- László Almásy
László Ede Almásy de Zsadány et Törökszentmiklós
Bust of László Almásy at the Hungarian Geographical Museum in Érd
Born August 22, 1895
Died March 22, 1951(aged 55)
Buried at Salzburg, Austria Allegiance Austria-Hungary
Service/branch Austro-Hungarian Army
Austro-Hungarian Air Force
German military intelligence service (Abwehr)
Rank Hauptman Unit 11th Hussars Regiment
Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Iron Cross
László Ede Almásy de Zsadány et Törökszentmiklós (22 August 1895 – 22 March 1951) was a Hungarian aristocrat, motorist, desert researcher, aviator, Scout-leader and soldier who also served as the basis for the protagonist in Michael Ondaatje's 1992 novel The English Patient and the movie based on it.
Almásy was born in Borostyánkő, Austria-Hungary (today Bernstein im Burgenland, Austria), into a Hungarian noble family  (his father was the zoologist and ethnographer György Almásy), and, from 1911 to 1914, was educated at Berrow School, situated in a private house in Eastbourne, United Kingdom where he was tutored by Daniel Wheeler.
World War I
During World War I, Almásy joined the 11th Regiment of Hussars along with his brother Janos. Almásy saw action against the Serbians, and then the Russians on the Eastern Front. In 1916, he transferred to the Austro-Hungarian Imperial and Royal Aviation Troops. After being shot down over Northern Italy in March 1918, Almásy saw out the remainder of the war as a flight instructor.
After the war, Almásy returned to join the Eastbourne Technical Institute. From November 1921 to June 1922, he lodged at the same address in Eastbourne. He was a member of the pioneering Eastbourne Flying Club.
Almásy continued to support King Karl of Austria during the interwar period. On two occasions, he drove Karl to Budapest, Hungary, when he tried to get his throne back. It may be that the King unofficially bestowed on him the title of Count, that Almásy only used outside of Hungary.
After 1921, Almásy worked as a representative of the Austrian car firm Steyr Automobile in Szombathely, Hungary, and won many car races in the Steyr colors. He also organized hunting trips in the Kingdom of Egypt for visiting Europeans.
In 1926, during his drive from Egypt to the Sudan along the Nile, Almásy developed an interest in the area and later returned there to drive and hunt. He also demonstrated Steyr vehicles in desert conditions in 1929 with two Steyr lorries and led his first expedition to the desert.
In 1932, Almásy left to find the legendary Zerzura, "The Oasis of the Birds," with three Britons, Sir Robert Clayton, Squadron Leader H.W.G.J. Penderel and Patrick Clayton. They were all sponsored by Prince Kemal el Din. The expedition used both cars and an aeroplane. They cataloged prehistoric rock art sites, including the Cave of Swimmers in Uweinat and Gilf Kebir. They were also known to the Bedouin who avoided the caves but sometimes entered them to recover livestock. In 1933, Almásy claimed that he found the third valley of Zerzura in Wadi Talh.
Almásy had succeeded in turning from an autodidact into a serious explorer. He was given the nickname Abu Ramla ("Father of the Sands") by his Bedouin friends. However, by the mid-1930s, the time for research and adventure was drawing to a close.
In 1932, Almásy's former sponsor Clayton died — not from a crash-landing as described in "The English Patient" — but of an infection from a desert fly contracted in the Gilf Kebir region (died of aneurism in march of 1962). However, Clayton's wife did die one year later (1933) in a mysterious plane crash.
In 1934 or 1935, Almásy and his colleague Hansjoachim von der Esch became the first Europeans to re-establish contact with the Magyarab tribe in Nubia, who speak Arabic but are believed to be the descendants of Nubian women and Hungarian soldiers serving in the Ottoman army in the 16th century.
Almásy recorded some of his adventures in the book Az ismeretlen Szahara (English: The Unknown Sahara), first published in 1934 in Budapest. The German edition, under the title Unbekannte Sahara. Mit Flugzeug und Auto in der Libyschen Wüste (The Unknown Sahara. By Aeroplane and Car in the Libyan Desert), was published five years later (1939) by Brockhaus in Leipzig. It contains accounts of his most sensational discoveries like the one of the Jebel Uweinat (the highest mountain of the Eastern Sahara desert), of the rock paintings in the Gilf Kebir and of the lost oasis of Zerzura.
Almásy's role in relation to the Gilf Kebir was not that of a discoverer. The Bedouins knew of the cave, attributing the paintings inside to djinn or unpredictable spirits. Egyptian Prince Kemal ed Din wrote an article about Gilf Kebir for National Geographic in 1921. What Almásy did was to map and enter each cave and draw the paintings inside.
In 1935, Almásy may have provided Italian Marshal Italo Balbo with intelligence concerning the feasibility of advancing into Egypt and the Sudan from Italian North Africa (Africa Settentrionale Italiana, or ASI). This was during the Abyssinia Crisis and Balbo was the Governor-General of ASI.
In the following years, Almásy led archeological and ethnographical expeditions with the German ethnographer Leo Frobenius. He also worked in Egypt at Almaza airfield as a flying instructor.
World War II
After the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Almásy had to return to Hungary. The British suspected that he was a spy for the Italians — and vice versa. In fact, he was a Hungarian who worked for which ever colonial power offered him the best surveying contract. Hungary formally joined the Axis powers by signing the Tripartite Pact on 20 November 1940.
The German military intelligence service (Abwehr) recruited Almásy in Budapest. As a Hungarian reserve officer, he was assigned to the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) as a Captain (Hauptmann) and assigned to the Afrika Korps. In 1941 and 1942, he worked with the German troops of Erwin Rommel using his desert experience and led military missions. During "Operation Salaam," Almásy infiltrated two German spies through enemy lines in a manner similar to the Allied Long Range Desert Group. "Operation Salaam" was not a covert operation. Almásy and his team wore German uniforms. They also used American cars and a truck with German crosses surreptitiously incorporated as part of the vehicles camouflage pattern. Almásy delivered the German (Abwehr) agents Johannes Eppler and his radio operator Hans-Gerd Sandstede to Cairo in the same way. Rommel subsequently promoted Almásy to major.
As late as 1944, Almásy was involved with "Operation Dora." This was a Greek-based operation to set up a base at an abandoned Italian airstrip in the Libyan Desert. The base would be used to infiltrate German agents into North Africa to set up listening posts. Even this late in the war, the operation almost succeeded.
After the end of the North African Campaign, Almásy relocated to Turkey where he became involved in a plan to cause an Egyptian revolt which never materialized. He then returned to Budapest where with his contacts from the Roman Catholic Church he helped save the lives of several Jewish families at a time when Jews were being sent to concentration camps.
After the war, Almásy was arrested in Hungary and ended up in a Soviet prison. After the Communists took over in Hungary, he was tried for treason in the Communist People's Court. Eventually Almásy was acquitted. He escaped the country reputedly with the aid of the British intelligence which reportedly bribed Hungarian Communist officials to enable his release.The bribe was paid by Alaeddin Moukhtar cousin of King Farouk of Egypt. The British then spirited him into British occupied Austria using a false passport under the name of Josef Grossman. He was escorted by MI6 agent Ronnie Waring, later known as the Duke of Valderano. When Almásy was pursued by a "hit squad" from the Soviet "Committee for State Security" (Komityet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosty or KGB), the British put him on an aeroplane to Cairo,where he was met by Mouktar and a British MI6 agent.
Almásy became ill in 1951 during a visit in Austria. He died of dysentery in a hospital in Salzburg, where he was then buried. The epitaph on his grave, erected by Hungarian patriots in 1995, honors him as a "Pilot, Saharaforscher und Entdecker der Oase Zarzura" (Pilot, Sahara Explorer, and Discoverer of the Zerzura Oasis).
From the beginning he was a member of the Scout movement. In 1921 Almásy became the International Commissioner of the Hungarian Scout Association. With Count Pál Teleki, he took part in organizing the 4th World Scout Jamboree in Gödöllő, Hungary where Almásy presented the Air Scouts to Robert Baden-Powell on August 9, 1933.
Sexuality and death
Letters discovered in 2010 in Germany written by Almásy prove he, unlike the fictionalized character of the film The English Patient, was in fact homosexual. His lover was a young soldier named Hans Entholt who was an officer in the Wehrmacht and who was killed after stepping on a landmine. A staff member of the Heinrich Barth Institute for African Studies where the letters are located, also confirmed that "Egyptian princes were among Almásy's lovers". The letters also confirmed that Almásy died from amoebic dysentry, in 1951.
- ^ http://ferenczygen.tripod.com/id5.html
- ^ a b Eastbourne Local History Society Newsletter Nr 143
- ^ Bierman, John (2004). The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy: The Real English Patient. pp. 20-21.
- ^ Kelly, Saul, The Lost Oasis, p. 121
- ^ Stehmeyer, Anja: Rommels Spion - Saddams Geisel. In: Hamburger Abendblatt (17. Oktober 1990). Accessed on 4 April 2010.
- ^ Kelly, Saul, The Lost Oasis, p. 243
- ^ Albo d'Oro delle Famiglie Nobili e Notabili Europee, vol XIV, Florence 2000, pp. 811-812
- ^ a b Allan Hall (April 5, 2010). "The real English Patient hero was not womaniser... he was GAY, letters show". Daily Mail. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1263670/Inspiration-The-English-Patient-hero-gay-love-Nazi-soldier.html. Retrieved April 5, 2010. Archived at WebCite
- Almásy, Ladislaus. Schwimmer in der Wüste (Swimmer of the Desert). Innsbruck: Haymon, 1997. (new edition of Unbekannte Sahara)
- Bierman, John. The Secret Life of Laszlo Almasy: The Real English Patient. London: Penguin Books, 2004.
- Kelly, Saul. The Lost Oasis: The Desert War and the Hunt for Zerzura. Westview Press, 2002. ISBN 0-7195-6162-0 (HC)
- Mitchell, Sandy. "The Real Count Almasy" theage.com.au (2 July 2002) 
- Ondaatje, Michael. The English Patient. (fiction) 1992.
- Schrott, Raoul. Khamsin (fiction). Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2002.
- Sensenig-Dabbous, Eugene. " 'Will the Real Almásy Please Stand Up!' Transporting Central European Orientalism via The English Patient," in: German Orientalism, Jennifer Jenkins (ed.), Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East Volume 24, No. 2, 2004.
- Török, Zsolt: "Salaam Almasy. Almásy László életregénye" (Salaam Almasy: Biography of László Almásy). Budapest: ELTE, 1998.
- Török, Zsolt. "László Almásy: The Real 'English patient' - The Hungarian Desert Explorer." Földrajzi Közlemények 121.1-2 (1997): 77-86.
- Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven. "Ondaatje's The English Patient and Questions of History." Comparative Cultural Studies and Michael Ondaatje's Writing. Ed. Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek. West Lafayette: Purdue UP, 2005. 115-32.
- Tötösy de Zepetnek, Steven. "Michael Ondaatje's 'The English Patient,' 'History,' and the Other." CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 1.4 (1999).
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