A former SS soldier has donated £400,000 to a tiny British village because of the “kindness and generosity” he was shown there after he was captured.
Heinrich Steinmeyer was a member of Heinrich Himmlers’ famous Waffen-SS and was just 19 when he was captured in Normandy in August 1944, just weeks after D-Day.
He was classed as a hardcore National Socialist and ended up in the prisoner of war camp at Cultybraggan near Comrie, Perthshire. But the experience transformed him and Steinmeyer said he was only shown kindness by the villagers, which he had not expected.
The experience had such an impact on him that he returned to Comrie after the war and made lasting friendships in the village. He vowed to leave everything he owned for the benefit of the elderly of the tiny Scottish community, population less than 2,000, in the Southern Highlands near Perth.
His will read: “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.” It specifically stated that the proceeds from the sale of his house and other possessions were to be used for “elderly people”.
When he died at the age of 90 in 2014 his ashes were scattered in the hills above the camp where he had been held. Two and a half years later, his bequest of £384,000 (Euro 457,180) has now been gifted to the village’s local community trust.
It has been transferred to a special Heinrich Steinmeyer Legacy Fund, set up by Comrie Development Trust as a separate account. The money will be “used exclusively to provide for local developments for older people, suggested by older people”.
Mr Steinmeyer, who settled in Demlmenhorst, near Bremen, died a fortnight after the death of his close friend in Comrie, George Carson. But Mr Carson had worked to see that Mr Steinmeyer’s dying wishes were granted after he first mentioned them in 2008.
Andrew Reid from the Comrie Development Trust said: “This story is about Heinrich Steinmeyer’s gratitude for how he was treated and welcomed in this village and other parts of Scotland.
“His gratitude will live on in the way that it will support older people in Comrie.”
The trust, which bought the former camp for £350,000 in 2007, is now consulting with local people about how the legacy should be used.
Mr Reid said executing the will and the sale of property to release the funds for transfer to this country had involved a complex and very lengthy process.
The trust is still working with the German solicitors to settle outstanding debts incurred by Mr Steinmeyer appointing legal advisors. Mr Reid added: “Heinrich Steinmeyer 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.
“He wanted to give thanks for his welcome back as a visitor to Comrie and Scotland.
“Heinrich’s personal history is an amazing story of friendship and appreciation, and people in Comrie will both honour and benefit from his legacy.”
Mr Steinmeyer was born in 1924 and grew up in Silesia (now part of Poland), with only basic education.
He came from a “very poor” family and worked as an apprentice butcher on a pitiful wage before joining the SS aged 17 and fighting on the Western Front.
He was captured in the fight for a bridge in Caen and classified as a category “C” prisoner when he was dispatched to Perthshire.
His “C” designation meant he was considered a hard-line National Socialist, completely committed to the cause and dangerous.
After being captured Steinmeyer was held at Cultybraggan from September 1944 to June 1945. From there he was sent to Watten, Caithness, another maximum security NS camp. At the end of the war Steinmeyer was sent to a camp in Ladybank, Fife. He stayed in Scotland after he was released from detention in 1948 and settled in Stranraer where he found work on farms in the area.
He eventually returned to Germany in 1970, found work at the docks in Bremen, and settled in Delmenhorst.