Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The True Story of Desert Explorer Laszlo Almasy

Spiegel Online (By Matthias Schulz. Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan)

Thanks Kat! I have a real fascination with the exploration activities of the Zerzura Club and the work of the Long Range Desert Group which followed. Almasy was a member of the informal Zerzura Club, a mainly British group searching, as a rather ambitious pass-time, for the so-called Lost City of Zerzura in the area of the Gilf Kebir. They never found a lost city but they did learn the lie of the land at the borders of Libya, much of which Pat Clayton mapped. During the Second World War the Hungarian Almasy served the Axis forces under Romel, and was responsible for smuggling Axis spies into Egypt using the knowledge of the Gilf area that he had learned in the pre-war period. Similarly, Ralph Bagnold used his own experiences to set up the Long Range Desert Group and patrol the Libyan borders. The film The English Patient used some of Almasy's experiences (and his name) but the film was fictional. If anyone is interested in reading more about Almasy there's a good book about him by John Bierman which I reviewed on the blog.

During World War II, desert explorer Laszlo Almasy smuggled Nazi agents through the Sahara on an epic journey behind enemy lines. Now the true story of the man depicted in "The English Patient," is coming to light.

As a boy, the son of a Hungarian nobleman would often stare off into the distance from his birthplace, a castle in the Burgenland region of present-day Austria. He always longed for the unattainable.

At 14, the boy built himself a glider to fly up to the sky, but it crashed.

Then, in the 1930s, Laszlo Almasy set out to find the lost oasis of Zarzura. The mythical place is mentioned in Arabian treasure books and in the collection of stories known as "One Thousand and One Nights," where it is referred to as "City of Brass."

The pioneer explored 2 million square kilometers (772,000 square miles) of the Sahara. He surveyed the land, drew maps and set foot in places in that sea of sand "that no human eye had seen." In the remote Wadi Sura, he even stumbled upon painted dugouts from the Stone Age -- a sensational find.

But he never found Zarzura.

There is no question that Almasy was a man who followed his desires. But who was this adventurer, flight instructor and Nazi agent, who the Bedouins reverently called Abu Ramla, or Father of the Sand?

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