Iskat, Otto Anton, born 21-03-1895, in Voslau bei Wien, Austria, was a WWII war prisoner who did die indirectly as a result of man violence. Otto Iskat, a 53-year old Army construction administration official who had been captured whilst supervising defensive works in France. He had made a casual remark about the futility of war and his age had not prevented the younger prisoners in his hut from falling on him in fury. Rumours speculated that he had been knifed, but these proved to be untrue. Although not an elderly man, Iskat was evidently not in good health and suffered from heart and circulatory ailments. A subsequent medical investigation revealed he died on 26-01-1945 of Acute Syncope (recurrent and sudden fainting) compounded by Arteriosclerosis and Hyperpiesia. Perhaps the trauma of the alleged attack proved more than his poor physical condition could stand.
Although details are lacking, Otto Iskat served in the Austro-Hungarian Army as an infantryman during World War I and received the Austrian Silver Bravery Medal, the Prussian Iron Cross 2nd Class and the Karl Troop Cross for bravery at the front. After being captured by the Russians on the Eastern Front, he was transported to a prisoner of war (POW) camp in Siberia. Following the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917 and the subsequent Bolshevik revolution, Otto was released from the camp and travelled across Siberia to Vladivostok where he served for a time in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) . In an odyssey lasting nearly two years, he survived the trek by relying on his wits, artistic prowess (a lifelong passion), and language skills. (Interestingly, Iskat is Russian word that means “to search,” an apt name for one who accomplished such a trek across a war torn continent!). Anecdotal family evidence suggests Otto was familiar with some 13 languages, including Mandarin and Japanese; a skill that no doubt aided him in his travels. (A document written in old-style Russian Cyrillic language now possessed by the Iskat family indicates that Otto Iskat was apparently traveling with the permission of the new Revolutionary body. The document instructed all persons to render any and or all assistance to Iskat by way of transportation, food, lodging and other aid during his journey.)
Otto Iskat finally departed Vladivostok aboard the Japanese steamer ‘Kaikyu Maru’ and arrived at Trieste where he and other former prisoners of war travelled to Wien (Vienna) aboard a special reserved train. He was formally released from military service on 10-01-1921, age 25, with a 25% disability from his war service.
Following the war, he made his living for a time as a translator and a streetcar conductor before finding employment in the following capacities: 26-08-1926-1927: Employed as an instructor for sales personnel. Until September 1932, chief of the raw materials inventory. From 01-10-1932-30-06-1936: Employed at the Alexander Herzog Ofen Fabrik in Vienna, Austria as an engineer attached to sales where he lent his expertise to selling specialty ovens. From 01-10-1937-30-06-1939: Employed by the firm of Wunsch and Vogl as a technical draftsman and builder of galvanized material.
Also, at some point during the years following World War I, Otto Iskat graduated from the Technical University in Wien receiving the academic title of “Ingenieur für Maschinenbau” or an Engineer responsible for building equipment.
Following the Anschluss (Union) of the Republic of Austria with the Third Reich on 13-03-1938, Otto Iskat and his family found themselves citizens of Germany. Shortly after the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, Iskat was called up for military service. Leaving his civilian employment with the Heating Equipment Manufacturing Company in Stuttgart, he donned the field grey uniform of the German Army. Iskat here in the middle. Period photographs and anecdotal family evidence suggests he served as a Wehrmachtbeamte or an Armed Forces Administration Official supervising military construction projects in France. The Iskat family recalled his rank was major for most of the war, but he attained the rank of leutnant Oberst before his capture. However, the rank of major corresponded to the Wehrmachtbeamte rank of Regierungsbaurat, or a construction and/or building administration official, while a Oberstleutnantlieutenant equated to an Oberregierungsbaurat/ Super adviser in the same administrative field. His death certificate merely lists his rank as Baurat or construction official. While Iskat’s death certificate documents his unit affiliation as the Organisation Todt (OT), under minister of armament Fritz Todt it would appear he was only on detached duty with that organization in France. Again, period photographs clearly depict Iskat wearing Army uniform and not OT dress.
During the war, Otto Iskat was stationed in Brest, France where he supervised a large forced labour population in the construction of German military facilities. Although numerous military construction projects were launched by the Germans in Brest,
it seems likely Iskat helped build the enormous U-boat shelter for the Kriegsmarine. Construction started in January 1941 on this imposing concrete shelter (333 metres in length x 192 metres in width x 17 metres in height) and, when completed, consisted of five “wet” pens each capable of docking three U-boats apiece and 15 repair pens each capable of dry docking a single U-boat. With a maximum roof thickness of 6.2 meters of concrete, the U-boat pens were protected against any bomb that Allied aircraft could drop on them at that stage of the war. On 05-08-1944, 15 Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF, under command of Wing Commander J B Tait, fifth from left with two supporting Mosquitos, attacked the U-boat pens and scored six direct hits with Tallboy bombs penetrating the concrete roofs . One Lancaster was shot down by flak. Subsequent attempts to reinforce other sites with even thicker concrete diverted resources from other projects. Tait died on 31-08-2007, age 90.;The No 617 Squadron is commonly known as the “Dambusters“, see Guy Penrose Gibson
for its actions during Operation Chastise against German dams. Of interest, the U-boat shelter at Brest is still used by the French Navy today.
The Iskat family also recalls that Otto might have assisted in the construction of V-1 and V-2 rocket launching sites in France. While numerous V-1 launch sites were constructed-primarily in the Pas-de-Calais area of France-only three of the massive V-2 assembly and launch sites were located in that country: Sottevast (Cherbourg peninsula), Éperlecques/Watten and Wizernes, both in the Pas-de-Calais. Although construction of these sites began in late 1943, frequent Allied air attacks combined with a delayed rocket development schedule ensured none were ever completed. All three sites were captured by Allied forces following the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. However, whether or not Otto Iskat actually had a hand in the construction of the French rocket sites cannot be substantiated with the available information.
Again, while specific details are lacking, it appears that Otto Iskat was captured when the city of Brest, designated a “fortress” and commanded by the battle-hardened paratroop officer General der Fallschirmtruppe Hermann-Bernhard Ramcke (briefly held as a prisoner of war at Bridgend in April 1946), fell to U.S. troops in September 1944 following a one-month-long siege. Whatever the exact circumstances of his capture might have been, Otto Iskat was ultimately held as a prisoner of war in Camp 198 in Bridgend, Wales. (The Iskat family recalls that he might have been captured in a British commando raid on Brest in late 1943. However, a poem written by Otto Iskat to his wife, Valerie, is dated 1944 from Brest;
Death and burial ground of Iskat, Otto Anton.
On 26-01-1945, the 53-year-old Otto Iskat died at Camp 198. His death certificate details the cause of death as Acute Syncope (recurrent and sudden fainting) compounded by Arteriosclerosis (hardening and thickening of the walls of the arteries) and Hyperpiesia (Hypertension or high blood pressure). He was buried in the Bridgend Cemetery in Grave 13 of Row B and a photograph of his grave marker was eventually sent to his family in Germany
ACTUAL ENTRY IN DEATH REGISTER.
On 07-04-1949, a negative of this photograph was sent to the Iskat family by the German Section of the Department for Notification of Next-of-Kin of Soldiers of German Armed Forces Killed in Action. The letter that accompanied the negative stated, in part: “May the assurance that the deceased has found a dignified resting-place and that the upkeep of the grave is evidently in good hands be of modest consolation to you.”
His remains were later transferred to Der deutsche Soldatenfriedhof (The German Military Cemetery) in Cannock Chase located north of Wolverhampton in Staffordshire, England. This cemetery was established under the terms of an agreement signed by the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany on 16-10-1959. The Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge (German War Graves Commission) designed and built the cemetery, to which the bodies of most of the German war dead buried in Great Britain and Northern Ireland were later transferred.