The Daily Rhino
Seven Years Short
Heinrich Harrer, 1912 - 2006
AUSTRIAN mountaineer, former SS member, lifelong friend to the Dalai Lama and the man Brad Pitt played in Seven Years in Tibet. Heinrich Harrer died last night, seven years short of his century.
He became the first man to climb the north face of the Swiss Eiger mountain and despite the book The White Spider becoming a core text amongst mountaineers, he achieved fame some years later. During a 1939 mission to Nanga Parbat (in modern-day Pakistan), Britain went to war with Germany. As Austria had been annexed into Germany, Harrer was arrested in British India as an enemy alien and interned for several years.
In 1944 he and Peter Aufschnaiter escaped to Tibet, then an unfamiliar mystery to the rest of the world. He met a ten year-old Dalai Lama and quickly became his mentor. Over the next seven years, the Dalai Lama claims Harrer educated him greatly about the Western world. In 1951, when the Chinese invaded Lhasa and Tibet, Harrer fled.
Years later he would be awarded the Golden Humboldt from Austria and the Light of Truth award from Tibet's government in exile, in India. His journals, books and photos taught the West a great deal about the inaccessible mountain country.
It is hard to reconcile the benign impact Harrer had on the young spiritual leader with his Nazi past. Indeed, about ten years ago Harrer confessed he was not only a Nazi member, but an SS officer. However he has never been accused nor linked with any mistreatment of others, perhaps because he left before the war began.
Irrespective, Harrer went on to become a human rights campaigner, celebrated author and he assisted in making many films. He remained friends with the small boy he taught fifty years ago and met with the reincarnation of the Buddha on several occasions as the decades past.
Technorati tags: tibet, india, buddhism
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