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Turned back from Tibet--Bruno Treipl's wartime adventures in Asia.

Mr. Bruno Treipl was the last living member of a group of seven escapers who fled from British wartime internment in Dehra Dun, Mussoorie, India, and one of the four who reached Tibet. The latter included Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter, famous for their seven and eight respective years inside Tibet, as well as Hans ('Hanne') Kopp who was later recaptured in Nepal. Another escaper, Friedel Sattler, finding tramping over the Himalayas to be physically too hard, and becoming quite ill, had already returned to India. The final pair of the escape party, Rolf Magener and Heins von Have, meanwhile had embarked on a different yet equally incredible journey across India for a successful escape to the Japanese army front lines in Burma and finally on to Tokyo where they were regaled as national heroes.

In 1934, at the age of 18, Bruno Treipl sailed on the Lloyd Triestine Line's ship, the "Conte Verde" to the island of Java in the then colonial "Dutch East Indies"--the present day Indonesia. His aunt and uncle ran "The Grand Hotel"--which still exists--at Lembang, near Bandung in central Java and they wanted him to come and assist them. As they had no children they planned to eventually bequeath the hotel to him and so he stayed and worked there for a while, greatly enjoying the hotel's sports facilities. However, he found the work uninspiring and he also earned too little to quench his thirst for travel. He got to know many interesting hotel guests, two of whom offered him jobs on tea plantations which he took at different times. In the first plantation he was invited by its administrator to live with his family who were very kind to him. He was later offered work on a second plantation by a Mr. Pendelman, an Englishman who worked for Francis Peak and Co., but in the end the plantations could not pay much either, because it was a bad time economically in the late 1930s and so Treipl eventually returned to the hotel. During his years in Java he was endlessly fascinated by its rich, diverse and unspoiled tropical flora and fauna.

Before the Japanese invasion of the Dutch colony, Treipl recalled the following:--"At the time there were many Japanese in Java and I had a hairdresser who was actually a Japanese army colonel, but even I had no idea of this fact, although I knew that the Japanese were employed in all kinds of posts everywhere. They sold very cheap bicycles to the local people and when the Japanese invaded they confiscated them all for the army companies to ride on. In this way they were able to move about very quickly; it was quite ingenious." Wherever he went hunting or stalking wild animals he met Japanese even in the middle of the jungle. In hindsight it seemed clear to him that they were looking for raw materials--oil, metals, rubber etc.--so that after the invasion it would be clear what the region had to offer.

When the Japanese invaded, but before they had over run the Dutch colony, Treipl had already been taken prisoner. At first, the Dutch took all Austrians and Germans into captivity even though most of them were civilians. "They always spoke of a 5th column and things like that, but we had done absolutely nothing wrong, we only worked in ordinary jobs. Later on they interned the Italians as well."

When he was captured on the 10th of May 1940, Treipl was on his way by car from Lembang to Bandung to visit a friend--an Italian by the name Gottlieb Meister--when he was stopped by the Dutch military. He had already heard that Germans would be arrested and he recalled that he had managed to sneak the car key back to his chauffeur and let him take the car back to his aunt's hotel "so that at least the Dutch did not get it!" Less happily, he remembered how he was forced to crawl on the ground and was spat on by the Dutch soldiers before he was taken into a locked warehouse hall.

He vividly remembered the following weeks. "The Dutch were dreadfully mean. We were taken to the port of Sibolga where they put us on the lowest deck of a ship and they did not indicate in any way at all that it was a prisoners' transport. The Dutch were in full knowledge that the Japanese could attack the ships at anytime. Also the transport to the harbour was terrible. We were sent in small buses with barbed wire wrapped all around them. We could hardly fit in--there was standing room only and when we got out some people fell over because their feet had gone numb and we were terribly tired; it was like a slave transport.

"We were divided into three ships full of prisoners. The first, with me on it, was surely expected to be attacked and it included the people the Dutch disliked most. Fortunately it was not attacked, but the second ship was attacked by the Japanese who did not know it was full of Austrian and German allies. The third was a hospital ship. It was also attacked and sunk; many did not survive. It was a big story in the newspapers.

"When the first ship reached Bombay the British took us over. We explained to them how badly we had been treated and they thought it was absolutely disreputable. They sent us on a long train ride to Ranchi Road. We were fed well--I remember we even got hot chocolate. Then in Ranchi Road we were put into a big camp, it was very hot--40 or even 50 degrees Celsius and one could hardly breathe, you could not go on the streets or travel because the asphalt was melting. That was before the monsoon. Once, there was a big thunderstorm with hail and big mangoes were knocked down from their trees, so we had lots of fruit. From there we were taken to the "Central Internment Camp of all India" at Dehra Dun, Mussoorie."

In 1944 Bruno Treipl escaped from Dehra Dun and reached Tibet. His own account of his trek over the Himalayas into Tibet was reported in two articles in a German language newspaper, the "Salzbuger Volksblatt", in Austria in 1950. They are among some of the first known published accounts of the group's escape to Tibet.

In telling his part of the story in interviews in his later years, because by then enough had already been told about the escape from Dehra Dun in the published accounts of the other escapers, Treipl focussed on the time after he left the group which had reached Tibet.

"I turned back from Tibet to India because the travelling was too hard--for example we had been reduced to eating grass . Peter Aufschnaiter was sick and Heinrich Harrer and 'Hanne' Kopp had disappeared one night. I waited with Aufschnaiter until he was better, then I gave him almost everything I still had in the way of equipment and money and turned back even though it was beautiful up there and the road was good, one could have even motored it."

More than a little disappointed, he remembered that Kopp and he had originally agreed to remain together in Tibet until the war was over. Their plan had been eventually to cross the Gobi desert and possibly get behind the Japanese military front lines in China, but with Kopp gone his motivation had dwindled. Kopp was later to be recaptured in Kathmandu, Nepal, by British deception.

"When I came back from the Shipki Pass after separating from Peter Aufschnaiter in Namgya, I had with me a Tibetan blanket made from sheep's wool and I made a sleeping bag from it. I had had just enough money to buy it and now I slept in the middle of valley of the Sutlej river all by myself."

He recalled meeting "two English officers with many bearers--a great caravan--who impressed me favourably. They invited me to join them in the evening. They asked me who I was and how I had got there and I explained. One was an army general, I forget his name, and the other was a colonel. I joined them for their evening meal and we drank whisky and discussed politics, but all very nice and pleasantly. The next day they moved on and I also, alone, without any escort. They did not arrest me, because they knew I could do nothing harmful and I was not a spy."

Treipl continued his wanderings through northern India:

"In the village of Chini I found a school above the river with Indian children. I went to the teacher and told him I was an escaped prisoner-of-war. He received me in a very friendly manner and gave me new clothes--the old ones had lice in them and he burnt them. Then I went and sat in the school with the children. They spoke English, Urdu and Hindustani--three languages--even though they were only eight or maybe six years old! The Maharaja to whom the surrounding area called Saran belonged took me in, gave me something to eat and was very kind. There were many goldsmiths in the village and if I had had the money I could have bought some very nice old jewellery. The Maharaja said he would postpone reporting me to the authorities for as long as possible so that I could stay.

"Next, I went along the Sutlej valley further down to Tanata from where I then turned back to Simla. The Maharaja there could not postpone reporting me, even though he did not want to do it. The local police chief said soldiers from Simla would come and pick me up and they came with handcuffs and shackles, but in fact they did not use them on me. They were dreadfully nice and treated me very well--no comparison with the Dutch. They then wanted to put me in a prison in Simla, because they did not know exactly what my real motives and plans were. I said I would not go into a prison to sit next to murderers and criminals. The prison was quite full, but they said they would put me in by force, so I told them that they could try that. So fifty Indians sat around me, but none moved and they did not attack me. Finally I said, "All right, this is useless", and I went in. They informed me that it was only for one night and that next day I could go back to Dehra Dun. But I refused to eat. They wanted to give me food, but I said, "as long as I'm in prison I won't take even one bite." An officer tried to convince me otherwise, but I refused and early next morning another officer came and took me to his house for breakfast.

"I was then taken down to Dehra Dun and paraded in front of an angry Colonel Williams, the Camp Commander. He questioned me. "How did you escape?" "With whom did you escape?"--"Alone," I said and explained nothing. I got 28 days solitary confinement in the prison camp, in accordance with the Geneva Convention, where I was put in a cell. Those 28 days were terribly hot, it was like being in an oven and we were watched over by Ghurkhas who gave me 'Piri' small cigarettes rolled from maize leaves which we smoked. Later I heard that Hans Kopp had been recaptured in Nepal and was in the camp hospital so I visited him and we spoke through the barbed wire."

Towards the end of the war, Treipl was among the twenty-two prisoners, who at one time or another had managed to escape from Dehra Dun and who were taken to Deoli, a secure camp south west of Agra, Rajasthan. Most of them were very experienced mountaineers or sportsmen and this had given them the self-assurance to attempt escapes to Tibet through the almost impassable Himalayas. This also allowed them all to be on relatively good terms with each other. This Deoli group included both Kopp and Sattler with whom Treipl had escaped.

Another member of this group was Herbert ('Bert') Paidar. He had escaped from Dehra Dun together with Ludwig Schmaderer. (The two of them, along with the Swiss climber Ernst Grob, had made a magnificent lightweight first ascent of the 7,363m [24,156 feet] Tent Peak in Sikkim on the 29th of May 1939). Their escape attempt failed in the Spiti valley high in the Himalayas when one afternoon, while Paidar set up camp, Schmaderer went to buy provisions in the village of Tabo where he was seen with money, gold coins and a watch. Laden with food, he was crossing a steep, narrow bridge on his return to camp when three locals offered him more goods. Taken unawares he was pushed into the river and murdered with stones thrown from above that caused him to drown. Paidar spent three days searching for his companion before turning back to India. A fortnight later in Tashigang, a Tibetan witness told Paidar all. The Indian police arrested the culprits; two of whom escaped but the third was charged with murder and hanged.

Even though Deoli in many regards had stricter rules than Dehra Dun, the internees were still permitted to go out of camp on parole once a week and Treipl started going on outdoors painting and drawing sessions with Paidar. Ironically, after the war he too was tragically killed by stone when he was hit by a falling rock while climbing on the Gross Glockner, at 3,798m [12,460 feet] Austria's highest peak

On a funnier note, Treipl recalled an anecdote from his time in Deoli, which was not far from Bundi, Rajasthan. His fellow escaper Friedel Sattler, who had been captured in Bali in the Dutch East Indies, had been permitted to work for the local Maharaja and was engaged in designing and building the interior of the Maharaja of Bundi's new summer palace of Phool-Sagar. Treipl remembered that this earned Sattler some privileges, but these could not bail them out of all troubles. "In Bundi I sat in prison again for 28 days, because we had wanted to visit some Red Cross Korean women nurses. One rainy, stormy night we went through the barbed wire to see them, but they didn't know we were Austrian and German--they thought we were Indians and they made a big riot and so we got another 28 days."

In the early winter of 1946, most of the Austrian and German internees were finally repatriated. Treipl recollected that "landing in Hamburg we were badly handled and sent in four wagons to Neuengamme, a former concentration camp, and cruelly forced to stand outdoors wearing nothing but thin tropical kit for many hours in extreme cold by a Czech division of the British army. The cold injured us and it was months before I could walk properly again. When I eventually reached my family home in Salzburg I discovered we had lost everything. My father got no pension because he had been wartime Commandant of Salzburg's Castle and had been removed from post. So I lived by trading in such things as agricultural machinery. At this time, a Swedish author wanted me to write a book about my experiences in Asia but because he could not support me financially I did not do it. Years later, after writing his famous book "Seven Years in Tibet" many journalists visited me wanting to know everything about Heinrich Harrer, but I never said anything to them. Such a thing I would not do."

Some time later he ran a hotel next to the Wolfgansee Lake near to the town of St. Gilgen in Salzburg's Salzkammergut holiday resort region, along with his wife Luise, whom he had married in 1951. The past once again reached out to him there. "A certain Mr. Sevenoaks was visiting Austria with his wife and two pretty adopted Indian girls. I got to know him by chance. He was driving through by car; it was late and we were just preparing to close for the night when he came and asked if they could stay and we got into conversation. He had been the controller of all the internment camps in India and remembered our escape--he had no bad opinion of it!"

Bruno Treipl, traveller, sportsman, wartime internee, escaper and hotelier was born in Unken, Zell-am-See, near Salzburg, Austria, 15th February 1916; he died in Salzburg, 10th March 2006.

Bruno Treipl was interviewed by the authors in Salzburg, Austria, on 21st May and 30th August 2004.


The authors are indebted to Dr Isrun Engelhardt of Munich for her assistance in finding the exact whereabouts of Bruno Treipl in Salzburg as well as for checking the manuscript. We also wish to thank Alfons Gann of the 'Salzburger Fenster' newspaper; Angelika Auer of the 'Salzburger Nachrichten' newspaper and especially Stephanie Klein and her colleagues of the Landesarchiv [regional archive], Salzburg, Austria, for locating and copying the two original newspaper articles about Bruno Treipl from 1950 which were published in the 'Salzburger Volksblatt' newspaper.

The 'Salzburger Volksblatt' was a daily publication, founded in 1870 which ceased publication in April 1979.

Further Reading.

Aufschnaiter, Peter, 1948 "Diamir Side of Nanga Parbat, Reconnaissance 1939", Himalayan Journal, Vol. 14, 1947, pp 110-115.

--1948 "Escape to Lhasa 1944--1945", Himalayan Journal, Vol. 14, 1947, pp 116-120.

Brauen, Martin (ed). 2002 "Peter Aufschnaiter's Eight Years in Tibet", Bangkok, Orchid Press,

Chicken, Lutz. 1948 "Nanga Parbat Reconnaissance 1939", Himalayan Journal, Vol. 14, 1947, pp 53-58.

--2003 "Durchs Jahrhundert. Mein Leben als Arzt und Bergsteiger", Bozen, Italy, Edition Raetia.

Croston, Roger. 2006 "Prisoners of the Raj". The Alpine Journal 2006, pp 213224.

2005/2006 "Heinrich Harrer: An Obituary", Tibet Journal, Vol.30 & 31, No.4 & No.1, pp189192.

Grob, Ernst; Schmaderer, Ludwig & Paidar, Herbert. 1940 "Zwischen Kantsch und Tibet", Munich, F. Bruckmann

Harrer, Heinrich. 1953 "Seven Years in Tibet", London, Rupert Hart-Davis.

--2007 "Beyond Seven Years in Tibet". South Yarra, Victoria, Australia, Labyrynth Press. (Originally published in 2002 as "Mein Leben", Munich, Ullstein,).

Kopp, Hans. 1957 "Himalayan Shuttlecock", London, Hutchinson. (Originally in German as "Sechsmal uber den Himalaja". Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany, Hermann Klemm, 1955).

Magener, Rolf. 2001 "Our Chances Were Zero", Barnsley, England, Leo Cooper / Pen & Sword Books. (Originally "Prisoners' Bluff", London, Rupert Hart-Davis, 1954).

Paidar, Herbert. 1949 "Destiny Himalaya", Himalayan Journal, Vol.15, 1948, pp 69-74.

Sattler, Friedel. 1956 "Flucht durch den Himalaja. Und Erlebtes beim Maharadscha von Bundi". Salzburg, Das Bergland-Buch. (Republished 1991, Hamburg, Edition Dax).
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Author:von Reden, Bettina; Croston, Roger
Publication:The Tibet Journal
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Mar 22, 2007
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