At the first sound of the air raid signal, Podhajsky would rush to the stables to
supervise the transfer of the horses to the Winter Riding School, where the men
and animals would wait out the bombing.
Each time a bomb struck, Africa cowered, as if trying to escape the loud explosions coming from above, but neither he nor any of the others panicked or tried
to bolt. To Podhajsky, it seemed that Africa and the other school stallions had a
peculiar expression on their faces, as if saying, “How incomprehensible humans
are!” Ultimately, the responsibility for their safety rested entirely with him, and as
the raids grew more frequent, he had to admit that the horses could not stay here,
even if their performances helped boost morale. The danger was too great.
Given von Schirach’s earlier concern for the stallions’ well-being, Podhajsky
did not expect any problem getting permission to take the horses to a safer
location, but when he met with a German city official, he was told that if the
Lipizzaner left the city, people would lose heart. Podhajsky was all too aware of
that, yet he did not miss the subtext of threat. At this point in Nazi-occupied
Austria, anything that smacked of defeatism was punishable as treason.
And so the Lipizzaner were to dance through the hail of airstrikes, to keep
alive the illusion that everything was still okay. As the Germans suffered waves
of defeat and the Allies streaked toward them from the west, Podhajsky harbored
no illusions. With increasing frustration, he realized that the stallions were to be
sacrificed to keep up appearances, the way the orchestra on the Titanic had to
keep playing the waltz as the ship went down. He would have none of it. Secretly,
throughout that fall, he packed up every single belonging of the Spanish Riding
School, even having the enormous crystal chandeliers disassembled and boxed up.
He found a sympathetic city official
who gave him wagons and harnesses.
If worse came to worst, he would
hitch up his priceless stallions and
drive them straight out of the city; on
foot, they could make it as far as the
summer stables at Lainzer Tiergar-ten. But Podhajsky could not stop
worrying about the inadequacy of
the wooden structures. Sure enough,
in the fall of 1944, a bomb partially
destroyed one of the stables. Had he
moved the horses, they would have
taken a direct hit. Podhajsky redoubled his efforts, trying to find a safer
place farther from the city that could
accommodate so many horses.
Finally, he discovered a large
estate in Upper Austria that had
stables large enough to hold his sev-enty-five horses. Countess Gertrud
Arco auf Valley owned a large castle
with spacious stables located in the
village of St. Martin. She had room DEEPG