When we think about the Holocaust in World War 2 we tend to think about the six million or more Jews who were murdered in concentration camps scattered over Europe. The oldest male holocaust survivor however is not a Jew. He is one of Jehovah's Witnesses.
Leopold Engleitner was born on July 23, 1905, in the town of Aigen-Voglhub, in the Austrian Alps. He was the eldest son of a sawmill worker and a local farmer’s daughter. Today, he is a reminder of the horrific slaughter of millions of people in concentration camps during the Holocaust of World War 2.
Unlike most of the different groups of people who were taken to concentration camps such as Jews, Gyspies, homosexuals, etc., Leopold Engleitner was given a choice as were all Jehovah's Witnesses. They could either sign a document renouncing their faith and swearing allegiance to the Nazis in which case they would be freed from the camp or they could remain to face the horrors of life in the camps. Mr. Engleitner and most other Jehovah's Witnesses remained in the camps refusing to renounce their faith.
In March of 1938, Hitler's forces occupied Austria and at the same time the preaching activities of Jehovah's Witnesses, as well as their Christian meetings went underground, but in the evening of April 4, 1939 while attending the Memorial of the death of Jesus Christ, he and three others were arrested by the Gestapo.
With permission from Leopold Engleitner
Photo taken of Leopold Engleitner when arrested by the Gestapo in 1939.
Engleitner's three companions were sent to concentration camps immediately where they eventually died and after a detention of five months Engleitner was sent to Buchenwald.
In 1941 he was transferred to Neiderhagen concentration camp and in 1943 he was sent to Ravensbruck.
In July of 1943 Mr. Engleitner was released from the Ravensbruck concentration camp with the condition that he work only as a slave on a farm for the rest of his life. He weighed only 62 pounds by this time.
He began work on a farm in St. Wolfgang but three weeks before the war ended he received orders to enlist in the German army at which time he fled into the nearby mountains since his faith would not allow him to take up arms against his fellow man. He hid in a cabin and a cave while being hunted by the Nazis but was never found.
When the war ended he continued to work as a slave laborer on the farm in St. Wolfgang and in 1946 he made application to leave the farm but was turned down by the labor bureau as his slave labor duty from the Nazi occupation was still valid. In April of that same year the American occupying force intervened and he was finally set free.
At the age of 105 Mr. Engleitner still does tours educating people about the holocaust and has published an autobiography entitled Unbroken Will.
His latest tour was a book signing in December, 2010. He says it was not his farewell tour.
Unbroken Will, Biography