HOLIDAY DISASTERS

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The Independent Travel
When Herbert Anderson and his companion, Otto, decided to climb to the peak of the Olperer mountain in the Zillertal Alps, the last thing they expected was to be mistaken for Nazi conspirators and to be taken prisoner by Italian troops - but then it was 1934

his holiday disaster happened a very long time ago - in August 1934, to be exact, almost 65 years ago - and the setting was the Zillertal Alps, which divide Austrian Tyrol from Italy and are about 10 miles north of the Brenner Pass.

Climbing these peaks can be either relatively easy or hazardous, depending on the weather and your experience. My companion that day was my friend Otto (now an 89-year-old widower living in Sheffield). We certainly did not anticipate the drama that was to befall us.

Our target on that July day was the Olperer, a mighty and majestic peak of 10,200ft, which is snow-capped all year round. As usual when climbing we had left our rucksacks in the hutte (refuge) to lighten the burden, and we just carried a small bag of provisions girdled around our hips.

We were really enjoying the climb when, suddenly, we were stopped by Italian soldiers, mountain troops recognisable by their green uniforms and the feather in their caps. This was definitely a hostile action: they took us firmly into their midst and frogmarched us southwards across very steep, dangerous slopes, into Italy.

No reason was given to us for this action. What we did not know was that in Vienna, the Austrian chancellor had just been brutally murdered in his office. The perpetrators of this deed were dressed in the uniforms of the Austrian police, but were, in fact, members of an extreme Nazi conspiracy; they had been surprised by genuine police while the chancellor (known as the "pocket chancellor" because of his diminutive stature) was bleeding to death even as he made his last requests for a doctor and a priest.

The attackers had fled in all directions (though they were gradually captured, one by one, and eventually executed. But on this July day, the whole of the Austrian and Italian Alps were under guard. All borders were sealed.

Benito Mussolini was every bit as determined to catch the killers as the Austrians themselves - he had befriended Austria as a convenient buffer state between himself and Hitler. It was hardly surprising that our Alpine troops certified us as fleeing Nazis.

We never reached Olperer. Instead, we were taken down to Dobbico in the valley, and a put in a cell at the police station. I mustered my best Italian and did my best to convince them that we were harmless, non- political ramblers.

We were eventually released, whereupon we faced a long journey back by train, made longer due to the awkward border geography between the two countries. It now reads like a curious little adventure, but on the day it was like a premonition of the horror of the following years.

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E-mail: sundaytravel@independent.co.uk

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