While time has taken Leopold Engleitner at the age of 107, the oldest-known male survivor of Nazi concentration camps leaves behind a remarkable legacy of standing up to oppression and the indomitable will to survive.
He lived through a bout with the Spanish flu in 1918 during the worldwide pandemic, reports say.
A devout Jehovah’s Witness, Engleitner faced religious intolerance and persecution at the hands of Austrian fascism in the 1930s, and then when Adolph Hitler occupied his country during World War II.
After refusing to renounce his faith and sign a document swearing allegiance to Hitler and the Third Reich, Engleitner was sent to three concentration camps and endured forced labor between 1939 and 1945.
“I will not die here,” he recalled declaring at the time in a TV interview. Still, he kept a suitcase with him throughout his imprisonment in anticipation of his eventual liberation.
Once a Nazi guard kicked him in the testicles so hard that Engleitner said the rupture prevented him from becoming a father later in life, reports say.
Engleitner was imprisoned in Buchenwald, Niederhagen, and then weighed about 60 pounds upon his release from the Ravensbrueck camp in 1943 after he agreed to work as farm slave laborer. Later ordered to report to Hitler’s army, Engleitner—a conscientious objector—hid in the Austrian countryside until after the war ended.
Engleitner carried on his missionary in post-war Europe as well as working jobs, including a spell as a nightwatchman in a soap factory, a Reuters report said.
Engleitner became a public figure after Austrian author and film producer Bernhard Rammerstorfer published his biography and a documentary about his life in 1999, both titled Unbroken Will. Engleitner toured Europe and America many times since to share his experiences and raise awareness about the Holocaust.
Unbroken Will was translated into English in 2004.
Check out this fascinating news report of Engleitner’s visit to the U.S. a few years back:
Austria’s Mauthausen Committee, which tracks tracks the fate of Nazi concentration camp inmates, said Engleitner died April 21, though the news wasn’t reported until a few days ago.
The oldest known survivor of the camps is Alice Herz-Sommer, 109, who lives in London. She was confined in the camp in Terezin, or Theresienstadt in German.
Here’s a longer look at Engleitner’s experiences:
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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