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107-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Dies

Leopold Engleitner recently attended the Los Angeles premiere of a documentary about his life at Encino's Laemmle Town Center 5.

107-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Dies

The following press release/obituary was sent to Encino Patch about the death of Leopold Engleitner, a 107-year-old Nazi concentration camp survivor who travelled in 2012 from Austria to be at Encino's Laemmle Town Center 5 for the Los Angeles premiere showings of the . 

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Leopold Engleitner, world's oldest known male holocaust survivor, and the oldest male Austrian died on April 21, 2013, at the age of 107.  Leopold Engleitner had remained an active public figure through books, films and lectures about his experiences as a victim of persecution for his neutral stand as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses during the Nazi era. He passed away quietly of natural causes in Austria, in the company of the family of Bernhard Rammerstorfer who was his close friend and is the biographer and the producer of several documentary films about Mr. Engleitner.

News of his passing was delayed in accord with Mr. Engleitner’s personal wish that no fanfare surround his death, so that, instead, his life and the lessons that his experiences taught would be remembered. In harmony with Mr. Engleitner’s long standing written request, a private memorial service and the interment of his remains was attended by an intimate circle of family and close friends.

Leopold Engleitner had resided at the Rammerstorfer home where he received care from Rammerstorfer and his family for more than the last two years. Prior to that, he lived in his own home, which he had built with his own hands during the 1930s, in St. Wolfgang, Austria.

Through his biography entitled “Unbroken Will” by Bernhard Rammerstorfer and a documentary film of the same title, Mr. Engleitner’s unique story came to the attention of the public.  He was interned in three concentration camps and was targeted by the Nazi regime because he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who as a group rejected Nazi racist and military policies.  Moreover, as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, he was offered the chance to go free from the camps provided he sign a document renouncing his religious beliefs–an offer he resolutely refused.

A few months prior to his death, between November 9 and 15, 2012, Leopold Engleitner travelled from Austria to Los Angeles, California, USA, and attended the world premiere of a further documentary film “Ladder in the Lions’ Den: Freedom Is a Choice”, which placed his courageous stance during the Nazi era in historical context.  Showings of the film were attended by enthusiastic crowds, and media from around the world covered this event. Students who attended were impressed with the unique opportunity to meet Mr. Engleitner in person.

Mr. Engleitner had up until July 2012 regularly visited schools throughout Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the United States, with a total of more than 50,000 students attending his lectures.

For many years both prior to and subsequent to his experiences during the Nazi era, his life was marked by great suffering, hardships, injustice and humiliation.  Nevertheless, always following his conscience, he courageously forged his way with an unwavering trust in God. 

The most recent film about his life, which has recently been honoured by awards and screenings at several film festivals and continues to attract attention at showings and through DVD sales, ends with an epilogue in which Leopold, rather than concluding with his captivating smile and customary, “I’ll be back,” says simply, “Thank you for your interest in my life story.  Auf wiedersehen.”

Further information about Leopold Engleitner can be learned at the websites www.rammerstorfer.cc  or  www.unbrokenwill.com

Press contact:  Frederic Fuss, 818-383-4783, Engleitnews@gmail.com           

SHORT BIOGRAPHY OF LEOPOLD ENGLEITNER

Leopold Engleitner was born on July 23, 1905, in Aigen-Voglhub, Austria. He grew up in the so-called “Emperor’s town” of Bad Ischl, and encountered the Austro-Hungarian monarch Emperor Franz Joseph on several occasions (Franz Joseph was a contemporary world ruler with Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and Queen Victoria).  Physically infirm and shy from an early age, he suffered ostracism and lived in a world dominated by poverty. As a young boy he experienced the devastating effects of World War I, and the Spanish Flu made his situation even worse.

At the beginning of the 1930s he began an intensive study of the Bible and courageously changed his religion when in 1932 he was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. As a result, he suffered from the religious intolerance of his neighbors and of the authorities during the Austrian Fascism period from1934 to 1938.

When Adolf Hitler occupied Austria in 1938, Leopold’s steadfast refusal to abandon his beliefs and to perform military service in Hitler’s army led to conflict with the Nazi regime. On April 4, 1939, he was arrested in Bad Ischl by the Gestapo and held in custody in Linz and Wels. From October 9, 1939, to July 15, 1943, he was interned in the concentration camps of Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrück. In Niederhagen concentration camp he refused to sign the “Declaration” renouncing his faith, even though doing so would have meant he could go free. Despite the appalling treatment he was subjected to in the concentration camps, his iron will–his determination to stand up for just principles and his refusal to take up arms in support of Nazi aggression–could not be broken. Moreover Leopold never lost his optimism. In one of the concentration camps he even bought a suitcase for the journey home, which seemed impossible he would ever make.

In July 1943, weighing less than 62 pounds, he was released from Ravensbrück concentration camp on the condition that he spend the rest of his life performing forced labor in agriculture. After returning home he worked on a farm in St. Wolfgang. Three weeks before the end of the war, on April 17, 1945, he received his call-up papers ordering him to join the German Wehrmacht, effective immediately.  He refused to comply with the call-up and decided to risk fleeing into the mountains of the Salzkammergut. There he hid in the Meistereben alpine hut and a cave. He was hunted like an animal by the Nazis for weeks, but they could not find him.  On May 5, 1945, he was able to return home.

Leopold Engleitner’s life proves that it was possible for an ordinary man to reject Hitler’s regime of terror. 

After World War II Leopold Engleitner, as a former concentration camp internee, was shunned by society and placed in the same category as asocial elements, criminals, and those considered lazy. Some of his contemporaries even denied that concentration camps had ever existed. Although he felt he was being misunderstood and unfairly treated, the iron will and inner strength that came from his religious convictions helped him withstand this difficult period as well.

When a chance meeting with Bernhard Rammerstorfer occurred in Bad Ischl in 1994, the tide began to turn. Rammerstorfer ended up writing Leopold’s biography and producing a documentary of his life story.  Engleitner had to wait until he was almost one hundred years old to receive the recognition and social rehabilitation he deserved.

Engleitner’s biography entitled “Ungebrochener Wille”, appeared in English as “Unbroken Will” with translations following in Italian, Spanish, French and Russian. “Unbroken Will” is also the title of a documentary film based on the book, and lecture tours spawned films documenting the presentations and related events.

Though already far advanced in years, between 1999 and 2012 he traveled with Rammerstorfer more than 95,000 miles across Europe and the USA to schools, memorial sites, and universities as a witness of history to ensure the past is not forgotten, and he has become a model of tolerance and peace. He gave lectures at Bern, Columbia, Dresden, Georgetown, UCLA, Harvard, Stanford, and Vienna Universities, as well as at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the Library of Congress, the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. In 2008, 2009, and 2011, he introduced his biography at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world’s largest book fair. In 2009, he presented the Russian translation of his biography in Moscow.

In his 102nd year, Leopold Engleitner was honored for his courageous stance during the National Socialist Regime and received the following awards:

– “Golden Order of Merit of the Republic of Austria,” awarded by the Austrian president Heinz Fischer

– “Cross of the Order of Merit on ribbon of the Federal Republic of Germany” from the German president Horst Köhler

Mr. Engleitner had up until July 2012 regularly visited schools throughout Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany, and the United States, with a total of more than 50,000 students attending his lectures.

A few months prior to his death, between November 9 and 15, 2012, Leopold Engleitner travelled from Austria to Los Angeles, California, USA, and attended the world premiere of a further documentary film “Ladder in the Lions’ Den: Freedom Is a Choice”, which placed his courageous stance during the Nazi era in historical context.  The film subsequently was awarded Best Documentary Short Film by the Fallbrook International Film Festival, of Fallbrook, California, and the Rincon International Film Festival of Rincon, Puerto Rico.

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