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December 14, 2016

Good things come to those who wait

Karma is the Buddhist idea that whatever you do, good or bad, will eventually come back to you.  Eventually being the operative word in the case of the Perthshire village of Comrie. More than 70 years ago when the village was a POW camp a young prisoner was showed great kindness by the locals – even to the extent of being smuggled out the camp so he could watch his first cinema show. That experience made a deep impression on the young man that stayed with him for the rest of his life. The eventual contents of his will proved that karma is indeed a powerful force – if you’re prepared to wait long enough.

Greg Russell, The Herald

Extraordinary details have emerged in the story of the young Nazi prisoner of war who left £400,000 in his will to the village of Comrie.

Heinrich Steinmeyer, a former Waffen SS soldier known as Heinz, fell in love with the Perthshire village after friends there sneaked him out through a hole in the fence of the POW camp he was held in and dressed him in a borrowed school uniform to take him to his first cinema show.

Steinmeyer was captured in France when he was 19, and was held in a POW camp at Cultybraggan near Comrie.

Such were the friendships he made as a POW and afterwards that he left his entire estate – worth nearly £400,000 – to the people of the village when he died in 2014. The money has now been released to Comrie Development Trust (CDT) after lengthy negotiations with German legal authorities, and it has launched a consultation on how it should be spent.

Steinmeyer, who lived in Scotland after the war and often visited Comrie, died a fortnight after George Carson, a close friend he had made in the village. Steinmeyer had his ashes scattered in Comrie.

Carson’s son, also George, told The Sunday Herald the German had decided years ago where he wanted his money to go after his death.

“Heinz set up the arrangement for his will in 2008 with the CDT,” said Carson, who also recounted the secretive trip to the cinema. “The story is absolutely true – he didn’t go back to Germany after the war and used to visit my parents and they discussed it many times then.

“They had been blethering to Heinz through the chain-link fence and they decided to sneak him out one Saturday, all dressed in school uniforms, which they thought would be a good disguise.

 “My mum took my uncle’s school uniform up to the camp and they got him out through a hole in the fence. Then they got him dressed in a Morrison’s Academy uniform and they all cycled along the back road from Comrie to Crieff to the cinema.

“Heinz had never seen a moving picture or anything like this before and was absolutely blown away by it. He was from a very poor background in Silesia [now part of Poland] where he was an apprentice butcher before he went into the army.”

Carson dismisses talk of the village accepting “Nazi money”, which he said undermined the kindness shown by Steinmeyer.

“Young Heinrich wasn’t any different from us. He was just conditioned by the environment he lived in, his family and peer group. In the same way our soldiers thought when they put on their uniforms, he thought he was doing the right thing.

“It wasn’t until he came to the camp in Comrie that he appreciated the different aspects of the world and the people in it. It was such a life-changing time for him that his ashes are scattered here and he’s left all his worldly goods to the elderly in the village.”

He added: “Heinz just wanted to say ‘thank you’ to everybody who helped him here – it was an enormous token of kindness.”

Alexander Reid, from CDT, said Steinmeyer’s was an amazing story of personal friendship and appreciation, which would benefit the people of Comrie.

“Throughout his captivity, Heinrich Steinmeyer was very struck by the kindness shown to him Scottish people, which he had not expected,” he said.

“After the war, he visited Comrie and made lasting friendships in the village. He vowed to leave everything he owned for the benefit of older people in the place he wanted to thank.

“Mr Steinmeyer always maintained he was lucky to be captured by the Scots. Part of his will, reads, ‘Herewith, I would like to express my gratitude to the people of Scotland for the kindness and generosity that I have experienced in Scotland during my imprisonment of war and hereafter’.”

Reid said that executing the will and the sale of the German’s property involved a “complex and very lengthy process”, but he added: “However, €457180 – £384,000 – has been transferred to a special Heinrich Steinmeyer Legacy Fund, set up by Comrie Development Trust as a separate account, and to be used exclusively to provide for local developments for older people, suggested by older people.

“Heinrich wanted to express his deep gratitude for the way he was treated as a prisoner and for his time working in Scotland after the war.

“Heinrich’s personal history is an amazing story of friendship and appreciation, and people in Comrie will both honour and benefit from his legacy.”