Wars and smugglers

Around 1620 the religious disputes of the thirty year war caused the neighboring peoples of Prättigau and Montafon to become bitter enemies. They attacked each other, equally stole horses and cattle, murdered, plundered, and pillaged the villages. The War of the Spanish Succession, at the beginning of the 18th century, also continuously brought foreign troops into the valley at a horrific cost to the valley population. During the "French War" the people from Montafon, lead by their legendary countryman Batlogg, also successfully defended the Schlappiner Joch against French powers on the 24th of March, 1799.

During the Second World War, the politically persecuted looked for a way over the Joch to find their freedom. One of them, Claus Mayer from Unley, Australia, celebrated the 45th anniversary of his successful escape from Hitler Germany in the summer of 1989 at the hotel Madrisa.

Mayer, an enthusiastic mountain climber and several times guest at Madrisa in the thirties, served until 1944 as officer in the German Wehrmacht, until war authorities detected a non-Aryan great-grandparent in the family tree. The parents were deported to the East but their son could flee from Berlin, and landed for a while in Gargellen. The truck driver that had taken him as far as St. Gallenkirch hadn’t known of the deadly danger which was waiting for his passenger until arriving at the border.

They checked and immediately confiscated his passport and shortly before reaching his destination, the escape seemed to be over. It certainly speaks for Bertram Rhomberg’s civil courage that he intervened to protect his guest. After numerous debates with the border patrol, the passport was again handed over safely in the hands of the proper owner.

The adventure however was still not finished. Through darkness and fog, in the truest sense of the words, the fleeing officer made his way over the Joch and into secure Switzerland and to his dismay, found himself at daybreak back in Gargellen.

Shortly later, Claus Mayer started his second try. This time the snow brightened night helped him find his way to the peaceful Graubünd village of St. Antönien. From there, he managed to get hold of Swiss relatives and immigrated to Australia. There he became a distinguished business man, who distributes a multitude of Austrian goods.

Not everyone who tried to escape the horror of Nazi-Terror over the Gargellen "gap" was so lucky. Civil courage is not everyone’s cup of tea, and unfortunately there was betrayal in Montafon as well. Hoping for a future without fear and or brutality, Jura Soyfert (who had already made a name for himself as an artist during the time between the world wars) a Russian emigrant residing in Vienna, had been running away from the Gestapo and made it all the way to Gargellen. For his secret escape to the promising salvation of Switzerland, Soyfert, not knowing his way, trusted native guides and was betrayed. He was caught by the Nazis, and as a result, was deported to the concentration camp of Dachau, where the very talented songwriter died, as one of the thousands of victims of the holocaust: a pitiful, senseless death.

That the "Green Border" between Switzerland, with its many peaks and ridges, was extremely difficult to control was no secret and smugglers took advantage of this throughout the centuries. Countless adventurous stories can be told about the smugglers that made fun of the tax collector with nightly prowling over the Montafon passes and thereby duping the tax collector. Already 200 years ago, namely on July 16, 1803, the following decree to stop the smuggler nuisances was proclaimed to the heads of the Montafon valley:

"To control this every so often occuring nonsense and secure the issued border patrol against smugglers, it has been ordered by means of the Royal Imperial (K.u.K.) War Council enactment that in cases where smugglers are stopped, and they forcibly resist the guards or assault with weapons or other dangerous tools, that the guards themselves by reason of the existing regulations, massacre these certain smugglers outright."

Nethertheless, smuggling diligently continued for the thrill of adventure but also from need: coffee and tobacco from Switzerland was traded for the Austrian waterproof Loden hats and pant suspenders, elastic band by the meter and even sheep herds. Klusthony from St. Antönien was considered the "King of the Smugglers" in Prättigau. During the first world war, so it is said, he supplied  the Austrian army with automobile tires by smuggling them over the passes.

There was one time when Klusthöny had bad luck in Gargellen. He ran directly into the tax collector and was then arrested. He seemed completely exhausted and starving, so much so that the trusting border patrol took him along to eat at the hotel Madrisa. From there he managed with cunning and perfidy to to escape and lured the border patrol to follow his trail toward Switzerland, meanwhile he retraced his steps, showed up in Madrisa again, loaded up his smuggled goods, and was never seen again.