Ludwig Steiner

Portraits (Standard Weekend Edition, 03/25/05)

Ro Raftl

The resistance fighter, witness of the times, diplomat and politician has made history. Instead of celebrating the Anschluß in 1938, the sixteen-year-old bicycled all the way to Rome.

No pompous words, only deeds in the name of humanity. Chancellor Schüssel named the Tyroler, Ludwig "Lucky" Steiner, a "man for delicate situations." On April 14, 2005, the resistance fighter and only living witness of the State Treaty negotiations in Moscow, will turn eighty-three years old. Limber as a young person, the former diplomat, State Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, Member of the National Council, head of the Lucona- and Noricum Committee leans over to pick up a paper that has fallen on the floor. With steadfastness, he exhibits the Archives of the Restitution Fund, for which he dedicates his time voluntarily: "A gesture of good will for forced laborers who endured the National Socialist Regime." One can scarcely make up for the suffering, but nonetheless: We were able to work through 135,000 cases found in Eastern- and Western Europe. The work keeps him young, he explains, without a trace of aging in his voice.

The son of a baker from Innsbruck was lucky - that is, retrospectively, and from an ethical standpoint. His father, who as a member of the town council stood up against the conservative circles among the clergy and against the National Socialists, allowed him to discover what was being played out politically at the time. On April 10, 1938, the day of the referendum, which was to legitimize the Anschluß, the sixteen-year-old Ludwig bicycled with his brother to Rome "in order not to be a part of it." Today he is still deeply angered over the jeering Nazis tearing down the red-white-red flag in Innsbruck: "One of them wanted to burn it, but another trampeled on it screaming: 'Into the mud with the rag.'"

The Gestapo brought his father to the concentration camp in Sachsenhausen because of certain outcries against Hitler, and therefore the son was often taken from the classroom and interrogated. "When I returned to school two hours later, I was emotionally devastated. Who will betray me? Long before the Anschluß, other classmates had already denounced him for his political engagement."

In order to avoid becoming a member of the Hitler Youth, he founded the Innsbrucker "Youth Mountain Rescue Service," together with friends. The Catholics were seen by the young Nazis as enemies: "There were many fights." And because of all this, it became clear to him to reject the offer to join the SS troops, so that his father would be freed."

Toward the end of the war, Steiner joined the Tyrolian Resistance Group 05 of Karl Gruber who later became Foreign Minister. The goal was to save Innsbruck from being destroyed, and also the youngest soldiers who were supposed to stand up against the Americans. The idea was to have Innsbruck liberated before the Americans arrived.

It was as if in a film: Gruber bore the undercover name, Dr. Brant and established a camouflaged position in an Innsbruck office involved with radio communications. The first meeting of the resistance took place on the evening of April 9, 1945, in Room 14 of the Innsbrucker Nursing Home. Steiner, all of twenty-two at the time, was aware of his dangerous mission: To meet with the American troops, who had already positioned themselves close to Seefeld and bring them to Innsbruck. Parts of the area were filled with mines, the bridge of Zierl had been blown up and the countryside was in the middle of a snowstorm. Nonetheless, Steiner was able to penetrate the U.S. lines and reach Major Bland West on May 3, 1945.

He can still hear the admonishing cries of the field marshals: "Stop, Kraut, don’t budge!" Proudly he displays a photo of Lieutenant Ludwig Steiner together with two American officers, and the faded red-white-red arm bands upon which was written in German and in English: The Austrian Resistance Movement 05.

On the same day he accompanied the American troops to the Inntal. A German battery of troops shot at the tanks that drew back for a short period of time. Otherwise, nothing happened. Three white flags taken from the altar of the church of Zierl blew in the wind from the church tower. Then it became quiet and peaceful, described Steiner the dramatic moments with little emotion. Ten years later he flew to Moscow to the negotiations of the State Treaty as Chancellor Julius Raab’s secretary.

He told this story to Rudolf Nagiller for the ORF’s (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation’s) documentary entitled, "Austria is Free - The Miracle of the State Treaty" (available on CD). He also told the story of how the official present for the visiting guests from Austria, a Russian perfume called No. 5, tipped over and soaked his clothes: "That was the first time that my wife, Danielle, who was pregnant at the time, felt really nauseated!" Together with her, his son, Thomas, and his daughter, Gabrielle, and three grandchildren, he will celebrate his 83rd birthday. We congratulate and offer our hopes for reaching one hundred!