What is RELD in railways

Kisch's career start : The tsar's spy

As expected, at dawn on May 25, 1913, a Sunday, the body of Colonel Alfred Redl was found. It was in room 1 of the Vienna Hotel Klomser, on the corner of Herrengasse and the corner of Bankgasse, right across from the legendary Café Central - as expected, because his colleagues had come to see him there the night before. "Colonel Redl is pale as a dead person because he knows that he is dead," Egon Erwin Kisch later describes the scene. The delegation had advised Redl to commit suicide and had brought a Browning Colt with them along with instructions for use. Although Redl was Chief of Staff of the VIII Army Corps in Prague, he is said to have not known how to use a pistol.

On May 26th, a report about Redl's “suicide” appeared in the “Neue Wiener Tageblatt”. One of "the most capable and most useful officers of the General Staff" apparently laid hands on himself in an "attack of mental disturbance". A day later, the Viennese “Zeit” and the Prague “Bohemia” suspected that the death was related to an espionage case. The military did everything possible to cover up the story. The very next day, Redl was secretly buried. But that sparked off a wave of research, rumors and inventions that brought to light one of the biggest espionage affairs on the eve of the First World War.

A top spy hunter turns out to be a chief spy! His comrades try to hide the fact that Italy, France, but above all Russia and, through Russia, also the highly explosive Serbia have been informed of plans for an emergency from the top! Possibly with the result that Austria's position in the war was decisively weakened from the start!

Like few other espionage cases, the Redl affair has retained its fascination to the present day. The ingredients of the case were simply too tempting: espionage and betrayal, homosexuality, luxury and waste, a headless military, a more than embarrassed imperial family and an unrelenting, investigative, admittedly wildly speculating press.

The betrayal is certain. What is certain is that Redl was homosexual and led a luxury life that was completely oversized by his standards. What is certain is that more than 400 films with recordings of secret military documents were found in his apartment, that at today's rate he received at least 500,000 euros for his services from Russia alone, probably more than twice as much. He was only discovered by chance, and finally a military commission searched his apartment in Prague and ordered him to commit suicide in Vienna.

Above all, the cover-up attempts, internal quarrels and the confrontation of the heir to the throne, Franz Ferdinand, who was murdered in Sarajevo the following year, with his generals contributed to the interest-driven versions. The military tried to prevent the damage done from becoming known.

Did Redl actually betray the entire deployment plans against Russia or “only” the emergency measures in Galicia, troop strengths and railway contingents, mobilization and fortress plans? Has he been blackmailed because of his homosexuality or has he acted out of greed and a penchant for luxury, one of countless "self-providers" that the Russian secret service recorded in its files? In their most serious and solid account of the case, published in 2012, Verena Moritz and Hannes Leidinger assume, based on Russian archive finds, that the Russians knew nothing of Redl's homosexuality, which rather offered itself under cover names.

Redl was actually blackmailed - by relevant partners. What is certain is that in the end he was transferred from Russia by a poste restante letter with money. But whether three or four people came to see him, whether in civilian clothes or in uniform, whether he left a slip of paper with the line “I beg your pardon and forbearance!” Or three farewell letters, all of this is just as unclear as it is due to whom, that the scandal of espionage, like that of the cover-up, was gradually coming to light. In any case, one thing is clear: it wasn't Egon Erwin Kisch.

But it was precisely Kisch who provided the supposedly definitive solution. His version, published in 1924 in a booklet in the “Outsiders of Society” series, is still considered by many to be the authoritative account of the Redl case, which would never have come to the public if the ingenious reporter had not taken care of it. With this, Kisch not only decisively secured his reputation as a “mad reporter”, but also inspired numerous subsequent representations. But it was at most in part as Kisch has narrated, and his role was nothing more than that of a brazen free rider.

So today one can study an - exemplary - Kisch case in addition to the case of Colonel Redl.

The story in itself is time-symptomatic and tragic enough. Redl was born in 1864 in Lemberg, Galicia, as one of seven children. His father, a railway chief inspector, placed great value on a trilingual upbringing - Polish, Ukrainian and German. Although Alfred Redl had only attended a simple cadet school, he quickly made a career, in 1907 led the “customer office” and quickly advanced to the position of deputy head of the “evidence office”, as the Austrians called their military intelligence service. In May 1912 he was promoted to Chief of Staff in Prague.

Afterwards everyone wanted to have known that Redl was gay, although the press was initially still looking for a woman by his side. Delicate details were gradually revealed, his possession of pornographic pictures as well as the inventory of his underwear. Kisch, for example, attributed the monstrous number of 400 pairs of ice cream gloves to him.

Redl had been successful as a spy hunter, prosecutor in numerous trials, but also interfered in such a way that he was later suspected of trying to distract from himself. He, who had been predicted to have a brilliant career, now had every character weakness attested. Apparently he was indeed extremely vain, wanted to cover up the fact that he was not of nobility. He drove a sinfully expensive Daimler with a Prince Heinrich body, decorated with a supposedly noble coat of arms, bought his lover an almost equally expensive car, kept two chauffeurs, three servants and a number of riding horses. None of his comrades should have thought that this was unusual? It may be that he was not directly pressed into espionage because of his homosexuality. But the "physical abnormality", as it is called in an official statement, was a criminal offense and was frowned upon in the military. It's hard to imagine how that shaped his life, his craving for recognition as well as all the constant cover-up maneuvers and the little, lousy blackmail he was exposed to.

Redl, soon stamped “Unredl”, found no public favor. In June 1913, his grave was desecrated by "angry citizens". It was speculated that he was the protégé of a powerful gay ring, and took him as an example of a conspiratorial caste. Emperor Franz Joseph, on the other hand, is said to have called him one of those "creatures" that brought forth the new era, an example of the fatal bourgeois softening of the noble staff officers. For the socialists he was an example of the decadence of the monarchy, the church of sinful distance from God.

His case is surely an example of how the spirit of the corps made blind, how an incompetent military caste drove from one debacle to the next and into the great catastrophe. After the amateurish attempt to conceal the betrayal failed, the public went public with dosed information. The case was not only dangerous for his immediate superiors, it was also extremely inconvenient for the controversial Chief of Staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, as he feared renewed unrest in Hungary. Above all, the extent of the betrayal was downplayed, including against the emperor and heir apparent.

In fact, Redl was just one particularly spectacular of several cases of treason in the officer ranks. Back then there must have been espionage hysteria. New cases were constantly being reported, suspicions loud. Russia, England, Italy, Austria and Germany spied in every direction. Even the closely allied German and Austrian armies kept their knowledge and secrets hidden from each other. By the way, at the beginning of 1913 a German NCO was exposed whose reports to Russia are said to have been even more serious than the Redls - at least according to Maximilian Ronge, Redl's student and later head of the registry office. Not surprisingly, those who belittled Redl's treason in 1913 began to blow it up as early as 1914 and all the way after 1918. Redl now served as a scapegoat for failure.

“As unique as the Redl crime may seem - it will always repeat itself in some form. Because the states themselves are the commissioners of this crime, which the states themselves punish, with death by hanging or with exile to Devil's Island or with the command to commit suicide "- Egon Erwin Kisch in 1924 about the" world scandal ". For the avowed communist, Redl was the symptomatic exponent of an irreparable system. At that time he prepared his “factual report” accordingly. And staged itself so unrestrained that the book was henceforth an example of courageous investigative journalism.

Kisch initially made use of the well-known facts, suggested background discussions and interviews with those involved and provided numerous unknown details, but finally offered a special coup: The search of Redl's Prague apartment was only revealed because he, Kisch, was on the soccer team had a locksmith who had been called in by the military to open the apartment. The locksmith was absent from the game and consequently one lost. Kisch quotes a newspaper report as evidence. However, it does not exist, as there is virtually nothing else about the story.

The only verifiable contribution of Kisch at the time is an article from June 1913 in which he describes a visit to Redl's dentist. All the more vividly, he assembled the facts and put himself in the middle as an actor. Only the numerous versions that he delivered between 1924 and 1942 contradict each other again and again. Names are made up or misrepresented, articles are quoted that never existed. He fantasizes the code word for the poste restante letter: "Opernball 13", which then found its way into other representations of other people. The story can still be read on Wikipedia, at least with a hint of doubts about it. Apparently, Kisch decorated and dressed up things from hearsay, but also reinterpreted conversations for his own purposes.

There will never be a truthful reconstruction of the events - the cover-ups and speculations of those involved were too diverse from the outset. What remains are the many stories and images that have been inscribed in the cultural memory. For many, Redl has probably been wearing the face of Klaus Maria Brandauer since István Szabó's 1985 film. And it remains a lesson about an ailing system on the eve of the First World War, at the same time a lesson about the amalgamation of facts and fictions into myths. That shouldn't be missing from this: Not first the Nazis, but above all they, declared the traitor Redl to be a Jew. In 1944 they removed his tombstone.

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