Mountaineer Heinrich Harrer dies in Vienna
By WILLIAM J. KOLE,
Associated Press Writer
Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer
and former Nazi who became a friend and tutor of the young
Dalai Lama, died Saturday. He was 93.
Harrer's family said in a statement that, "in great
peace, he carried out his final expedition" when he
died in a hospital. His family, which did not specify a
cause of death, said Harrer would be buried Jan. 14.
Actor Brad Pitt played Harrer in the film "Seven Years
in Tibet," which was based on Harrer's 1953 memoir
of his time in the Himalayan nation.
Born July 6, 1912, the son of a postal worker in the Carinthian
village of Knappenberg, Harrer first made headlines in 1938
with the first ascent of Switzerland's dreaded Eiger North
At least nine mountaineers had died trying to scale the
sheer wall, long considered Europe's greatest mountaineering
challenge. Dozens have perished in subsequent attempts.
"We were never afraid. We never had any idea of returning
or giving up," Harrer told reporters on the 50th anniversary
of the feat.
His ascent earned him fame and a handshake from Adolf Hitler:
Harrer had joined the Nazi party when Germany took control
of Austria in 1938. He also joined the SS, the party's police
wing associated with atrocities during World War II.
Harrer later said he joined the SS and Nazi party in order
to enter a teachers' organization. The membership let him
join a government-financed Himalayan expedition, his life's
Harrer and a colleague were arrested by British troops
in India at the end of that expedition as war broke out
in September 1939.
The two escaped an internment camp in 1944 and trekked
through Tibet to Lhasa, where few Westerners had been allowed
to enter. They soon endeared themselves to the country's
secular elite and to the religious head, the young Dalai
Harrer taught the Dalai Lama mathematics, English and sports,
and became his adviser and friend. Harrer's subsequent book
about the experience, "Seven Years in Tibet,"
was translated into 48 languages.
He later explored other remote areas of the globe, wrote
about a dozen books and made some 40 documentary films.
His adventures became known to millions worldwide in the
1997 film starring Pitt. It was only a few months before
the movie's release that his Nazi past caught up with him.
Documents cited by the German magazine Stern in an expose
just before the release showed that Harrer joined Hitler's
underground SA storm troops in Austria in 1933, when he
was 21 and Nazi organizations still were banned in Austria.
While he had said he joined the Nazi party to further his
teaching and mountaineering careers, Harrer did not explain
why he joined the SA when Nazis still were persecuted in
The revelations prompted some minor changes to the film
to depict Harrer with Nazi officials and the Nazi flag,
"Seven Years" director Jean-Jacques Annaud told
The Associated Press in 1997.
Harrer was interned at the start of the war and never
linked to any Nazi atrocities.
"This is a man who ... feels a tremendous shame,"
Annaud said at the time. "I respect him as a man who
Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter who died last year,
said Harrer was not involved in politics and was innocent
A publicity-shy man who divided his time between Austria
and Liechtenstein, Harrer told the Austria Press Agency
in June 1997 that he had a "clear conscience."
He said, however, that "from today's view, the former
party and SS membership is an extremely unpleasant thing."
He also repudiated his Nazi membership as a "stupid
mistake" and an "ideological error."
Harrer was decorated with numerous high awards and honors
during his career, including Austria's Golden Humboldt medal
and the "Light of Truth" award bestowed by Tibet's
government-in-exile in India.
source: WILLIAM J. KOLE, Associated Press Writer
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