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On April 14, film producer Bernhard Rammerstorfer, left, presents 107-year-oldconcentration camp survivor Leopold Engleitner with the 2013 Best Documentary Short award from the Fallbrook International Film Festival for “Ladders in the Lion’s Den,” a film based on Engleitner’s life. Engleitner died on April 21.
On April 14, film producer Bernhard Rammerstorfer, left, presents 107-year-old concentration camp survivor Leopold Engleitner with the 2013 Best Docu...
Presenting the Best Documentary Short award at theFallbrook International Film Festival April 7 to “Ladder in the Lion’s Den” producer Bernhard Rammerstorfer, second from right, are, from left, Heidi Minga, Shirley Duke, and Susana Shattuck.
Presenting the Best Documentary Short award at the Fallbrook International Film Festival April 7 to “Ladder in the Lion’s Den” producer Bernhard Ramm...
Fallbrook International Film Festival film submittalcoordinator Shirley Duke looks at a copy of “Unbroken Will” that Leopold Engleitner inscribed for her.
Fallbrook International Film Festival film submittal coordinator Shirley Duke looks at a copy of “Unbroken Will” that Leopold Engleitner inscribed fo...

Film festival award first and only for Holocaust survivor


Subject of winning documentary dies week after receiving award


Thursday, May 16th, 2013
Issue 20, Volume 17.
Debbie Ramsey
Managing Editor


Atrocities in life were not few for Holocaust survivor Leopold Engleitner of Austria. However, one of the happiest moments of his life was when he was presented with the Best Documentary Short award for a film made about his life and shown at the 2013 Fallbrook International Film Festival in April. Unfortunately, on April 21, one week after saying the honor was the "first and only award" he had received in the 107 years of his life, Engleitner passed away of natural causes.

In hearing the news, film festival founder Ronald Shattuck said, "Getting to know Leopold through Bernhard’s [Rammerstorfer’s] stories and film, ‘Ladder in the Lion’s Den,’ had a profound effect on those of us involved in this festival; little did we realize how we could affect this man, Leopold, who endured and lived through mankind’s worst nightmare."

Rammerstorfer, who was a close friend and caretaker of Engleitner, had written a book titled "Unbroken Will" and produced several documentary films about Engleitner’s life and experiences during World War II in three different Nazi concentration camps. The Fallbrook International Film Festival award was bestowed upon Rammerstorfer at the film festival gala on April 7, and he presented it to Engleitner on April 14 upon his return to Austria.

"When I gave Leopold the award, he was eager to hold it and stared at it a long time; he told me it was the first and only award he had received in his whole life," said Rammerstorfer. Cast in pewter, the attractive award was conceived by film festival supporters Heidi and Rich Minga and made by CR Studio 4 in Fallbrook, owned by Robin and Cy Vojak.

Engleitner, a Jehovah’s Witness, was born July 23, 1905 in Aigen-Voglhub, Austria, a short distance from where Adolf Hitler was raised. He grew up in the so-called "Emperor’s Town" of Bad Ischl. Engleitner, who grew up in dire poverty and suffered from the devastating effects of the Spanish Flu as a boy, told European journalists that he was "horrified by the atrocities of World War I." After doing an intensive study of the Bible, he courageously changed his religion in 1932 when he was baptized as a Jehovah’s Witness.

"As a result, he suffered from the religious intolerance of his neighbors and of the authorities during the Austrofascism period from 1934 to 1938," explained Rammerstorfer. "He was incarcerated many times because of his beliefs during that period."

Jehovah’s Witnesses were gathered together when Austria became part of the German Reich in 1938. Engleitner and others sharing the same religion were given a directive – to sign a paper renouncing their faith and join the Nazi regime, or be sent to a concentration camp, where death prevailed.

Reflective of the title of the documentary film, Rammerstorfer said, "Essentially, Leopold was offered a ‘ladder’ whereby he could renounce his faith and walk out of the camps."

Engleitner refused to compromise his religious beliefs and succumb to Hitler.

"He was arrested in Bad Ischl by the Gestapo and held in custody in Linz and Wels," said Rammerstorfer. Engleitner was imprisoned from October 9, 1939 to July 15, 1943 in a succession of three Nazi concentration camps/prisons – Buchenwald, Niederhagen and Ravensbrueck. Many that refused to join Hitler were killed immediately.

"Ladder in the Lion’s Den" details (in 40 minutes) Engleitner’s horrific ordeal, part of which prevented him from having children.

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Nazi concentration camps before his death, Engleitner, who measured 5’ 3" in height, weighed a skeletal 62 pounds after his release from Ravensbrueck in 1943. To gain release at that time, he agreed to work as farm slave laborer. When he was later ordered to report to Hitler’s army, he hid in the Tyrolean countryside until after the war ended.

After the survivor returned home, he worked on a farm in St. Walfgang until another life-threatening directive came forward.

"Three weeks before the end of the war, on April 17, 1945, he received call-up papers ordering him to join the German Wehrmacht, immediately," said Rammerstorfer. "He refused to comply and fled into the mountains of the Salzkammergut. There he hid in a Meistereben alpine hut and a cave."

"He was hunted like an animal by the Nazis for weeks, but they could not find him," Rammerstorfer said. On May 5, 1945, Engleitner was able to return home once again.

After he suffered unimaginable horrors at the hands of the Nazi’s, Engleitner insisted, "My personal experience has left me absolutely convinced that the Bible is still the best guide for a happy and full life."

The balance of Engleitner’s work life consisted of doing farm work, working as a night watchman in a soap factory, and performing general labor as a road maintenance worker.

The film’s narrator and script editor, Frederic Fuss, said what amazed him was "the strength of Leopold’s unbroken will and determination never diminished his positive outlook, and the intensity of his trial never made him bitter."

Up until July, 2012, this Holocaust survivor spoke at schools throughout Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Germany and the United States, and encouraged students to "stick by their own beliefs and not succumb to peer pressure." More than 50,000 students heard his lecture.

Engleitner spent the last two years of his life living with Rammerstorfer and his family, as an adopted, beloved grandparent.

According to Rammerstorfer, he was surprised at Engleitner’s death because he was "doing well and even spent time out in our garden."

"He was eager to start school visits again," said Rammerstorfer. "What does make me feel good is that we all were with him and held him when it happened. My wife, Beate, hummed a song to him while touching his nose with her cheek."

For organizers of the Fallbrook International Film Festival, Engleitner left an indelible impression.

"We have, in a small way, become a part of history... the history of a remarkable person and the man and his family that adopted him," said Shattuck. "Leopold wanted very much to attend our festival since this was the first film fest his film had been submitted to." Engleitner was advised not to make the trip as the time neared, but he sent a memento in his stead.

Prior to the festival, Engleitner inscribed a copy of "Unbroken Will" for film submittal coordinator Shirley Duke.

"This was to be the last time he would write his name," said Shattuck.

Rammerstorfer, who continues to miss his "best friend," said more than 500 reports have been made in newspapers around the world on Engleitner’s experiences.

"Leopold was not only a treasure of history, but also a treasure of character," he said, citing one of Engleitner’s quotes.

"I never got angry or worried, because I entrusted everything to God," he said. "What I couldn’t alter, I accepted. I was grateful for every day I was allowed to live."


 

6 comments

Comment Profile ImageRe????
Comment #1 | Friday, May 17, 2013 at 12:10 pm
May he rest in peace!!!!
Comment Profile ImageFallbrook Native
Comment #2 | Friday, May 17, 2013 at 7:16 pm
I could not agree more.
Comment Profile ImageDukesh
Comment #3 | Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 8:30 am
You have done such an amazing job with this article, I forwarded it to Bernhardt and Frederic and they loved it. Thank you for capturing the moment and the story that touched our hearts and soul
Comment Profile ImageDanny Haszard
Comment #4 | Saturday, May 18, 2013 at 10:42 pm
We salute you Leopold Engleitner!



6 Million Jews
3 Million Poles
400,000 Gypsies
50,000-100,000 Homosexuals
150,000 Disabled Germans

Nobody ever mentions that Hitler rounded up all the Masons many of them Catholics and had them killed.The only Masons who survived didn't have their name on the rolls at the Grand lodge in Berlin. I think it was over 30,000 Masons that were murdered- they never got imprisoned, but killed outright, as Hitler feared them.
Many leaders of various resistance groups compromised,individuals maintained integrity.
The Jehovah's Witnesses leader Joseph Rutherford also initially sought favor with Hitler,but when Hitler double-crossed him he drove his own followers to be martyrs.
Millions of Slavs, Russians, Socialist, Catholics, Protestants perished.

---Danny Haszard
Comment Profile ImageBonsallGayGuy
Comment #5 | Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 2:57 pm
One of the uglier chapters of post WW2 Germany (as well as several other countries) was the re-arrest and continued incarceration and persecution of many surviving gay people right after their initial liberation from the camps. It was not until almost 60 years after the fall of Nazi Germany that the current German government even bothered to officially apologize to those individuals persecuted by either the Nazi state or those subsequently brutalized by the present day government of Germany.

The last documented gay victim of the Nazi camps (where gay men were forced to wear the now infamous pink triangle) interned solely on the basis of sexual orientation was Rudolph Brazda who passed away a little more than a year ago at age 98.
Comment Profile ImageBook of Revelations
Comment #6 | Monday, May 20, 2013 at 8:42 am
Hitler was indeed, an equal opportunity murderer. The lessons we have learned from WWII is to NEVER forget. RIP to the millions of innocent people who perished under the boot heel of that evil and corrupt tyrant. Let us hope that he will be roasting his toes in Hades for ALL eternity.

Article Comments are contributed by our readers, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Fallbrook Village News staff. The name listed as the author for comments cannot be verified; Comment authors are not guaranteed to be who they claim they are.

 

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