The world meets Lienz

6 November 2014, 11:59 PM
Reiter Chapel Elisabeth.png

Elisabeth Ziegler-Duregger at the Reiter Chapel in Lienz, Austria

In early October I traveled from Bonn to Lienz in East-Tirol. After a drive of nine hours – the last three hours crossing the Alps with the mountains of the Hohe Tauern – I came into a real paradise! Lienz (population: 11,600) is situated in a valley surrounded by mountains of about 2,000 m in height at the small river Isel, which flows into the Drau right along the city. Lienz is the capital of the district of East-Tirol, far away from the Austrian Capital Vienna and separated from Tirol and South-Tirol by high mountains.

Here in this solitude, two years ago an open minded women – Elisabeth Ziegler-Duregger - founded a URI Cooperation Circle and brought the world to Lienz. Before founding the CC, she worked for the community and helped a lot of people. But working for URI gave her even more motivation. With her small laptop she enjoys her connection to the world.

Elisabeth plans to travel to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah next year, having already participated in Melbourne. Now, she offers help to the organizers and waits for a reply.

“Education Brings Peace“ is the name of the association she is leading and which is represented also in her CC. It is no wonder that, for many years, she worked in the library of the town and looked after education. The book “The Little Owl“ was edited then. It is now translated into more than 60 languages from Arab to Urdu. It’s the story of a little owl that collects wisdom by discovering the world of the different animals. It can be downloaded at:

This booklet is also very useful for the work in the refugee hostel East Tirol/Lienz, where, at the moment, 70 people have found an accommodation.  Some of the translations where done in that hostel. Under the leadership of Janette Schneider it was appointed “the best conducted refugee hostel in all Austria“.  A Peace Pole, which was a present to Elisabeth’s birthday, now stands in the Interreligious Chapel of this hostel! She has also collected stones from all over the world and spread them out on a table. Through this, too, the world comes to Lienz!

Education is one of the main topics this CC is working on. Because Lienz does not have a University or even a high school, Elisabeth wants to give the people the chance to learn lessons via the Internet with the emphasis on education related to practice.   

Elisabeth introduced me also to all the other members of the CC: Winfried und Almuth Wenninger (Bahaí’i), Cicilia (orthodox Christian), Susanne (ev. Christian), Liza (Muslim from Chechnya). Margret Buchlechner from Kenia (cath. Christian) was in Africa at that time. I also came to know Erika Pätzold, who looks after a little cemetery and a memorial for the Cossacks. As she works she keeps in memory the tremendous tragedy that happened here in early June 1945. 

The Cossacks of the Ukraine fled from Stalin and went to the West, where they became part of the German army in World War II.  They had their own general and lived together with their families. At the Jalta Conference, Stalin reclaimed for “his Cossacks“. For the Cossacks this meant to be executed or to be banned in the Gulags. 

After the war, thousands of Cossacks with their wives and children came across the mountains from Italy to Lienz. First the British occupation promised them a new home country, but when freight trains rolled into the station and the people were urged to board them, it was quite clear where the transport would be heading. Panic spread among them. Determined to not be sent back to Russia, they committed suicide.  Women with their children in their arms jumped into the waters of the Isel. Men shot themselves after having killed their families. The cries of these desperate people echoed from the mountains. Very few of them survived this disaster.

At this cemetery that Erica cares for, there is a mass grave of about 400 to 600 corpses under the tombstones of those, whose names are recorded.

For next year it is planned to erect a wooden Russian-Orthodox Chapel on the adjacent site that also belongs to the town. It’s made in Ukraine and will be transported to Lienz. My suggestion: for the inauguration, URI Europe could gather for a board meeting at Lienz and Petar Grammatikoff as an Orthodox priest can join the inauguration ceremony. We should work on this.

By visiting the CCs and exchanging experiences, the understanding of each other becomes stronger and the URI family can grow together. This will allow us to learn from each other and transmit our knowledge. 

I thank Elisabeth with all of my heart! It was wonderful to come to know her. She gave me the chance to have an inside view and to come to know these marvelous people. I had a very interesting and beautiful stay at her home country.