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Friday, 18 December 2015

The Fate of Walter Tollinger

In 2015 I mentioned to Ian Brown, (the Stalag XVIIIA historian) that I was travelling to Klagenfurt and he arranged for me to meet with Paul Angerer. Paul is a respected local  historian who has conducted extensive research of the Klagenfurt POW camp known as Waidmannsdorf 10029/GW. I asked Paul how it was that my father possessed photographs that had obviously been taken by a professional photographer. Through Paul I came to learn of Walter Tollinger.

Paul Angerer (2015)
In 2015 I mentioned to Ian Brown, (the Stalag XVIIIA historian) that I was travelling to Klagenfurt and he arranged for me to meet with Paul Angerer. Paul is a respected local  historian who has conducted extensive research of the Klagenfurt POW camp known as Waidmannsdorf 10029/GW. I asked Paul how it was that my father possessed photographs that had obviously been taken by a professional photographer. Through Paul I came to learn the story of Walter Tollinger.

Tollinger was a guard at the camp. Born in Klagenfurt on 1 April 1901, he was a well-known Austrian artist and photographer. He also had a keen interest in politics. Between 1921 and 1925, Walter Tollinger was a Marxist and member of the Communist Party.  in In 1933 however, he switched his allegiances to the Nazis and became a member of the National Socialists Democratic Party. But he obviously didn't like what he saw so he cancelled his membership the following year

By 1938, Walter Tollinger had become a vocal critic of Hitler and the Nazis. Even in those pre-war days this was a dangerous pastime. If nothing else though he was a principled man who perhaps took the "Democratic" title of the NSDP a little too literally.

His negative attitude to the Nazis was sometimes put on display in cafes and taverns, particularly after drinking alcohol. On 4 December 1939, in a bar in the presence of some German officers and others, he announced that "the German war in Poland is a swinishness and Hitler is a blackguard and a criminal as well!" This statement, and other information in this article, was taken from the book, Sentenced to Death – Nazi-Justice and Resistance in Carinthia. The word 'swinishness' could probably be substituted by 'pig-headedness.' Tollinger was arrested for this public criticism of Hitler though his punishment was not severe.

Professionally, Walter Tollinger was a master photographer, conducting who conducted a photographic studio in Klagenfurt with his wife who was also a qualified photographer. When Walter was conscripted to be a guard at 10029/GW, she ran the day-to-day business.

A Tollinger photo of my father, Kevin Byrne
Walter Tollinger gained permission from the camp Commandant to take portrait and group photographs of the POWs. The men paid for the prints using their meagre wages. There wasn't much else on which to spend their money. They sent the images home in the form of post cards thus assuring their families that they were in good physical condition. This policy suited both the POWs and their captives.

By 1943, the Stalag 18A authorities agreed to allow prisoners on work camps to purchase cameras and consumables (paper, chemicals, etc.) with their wages. Supposedly, the hobby was limited to camp activities though my father (or one of his friends) managed to take some photographs of their work parties.

In 1944, Walter Tollinger resumed his public criticism of Hitler. On 4 April 1944, after voicing his contempt of the German campaigns in Europe and Russia, a sergeant who had been fighting on the Russian front, answered: "coming back home as a wounded man, I have to meet such a swine as you. I won't accept to sacrifice myself for persons like you!" The sergeant then asked Tollinger to go with him to the Gestapo-headquarters, where he was challenged to repeat his remarks.

Unfortunately, Walter misjudged the seriousness of the situation. He accepted the challenge and was immediately arrested by the Gestapo.
The 'Foto Tollinger' brand was printed on the reverse side of the image.
On 11 November 1944, Tollinger was sent for trial, charged with "undermining military morale."  He was found guilty and received the death penalty. On 8 December 1944, along with eight others charged with similar crimes, Walter Tollinger  was executed by firing squad.

74 years on, the Tollinger business survives in Klagenfurt. The Plaque below is displayed in Alter Platz (formerly Adolph Hitler Platz)


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