- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — Heinrich Harrer, an Austrian mountaineer and former Nazi who became a friend and tutor of the young Dalai Lama, died yesterday. He was 93.

Mr. Harrer’s family said in a statement that “in great peace, he carried out his final expedition” when he died in a hospital. His family, which did not specify a cause of death, said Mr. Harrer would be buried Saturday.

Actor Brad Pitt played Mr. Harrer in the film “Seven Years in Tibet,” which was based on Mr. Harrer’s 1953 memoir of his time in the Himalayan nation.

Born July 6, 1912, the son of a postal worker in the Carinthian village of Knappenberg, Mr. Harrer first made headlines in 1938 with the first ascent of Switzerland’s dreaded Eiger North Face.

At least nine mountaineers had died trying to scale the sheer wall, long considered Europe’s greatest mountaineering challenge. Dozens have perished in subsequent attempts.

“We were never afraid. We never had any idea of returning or giving up,” Mr. Harrer told reporters on the 50th anniversary of the feat.

His ascent earned him fame and a handshake from Adolf Hitler: Mr. Harrer had joined the Nazi Party when Germany took control of Austria in 1938. He also joined the SS, the party’s police wing associated with atrocities during World War II.

Mr. Harrer later said he joined the SS and Nazi Party in order to enter a teachers organization. The membership let him join a government-financed Himalayan expedition, his life’s dream.

Mr. Harrer and a colleague were arrested by British troops in India at the end of that expedition as war broke out in September 1939.

The two escaped an internment camp in 1944 and trekked through Tibet to Lhasa, where few Westerners had been allowed to enter. They soon endeared themselves to the country’s secular elite and to the religious head, the young Dalai Lama.

Mr. Harrer taught the Dalai Lama mathematics, English and sports, and became his adviser and friend. Mr. Harrer’s subsequent book about the experience, “Seven Years in Tibet,” was translated into 48 languages.

He later explored other remote areas of the globe, wrote about a dozen books and made about 40 documentary films.

His adventures became known to millions worldwide in the 1997 film starring Mr. Pitt. It was only a few months before the movie’s release that his Nazi past caught up with him.

Documents cited by the German magazine Stern in an expose just before the release showed that Mr. Harrer joined Hitler’s underground SA storm troops in Austria in 1933, when he was 21 and Nazi organizations still were banned in Austria.

While he had said he joined the Nazi Party to further his teaching and mountaineering careers, Mr. Harrer did not explain why he joined the SA when Nazis still were persecuted in Austria.

Mr. Harrer was interned at the start of the war and never linked to any Nazi atrocities.

Simon Wiesenthal, the famed Nazi hunter who died last year, said Mr. Harrer was not involved in politics and was innocent of wrongdoing.

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