Charlie Map-Maker


The following account comes from Ken O'Kennedy.

I don’t know how many people in Stalag were work dodgers, punishment dodgers, layabouts or bludgers. Some had legitimate jobs. I got one with the work detail which marched into Wolfsberg to distribute the private parcels to the working camps, and then another job with the German officer in charge of camp maintenance –Leutnant Holy.

His office, if I remember correctly, was in Barrack 6, two barracks below the sports field, and directly across from the office of the camp commandant, Hauptmann Steiner Also employed there was a POW, Charlie Fairman. He claimed that in civilian life he was an architect, but one or two of his friends said that this was a normal Charlie-type exaggeration; actually he was a draughtsman

Charlie enjoyed extraordinary freedom; he often went without a guard into the town on missions of various kinds, and then, one day, he disappeared

After the war.....

Together with two other ex POW’s we met Charlie and heard his story. We were well- prepared with pinches of salt. He said that he had escaped by train, dressed as an S.S. officer (!!!) down through Serbia and then by boat to Italy. It seems that on his trips to town he paid visits to Willi Weixler the town undertaker who offered to get him out of Austria and further. Charlie’s popularity was embroidered with his promise to come back after the war and marry the Weixler daughter, Minni. He assured us that Willi had done this for other prisoners, especially two who were charged  by the Germans under Section 92 of some Wehrmacht regulation.

(Section 92; POW having sexual relations with a German woman, 2 years in civil jail

Same having relations with Russian or Ukrainian woman, 2 weeks ditto)

An interesting ethnic evaluation. 

Charlie did not go back. I am fairly sure he went to work in South Africa. But I did, 10 years after. I decided to back-pack from Vienna across to Innsbruck and, of course drop off in Wolfsberg. I took a photo from the site of the front gate to go with one I already had, which was taken before the end of the war. I then decided to try and get an angle on Charlie’s story and so visited the Weixler house

Willi had died some years before, but I was warmly greeted by Frau Weixler, who pulled out all the records of the work they had done and all the names of those who had been killed during the American bombing of December 1944. Then without my initiation she asked me if I knew Charlie Fairman. I agreed of course and said I believed he had escaped. 

“Oh yes” she said “Willi arranged it all”

“As an SS officer?” I said. 

“They didn’t tell me about those things. You know he promised to divorce his wife and come back and marry my Minni.”

There was no time to think of some suitable comment because then she really staggered me.

“Willi did a lot of work with your so-called Inner Circle for your friends who were in trouble. I wish you could have seen him. But you know that he was also working on these projects with the Major? “

I said the only Major I ever saw was a furious man who wore a cloak and rimless Himmler-type glasses. We called him The Bat or Die Fledermaus. He would come on parades, take over from Steiner and vent his rage on us.

“Yes” she said, " that was him – Major Knaus. He arranged all sorts of escapes. Go and see him! He runs a bar-café-hotel in St. Veit an der Glan."

 I thanked her and shock. I regret not having gone there.

All-in-all, I am fairly certain that Charlie was responsible for the map of the camp. He would not have annotated it, but could certainly in his capacity as a draughtsman have drawn it. He also was close to the commandant at most times. At the bottom right-hand corner of the map are the words :”Abteilung Unterkunft” (Lt. Holy’s maintenance department) where Charlie worked, and –critically- the initials CEF- Charles Fairman.

Deidre's discovery

Deidre Mussen is the great-neice of Padre John Ledgerwood, a major figure in Stalag 18A. John wrote an account of the life in the main Lager between 1941 and 1944. Copies exist at the Australian War Memorial, but the original is part of the Alexander Turnbull Collection in New Zealand. Following her participation in the 2017 Wolfsberg Weekend, Deidre returned to New Zealand and obtained permission to examine the original document. On removing the text from its folder, she noticed some papers folded at the back. On removing these, she was astonished to discover a copy of the Stalag 18A map. The map was in pieces and badly fire-damaged (John Ledgerwood lost a lot of his belongings in a house fire.) but seemed to be the original map from which copies had been made. Even more astonishing was that the Museum authorities were not aware of the map's existence.

Below are a composite photo of the original map and a copy for comparison.

Original map Copy

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