Franz Thaler died

Franz Thaler who is one of the last surviving inmates of the concentration camp in Dachau, was 90-years-old on 6th March, 2015, not long before the 70th anniversary, on April 2015, of the liberation of the camp by US army troops in 1945.

As a young man of 19 he was called up to do military service in the German Wehrmacht, despite the fact that his father had decided in the referendum that his family should remain Italian citizens and should not adopt German nationality. As an Italian citizen Franz Thaler therefore refused to become a soldier in Hitler’s army, and fled to the nearby forest where he spent several months in hiding, until he heard that the Nazis were threatening his family with reprisals if he did not give himself up.

He surrendered, was arrested, put on trial and sent to Dachau. There he experienced unimaginable suffering. After the liberation of the camp on 29 April 1945 Thaler and many of his fellow inmates continued to be held prisoner by the American troops and were sent on a forced march to a camp in France, where they were finally set free. Many of the prisoners died during this march.

Thaler himself was lucky to have survived his time in Dachau and the march to France, and succeeded mainly because he had been taken to Dachau not long before the end of World War II, because he had never given up his religious beliefs and because he was helped, at certain critical moments, by some of his fellow inmates. Eventually he returned to his home in South Tyrol, where he became a craftsman in quill embroidery and a silversmith. Some of his customers were among the very people who had betrayed him to the Nazis when he was in hiding.

He described all these experiences in his moving memoir, which is characterized by its great humanity and astonishing lack of bitterness.

The German version, Unvergessen (5th edition) and the Italian translation, Dimenticare mai – Opzioni, campo di concentramento di Dachau, prigioniero di guerra, ritorno a casa, are available from Raetia Verlag, in Bolzano, the English translation, Unforgotten – A Memoir of Dachau, from Kiener Press in London and Munich.

Thaler also visited many schools and accompanied groups of students on visits to Dachau. In 1997 he received the Order of Merit of the Land of Tyrol, in 2011 he was awarded the honorary citizenship of Bolzano, and in 2013 he was chosen as Political Personality of the Year by the South Tyrolian Society for Political Science (la Società di Scienza Politica dell’Alto Adige/Sozietà de scienza pulitica).

Franz Thaler died on 29. October 2015 at the remarkable age of 90. For more information click here.