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social sciences

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Redl, Alfred (1864-1913)  
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Perhaps uncertain about his hold on Hromodka, Redl took the precaution of having the young man sign an agreement that if he married, he would return the apartment and its furniture to Redl.

A Noose of His Own Making

When Redl was transferred to Prague, Major Maximilian Ronge, one of his protégés, became head of counterintelligence in Vienna. Redl had trained Ronge in every technique he had developed and adopted. He also lectured him over and over on the importance of patience in staking out suspects.

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Early in April 1913, Ronge received word from his counterpart in the German General Staff about a suspicious letter. Addressed to Herr Nikon Nizetas, c/o General Delivery, Vienna, the letter, unclaimed in Vienna, had been returned to Berlin and opened by the German secret police. The envelope contained the substantial sum of 6,000 crowns and the addresses of espionage centers in Paris and Geneva. The Germans suspected that they had picked up the trail of an important spy.

Ronge then ordered a stakeout at the General Delivery office in Vienna. In early May, two more letters for Herr Nikon Nizetas arrived in Vienna. Ronge's men patiently waited for the mysterious Herr Nizetas to arrive to pick up his mail.

In late May, Hromodka raised the serious possibility that he would marry and break with Redl. In response, Redl rushed to Vienna to confront Hromodka. Once in Vienna, Redl stopped by the Post Office to pick up the mail he knew would be waiting for Herr Nikon Nizetas.

Ronge's men were able to track the man claiming to be Herr Nizetas to the Hotel Klomser. Only then did they realize that Herr Nizetas was, in reality, their own Colonel Redl. In one of the classic reversals in the annals of international intrigue, Redl had been caught not only by the very men he trained but also by his own methods. It fell to Ronge to inform his superiors of the discovery.

Settling of Accounts

On the evening of May 24, 1913, the General Staff sent four officers to Redl's room in the Hotel Klomser. Their mission was to find out how much damage Redl had done and who assisted him. They were also instructed to ensure that he would cease to be a problem. Under questioning, Redl reportedly admitted he had spied for Russia since autumn 1912. He claimed that he had been driven to it by the costs of his lifestyle, including keeping Stefan Hromodka.

With the implicit understanding that Redl himself would take the necessary steps to seal his lips for all time, the officers left a loaded Browning pistol on Redl's table and exited his hotel room. Outside on the street just after midnight, they waited until they heard the expected gunshot.

In his suicide note of May 25, 1913, Redl wrote: "Passion and levity have destroyed me. I pay with my life for my sins. Pray for me."

After Redl's suicide other General Staff officers broke into his apartment in Prague. They discovered, if we can believe the highly suspect official version, photographs of top-secret battle plans along with notebooks that listed the money he was paid and which military secrets he had sold to France, Italy, and Russia.

They also found Stefan Hromodka's signed agreement not to marry, as well as an array of women's cosmetics and sexually explicit photographs of Redl and other male Austrian officers.

Aftermath of the Scandal

The cover-up that followed Redl's suicide started at the top. Emperor Franz Josef himself was eager to minimize the effects of any scandal on the Army and the Empire. Since the official version based on an investigation following Redl's death did not satisfactorily explain some key circumstances, however, suspicions about the full extent of Redl's treason continued to grow. Rumors spread that crucial evidence had been destroyed and that the whole truth would never be known.

The scandal's psychological impact was immense: if one of the highest-ranking General Staff officers was spying for a potential enemy, who could be trusted?

The cost in human lives showed up later. Many historians think that the deaths of tens of thousands of men in the Austro-Hungarian Army killed in World War I can be attributed to Redl's sales of information to the Russians.

After World War I even more steps appear to have been taken to whitewash the affair. These efforts to bury the matter, along with the earlier ones, raised further serious questions about the accuracy of the official version of the story. As a result of these unanswerable questions and lingering suspicions, the Redl Affair has never really been put to rest in Austria.

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