3. Life in Weiz

Part of my duties was to see to the transportation of our arrestees by truck and under armed guard to Graz. I recollect on one occasion at a spot ten kilometres outside Weiz where our transport had to cross the swift—flowing River Raab through the water to reach the far side — the wooden bridge which had normally stood there having been blown by the German Army — a prisoner leapt from a truck into the river. Disregarding a warning shot from me, he reached the safety of the forest. I calculated that he would lie low during the daytime and that night I was able to pick him up during a night patrol at the “Felsenkeller” Gasthaus on the Passail road.

One amusing anecdote concerning the then Clerk to the Parish Council, Herr Alfred Mitterdorfer, has its place in this narrative. I had been engaged, namely, in posting wooden FSS signposts throughout the village and had – unbeknowing – nailed one of them to one of those tall, majestic chestnut trees on the Platz. Herr Mitterdorfer immediately removed it and brought it to me in the office, and asked me whether I was aware that all these trees, planted to commemorate the village’s deliverance from the Turkish invasion of 1683, were protected by law. How could I have known that?

Sunday in Weiz was invariably a day of rest on which nothing happened. 

After mass in the morning the Square would be empty of people until the evening when one went to the pictures and met one’s friends and generally made a social event of it. At that time a large hall at the rear of the “Black Eagle” Gasthaus owned by the Hofler Family served as the local cinema. When I was married the whole Pichler Family would go to see the movie from a reserved box at the far end of the hall, and it was here that I watched whatever films the local audience was watching. The British Forces had two garrison theatres in Graz – the Opernkino and the Annenhofkino – but here, of course, one only got to see British or American films and this was something I was not particularly interested in. 

The fare offered by Herr Hofler in his establishment, on the other hand, consisted mainly of old Austrian films and the occasional German film which had been passed by British censorship in Austria as having no political content. Outside our makeshift cinema one had to stand and wait in a miniature garden of vines for someone belonging to the family to open the doors, and wine was served from huge bottles on the trestle tables to the patrons. This was a romantic atmosphere that I am sure was not available in British Army cinemas.

It was on one of these customary peaceful Sundays in the village that the Square suddenly became the centre of excitement. Quite out of the blue, a Red Army truck with its Russian driver and escort appeared. The CO was away that day, and I made my way to the Platz myself to see what was going on. I got hold of Herr Fritz, an overseer at the Elin-Works, who I knew spoke Russian and with the aid of this interpreter I was able to find out what was happening. 

Ronald Walker in Weiz
Ronald Walker, off duty in Weiz during winter

The truck had been dispatched from Neukirchen in the neighbouring Russian Zone to collect some item of machinery from the Elin factory which the departing Russian forces had forgotten (sic) to take with them as they had pulled out of Weiz some few weeks previously. I was aware that the Soviet authorities had filled some forty freight trucks with Elin machines at that time and transported them to Russia. This was claimed, of course, as reparations after the war; but it did not stop the Austrians from feeling intensely bitter about such measures. To a large extent the township depended on the Elin for its economic well-being. 

A crowd had now gathered and was making threatening gestures towards the truck’s occupants. I felt it time to give our Russian friends their marching orders through our interpreter and shortly after the vehicle disappeared in the direction of Birkfeld and the demarcation line to the north. This was typical of the kind of situations our NCOs had to deal with using their own initiative, as more often than not we were operating in areas of the Zone where British troops were few and far between.

The wording of our security brief was quite explicit, and as well as referring to the security of our own military against sabotage and espionage, it encompassed what was termed the “internal protection of the new Austrian republic against reactionary elements”. 

The two clandestine movements known to me at this time were the Werewolf Group Sud, which fell within this category, and Odessa, an escape route by which ex-Nazis and SS were able to escape from Europe to South America via the northern Italian port of Genoa. 

Odessa operated from the POW and the political internment camps in the British and American zones. The Group Werewolf had a ringleader in Weiz, whose name was given to me and against whom, unfortunately, at a later stage, Christmas 1947, I was compelled to take action. This is a matter which I prefer not to enlarge upon in this narrative. Details of these FSS operations were classified top secret and not even the Austrian authorities were permitted to know about them.

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