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1. Index Number : P.III.g. (Austria & Buchenwald) No. 901.

2. Title of Document : “Freies Österreich” (“Free Austria”).

3. Date : 1938 - 1945.

4. Number of pages : 3.

Language : German.

5. Author or Source : Mr Heinz Mayer, Innsbruck.

6. Recorded by : Mrs Emmi Morawitz, Vienna.

7. Received : June 1958.

8. Form and Contents : Mayer was a member of the police force in Innsbruck and after the annexation of Austria he joined the illegal organisation “Freies Österreich”. This was denounced by one Franz Ortler and in September 1938 more than 90 Tyroleans, Mayer among them, were arrested and taken to the police prison. After the usual tortures they were taken to the Landesgericht Innsbruck, charged with high treason and should have appeared before the People's Court. But the Nazi judge was replaced by a decent man, Dr. Riedl (or Riedl), and Dr. Steinecker's charge was changed into seditious treachery. In April 1939 Mayer was released until his case was heard.

Meanwhile his father had been arrested and taken first to Theresienstadt, but later he was sent to Auschwitz and gassed. After 6 months Mayer was called up for forced labour in a munition factory and worked together with French prisoners of war with whom he established contact. Thereupon he was arrested again and charged with illegal activities and collaboration with prisoners of war. In August 1943 he was sent to Buchenwald. When his case was heard in July 1944, he was taken to Innsbruck and was sentenced to 1-year imprisonment, to be enforced after the war. He was taken back to Buchenwald and given work in the post office.

This was the centre of the resistance organisation. From here notes were smuggled out of the camp and news were distributed. This was facilitated by the frequent air attacks which no longer allowed for strict guard to be kept. They also made it possible that arms and ammunition were smuggled into the camp. When Camp Commandant Schober gave instructions to evacuate the camp in April 1945, the resistance gave counter-orders and, on 11 April 1945, when the American army was approaching, the prisoners stormed the watchtowers, and the SS fled.

Mayer founded the “K.Z. Verband in Tirol” and has been its chairman for ten years.

“Freies Österreich” (“Free Austria”)

Before Hitler invaded Austria, I was head of the motor division at the Austrian "Frontmiliz" [a voluntary paramilitary organisation] in Innsbruck.

The day the German troops marched into Austria, my division happened to be on duty at the Innsbruck Hofburg. We were all in good spirits and ready for battle, but it didn’t even come to that. When we heard that not a single shot had been fired, we had no choice but to take off our uniforms and run.

A few days later we founded an illegal combat group called "Free Austria". We listened to broadcasts on the French freedom station and distributed flyers. We also received military training. We met in various places in and around Innsbruck. There were over 100 of us, mostly youths, of all party affiliations. Amongst us there was also a certain Franz Ortler, who betrayed us to the Nazis.

On 14th September 1938 there was a large-scale raid by police, SS and SA. Over 90 young Tyroleans were arrested, including myself.

We were taken to a police prison and made to endure the usual tortures. Then we were moved to the regional court at Innsbruck.

We should have appeared before a people's court, on a charge of treason. No lawyer from Innsbruck was prepared to take on our defence. Eventually a lawyer from Berlin stood in for a Tyrolean, and he was willing to do it.

We were lucky enough that the first investigating judge, Dr. Steinecker, was called off and that his replacement was not so keen on delivering us to the gallows. He literally told us what to say. We were therefore not charged with high treason, which would have been our death sentence, but merely with treachery. The new investigating judge, a Dr. Ried or Riedl, was very decent towards us.

In April 1939 I was released on bail until the trial. I went to Vienna and stayed there for six months. My co-defendants were soon re-arrested. My father, too, was among those arrested.


In 1942 my father was arrested again because of his anti-Nazi activities as well as on racial grounds and deported to Theresienstadt. From there he was sent to the gas chambers in Auschwitz in 1944.

After my six months in Vienna I had to return to Innsbruck. I was liable to military service and was drafted. Despite my secondary school education, I was enlisted as an unskilled labourer in construction and later in an arms factory.

I worked alongside French prisoners of war, with whom I established communication.

The Gestapo came and took me away for interrogating.

In May 1943 I was arrested once more. I was accused of illegal activities and collaboration with prisoners of war. I admitted nothing, I confessed nothing. On 16th August 1943 I was taken to Buchenwald.

On 11th April 1944 I was moved to Innsbruck to be tried at a special court. The trial took place in July 1944. I was sentenced to one year in gaol. I was supposed to serve my term after the end of the war, and then I was taken back to Buchenwald.

Here I was very lucky: I was assigned to the post room. The post room was the centre of the Buchenwald inmates' resistance organisation. It was the easiest place for smuggling post to the outside world and for exchanging news.

Due to the air strikes on Buchenwald, especially on the DAW [German arms factories] and the Gustloff works, the camp was often not fully guarded. The rescue teams had to go through the camp, and so the prisoners could smuggle weapons and ammunition into the camp.

When the Americans arrived in nearby Erfurt, our resistance organisation decided to liberate the camp themselves.

Camp Commandant Schober had attempted to evacuate the camp earlier in the month but failed to do so. The resistance organisation had called upon the prisoners not to report to the parade ground, and so they didn't.

On April 11, 1945 at 10 a.m. the enemy siren rang.


That was the signal for the resistance organisation. The prisoners started storming the watchtowers.

As the Americans were approaching, the SS thought that it was them who were firing the shots. The SS fled, and the prisoners armed themselves with the abandoned weapons. We occupied all the watchtowers and blocked the forest in the direction of Weimar in order to intercept any returning SS.

It was another 12 hours before the first American tanks arrived.

Those prisoners who were from nearby returned to their homes, all others stayed in the camp. We formed national committees who organised vehicles for the journeys home.

In 1945, I founded the bipartisan association for former concentration camp inmates from Tyrol. I have been its chairman for ten years.

Of all the Tyroleans who were interned in Buchenwald until 1945, I am the only one who is still alive. All the others have died from consequences of the camp.

I personally am unfit to work as I suffer from a lung disease which I contracted in the camp.

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