Remembering Idaho’s Favorite Nazi

COLUMN: Remembering Idaho's favorite Nazi
You don't say
By Steve Crump

There's a lot we still don't know about the Gem State's most celebrated stormtrooper.

But more details are slowly emerging about the life of Count Franz Felix Schaffgotsch, an Austrian nobleman chartered by American railroad magnate Averell Harriman to roam western America and pick a site for the country's first ski resort ...

Late in the winter of 1935-36, Schaffgotsch settled on a remote, high-desert Idaho sheep town called Ketchum ... (The name Sun Valley didn't exist then; it was invented later by publicist Steve Hannigan) ...

By that time, the count - a dilettante, skilled skier and lady's man of international repute who counted Harriman and British actor David Niven as friends - was an enthusiastic admirer of Adolf Hitler and a supporter of "Austrofascism," the right-wing, anti-Semitic political movement that dominated his homeland before Hitler's troops overran the nation in 1938 ...

How enthusiastic? ... Schaffgotsch enlisted in the Waffen-SS soon after it was created in 1939, and was commissioned as an officer ...

The SS was an elite military organization personally local to Hitler that served as shock troops for the German army throughout World War II, and Schaffgotsch was the equivalent of a first lieutenant in either the Wiking division (an armored unit made up mostly of volunteers from the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway and Denmark) or the Florian Geyer division (a cavalry outfit composed largely of ethnic Germans from outside Germany) ...

He was almost certainly on the front lines when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, and family records show that he was killed at Kurganaja in what's now southern Russia on Aug. 11, 1942 ... He was 38 years old ...

At the time of his death, Schaffgotsch was part of Operation Edelweiss - a campaign by the German army to capture the oil-rich Caucuses Mountains region ... Ten days after he was killed, a German unit raised the flag on Mount Elburus, a three-mile-high peak that's the summit of the Caucuses ... But the Germans could advance no farther east, and six months later were routed at Stalingrad ...

Schaffgotsch was one of few Austrians with anything to do with Sun Valley who ended up on the wrong side of history ... Many of the German and Austrian ski instructors who were in Blaine County when Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941 - interned during hostilities - returned to Idaho after the war ...

Steve Crump is the Times-News Opinion editor.

http://www.magicvalley.com/articles/2009/01/30/news/local_state/153924.txt