On the most recent leg of our road trip I traveled through Attnang-Puchheim, Austria once again. I stopped by the field for a BBQ with the team on my way to Hungary and the timing was nothing short of kismet for an American-born baseball fan working in European baseball.
In the midst of beers and baseball trivia, a man came to the park holding a very old, very special glove and ball. Daniel Riss is a local man. He and his dad were fixing up the attic of their house when they made the discovery. His father Andreas told him to take it to the ballpark. He wanted the Athletics to have it.
This Second World War ball and glove are in perfect condition. It is clear from the stamp of, U.S. Army, on the glove that it came military personnel. As we've seen in other countries, following the war, the military was eager to keep troops occupied while still abroad. They created a military baseball league and arranged camps to teach local children the game.
This piece of American history started a conversation, one that is often difficult to broach, about World War II and the impact of the Allied Forces on the communities they affected in their efforts to defeat Hitler. What I learned about Attnang-Puchheim’s history left me with even more respect for the people I’ve met in this charming community.
April 21, 1945 is a day that the locals call tag der tränen. This translates to, The Day of Tears. At 10:57a.m. the attack on Attnang-Puchheim began. 179 bombers of the US 15th Air Force from Foggia, Italy carried out the raid. The bombs were dropped in 33 attack waves releasing an estimated 1,850–2,300 bombs over the course of three hours. They only stopped when mother nature intervened with a thunderstorm making their retreat necessary.
In their wake they left 705 of the 5,600 people that made up Attnang-Puchheim’s population at the time, dead. The attack gave Attnang-Puchheim a very special record they, no doubt, would rather not hold. No other city in Austria suffered a stronger loss:population ratio in WWII. The city lost 12.9% of their population along with 120 apartments, 277 houses and their train station. Allies captured Attnang-Puttheim on May 5, 1945.
It is ironic that it would be weather that stopped the attack because it was actually the cause in the first place. Attnang-Puchheim was not a high-priority target for the Allied troops. At that time the interest was in Italy first and then a few German towns but, because of storms the missions kept getting grounded and eventually, it was decided that cutting off a main transportation system between the areas was the best recourse. That is how the Attnang-Puchheim train station became listed as a major allied target. Still they were never a priority, until the day they were.
The military notes from the event read: “The briefed target for this mission was to be the marshaling yard at Brennero, Italy. En route, in the vicinity of Ljubljana, Yugoslavia, the formation encountered impassable weather and was forced to abandon the primary target in favor of alternate target No. 2, the marshaling yard at Attnang-Puchheim, Austria. Major Poole led the formation. Bombing through a three-tenths undercast, which necessitated as many as five passes at the target by some boxes. The Group nevertheless obtained good results. Air Force scored the mission at 61.1 percent. The pattern began just short of the marshaling yard and carried well into it. Neither flak nor fighters were encountered.”
Though the war had, for all practical purposes, ended, the concerns were with the “Nazi-Alpine Fortress”. Throughout the war there had been intelligence suggesting a retreat area for the German government and armed forces in southern Bavaria, across West Austria and into northern Italy. It turned out their concerns were unfounded as Hitler never endorsed the idea and, therefore, made no efforts to create its infrastructure, but the Allies only learned this after it was too late.
There is a book written by Attnang historian Helmut Böhm called, “Day of Tears” where he chronicals the unfortunate chain of circumstances that forever changed Attnang-Puchheim’s history.
Every year the town remembers the bombings with a holiday in honor of their fallen neighbors. They have special ceremonies and celebrations as well as a moment of rememberance at 10:57 a.m.
In 2011 musician, and native Attnang-Puchheimer, Franz Fellner and historian Michael John teamed up to create a musical-historical intervention. "Why Attnang" is a musical memorial against any form of warlike terror and destruction and an appeal to humanity and tolerance.
It is honor of that very day that the Athletic’s mascot is a Phoenix. Representative of rising from the ashes the Athletics wants to remember their history. I asked team manager Rainer Krankl, who was kind enough to share the community’s history with me, about their feelings on the raid. He said that there is no ill-will regarding the event. He told me, “In fact, the reason our team mascot is a phoenix is because everyone knows the story of the phoenix rising from the ashes. That is us.”
Adding a bit of color to the glove’s story is the fact that the glove was found in a home previously owned by Attnang-Puchiem’s former mayor and high school principal Franz Bogner. Bogner served as mayor in the early 1960s.
The glove was licensed under US Patent No. 2231204. The patent itself was filed by Turner Archibald and assigned to Wilson Sporting Goods in February of 1941.
Though we may never learn how this particular glove landed in that specific attic, it is likely that the story is similar to the thousands told all over Europe every day to Allied forces grandchildren like myself. It is clear in the experiences I’ve had in Europe that the people here understand the boys we sent abroad, who came home to us changed men, left the best of themselves behind whenever the opportunity arose. That is a legacy we can be proud to inherit.
This particular glove will remain on display at the Attang-Puchheim Athletics Ballpark and shared with their local community for generations to come. I can attest that it has already helped change two lives. First, my own. Second was Daniel's. He and I spoke a bit and he told me neither he nor his dad knew anything about baseball.
As whispers of the glove traveled across picnic benches he went from a guy in the crowd to a legend. At times you could see the experience was overwhelming but soon he settled into his unexpected fame and began embracing the Athletics community in reply to their own open arms. I think it's safe to assume Daniel and his dad might be to a game or two this year. Who knows, maybe this glove was meant to bring Daniel's life on a collision course with a sport he will one day love. I imagine, with age, he'll come to understand what a true gift his father gave him, as much as the Athletics, on that random night in the summer of 2017.