the nearest village of Tabo he had to pay high prices and was seen with money, gold coins and a watch. Laden with food, he was crossing a steep, narrow bridge on his way towards Paidar’s camp when three locals offered him more supplies. Taken unawares he was pushed into the river and murdered with stones thrown from above that caused him to drown. Paidar spent three days searching for his companion before turning back to India. A fortnight later in Tashigang a Tibetan witness told Paidar all. The Indian police arrested the culprits – two escaped but the third was charged with murder and hanged. (Ironically, Paidar was to die in a stone fall on the Grossglockner in the 1950s).

Kopp, recaptured in Nepal, was also transferred to Deoli with the 22. He later wrote that, en route, each prisoner was closely guarded. Despite this, Schönfeld, a German Buddhist, leapt from a moving train in his yellow monk’s robes at Hatwar. He was recaptured three weeks later near the pilgrimage centre of Badrinath high up the river Ganges.


Harrer and Aufschnaiter resided in Lhasa until 1950 when China invaded and annexed Tibet. Aufschnaiter later worked for the governments of Nepal and India plus the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the U.N. in Kathmandu. At his life’s end he returned to Austria, dying aged 73 in Innsbruck in October 1973. Harrer wrote his famous book and in 1953 lectured at the Royal Festival Hall, London, where he received a letter from his former Camp Commandant, Colonel Williams, which Harrer read out: "As commander of your prison camp in India I had to take the blame for your successful escape, from headquarters in New Delhi. Not only that, but adding insult to injury, tonight I even had to pay to listen to you as to how you did it.’ Harrer has devoted much energy campaigning for the Tibetan cause.

All internees were repatriated, most landing in Hamburg in January 1946 wearing tropical kit. In 2004, Treipl recollected how they were cruelly forced to stand outdoors for hours in extreme cold by a Czech division of the British army - it was months before he could walk properly again.

Kopp, an engineer, returned to India in 1948 to work on a dam project at Bhakra and again met Aufschnaiter in New Delhi. He went trekking in Tibet in 1954, a land that fascinated him. He moved to Ontario, Canada, to run a motor business and died there in the mid 1980s.

Sattler was also transferred to Deoli where the Maharaja of Bundi was building a summer palace - he employed Sattler in his profession as an architect. He was repatriated to Germany and returned to work in Jakarta in 1949; he died in Germany in 1985.

Treipl returned to Austria where he ran hotels with his wife and sold agricultural machinery. In 2006, aged 89 he was living in his native Salzburg where his father had been one-time Castle Commander.

Magener and von Have, reinterned in Japan by the Americans, were returned to Germany 18 months after the war to be interned yet again. Magener joked how he would have got home much earlier had he stayed in camp. He later built up the export business of the German multinational BASF, becoming their Chief Financial Officer. An anglophile, he lived in London in the 1950s and died in Heidelberg in 2000, just short of 90.

Heins von Have returned to Hamburg in 1948, where his family had been for generations, to join "Johs. Rieckermann’ a trading company set up for him in his absence by his father. In 1949 he established "Panobra’ to trade with Brazil and Japan, plus "Heins von Have Co.’ in 1967 to trade with Indonesia. All three companies still exist. He frequently travelled to Japan and Indonesia, was a member of many German institutions and became president of the East Asiatic Association of Hamburg. He died in 1985 aged 78.

Dr Ludwig "Lutz’ Chicken returned to South Tyrol, Italy, where for many years he ran his own medical practice; he published his autobiography in 2003 . In 2006 aged 90, he was happily retired and died in 2011 aged 96.

Finally, Bruno Treipl put the author in contact with fellow internee Peter Schuemmer, aged 94. He had been working in India for Klöckner Humboldt Deutz on diesel engines. He had escaped with Schmaderer in May 1943. Their first plan had been to do a “wire job” using a homemade ladder but their plans were betrayed. One day they were delegated to clean up the cemetery at a far end of the camp where they told the sentry that they needed to urinate in the bushes - it was not noticed until evening that they had absconded. For the next two days they hid in a cave in a nearby gorge where they had cached supplies, before heading north. After three weeks they were recaptured near Badrinath, one march short of the Tibetan border.

© Roger Croston
Peter Schuemmer 2004 in Cologne

For a second joint escape attempt Schuemmer had planned to run into the jungle with Schmaderer when the group of 22 persistent escapers were due to be transported to Deoli. However, a Colonel Hunt, while searching his baggage found a book on Central India, which much interested him and he struck up a conversation with Schuemmer. Meanwhile, fearing excess delay, Schmaderer ran for it. Schuemmer was prevented from following as he was suddenly surrounded by six soldiers pointing guns at his sides. He made no further escape attempts. He later worked in India, East Pakistan and Iraq before retiring to his native Cologne, where in 2004 he concluded that it was “Far better for us all to have been interned than to die a pointless death in a stupid war. He died in autumn 2005.

It would be September 1947 before all Dehra Dun’s internees would be repatriated.


The author is indebted to the former internees for their interviews and to Dr Lutz Chicken and Heino von Have for their correspondence. Frank Drauschke in Berlin, and Dr Isrun Engelhardt of Munich both generously provided information from their respective researches in the National Archives of India and the India Office Collections in the British Library. Finally, the author is grateful to Bettina von Reden of Hamburg for assistance with translation and in locating and interviewing former internees.

Bibliography. Published London unless stated.

  •  Brauen, Martin (ed)
     2002 Peter Aufschnaiter’s Eight Years in Tibet,
             Orchid Press, Bangkok, Thailand.
     2003 Durchs Jahrhundert.
             Mein Leben als Arzt und Bergsteiger,
             Edition Raetia, Bozen, Italy.

  •  Grob, Ernst, Schmaderer Ludwig & Paidar, Herbert.
     1940 Zwischen Kantsch und Tibet,
              F. Bruckmann, Munich, Germany.

  •  Harrer, Heinrich
     1953 Seven Years in Tibet, Rupert Hart-Davis.
     2002 Mein Leben, Ullstein, Munich, Germany.

  •  Heckmair, Anderl
    2002 My Life, Eiger North Face, Grandes Jorasses,
             and other adventures. Baton Wicks.

  •  Chicken, Lutz
     2004 Durchs Jahrhundert: Mein Leben als Arzt und Bergsteiger,
              Edition Raetia, Bozen, Italien.

Bild auf Seite 55: Ein kleiner Teil der
Internierten in Dehra Dun, 1942.
1. Reihe Dritter von rechts: Lutz Chicken.
  •  Kopp, Hans
     1957 Himalayan Shuttlecock, Hutchinson.

  •  Magener, Rolf
     2001 Our Chances Were Zero, Leo Cooper /
              Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley.
              Originally Prisoners’ Bluff, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954).

  •  Mierau, Peter
     1999 Die Deutsche Himalaja-Stiftung.
              Ihre Geschichte und Ihre Expeditionen
              Bergverlag Rudolf Rother, Munich, Germany.
     2006 Nationalsozialistische Expeditionspolitik.
             Deutsche Asien-Expeditionen 1933-1945.
             Herbert Utz, Munich, Germany. 

  •  Sattler, Friedel
     1956 Flucht durch den Himalaja.
             Und Erlebtes beim Maharadscha von Bundi
             Das Bergland-Buch, Salzburg, Austria.
             Republished 1991, Edition Dax, Hamburg, Germany.


  •  Rolf Magener Heidelberg, Germany. 23 June, 1999.

  •  Heinrich Harrer Hüttenberg, Austria. 12 May, 2003.

  •  Bruno Treipl Salzburg, Austria. 21 May & 30 August 2004.

  •  Peter Schuemmer Cologne, Germany. 13 June & 27 August 2004.


Turned back from Tibet
Bruno Treipl’s wartime adventures in Asia

By Bettina von Reden and Roger Croston

Mr. Bruno Treipl was the last living member of a group of seven escapers who fled from British wartime internment in Dehra Dun, Mussoori, India, and one of the four who reached Tibet. The latter included Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter, famous for their seven years inside Tibet, as well as Hans ("Hanne’) Kopp who was later recaptured in Nepal. Another escaper, Friedel Sattler, finding tramping over the Himalayas to be physically too hard, and becoming quite ill, had already returned to India. The final pair of the escape party, Rolf Magener and Heins von Have, meanwhile had embarked on a different yet equally incredible journey across India for a successful escape to the Japanese army front lines in Burma and finally on to Tokyo where they were regaled as national heroes.

© Roger Croston
Bruno Treipl in Salzburg

In 1934, at the age of 18, Bruno Treipl sailed on the Lloyd Triestine Line’s ship, the "Conte Verde" to the island of Java in the then colonial “Dutch East Indies” - the present day Indonesia. His aunt and uncle ran “The Grand Hotel” – which still exists - at Lembang, near Bandung in central Java and they wanted him to come and assist them. As they had no children they planned to eventually bequeath the hotel to him and so he stayed and worked there for a while, greatly enjoying the hotel’s sports facilities. However, he found the work uninspiring and he also earned too little to quench his thirst for travel. He got to know many interesting hotel guests, two of whom offered him jobs on tea plantations which he took at different times. In the first plantation he was invited by its administrator to live with his family who were very kind to him. He was later offered work on a second plantation by a Mr. Pendelman, an Englishman who worked for Francis Peak and Co., but in the end the plantations could not pay much either, because it was a bad time economically in the late 1930s and so Treipl eventually returned to the hotel. During his years in Java he was endlessly fascinated by its rich, diverse and unspoiled tropical flora and fauna.

Before the Japanese invasion of the Dutch colony, Treipl recalled the following: "At the time there were many Japanese in Java and I had a hairdresser who was actually a Japanese army colonel, but even I had no idea of this fact, although I knew that the Japanese were employed in all kinds of posts everywhere. They sold very cheap bicycles to the local people and when the Japanese invaded they confiscated them all for the army companies to ride on. In this way they were able to move about very quickly; it was quite ingenious.” Wherever he went hunting or stalking wild animals he met Japanese even in the middle of the jungle. In hindsight it seemed clear to him that they were looking for raw materials - oil, metals, rubber etc. - so that after the invasion it would be clear what the region had to offer.”

When the Japanese invaded, Treipl had already been taken prisoner. At first, the Dutch took all Austrians and Germans into captivity even though most of them were civilians. "They always spoke of a 5th column and things like that, but we had done absolutely nothing wrong, we only worked in ordinary jobs. Later on they interned the Italians as well."

On the 10th of May 1940, Treipl was on his way by car from Lembang to Bandung to visit a friend – an Italian by the name Gottlieb Meister - when he was stopped by the military. He had already heard that Germans would be arrested and he recalled that he had managed to sneak the car key back to his chauffeur and let him take the car back to his aunt’s hotel “so that at least the Dutch did not get it!” Less happily he remembered how he was forced to crawl on the ground and was spat on by the Dutch soldiers before he was taken into a locked warehouse hall.

He vividly remembered the following weeks. “The Dutch were dreadfully mean. We were taken to the port of Sibolga where they put us on the lowest deck of a ship and they did not indicate in any way at all that it was a prisoners’ transport. The Dutch were in full knowledge that the Japanese could attack the ships at anytime. Also the transport to the harbour was terrible. We were sent in small buses with barbed wire wrapped all around them. We could hardly fit in - there was standing room only and when we got out some people fell over because their feet had gone numb and we were terribly tired; it was like a slave transport.

“We were divided into three ships full of prisoners. The first, with me on it, was surely expected to be attacked and it included the people the Dutch disliked most. Fortunately it was not attacked, but the second ship was attacked by the Japanese who did not know it was full of Austrians and Germans. The third was a hospital ship. It was also attacked and sunk; many did not survive. It was a big story in the newspapers.

“When the first ship reached Bombay the British took us over. We explained to them how badly we had been treated and they thought it was absolutely disreputable. They sent us on a long train ride to Ranchi Road. We were fed well - I remember we even got hot chocolate. Then in Ranchi Road we were put into a big camp, it was very hot - 40 or even 50 degrees Celsius and one could hardly breathe, you could not go on the streets or travel because the asphalt was melting. That was before the monsoon. Once, there was a big thunderstorm with hail and big mangoes were knocked down from their trees, so we had lots of fruit. From there we were taken to the "Central Internment Camp of all India" at Dehra Dun, Mussoorie.”

[In 1944 Bruno Treipl escaped from Dehra Dun and reached Tibet. His own account of his trek over the Himalayas into Tibet was reported in two articles in a German language newspaper, the “Salzbuger Volksblatt”, in Austria in 1950. They are appended to this article and are translated here into English for the first time. They are the first known published accounts of the group’s escape to Tibet].

In telling his part of the story in interviews in his later years, because by then enough had already been told about the escape from Dehra Dun in the published accounts of the other escapers, Treipl focussed on the time after he left the group which had reached Tibet.

“I turned back from Tibet to India because the travelling was too hard. Peter Aufschnaiter was sick and Heinrich Harrer and Hanne Kopp had disappeared one night. I waited with Aufschnaiter until he was better, then I gave him almost everything I still had in the way of equipment and money and turned back even though it was beautiful up there and the road was good, one could have even motored it.”

More than a little disappointed, he remembered that Kopp and he had originally agreed to remain together in Tibet until the war was over. Their plan had been eventually to cross the Gobi desert and possibly get behind the Japanese military front lines in China, but with Kopp gone his motivation had dwindled. Kopp was later to be recaptured in Kathmandu, Nepal, by British deception.

“When I came back from the Shipki Pass after separating from Peter Aufschnaiter in Namgir, I had with me a Tibetan blanket made from sheep’s wool and I made a sleeping bag from it. I had had just enough money to buy it and now I slept in the middle of valley of the Sutlej river all by myself.”

He recalled meeting “two English officers with many bearers – a great caravan - who impressed me favourably. They invited me to join them in the evening. They asked me who I was and how I had got there and I explained. One was an army general, I forget his name, and the other was a colonel. I joined them for their evening meal and we drank whisky and discussed politics, but all very nice and pleasantly. The next day they moved on and I also, alone, without any escort. They did not arrest me, because they knew I could do nothing harmful and I was not a spy.”

Treipl continued his wanderings through northern India

“In the village of Chini I found a school above the river with Indian children. I went to the teacher and told him I was an escaped prisoner-of-war. He received me in a very friendly manner and gave me new clothes - the old ones had lice in them and he burnt them. Then I went and sat in the school with the children. They spoke English, Urdu and Hindustani - three languages – even though they were only eight or maybe six years old! The Maharaja to whom the surrounding area called Saran belonged took me in, gave me something to eat and was very kind. There were many goldsmiths in the village and if I had had the money I could have bought some very nice old jewellery. The Maharaja said he would postpone reporting me to the authorities for as long as possible so that I could stay.

“Next, I went along the Sutlej valley further down to Tanata from where I then turned back to Simla. The Maharaja there could not postpone reporting me, even though he did not want to do it. The local police chief said soldiers from Simla would come and pick me up and they came with handcuffs and shackles, but in fact they did not use them on me. They were dreadfully nice and treated me very well - no comparison with the Dutch. They then wanted to put me in a prison in Simla, because they did not know exactly what my real motives and plans were. I said I would not go into a prison to sit next to murderers and criminals. The prison was quite full, but they said they would put me in by force, so I told them that they could try that. So fifty Indians sat around me, but none moved and they did not attack me. Finally I said, “All right, this is useless”, and I went in. They informed me that it was only for one night and that next day I could go back to Dehra Dun. But I refused to eat. They wanted to give me food, but I said, “as long as I'm in prison I won't take even one bite.” An officer tried to convince me otherwise, but I refused and early next morning another officer came and took me to his house for breakfast.

“I was then taken down to Dehra Dun and paraded in front of an angry Colonel Williams, the Camp Commander. He questioned me. "How did you escape?" "With whom did you escape?" - "Alone," I said and explained nothing. I got 28 days solitary confinement in the prison camp, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, where I was put in a cell. Those 28 days were terribly hot, it was like being in an oven and we were watched over by Ghurkhas who gave me "Piri’ - small cigarettes rolled from maize leaves which we smoked. Later I heard that Hans Kopp had been recaptured in Nepal and was in the camp hospital so I visited him and we spoke through the barbed wire.”

Towards the end of the war, Treipl was among the twenty-two prisoners, who at one time or another had managed to escape from Dehra Dun and who were taken to Deoli, a secure camp south west of Agra, Rajasthan. Most of them were very experienced mountaineers or sportsmen and this had given them the self-assurance to attempt escapes to Tibet through the almost impassable Himalayas. This also allowed them all to be on relatively good terms with each other. This Deoli group included both Kopp and Sattler with whom Treipl had escaped.

Another member of this group was Herbert ("Bert’) Paidar. He had escaped from Dehra Dun together with Ludwig Schmaderer. The two of them, along with the Swiss climber Ernst Grob, had made a magnificent lightweight first ascent of the 7,363m [24,156 feet] Tent Peak in Sikkim on the 29th of May 1939. Their escape attempt failed in the Spiti valley high in the Himalayas when one afternoon, while Paidar set up camp, Schmaderer went to buy provisions in the village of Tabo where he was seen with money, gold coins and a watch. Laden with food, he was crossing a steep, narrow bridge on his return to camp when three locals offered him more goods. Taken unawares he was pushed into the river and murdered with stones thrown from above that caused him to drown. Paidar spent three days searching for his companion before turning back to India. A fortnight later in Tashigang, a Tibetan witness told Paidar all. The Indian police arrested the culprits; two of whom escaped but the third was charged with murder and hanged.

Even though Deoli in many regards had stricter rules than Dehra Dun, the internees were still permitted to go out of camp on parole once a week and Treipl started going on outdoors painting and drawing sessions with Paidar. Ironically, after the war he too was tragically killed by stone when he was hit by a falling rock while climbing on the Gross Glockner, at 3,798m [12,460 feet] Austria’s highest peak

On a funnier note, Treipl recalled an anecdote from his time in Deoli, which was not far from Bundi, Rajasthan. His fellow escaper Friedel Sattler, who had been captured in Bali in the Dutch East Indies, had been permitted to work for the local Maharaja and was engaged in designing and building the interior of the Maharaja of Bundi’s new summer palace of Phool-Sagar. Treipl remembered that this earned Sattler some privileges, but these could not bail them out of all troubles. “In Bundi I sat in prison again for 28 days, because we had wanted to visit some Red Cross Korean women nurses. One rainy, stormy night we went through the barbed wire to see them, but they didn't know we were Austrian and German - they thought we were Indians and they made a big riot and so we got another 28 days.”

In the early winter of 1946, most of the Austrian and German internees were finally repatriated. Treipl recollected that “landing in Hamburg we were badly handled and sent in four wagons to Neuengamme, a former concentration camp, and cruelly forced to stand outdoors wearing nothing but thin tropical kit for many hours in extreme cold by a Czech division of the British army. The cold injured us and it was months before I could walk properly again. When I eventually reached my family home in Salzburg I discovered we had lost everything. My father got no pension because he had been wartime Commandant of Salzburg’s Castle and had been removed from post. So I lived by trading in such things as agricultural machinery. At this time, a Swedish author wanted me to write a book about my experiences in Asia but because he could not support me financially I did not do it. Years later, after writing his famous book “Seven Years in Tibet” many journalists visited me wanting to know everything about Heinrich Harrer, but I never said anything to them. Such a thing I would not do.”

Some time later he ran a hotel next to the Wolfgansee Lake near to the town of St. Gilgen in Salzburg"s Salzkammergut holiday resort region, along with his wife Luise, whom he had married in 1951. The past once again reached out to him there. “A certain Mr. Sevenoaks was visiting Austria with his wife and two pretty adopted Indian girls. I got to know him by chance. He was driving through by car; it was late and we were just preparing to close for the night when he came and asked if they could stay and we got into conversation. He had been the controller of all the internment camps in India and remembered our escape - he had no bad opinion of it!”

Bruno Treipl, traveller, sportsman, wartime internee, escaper and hotelier was born in Unken, Zell am See, near Salzburg, Austria, 15th February 1916; he died in Salzburg, 10th March 2006.

Bruno Treipl was interviewed by the authors in Salzburg, Austria, on 21st May and 30th August 2004.


The authors are indebted to Dr Isrun Engelhardt of Munich for her assistance in finding the exact whereabouts of Bruno Treipl in Salzburg as well as for checking the manuscript. We also wish to thank Alfons Gann, the publishing director of the "Salzburger Fenster’ newspaper and especially Stephanie Klein and her colleagues of the Landesarchiv [regional archive], Salzburg, Austria, for locating and copying the two original newspaper articles about Bruno Treipl from 1950 which were published in the "Salzburger Volksblatt’ newspaper. The "Salzburger Volksblatt’ was a daily publication, founded in 1870 which ceased publication in April 1979.

Further Reading

Brauen, Martin (ed). 2002
“Peter Aufschnaiter’s Eight Years in Tibet”, Bangkok, Orchid Press,

Chicken, Lutz. 1948
“Nanga Parbat Reconnaissance 1939”, Himalayan Journal, Vol. 14, 1947, pp 53-58.

- 2003
“Durchs Jahrhundert. Mein Leben als Arzt und Bergsteiger”, Bozen, Italy, Edition Raetia.

Croston, Roger. 2006 “Prisoners of the Raj”. The Alpine Journal 2006, pp 213-224.

Croston, Roger. 2005/2006
“Heinrich Harrer: An Obituary”, Tibet Journal, Vol.30 & 31, No.4 & No.1, pp189-192.

Grob, Ernst, Schmaderer Ludwig & Paidar, Herbert. 1940
“Zwischen Kantsch und Tibet”, Munich, F. Bruckmann

Harrer, Heinrich. 1953
“Seven Years in Tibet2, London, Rupert Hart-Davis.

- 2007
“Beyond Seven Years in Tibet”. South Yarra, Victoria, Australia, Labyrynth Press. (Originally published in 2002 as “Mein Leben”, Munich, Ullstein,).

Kopp, Hans. 1957
“Himalayan Shuttlecock”, London, Hutchinson. (Originally in German as “Sechsmal über den Himalaja”. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, Hermann Klemm, 1955).

Magener, Rolf. 2001
“Our Chances Were Zero, Barnsley, England, Leo Cooper / Pen & Sword Books. (Originally “Prisoners’ Bluff”, London, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954).

Paidar, Herbert. 1949
“Destiny Himalaya”, Himalayan Journal, Vol.15, 1948, pp 69-74.

Sattler, Friedel. 1956
“Flucht durch den Himalaja. Und Erlebtes beim Maharadscha von Bundi”. Salzburg, Das Bergland-Buch. (Republished 1991, Hamburg, Edition Dax).


A Salzburger in Mysterious Tibet

Originally published in German in the “Salzburger Volksblatt” on Saturday 9th September 1950, on page 7. Translated by Bettina von Reden and Roger Croston for publication for the first time in English. The original article was accompanied by a photograph of Mr Bruno Treipl credited to "SV-Kutshera’. Geographical names are given as they appeared in the original articles; in a few cases, for clarity, their more common transliterations follow in brackets.

With the escape attempt of the Tibetan generalissimo in the Realm of the Dalai Lama

There are certainly not many Europeans who are able to boast about having been in Tibet. However, the number of Austrians who have been granted the privilege of experiencing this Asian highland, which is surrounded in mystery, can probably be counted upon the fingers of one hand.

Most recently, interest in Tibet has been raised considerably into our field of vision. The world’s press has been covering this country both in words and pictures, which Red China is on the point of taking into her sphere of influence. In connection with this, the fact will be well known that an Austrian, Heini Harrer from Graz, is the generalissimo of the troops of the Dalai Lama and that a second Austrian, the qualified engineer Peter Aufschnaiter, builds bridges and electricity works in Tibet. Tibet has always been hermetically sealed off to all Europeans. Who are these men and how did they come to be there?

From the Eiger’s North Face to Nanga Parbat

From Heini Harrer one knows that, with Fritz Kasparek from Vienna and [Ludwig] Vörg and [Andreas] Heckmaier, the climbing pair from Bavaria, he conquered the North Wall of the Eiger. About Peter Aufschnaiter, it remains to be said that he is a descendant of the heroic Tyrolean freedom campaigner Speckbacher and that he also understands how to travel around in the mountains. Both belonged to the German Himalayan Expedition, which had been given the task of discovering the best route by which to conquer Nanga Parbat. The outbreak of the Second World War thwarted the end of this exploratory journey - Harrer and Aufschnaiter were detained in the civilian internment camp of Dehra Dun, to the north of Delhi. After several years of life behind barbed wire, they escaped from this camp on 1st May, 1944, and five comrades – Hanne Kopp from Berlin; Friedl Sattler from the Rhineland; the two from Hamburg, Rolf Magener and Heinz von Have plus the citizen of Salzburg, Bruno Treipl, were their fellow escapers. Bruno Treipl, a son of the retired Resident Colonel of Salzburg, Rudolf Treipl, is now the landlord of the “Lüg Inn” near St. Gilgen. In 1934, he had travelled to his aunt in Java, who possessed a respectable hotel there. On 10th May, 1940, he was interned and landed on a trail fraught with difficulties, which eventually led, via various camps, to Dehra Dun. He now relates to us the story of the escape to Tibet. We leave him to tell it in his own words.

Bruno Treipl relates the escape from Dehra Dun

“I could simply lose myself in the details, and believe me, it would be tempting enough at least to give a description of our escape to Tibet, but then we would sit here for hours on end and would still not get to the finish. However, I do not have so much time during the season as an innkeeper in Salzkammergut [an area east of Salzburg, Austria]. I shall therefore have to be brief and relate, to a certain extent, in telegraph style. We prepared our escape well in advance and I can say already that the circumstances of parole, against our word of honour, allowed us at certain times on some days to leave the confines of the camp. By this means we were able to bury a depot outside of the camp, which contained all the absolute essentials that we needed to escape through one of the most inhospitable countries of the world. Items of equipment from the Nanga Parbat Expedition, of which we still had a part, gave us this opportunity. Meanwhile, we physically trained ourselves for months and on May 1st, 1944, exactly at 3 p.m. we pushed ourselves through three-foot tall grass and under barbed wire into an alleyway between interior barbed wire fences, which were guarded by machine gun posts in watchtowers. All of a sudden, all six of us stood up as though we had grown up out of the ground. The seventh of our party, Sattler, should have joined us from another nearby camp block, but he was missing."

"Asti, asti, pab!"

Now, you should not take it that just all of a sudden six internees simply stood there between the barbed wire. It was much more than that; it looked, rather, as though there were four Indians in the uniform of Native Engineering Teams along with two British officers. The soldiers posted in the watchtowers may well have wondered where this troop might suddenly have sprung from but for the fact that the Indians bore a ladder and a roll of barbed wire in their hands. This gave an apparent purpose to such a troop and so the machine guns remained silent. Both of our men from Hamburg, who spoke English as though it was their mother tongue, coquettishly swung their swagger sticks and went in front of us towards the first gatepost and curtly requested it to be opened. Without further ado, the order was complied with and with pounding hearts and looking as indifferently at the world around us as possible, we, with our “genuine Indian brown” potash permanganated faces and wearing mighty turbans, passed through this first obstacle. We then proceeded along the camp’s main street up to the main gate. Our Hamburg “officers” were greeted everywhere with the necessary respect. Despite this, Aufschnaiter, who carried the front end of the ladder with me, began to hasten in a most unoriental manner, so much so that I had to moderate his steps with an, “Asti, asti, pab!” which is as much to say as, “Slowly, slowly, old chap.”

An Indian treads on our heels

Friedel SattlerA real British officer, in charge of a neighbouring block, cycled towards us – we feared that our Indian disguises had been seen through, but our two “officers” greeted him and received the natural acknowledgment of the Englishman who rapidly rode past us. Now the main gate was happily behind us, as was also the third and last obstacle - a barrier post at the camp entrance, which was guarded exclusively by Indian police. Hardly were we out of view when we began to run, but within a very short time we noticed an Indian running towards us, who gesticulated wildly and who shouted incomprehensibly. We doubled our speed because we thought nothing other than that we were already being pursued. The man behind us, however, began to run even faster and got so close to us that we decided to stop and wait for him. Only as the panting Indian with a straggling beard was almost upon us, did we recognise him. It was Sattler, whose countenance had been elaborately altered into that of an Indian by Reichl, the camp’s barber. He had a tar-pot and brush in his hand and, as a late coming performer, he had slipped through all three gates to join us.

At night on a deserted Pilgrim road

At a jog, we eventually arrived at our depot where we prepared ourselves, to the best of our ability, for mountain travel. With rucksacks, which weighed on average 40 kilograms each, we made our way at nightfall towards the Tibetan border. On the fourth night we reached the river Ganges, which at that point was a roaring torrent, and we pushed on nocturnally along the pilgrim road besides the holy waters to their source and thence on to Nelang. Since we moved at night, a time when ghost fearing Indians, unless in dire need, do not go freely about, we met nobody other than wild animals; they however, were more frightened by our manifestation than we of theirs. Such as a bear, which, frightened by our arrival, splashed into the Ganges behind us and disappeared.”

To be continued. [Original article in German by “K.J.” – the author’s full name is not known.]
Originally published in German in the “Salzburger Volksblatt” on Saturday 16th September 1950, on page 5 with a photograph of a Tibetan monastery from the archive of the “Salzburger Volksblatt” and on page 8 as text.

With the escape companions of the Tibetan generalissimo in the Realm of the Dalai Lama

“I must add here, that the two from Hamburg separated themselves from us after the first night, after they had transformed themselves in accordance with their escape plan, from conspicuous British “officers” into plain “Tommys.” They successfully penetrated the Assam Front and reached the Japanese front lines and today they are again safe and sound in their homeland. Also, Harrer had momentarily gone his own way because [on a previous escape] he had deposited money with an Indian merchant and he went to fetch it. We met up with him again in Nelang.

Someone gets shattered

Now just don’t go imagining that the march after leaving Nelang was a pleasure. At this time of year the village, lying at over 3,000 metres [9,850 feet] and buried under ice and snow, is deserted by its inhabitants. The cold as well as hunger began to affect us terribly. We had hoped that we would be able to reprovision ourselves by breaking into the larders of the village’s inhabitants who were now living down the valley. Three Tibetans, however, whom we came across in the village and who likewise were planning to cross over the 5,300 metre [17,400 feet] high Tselukaga-pass [Tsangchok-La] to get back to Tibet, thwarted our plans. In their presence we could not carry out our intentions and so, with Kopp, I had to search for an equally deserted village in a side valley of this avalanche threatened desert of snow and ice in order to “organise” provisions by the above mentioned method. Dire need and distress, doubly noticeable in freezing weather at high altitude, had already increased so much, that Sattler had become exhausted. He turned back, climbed down again through the foothills and surrendered himself to the British. We, however, did not want to give up. I was successful with Kopp – the sought after village was discovered buried under snow. We broke through the roofs, which were like ours in the Alps, weighed down as they were with rocks, into the houses and finally returned to Harrer and Aufschnaiter laden down with rice, dried vegetables and some flour. We again set off on our way, divided into the pairs of Harrer – Kopp and Aufschnaiter – Treipl, in order to overcome the pass and reach Tibet. The three Tibetans remained behind in Nelang.

Permit me now to describe to you the terrible strains, which had to be borne. We clambered about in high valleys, often losing our way, which led us to an altitude of over 5,000 metres [16,400 feet] until we eventually reached the heights of the Tselukaga-pass [Tsangchok-La] where we were greeted by the opening up of the astonishing view of the high plateau of West Tibet.

Tattered prayer flags alone told of the fact that from time to time, humans came up here. The last white men before us had been two English millionaires in the year 1856, who were lost without trace.

Knives on Bamboo poles

In Pulang [Puling] we encountered our first Tibetans on Tibetan soil who treated us first of all as though we were made out of air, although as we were to experience later, one of them had immediately made away to the next habitation to announce the appearance of four Europeans. Finally, one of them sold us a billy goat for an outrageous amount of money because he recognised our state of distress and relative harmlessness (we merely carried knives set on bamboo poles as “lances”). After a four days’ rest we moved on again and wandered aimlessly over the high plateau, which hereabouts is cut up by narrow river valleys, which are generally over 1,000 meters [3,300 feet] deep. We chanced upon a Tibetan monastery – a third of all Tibetans are monks – and were received in a relatively friendly manner. Despite this, Harrer and Kopp wanted to set off to search for the settlement of Tsaparang straight away. We two who remained behind, watched them climb the mountain slope and we could observe how, approximately half way up, they met horsemen whose mounts were decorated with bells, the chimes of which reached us and we then had to watch as the riders turned around and took Harrer and Kopp with them. Above, on the high plateau just before the group disappeared from our view, Harrer cupped his hands in front of his mouth and let out three short yodels – one behind the other – an urgent “Beat it!” It was clear that our two comrades had fallen into the hands of some sort of Tibetan authority which was all the more obvious from the bell bedecked horses. To where, however, should we push off? We decided, rather, to follow in the footsteps of our comrades and riders. Up on the high plateau, however, they had lost themselves amongst the wild asses and as a consequence, we made preparations to set out to search for Tsaparang.

As guests in the monastery

The forced separation from Harrer and Kopp made Aufschnaiter and me deeply depressed. Additionally, in the next few days we wandered around aimlessly and hunger and thirst began to set in. We lived on grass, became jittery, argued and seemed to be already separated from life in the endless, uninhabited lunar landscape. After several days when we had already half given ourselves up, we unexpectedly bumped into an old Tibetan woman with whom we struck a deal for some sheep’s cheese. Aufschnaiter, who spoke Tibetan, asked after the way to Tsaparang. She pointed in the direction from which we had just come! We next enquired about the location of Tuleng [Tholing] monastery, which was down upon our map. She pointed in anther direction and indicated that it was not all that far away. Indeed, we saw the lights of the monastery shining with the onset of darkness. It lay in the valley of the river Sutlej. We were refreshed by the monks and were allowed to put up our tent within the confines of the monastery. Aufschnaiter, for whom since his youth, Tibet had been a dreamland and who had acquired knowledge of the Tibetan language, both spoken and written, wrote a letter to the abbot, whereupon we were invited by him to many ceremonies. Regarding our missing friends, however, he could not or would not give us any advice.

Under escort back to India

We were most surprised one day when Harrer and Kopp, escorted by Tibetan police, appeared in the monastery. They had been apprehended personally by the Dzongpön (a sort of district sheriff) and brought to Tsaparang. All attempts to gain favour with the high and mighty gentleman had failed and he had let it be known far and wide that any supplying of provisions to us would be punishable by death. Furthermore, he had ordered that our friends had to be returned back to the Indian border. What else remained for us to do in such a situation, other than to accept this escort? Mind you, we remained within the bounds of the monastery for another four days and now received exactly measured daily rations.

After much laborious hiking, about which many adventures cold be told, we crossed the Shipki pass, where we had to cross the suspension bridge which Sven Hedin has already described, into the Indian village of Namgia [Namgya] where we were dismissed.

It was in Namgia [Namgya] that our ways parted. Harrer, who still had money at his disposal, set off again for Tibet, heading for Gartok, and Aufschnaiter who was possessed by Tibet, followed behind and caught up with his companion. They successfully reached their goal of Lhasa and today are still in the realm of the Dalai Lama. The positions they have taken up are well known to you.

Hans KoppKopp and I ended up, after experiences pleasing and distressing, as follows: the former enjoyed the hospitality of the Maharaja of Kampur while the latter, after serving a punishment, ended up back in Dehra Dun. We had been on our way for three months.

At the beginning of 1946 I returned home. Kopp also finally reached Germany.” That is the abridged report of one of the escape companions of Heini Harrer, the current generalissimo of the Tibetan forces. What he himself could tell in detail about this and other adventurous experiences would fill a book. Perhaps we shall also find the opportunity to open one or another chapter from it.


Escape to Lhasa 1944 - 1945

Himalayan Journal, Vol. 14, 1947, pp 116-120.

By Peter Aufschnaiter

In April 1944 seven of us escaped from the prisoners-of-war camp at Dehra Dun and two got away by railway, while Harrer, Kopp, Sattler, Treipel, and I made for Tibet via Nelang (11,000 feet). Sattler was affected by the altitude and returned to Dehra Dun. From Nelang, which is about 50 miles west-north-west of Trisul, we set our course north-west for the Sutlej, which we reached at a point about 100 miles south of Hanle. (1) The local Jongpöns were distinctly embarrassed by our presence, but helped us with food, and sent us under escort as far as the Shipki pass. From Shipki, with its 'Simla - 200 miles', under the circumstances a reassuring sign, we marched down the beautifully engineered but unfrequented road to the iron suspension-bridge spanning the Sutlej. Here, on 17th June, Treipel turned back to India, Harrer and Kopp went off to investigate the Spiti valley, in which Schmaderer (2) was killed in 1945 after his second escape, and I recrossed the Sutlej by a wooden bridge higher up and turned north over the Budbud La. A few days later I was rejoined by Harrer and Kopp, and we journeyed on together towards the Indus. On the way we met many nomads with thousands of sheep, and the wide plains we traversed were showing the first green and were pasturing herds of kiang. Farther north we crossed a range into Ladakh, and came down to the Indus at Trashigong. Here again the officials did not rejoice at our arrival, but they took no effective steps to stop us from going on to Gartok, where negotiations began in a friendly atmosphere. The Garpöns agreed to provide us with a lamyig (passport) to the border of the district at Gyabnak, where we were to turn south for Nepal, and also surprised us with welcome presents of dried meat, sampa, and butter. We had to wait eleven days in Gartok before we set off on 14th July accompanied by a servant and three baggage yaks. Between Gartok and Lake Man-sarowar were occasional tazam (3) houses and many nomad settlements with innumerable yaks. We were not allowed to make the 'sacred journey' around Lake Kailas, but we wandered along the lake shore, where the dominating feature of the scenery was Gurla Mandhata, towering with huge precipices and ice-falls, a sheer 10,000 feet above the turquoise-blue lake. With a party of traders from Garhwal we continued our eastern journey. Having crossed several streams which united to become the Tsangpo, already a surprisingly wide river, our party arrived at Gyabnak, the terminal of our lamyig, on 8th August. Gyabnak, a single building on the Tsangpo, is the headquarters of the chief local administrative official, styled the Bong Pa Chikyap. After a few days of waiting here a messenger arrived to summon us to Tradün, where two Lhasa officials of high standing were said to be awaiting us.

On 12th August we reached Tradün, and after lengthy discussions with the officials, agreed to send our application for permission to remain in Tibet to their Government; this was asked for on the grounds of Tibet's neutrality. Pending the arrival of a reply the officials arranged for us to remain in Tradün and gave us such generous presents that we were free of worry for many weeks to come. It took over four months to get a lamyig for the next part of our journey, and throughout this period we were not allowed to go more than a day's march away. However, there were varied interests in Tradün, which is a cross-roads of trade-routes, used by many caravans. These mostly carry tea from China, and apricots and gur (rough sugar) from Ladakh. Everything is neatly packed in hide containers. From the north herds of up to 500 sheep carry salt to the south, crossing the Tsangpo by ferries at which salt-tax is collected. The chronicles of the golden-spired Gompa say: 'Lying at the centre of a circle of gleaming white snow peaks it has magnificent views towards Nepal and also to the north' - unfortunately all the high mountains were out of bounds, but we never got tired of beholding them, even from afar, those giants, Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, and Manaslu and, to the north-east, that most beautiful peak Lungpo Kangri, striking in its isolation.

From Dehra Dun to Lhasa

In November, tired of waiting, Harrer and I made an attempt to go eastward, but were frustrated by wolves, who killed and ate two of our pack sheep on our first night out. On our return to Tradün we found Kopp, just on the point of leaving for Nepal, and shortly after he had left us we were visited by a most solemn delegation, headed by the Bong Pa Chikyap. They informed us that Lhasa had at last sent our lamyig for Kyirong, and we began this journey on 17th December, with riding horses and servants.

Crossing and recrossing the frozen Tsangpo we reached the important settlement of Dzongka Dzong on Christmas Eve. Dzongka, about 150 miles west-north-west of Tingri Dzong, appears to be on the head-waters of the Trisuli Ganga which flows south to join, eventually, other affluents of the Ganges. Owing to the heavy snowfalls we had to wait here for nearly a month, until the track leading down the valley was trodden hard by dzo, and it was 25th January before we arrived at Kyirong. Here the Dzong authorities had expected us to go on to Nepal, but they allowed us to remain with them, so we stayed for ten long months, until November 1945. Kyirong means 'Village of Happiness', and we found this was no misnomer, for topography, climate, and the activities of a healthy people combine to form a landscape of rare beauty and harmony. We thoroughly explored the neighbouring district. In the valley shaped by the action of glaciation there are villages, as lovely as any in the Alps, with their wooden houses and well-cultivated fields, while on the slopes, the forests of oak, pine, and rhododendron are as varied and beautiful as those in Sikkim. Directly above, and on all sides, superb snow peaks raise their heads to great heights. Riwo Pamba, 22,500 feet, stands in the western background like a great altar, and Sherkam Kang, 24,500 feet, and Ganesh, 22,000 feet, form a massive bastion to the south-west. To the south-east rises Dayabhang, 23,750 feet, with its splendid satellites, Leru Kang and Rasuva, both over 22,000 feet. There are about thirty villages in the district, Kyirong being the largest, with a mixed population of about 1,000 Tibetans and Nepalese. There is a lively barter trade of salt against rice, and in the autumn some 1,500 sheep are sent to Nepal for the Dasehra festival. Pilgrim traffic goes on between Kyirong and the Nepalese province of Dzum, on the border of which is Khatmandu. At first we were restricted to within a few miles of Kyirong, and we used to spend much of our time skiing on ski made of birch wood by the local carpenter, but in June we were informed that we were to leave by the Ninth Tibetan Month (October) and from then on we were given more latitude. Among other places we visited the district of Lande, where butter is produced on a large scale in five-foot-high churns, worked in shifts, four men to a churn. Nearly all our explorations were made with the object of planning a route for our projected escape to Lhasa, for we had no intention of trying to go to Nepal. We failed to find a practical route across the ranges to the east, though we had heard of a pass leading directly to the district of Pungrong, which would have enabled us to avoid returning to Dzongpa.

We set out on 8th November, working our way upstream by night, and turning eastward from Dzongpa, which we by-passed, into Pungrong. A lot of snow had fallen and fuel was scarce, but at Trakchen, headquarters of the District, though the officials fought shy of us, we could buy everything we wanted, including a yak. We took the opportunity of sketching the magnificent panorama of the Pungrong Range with Gosainthan and Lapchi Kang in the background. From Trakchen a long march took us to Menkhap Me, and next day we had a glorious view of Mount Everest and Cho Oyu. In the midday light the yellow band and the couloir below the summit of Everest were clearly seen. From Menkhap Me we steered for the north, on a course which we held for about 150 miles, till we reached the Tsangpo once again at Trashigang. We crossed by an iron chain bridge to Riwoche, an important place of pilgrimage with temples and a sixty-foot chorten.

From there we continued north to the Pe La, and at the village of Zang Zang Gewu, on the far side of the pass, made friendly contact with the inhabitants, among them a near relative of the late sirdar Narsang, who died just after Bauer's second expedition to Kanchen-junga. (4) Through his good offices we completed our food reserves and kit, and exchanged our grumpy Pungrong yak for a tall strong animal before setting out into the desolate province of Chungthang. We did not dare to ask him for information about the route to Lhasa, but we had reached the limit of our maps. When we prepared them in the internment camp we never dreamt we would get so far north.

We left Gewu, which is on the tazam road, on 2nd December, with our new yak going like a train, and climbed to the Drong La. From there it was to be thirty-four hard days to the Guring La, 80 miles from Lhasa.

The scenery was as bleak and desolate as anything we had ever seen. The wide flat dreary plateau was covered with snow - the fine weather broke, and arctic weather set in with snowfalls and strong north winds. Average day temperatures were less than - 20° Centigrade (36° Fahrenheit below freezing-point), and Harrer developed frost-bite. We were informed that 'to the east, there are many passes, but no Khampas' while 'to the north, there are many Khampas, but no passes' (Khampa is the local word for robber), and as we marched north we found this to be true. Being, of course, unarmed, we had some narrow escapes.

The nomad inhabitants who often sheltered us at nights in their tents were friendly and hospitable. Their chief occupation during the winter months seemed to be cooking and eating meat at all hours of the day in every form. For the most part they eat wild animals rather than sheep.

When we asked our way to Lhasa people were still inclined to point us on to China, but prices had been much higher than we had expected, and there was no question of going to China. Even Lhasa was doubtful.

Part of the way we travelled with a yak caravan returning from Kailas, and at a settlement called Trazang we met an official. After laborious perusal of our two-year-old lamyig he seemed to be satisfied and arranged a guide for us. We left him next day and went on in snowdrift and strong wind to Nyatshang, where we should have liked to spend New Year, but we ran into a high official travelling with several hundred loads, and he offered to take us on with him and let us use the Government transport for a small fee. From the Dam La we had our first view of the Nyenchhenthanglha Peak, one of the mighty landmarks of the Tibetan uplands, and in Lhölam our gallant yak, who by now was completely exhausted, was stolen from us in the night.

On 4th January, over the high Guring La, where we joined a much-used route from the western gold-fields and descended to the plain on which Lhasa stands, we said farewell to that endless inhospitable land, the Changthang nyinje mepa, the 'pitiless' as it is called in Tibetan legend. From it we have brought many memories of unexpected adventure, and the kindness of quiet, stolid people.

The total expenses for the two of us for 21 months had been 2,000 rupees (£150). On 15th January 1946 we arrived in Lhasa, our sheepskin coats in tatters, almost barefoot, with one tola of gold sewn into my rags, one and a half rupees in our pockets, and all our belongings on a donkey.


(1) Aufschnaiter had managed to prepare a rough sketch-map while in the internment camp. This was chiefly derived from the 1: 2,500,000 (40 miles to the inch) sheet of Tibet.

(2) See the 'Tent Peak' by Grob, H.J. xiii.'

(3) tazam = stage.

(4) Aufschnaiter was also on that expedition.



Art and Culture

From a newspaper cutting in the possession of Bruno Treipl. Translated here by Bettina von Reden and Roger Croston for publication for the first time in English. The source is probably the Salzburger Volksblatt.

A lecture held in the “Aula Academica”, Salzburg. [12th January, 1953].

Heinrich Harrer shows Tibet

Tibet, particularly since the first reports about this Asiatic highland by Sven Hedin, is surrounded by an aura of mysteriousness. No wonder, then, that the assembly hall of the Academy was filled to capacity on Monday evening when Heinrich Harrer, who had spent seven years in Tibet, of which five were spent in the court of the Dalai Lama, gave an illustrated lecture to the public of Salzburg. Friendly applause greeted the conqueror of the North Face of the Eiger (who was accompanied by Fritz Kasparek and the Bavarian climbing pair of Vörg and Heckmaier), and who thereafter had the opportunity to participate in the German Nanga Parbat Expedition. The members of that expedition were interned by the British on their way back from the ranges of the Himalayan giants due to the outbreak of the Second World War. After several failed attempts, Harrer, along with a handful of comrades, succeeded in escaping in adventurous circumstances from the internment camp of Dehra Dun (north of Delhi) only as late as early 1944.

One member of that group from that time was the Salzburg inhabitant, Bruno Treipl, who, on Monday evening was present amongst the audience in the assembly hall. He was cordially welcomed by Harrer, but despite all the craned necks in the audience, he would not be introduced to the public from the podium. Of the runaways from Dehra Dun, only Harrer and the engineer Peter Aufschnaiter - who today resides in the capital of Nepal - eventually reached inner Tibet. In the end, after a near murderous 2,000 km [1,250 mile] march through the most inhospitable mountain country and by means of a half dozen passes between 5,000 metres [16,400 feet] and 6,000 metres [19,700 feet] high, they reached the Holy City of Tibet, Lhasa, in December 1946.


The Tibetan Mountain Monastery

Originally published in “The Times” London, 27th January, 2006, page 69, under “Lives Remembered” – a tribute to Heinrich Harrer by Bruno Treipl. The name of the monastery is not known.

When the Tibetan authorities had made our penetration into the interior impossible, we were escorted to the country’s border and travelled along the River Sutlej in a westerly direction. A Tibetan officer accompanied us, who at the same time acted as translator, purchaser and pack-animal driver. Two days’ walk from the Indian border we saw just to the north of our route, steep slopes in a narrow side valley and a cliff face with square cut holes. As we set up camp Harrer and I decided to have a closer look. It was still early afternoon. We told Aufschnaiter and Kopp that we would wander off for a short time and asked them to keep the Tibetan occupied until our return. Shortly after the confluence of a fairly torrential river from this valley with the Sutlej, there arose from the water an almost vertical cliff face in which were square cut windows chiselled in three storeys, one above the other. We had a mountain monastery in front of us. There was nobody to be seen, far or near, and nothing inside indicated that the monastery was occupied. We wanted to look at this building but we could see no entrance, no bridge, nor the remains of anything like. The foaming river, cold and deep, lay between the monastery and us. After peering for a long time we discovered to the left an almost unrecognisable damaged wall which was built onto the cliff and which might allow us to clamber into the first floor. We decided to cross the icy river. We hid our clothes on the bank and secured our undergarments and shoes to our heads. Then we set to work, sometimes wading chest deep, sometimes jumping from boulder to boulder through the water. Happily across we climbed, frozen, out of the cold water. Finding cracks and hand holes we scrambled up the wall and found the entrance door - invisible from below - inside the wall coping. This was the only way the monastery could be reached.

The rooms were chiselled directly out of the cliff. The first floor with six windows was some thirty feet above river level. The second floor with four windows was eight feet above this and above that, the third floor with three windows. We only inspected the first floor because we were so cold and also the room, measuring about six by ten, was very gloomy and the air was stifling, musty, oppressive and close. The rooms opened directly into each other. The first, third and fourth rooms were divided into cells by hanging carpets made from extremely dark yak wool. In the second undivided room we found seats carved out of the rock in the back wall and in front of these a massive ungainly table. To the side of this were two well-fitting benches without backs. Near to one of the benches was a prayer drum about three feet in diameter, in the shape of a rounded box. Nearby was a prayer wheel roughly five feet tall. On the table lay a very thick prayer book about three feet by eighteen inches, whose pages consisted of parchment with drawings and on the benches were yet more prayer books of various sizes.

Unfortunately we were not in a state to give the monastery a thorough and detailed inspection. We were wretchedly frozen and afraid that our accompanying Tibetan officer would notice we were missing and would make life uncomfortable for us. As we thought we heard a noise above the drowning roar and tumult of the river, coming in from outside, we hurried away. We took five small prayer books and a brass vessel with us. After we had taken a look around at our surroundings and saw nothing suspicious we again crossed the cold river with clenched teeth. Landing on the far bank we were thoroughly stiff and could hardly warm ourselves up. We got back to our camp unnoticed by the Tibetan. We hid the books very well. On the 10th of June 1944 as I split up from Harrer, Aufschnaiter and Kopp, who still had the idea of getting back into Tibet and not giving up, Harrer gave me his three books, with the request that I take them and look after them until we were freed from internment. I carried them without problem back to the camp at Dehra Dun. However, as I waited in the outer office of the Camp Commander for questioning, guarded by six soldiers and a sergeant, my pack and I were meticulously searched and all my things were confiscated, including the books. I complained and requested both verbally and in writing for their return but it was all to no avail.


Behind Barbed Wire

By Rolf Magener

The XXth Century, Shanghai, January 1945, Page 72 - 75

50 KB

Dr. Magener, a young German business executive, arrived in India in August 1939. A fey weeks later the war broke out and he was interned. After almost five years of life behind barbed wire, he and his friend H. von Have managed to escape and reach the Japanese lines in Burma. His penetrating essay on the mentality of men in prison camps, written during a visit to Shanghai, is of particular interest at a time when more people the world over are being kept behind barbed wire than ever before in history.

© Roger Coston



Dr. Rolf Magener

Humanity has been seized by a strange mania to lock each other up. The age of world-encompassing wars has made imprisonment a mass experience, millions of people spending many years of their life in forced seclusion. As a mass phenomenon, the experience of internment represents an innovation of our century; the fact that one must reckon with increasing probability on having to spend part of one's life in internment camps is doubtless a new feature in modern life expectancy. Imprisonment is one of the most serious mental strains human beings can inflict upon each other. But while everything is done to prepare the human being for other great tests in life, for his profession and marriage, for death at home or in the field, imprisonment finds him completely unprepared. Not only has he not been recommended to behave in any particular way: he does not even have the vaguest idea as to what experiences are waiting for him behind the barbed wire. Hence internment comes like a bolt from the blue and with a corresponding shock effect. Obviously there is a gap here in the system of our education. Whether it will ever be filled in is doubtful; for no sensible system of national education can afford to represent imprisonment as something for which one should be prepared.

So internment will probably always remain a severe test of character for those affected, a test which everyone has to endure for himself alone, with the sole aid of his own mental equipment. Neither can he evade this test, nor can others relieve him to any appreciable extent of his burden; for every day he is challenged anew and thrown back again on his own resources. The spiritual coping with the prison world is thus a purely personal achievement; yet it leads in most cases to more or less identical reactions. For the external influences penetrate to depths of the personality at which most people react similarly. This explains the astonishing conformity in the behaviour of prisoners and makes it possible to state generally valid facts about their mental condition and problems.

The most evident change brought about by internment is that in the external environment. It consists in a distortion of the habitual experience of time and space, which is only another term for being deprived of liberty and thus condemned to inactivity. Space, which we are normally conscious of as being unlimited, is suddenly restricted on all sides and manifests itself as a tool in the application of force. As long as force is inflicted in the form of a single, limited act, it can be parried and overcome. But once it has been made part of space itself in the form of barbed-wire fences guarded with rifles, once force has thus been endowed with duration, the incalculability of its effect produces a paralyzing sensation of being at its mercy. During the first few weeks one paces up and down beside the bars like a hyena as if one could thereby rid oneself of this oppression of space. This phenomenon of space appearing restricted and hostile gradually loses its effect in the course of years; later on, space appears as something stationary.

The restriction of space involves a contraction of the distance between one person and his neighbour. All possibility of dissociation and hence of illusion as regards the value of the individual disappears, an illusion which he might otherwise maintain by increasing the distance. On the other hand, all private life also disappears, and there are more opportunities for possible friction. The area of internment, furthermore, does not offer the eye anything in the way of satisfying perspectives or objects of aesthetic beauty. As a result, the eye is always starved.

As regards the conception of time, it loses its customary significance. Normally we are conscious of time passing because things happen; but where nothing ever happens, as behind barbed wire, time becomes a void. It has ceased to be a meaningful sequence of activities and events and appears only as a meaningless subtraction from the sum of one's life. No longer does the empty time pass silently. Everyone in camp can hear the sands of time trickling down the hourglass. He can hear himself aging. In this way one becomes more aware of the limitation of time than outside, where one lives as if time lasted into all eternity. This experience becomes all the more acute the longer one's inactivity lasts.

No less profound is the readjustment of all social relationships. Imprisonment cuts all social ties and at first levels all differences. One is shorn of one's name and is known by a number. One is suddenly severed from family and profession, from friends and opponents, from debtors and creditors - and experiences a certain sense of relief. One is rid of one's old worries for one's daily bread, nor has one any new ones, since the camp guarantees the minimum of existence. With the need and possibility having vanished of having oneself to acquire one's share of daily necessities, there is no scope for selfish instincts. They wither and give way to a more selfless attitude. In this sense, everybody becomes a "decent" fellow in camp. Since there are no personal things to worry about, one begins to worry about common affairs, and the interest in questions affecting the community is correspondingly great.

Before the overwhelming fact that all are prisoners, all differences in social standing or education disappear. Everyone is first and. foremost just an ordinary prisoner and only secondarily the former general manager or mechanic. And the place the individual will occupy in the new camp hierarchy is decided in no way by his old position but solely by his behaviour under the new conditions. Here there are different principles of selection from those outside. Whether a man is a good companion, a decent fellow, whether he has a bold, quick-witted, strong-willed nature that is what counts. Little importance is attached to smooth manners; on the contrary, in the new social order such qualities are also appreciated which in ordinary life carry little weight or are frowned upon, for instance physical strength. That has its advantages. It precludes the interminable dragging on of conflicts and provides a breath of fresh air. Above all, it prevents the domination of intellectuals and snobs. The absence of the feminine element represents a special hardship to the prisoner. In this connection we need deal only with the following aspect. Because of the absence of women and children, life in camp lacks the irrational element. In contrast to normal conditions, everything is regulated chiefly by sober reason and runs a more or less rational course. Thus all. that is contradictory, incalculable, capricious in human relations is missing. This undoubtedly means an impoverishment.

As we have seen, the lightning change into the world of prisoners leads forcibly to a general reduction to zero. This cannot but involve serious psychological consequences. For the entire psychic energy which up to that point had been active in regulated channels is now suddenly blocked and overflows. This process manifests itself at first in a mild form of frenzy by which every internee is seized at the beginning. During the first few weeks one is virtually out of hand. Then the restlessness calms down as a result of the gradual readjustment. The reason for this state is to be found in the impossibility of transforming psychic energy into actions and deeds. One must not be misled in this respect by the prisoners' busy occupation with books, writing, and sports. It can never be more than a substitute or an opiate, so that there is always an atmosphere of unreality attached to it. When the psychic energies are prevented from radiating into outward activities - the outside points of attack for this energy being, moreover, reduced as a result of the rarefied environment - they gradually turn toward one's own inner life. This is an embarrassing process, for now one discovers oneself as one actually is and not as others have taken one to be or as one used to think of oneself. Thenceforth one has to get along on one's own capital, without credit from outside. This entails a certain deflation, but also a gain in independence. The final result of all this is a more or less intensified inner life, often enough against one's own will. In other words, the camp makes its inmates spiritually independent. By this we mean almost complete independence from outward circumstances and opinions combined with spiritual self-sufficiency.

The enforced psychological readjustment has to be paid for with a certain loss in vitality, which manifests itself in a constant feeling of discomfort, a continuous depression of spirits. In this respect, it is especially the feeling of inescapability which may become chronic. The internee can no longer imagine that the gates of the camp will ever be opened again, and there are many who feel uncertain to the point of helplessness when by chance they are left unguarded for a few moments. They automatically stop and wait for someone to give them orders. Complete liberty is the only remedy for this.

Through the restrictions imposed upon actions of all kinds, the intellect is given wide scope, so that it becomes the real beneficiary of the stay in camp. People who used to spend all their time in practical occupations begin first to read, then to study, and finally to think for themselves. The elimination of the necessity for thinking along given lines prescribed by one's profession is, of course, a great advantage. One can devote oneself to studies without bothering whether they are of any practical use and follow one's inclinations in the choice of subject. Not only does one widen one's mental horizon: in; studying without a material purpose, many have discovered that part of the field of human knowledge which corresponds to their own nature. With few exceptions who go off the deep end, this development by no means produces the type of the unpleasant intellectual. The hostile pressure from outside is so strong that all individual thought represents a sort of mental duel. It is not a bloodless constructing in a vacuum but an almost violent form of thinking possessing a certain degree of reality or at least of reliability. Perhaps this is the reason why prisons and camps have formed high-pressure chambers for great personalities, chambers in which they produce ideas of a forceful reliability which later revolutionize the political scene. The French, Russian, and German Revolutions present convincing examples of this.

Rolf Magener in Premnagar Internment Camp Dehra Dun1941

However well the prisoner may adapt himself, he will never get rid of the question as to the meaning of his fate. He keeps on seeking for an explanation as to why this should have happened to him of all people and as to what meaning he is to attribute to what is obviously so meaningless. In this way, the camp forces everyone to philosophize. And, according to his means, each one develops his own philosophy: the philosophy of the shelved. The theory of destiny's choice bears strange fruit. One man maintains that heaven has singled him out for imprisonment to spare him for some great post war task. Others draw up a balance and see in their internment a punishment for past sins. But with a correspondingly long imprisonment, even the most hardened sinners come out of the red so that they gradually build up a credit balance for the future.

When one goes a step further and looks for the deeper meaning of one's prison existence, one does not get away so easily. To those who were taught, as we were, to see their justification for existence in work and action, the years of inactivity are tantamount to a pronouncement of death. How is one to retain one's self-respect without professional occupation, without in the least benefiting one's country? Here one is already confronted with the difficulty of having to make something as utterly negative and paradoxical as a dead life the starting point for constructive reflection. This is the weakness of any philosophy of the shelved; and in its negative form it can lead to the resigned conclusion that the life of the person in question was an attempt that failed.

There are not many who profess this attitude. On the other hand, we frequently find the idea that the period of imprisonment, although a waiting time without comforts, offers excellent opportunity for improving one's knowledge to enable one later to be an all the more useful member of society. The upholders of this theory contend that; far from losing ground in comparison to those outside, one even gains an advantage over them. Hence one should look after one's health and keep up one's vitality! This has, of course, little to do with philosophy and does not bear upon the actual issue, which is to activate that which is negative, without regard to any practical application. To maintain an affirmative attitude toward that which is meaningless is only possible if one sees the object of life in conquering one's destiny. In that case, that which is negative has equal value to that which is positive. To him who tries to seize hold of his existence with his own hands, there is no difference between emptiness and fullness. He accepts all that presses in upon him as part of his humanity, regardless of its positive or negative quality. The fact that this must be done anew every day makes the camp a very uncomfortable place of sojourn from the point of view of the philosopher.

Interment is given a special stamp by the fact that the camp inmates are excluded from participation in the war. Although active participation is out of the question, everyone tries at least to participate spiritually in it. Events are followed with an accuracy and intensity quite impossible outside where there are other distractions. Only in camp can one enter heart and soul into a news report and fully savour its delight or bitterness. Out of the disappointment at not being allowed to share in the fighting grows the desire for ideological combat with the enemy. For us Germans the present war is more than a purely military affair. We are not only citizens of a belligerent nation: we are simultaneously the participants in a revolution. Hence the German internee of today is the representative of a revolutionary idea. He may be compared to a magnetic field. He is possessed by a fanatical idea which, similar to the lines of power, attracts, or repulses everything that comes into his field of vision. This causes a constant process of examining, elaborating, adopting, and discarding. Everything he reads, for instance, and be the subject ever so remote, is involuntarily drawn into the sphere of the new ideology, providing it with new material and often enough confirming it in an astonishing manner. There is no point of entry for enemy propaganda in this spiritual hedgehog position of the German prisoner. Not only does this propaganda glance off him: it has exactly the opposite effect. Every day he is filled anew with holy wrath against the enemy.

Where there is a ruling idea, this idea wants to be the sole ruler. It does not rest until the demand for its exclusiveness is observed by all. For that reason, camps with German inmates are models of a uniform political attitude. The process described here has a cumulative effect, so that the unexpected may happen: the morale of a German camp, instead of deteriorating, improves with the increasing duration of the war. In this regard, internment is not an apathetic waiting for time to pass but a confident participation in events. One does not think of oneself as of a lost herd or as cut off from home. The fact that Germans champion a revolutionary ideology probably distinguishes them considerably from camp inmates of other nationalities.

The more violently the war rages and the more sacrifices it demands, the greater torment does one feel at one's protected existence behind the barbed wire. Not only that one quarrels with one's fate, is at odds with God and the world: one is gradually filled with a feeling of self-loathing because of the fact that one is not making an extreme sacrifice. Most men deal with this growing sense of discomfort by making the greatest sacrifice that is possible behind barbed wire: a conscious renunciation of a life oriented according to one's own ego. They adopt an attitude in which the fate of the individual no longer counts, the personal desires no longer play any part, and in which imprisonment may last as long as it likes.

Countless numbers of men are leading a strange existence behind barbed wire. Although in many respects it is a restricted, limited existence, it nevertheless contains the possibility of a full life. The only thing is that it must be fought for afresh every day with one's own resources.


Rolf Magener 1

Written by Christopher Hawtree
The Independent 11 July 2000

Rolf Magener died before he could see Chicken Run. His opinion of it would have had more authority than many of us could muster, for he made a breathtaking escape from a prisoner-of-war camp; not however in Europe, as in the movie's inspiration, The Great Escape, but in the less familiar, even more perilous, territory of India and Burma. And his account of it - published in Britain as Prisoners' Bluff (1954) - is less a tale of derring-do beneath the barbed wire while jackboots plod all along the watchtower than a meditation which almost suggests that existentialism was a product of the Raj rather than of post-war Parisian cafes.

The book is shot through with bravura, peril and humour. At his 1,500-mile journey's end, in Rangoon, Magener remarks,

“Our escape had turned out to be no common experience, no adventure in the usual sense - it was something which took one over into another life as another person. It had disturbed rooted ideas, shaken inborn principles - for what did reality mean now? What was real and what was dream? Where was the line to be drawn?”

Rolf Magener was born in Odessa to Russian and German parents, and employed by the chemical firm I.G. Farben. He had spent much of the Thirties outside Germany; indeed, it was a sojourn as a student of industrial management in Exeter that brought him a lifelong Anglophilia.

Farben sent him to India in 1938. A year later, as an enemy alien in a land which none the less looked askance at the British, he was interned and arrived at a camp at Dehra Dun in the Himalayan foothills close to Nepal. He noted that it is the law of nations that prisoners should endeavour to escape, but he understood that beneath any such determination to aid the war effort there is the human need to feel that one is not wasting time by hanging around; that something has to be achieved before the arrival of a death, natural or otherwise.

By 1944 he had waited, long enough. Among those with whom he plotted over the hidden alcohol still were Heins von Have, who had already tried escaping once, thereby at least gaining some lie of the land, and Heinrich Harrer, a mountaineer who had shown his mettle on the sheer side of the Eiger. Harrer's route would quickly take a separate course from theirs - into Tibet, where he became adviser to the current Dalai Lama and author of "Seven Years in Tibet’, a Fifties bestseller published a year before Magener's own book. (Both were published by Rupert Hart-Davis, whose penchant for literary byways was subsidised by these, “Elephant Bill” and Gerald Durrell.) As Harrer recalled,

“Our zero hour was fixed at 2pm on April 29th, 1944. Our plan was to disguise ourselves as a barbed-wire repairing squad. Such working parties were a normal sight. The reason for them was that white ants were always busy eating away the numerous posts which supported the wire and these had to be continually renewed. Working parties consisted of Indians with an English overseer.”

The resultant scene puts one irresistibly in mind of the "Dreadnought Hoax’. As Harrer continued,

“At the appointed time we met in a little hut in the neighbourhood of one of the least closely watched wire corridors. Here make-up experts from the camp transformed us in a trice into Indians. Have and Magener got English officers' uniforms. We "Indians’ had our heads shaved and put on turbans”.

“We looked like masqueraders bound for a carnival. Two of us carried a ladder, which had been conveyed the night before to an unguarded spot in the wire fencing. We had also wangled a long roll of barbed wire and hung it on a post. Our belongings were stowed away under our white robes and in bundles, which did not look odd as Indians always carry things around with them. Our two "British officers’ behaved very realistically. They carried rolls of blueprints under their arms and swung their swagger-canes. We passed out through the gate without causing the guards to bat an eyelid.”

They split into groups, and it was with continued steely nerve and good fortune – perhaps one engenders the other – that Have and Magener kept up their role as tight-lipped, friendly English officers. (They never lapsed into German even when miles from anywhere.) They practised the parts apparent in their papers:

“Have's were made out In the name of Harry E. Lloyd, and mine in that of John Edward Harding, wife's name Enid Iris, née Thornton, resident in Calcutta. She was a worthless baggage: and the excuse for my journey to Calcutta, in case I were asked for it, was to deal with matters arising out of the break-up of our marriage owing to her loose behaviour. I hoped that the mere mention of these painful matters would deter any Englishman worthy of the name from making tactless and unfeeling enquiries.”

Train-rides, malaria, dysentry, leeches, food, funds (gold hidden in Have's heel) and the allure of women (none seen for five years) play a part in a narrative which shows that it only takes a word here and there to encourage others to chat on:

“There was little time to pursue my thoughts, for the lieutenant opened up on the topics then uppermost in India Gandhi's release and the Bengal famine. We nodded at intervals, murmured our agreement and smoked his cigarettes.”

Summary cannot do justice to the meditative ease of Magener's narrative (one is put in mind of a less fatalistic Leithen In John Buchan's novel "Sick Heart River’). "Without knowing quite how it had happened, we had arrived in Calcutta, the second largest city of the British Empire." An empty taxi was held open for them by a policeman and they took a tour to see what the city "had to offer to two Germans on the run" - this included an evening in the best restaurant, English around them.

Thirty-one days out through the jungle, "we stepped on the soil of Burma, feeling as proud as if we had conquered It". The irony was that this was to prove their toughest time, for they had to convince their nominal allies, the Japanese, that they were - so to speak - pukka and that it had been sheer habit that made them speak English as they emerged from the wood. And, of course, not only was their true story fantastic but to the Japanese they were dishonourable for have failed to commit suicide upon capture five years before. 

They fully expected that the notorious Kempetal police would have them shot as spies, and half-planned escape. They faced another grim journey, under escort, across Sian to Rangoon prison. ("One of the worst features of imprisonment is that one gets accustomed to it") Two months later, they were reprieved. They were free to be flown to Tokyo via Vietnam. In Saigon,

“I had a shock when I entered my bedroom. There before my eyes was myself at full length in a looking-glass. This was an experience I had not had for years. In camp we only had small hand-mirrors. Now suddenly I saw myself in one piece! I went to hell. Have of my encounter, but when I opened the connecting-door I saw him seated in front of his two winged shaving mirror, enjoying the delightful view of his own pofile."

Magener gives a vivid glimpse of Japan at the war's end. Unable to go on directly to Germany, they were caught up in the country's surrender, and it was not until August 1947 that they reached the Fatherland and the barbed wire of a repatriation camp. Magener remarked that "we had many affectionate proofs that the Japanese were attached to us", but not that the affection was so much that he found a half-English wife, Doris von Behlin, who was working for the German air attaché.

Magener joined Deutsche Commerz and was a force in the rebuilding of German industry. In 1957, he joined the combine BASF which sent him back to England. The couple found themselves very much at home, developed a taste for furniture and paintings, and kept on a flat In London after his retiring from BASF, which he had made into a substantial international operation.

Rolf Magener, businessman and writer: born Odessa, Russia 3 August 1910; married Doris von Behlin; died Heidelberg, Germany 5 May 2000. 


Rolf Magener 2

Great obituaries from the past
The Daily Telegraph, May 18, 2010, p. 27

Anonymous author (Roger Croston)
The Daily Telegraph, May 18, 2000, p. 33
First German to escape from a British PoW camp in India, disguised as a British officer with pith helmet and swagger-stick

Rolf Magener, who has died in Heidelberg aged 89, was the first German prisoner to escape successfully from India during the Second World War; he broke out of the camp at Dehra Dun in 1944 with the mountaineer Heinrich Harrer, but while the latter headed for Tibet, Magener bluffed his way right across Asia to Japan.

Magener, who had been working for a German company in India, was interned in September 1939 and by April 1944 found himself with 1,500 other foreign nationals at Dehra Dun, near the border with Nepal.

Having resolved to escape, Magener and his friend Heins von Have ruled out a direct assault on the 11ft-high perimeter wire, which was guarded at intervals of eight paces by Gurkhas. They planned instead to get into the one of the alleyways which divided the various sections of the camp and led to an exit where the passes of those going out were never checked.

© Doris Magener
Heinrich Harrer, Heins von Have und Rolf Magener in Heidelberg

The pair soon discovered, however, that several other prisoners were also planning to escape, among them Harrer, the first man to scale the north face of the Eiger.

In order to avoid compromising each others' attempts, it was decided to organise a mass breakout and on the afternoon of April 29 a group of seven internees cut through the wire into one of the alleys. Magener and von Have, both of whom spoke excellent English, were disguised as British officers (complete with pith helmets and swagger-sticks) in charge of a native wire repairing party (five Germans whose complexions had been darkened with permanganate of potash). The blue-eyed Harrer, clad in a dhoti, balanced a bundle of clothes on his head.

The escapers marched boldly up to the gate, where Magener blithely unrolled a sheet of "plans" in front of the Gurkha sentry before leading the group out of the exit. A heart-stopping minute later, all seven Germans were running hard down a path through the jungle.

Soon after the escape, the group split up. Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter, both professional climbers, headed north, the former later recording their adventures as Seven Years in Tibet (1953). They were accompanied part of the way by Hans Kopp, who later wrote Himalayan Shuttlecock.

But Magener and von Have decided to play an even bolder game, striking 1,500 miles southeast across India towards the Japanese lines in Burma. This would necessitate using public transport and, since Europeans stood out among the Indian population, they would also have to keep up their disguise as British soldiers.

Having lain low for a few days, they caught a train to Calcutta, more than 1,000 miles away. Trying to maintain a suitably English reserve, they shared railway compartments and restaurant tables with genuine British officers, keeping conversation to a minimum.

They had several very narrow squeaks with the Military Police. Once, while Magener was shaving, he heard von Have being asked for a pass he did not have. Both were resigned to capture when von Have was saved by a British lieutenant who produced for inspection a pass for his batman, whom the police mistook for von Have.

On reaching Calcutta, the pair decided to live it up for a few days, enjoying gimlets at the Great Eastern Hotel and crab mayonnaise, cold turkey and John Collinses at Firpo's, the top restaurant in the city. But at a visit to the cinema, they almost gave themselves away by walking out during the opening bars of “God Save the King”.

Since they were close to the Burmese front, which was swarming with soldiers, Magener and von Have now pretended to be Swiss businessmen and travelled on by train and river steamer to Chittagong, from where they took a sampan to Cox's Bazaar. They then began to walk through the jungle, blundering through an Allied airfield and an army camp in the dark.

Hunger now became a very real problem, as did the approaching monsoon, but after more than a month on the run they crossed the Naaf River into Burma. Guided by the sound of of heavy artillery fire, soaking wet and utterly exhausted, they stumbled on towards the front line near Maungdaw.

Suddenly, fleeing from an army of leeches along a narrow gorge, they found three rifles levelled at their chests. Uncertain as to the identity of their captors, Magener tried the only Japanese he knew: "Watakuschi tatschi wa doitsu jin desu (We are German)." "Doitsu” replied an incredulous Japanese corporal.

But having escaped from the frying pan, Magener and von Have now found themselves in the fire. The Japanese were convinced that they were spies and, as they knew no one at the German Embassy in Tokyo, they were imprisoned once more and interrogated by Japanese Intelligence.

Von Have was afflicted by malaria and dysentery, and after two months on starvation rations they were sent on to another jail at Rangoon, where they were appalled by the conditions inflicted on Allied prisoners.

Then, four months after they had escaped, the news of their presence was given to the Press and they were put on a flight to Japan. There they saw out the war, working as honorary consuls at the German Embassy in Tokyo.

Rolf Magener was born in Odessa on August 3 1910 to a German father and Russian mother. He grew up in Germany and went on to study industrial management, spending part of his course in England, at Exeter, where he learned to speak fluent English.

He then travelled widely around south-east Asia, and on the outbreak of war was working in Bombay for the German multi-national IG Farben Industrie.

After the end of the war, Magener was not finally able to return to Germany until 1947; when he arrived, he was then again imprisoned by the Americans at the reception camp at Ludwigsburg. He was eventually released and later worked in Asia again before taking a senior post with Mercedes in Germany.

He remained a great friend and admirer of Britain all his life, and regularly spent the winter in London. He published an account of his escape, “Prisoners' Bluff”, in 1953.

Heins von Have died in 1995. Heinrich Harrer lives in Liechtenstein.

Rolf Magener is survived by his wife Doris (née von Behling), whom he married in 1947 while she was working at the German Trade Mission in Japan.


Rolf Magener 3

German prisoner of war in India who swore he was British

28.06.2000 The Times 

In an era when the British reading public had an apparently inexhaustible appetite for tales of escapes by British officers from German prisoner of war camps, the appearance from Rupert Hart-Davis of the book “Prisoner's Bluff” by the German businessman Rolf Magener in 1954 recounted a different sort of experience: a German escape from British captivity in India.

The tone was a far cry from the derring-do and tweaking-the-Hun's-nose of “The Wooden Horse” or “The Colditz Story”. As a would-be escaper, Magener examined the odds against success with clinical thoroughness. "It is the function of bluff to redress the balance between one's own inadequacy and the other man's superiority," he wrote, "and as this cannot be done in actual fact, but only by psychological means, which are independent of tangible resources, it is a weapon peculiarly suited to a man on the run."

The setting, too, was a far cry from the familiar wartime terrain of North West Europe, with its Stalags and Oflags. When the war broke out Magener was working for the giant industrial and chemical combine IG Farben in India, and along with other Germans businessmen he was interned at Dehra Dun in the far north of the country, in the foothills of the Himalayas. "Friendly" territory - if the lands occupied by those somewhat remote allies the Japanese could be so described - lay 1,500 miles to the east in insect-infested, disease-ridden Burma.

Nevertheless, in April 1944 a group of German internees, variously disguised as British officers and members of a native detail, simply walked out of the main gate at Dehra Dun and disappeared into the surrounding countryside. One of them, the Austrian mountain climber Heinrich Harrer, did not attempt to escape to allied territory, but left India by the shorter route north into adjacent Tibet, an adventure later described in his best-selling book “Seven Years in Tibet”.

Magener and his companions determined to try to find the Japanese front line wherever it might be in Burma, but realised that in the hostile climate and terrain of India the distance was simply too great for them to travel as fugitives. As businessmen they were not short of money, and most of them spoke excellent English, so they decided to brazen it out and to travel to Calcutta by train, adopting the mannerisms of the British ruling class as protective colouring en route.

It worked. They bluffed their way on the railway and eventually reached Calcutta, where they continued to behave like representatives of the Raj oligarchy, in particular developing a highly effective use of protective swearing when challenged. On one occasion they even dined at Firpo's, Calcutta's most exclusive restaurant, surrounded by British and Americans.

But although their journey was two-thirds accomplished, the hardest part was to come once they left Calcutta and attempted to make contact with the Japanese in the difficult country of the Arakan peninsula, with its uncertain battlelines, divided by waterways and mountain ranges. Eventually, having avoided being caught in any of the confused infantry battles which were being fought in the dense tree cover, they came across a Japanese patrol in the Mayu jungle and surrendered to it.

This was not the end of their troubles. The Japanese did not believe that German civilians could be wandering around in a battle zone, and concluded that they were spies. They were handed over to the feared Kempetai (Japanese Gestapo) and spent two anxious, uncomfortable months in custody under interrogation before news of their escape from India reached Tokyo. There it was realised that their escape from British internment had propaganda value, and they were released from custody, cleaned up and flown to Japan.

Magener spent the rest of his war in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Doris von Behling, whose mother was English and who was working for the German air attaché. After the Japanese surrender they were both briefly interned by the Americans, but later they were repatriated.

After seven years working for Deutsche Commerz, a firm specialising in the refinancing of German industry, Magener joined BASF, a firm specialising, like IG Farben, in chemicals and associated products. Because of his fluent English and his lifelong Anglophilia he was immediately sent to London where he re-established the business and, aided by Doris, made a wide circle of friends in all parts of the United Kingdom. Later, back in Germany, he played a major role in the international expansion of BASF.

In retirement after 1974 he became an adviser to the J P Morgan Bank in Germany, and held several other directorships. He and his wife bought a flat in London and built up a superb collection of English paintings and furniture.

Rolf Magener is survived by his wife Doris. They had no children.

Rolf Magener, German businessman, was born on August 3,1910. He died on May 5 aged 89.


Doris Magener

By Roger Croston

The Daily Telegraph, Friday 12 November 2010, Obituaries

Doris Magener, who died on September 23 aged 99, was a British assistant working at the German embassy in Tokyo during the Second World War when she met and married a German who had staged a dramatic escape from a British PoW camp in northern India.

In April 1944 Rolf Magener and his friend Heins von Have got away with the climber Heinrich Harrer by cutting a wire to get into an alley, then bluffing their way through a main gate where passes were never checked. Harrer got out wearing a dhoti and carrying washing on his head; while Magener and von Have, who spoke fluent English, disguised themselves as British officers, equipped with pith helmets and swagger sticks.

On reaching the jungle Harrer headed for Lhasa (the subject of his Seven Years in Tibet), while the other two made their way 1,500 miles to Burma. Travelling by train, and maintaining a British reserve in compartments alongside officers, they had a succession of close shaves before arriving at their destination, where they were imprisoned as spies. After four months on starvation rations their story was confirmed, and they were dispatched to the German embassy in Tokyo as honorary consuls.

There the then Doris von Behling was assistant to the aviator and air attaché Wolfgang von Gronau. At a dinner she found herself sitting next to Magener, and thought him good-looking, intelligent and kind.

The daughter of a retired German army officer and a Scottish mother, she was born Margaret Dorothy Minna von Behling in London on May 15, 1911. Her first memories were of Zeppelin raids during the Great War. After the Armistice her father was expelled, and the family settled in Rotterdam before moving to Berlin when she was nine. After attending the Goethe Lyceum, Doris was not allowed to study architecture. Instead she enjoyed playing tennis with young aristocrats at the Red Wine Club until von Gronau, president of the German Aero Club, asked her to run his office in Tokyo.

Foto von Roger Croston
Doris and Rolf Magener in Heidelberg, 1999

After Japan joined the war there were, at first, no air raid shelters, only big holes in the ground covered by boards. After one attack she spent a night shivering in one of these with a young girl, and was surprised next morning when a policeman called to present her with a diploma for bravery.

As the wooden houses disintegrated and people choked on the ash from the fire bombings, the embassy staff were sent to the mountains. Before leaving they were allowed to place a favourite possession in a fireproof cellar. Von Gronau chose a shotgun; the naval attaché his finest red wine; and the military attaché his smartest uniform. The shotgun went off, shattering the bottles and drenching the uniform with wine.

Rolf Magener's house survived, but when he and Doris were able to be together in Tokyo they slept on the floor with some 30 others while exchanging their last valuables for raw goods like eggs. Getting married caused further complications. She was an Anglican, he Russian Orthodox, and they could find no priest prepared to carry out the ceremony. Eventually, in December 1945, Doris went through a marriage ceremony at a civilian police station alone because Rolf was interned. While he was held in a hotel on the coast, she learned Japanese painting and flower arranging. Rolf used his captivity to write Prisoners' Bluff, the story of his escape.

When the couple finally reached Germany in 1947, Doris was at first declared a "displaced person" and told to go back to Tokyo. But the authorities relented, and they settled at Frankfurt-am-Main. Later they divided their time between Heidelberg and London, where Rolf established an office for the multinational BASF. In the 1970s he featured on a list of potential targets drawn up by the Bader-Meinhof gang.

In London, which was where Doris felt most at home, the Mageners became friends with many ex-PoWs. Rolf, meanwhile, was an adviser to JP Morgan until his death in 2000.