Addict (drugaddict) wrote,

The Dalai Lama told his friend that if his conscience was clear, he had nothing to fear

Heinrich Harrer, 93, Explorer of Tibet, Dies </nyt_headline>

Heinrich Harrer, a swashbuckling explorer who told of his magical life of conquering the world's highest peaks and tutoring the young Dalai Lama when Tibet seemed as exotic as Mars, only to have news of his Nazi past mar his final years, died Jan. 7 in Friesach, Austria. He was 93.

The Associated Press said his family announced his death in a hospital there, saying only that "in great peace, he carried out his final expedition."

Mr. Harrer's wanderings rivaled the fictional exploits of the film hero Indiana Jones. He was a member of the four-man team that made the first ascent of the formidable north wall of the Eiger, a 13,400-foot peak of the Bernese Alps in Switzerland. He escaped from a British prisoner-of-war camp, then hiked across the high Tibetan plateau, dodging bears, leopards and bandits before arriving in the forbidden city of Lhasa, gloveless and with his shoes in tatters.


As a youth, he was one of the fastest downhill skiers in the world, and after his Tibetan adventure, he led path-breaking expeditions to Alaska, the Andes and the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda, as well as the far reaches of the Amazon. Later, in New Guinea, he survived a 130-foot plunge over a waterfall and the attentions of headhunters. (He carried no gun, a result of the nonviolent Buddhism he learned from the Dalai Lama.)

Mr. Harrer, who became a champion golfer in his later years, wrote more than 20 books about his adventures, some including photographs considered to be among the best evidence of traditional Tibetan culture. He made about 40 documentary films and founded a museum about Tibet in Austria. In 1997, a film titled "Seven Years in Tibet," starring Brad Pitt, dramatized his book of the same name, a best seller in the United States in 1954.

Just months before the movie's release, the German magazine Stern added a startling and disagreeable new dimension to Mr. Harrer's life story; it reported that he enlisted in Hitler's storm troopers in 1933, when they were still illegal in Austria.

Five years later, he enlisted in the SS, the Nazi organization responsible for countless atrocities, and rose to sergeant. He asked the SS leader, Heinrich Himmler, for permission to marry in 1938, giving proof that he and his fiancée were Aryans. He later said he wore his SS uniform only once, the day of that marriage to Charlotte Wegener. In a ceremony celebrating the Eiger triumph in 1938, Mr. Harrer shook hands with Hitler and had his picture taken with him.

Mr. Harrer reacted to the disclosure of a Nazi past by saying that he had committed no crimes or atrocities. He said he understood and regretted his mistakes. He explained that he joined the SS only in order to coach skiing, and never coached an SS member.

Orville Schell, in his 2000 book "Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La from the Himalayas to Hollywood," commented: "There are not that many moments in life when to claim to be a craven careerist of the most calculating sort is a step up from ignominy."

Heinrich Harrer was born on July 6, 1912, at Hüttenberg, Austria, near the Alps, and grew up mountain-climbing and skiing. The son of a postman, he majored in geography and physical education at Graz University. He won a place on the Austrian Olympic ski team in 1936, and the next year won the downhill race in the world students' championship.

After he and three companions climbed the Eiger, he joined an expedition to climb Nanga Parbat, a 26,600-foot peak in what is now Pakistan. When World War II began, the British captured them and confined them, as Germans and Austrians, to a prison camp.

While he was in captivity, he and his wife divorced. Mr. Harrer is survived by their son, Peter, as well as his third wife, the former Katharina Haarhaus.

Mr. Harrer escaped from the camp after several attempts. He, a companion and a yak took 20 months to reach Tibet. It was the only avenue of escape, one that would have been impossible to all but trained mountaineers.

They arrived in Lhasa on Jan. 15, 1946, and squatted in the courtyard of a wealthy citizen who welcomed them. They evaded another order to leave by making themselves useful; Mr. Harrer worked as a gardener, his friend as an engineer.

The Dalai Lama, then a 10-year-old god king, looked down from his palace and observed Mr. Harrer teaching ice-skating to Tibetans, who called the new sport "walking on knives." Mr. Harrer soon became a government employee with responsibilities that included translating foreign news and directing a flood control project. He received a salary, a home and stable and several servants.

Mr. Harrer became the Dalai Lama's tutor when he was 37 and his pupil was 14, teaching him about topics ranging from Soviet politics to how a jet engine works. The young man was an eager student: Mr. Harrer wrote in his book that when he assigned him 10 sentences to translate, he routinely did 20. The two discussed Buddhism and Western science incessantly.

When Chinese troops invaded Tibet in 1951, Mr. Harrer crossed into India by way of Sikkim, shortly before the Dalai Lama himself had to flee. The two met periodically over the years, but the Dalai Lama did not learn of Mr. Harrer's Nazi past until it appeared in the news.

The Dalai Lama told his friend that if his conscience was clear, he had nothing to fear, The Independent, the London newspaper, reported. Mr. Harrer said that it was.

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