Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Robert Moser

Crew Member

Age: 23

Hometown: Winzeln, Germany

Occupation: mechanic

Location at time of fire: Engineering room, amidships

Died in wreck

Robert Moser was born in Winzeln near Rottweil on November 29, 1913. His siblings recalled him as being a brave, precocious child, once jumping off the top of the family barn on a bet. When he was slightly older, Moser traveled to France and was detained and searched by French military police for trying to take photographs, which he did not realize was prohibited.

Moser apprenticed with Junghans, a watch and clock manufacturer in Schramburg and in 1933, while visiting his half-brother in Friedrichshafen, he took a job working in the construction sheds of the Luftshiffbau-Zeppelin. He was hired on November 24, 1933, initially as an instrument mechanic. He showed such talent that when his father visited him at the Zeppelin works, one of Moser's superiors remarked, "If you have any more sons like Robert, send them to us." When mechanics were being chosen for the newly-built LZ-129 Hindenburg, Moser's abilities made him a natural choice, though at the time he was one of the youngest mechanics onboard. He was hired by the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei on February 15, 1936, and his first flight on the Hindenburg was on March 4th, 1936, the ship's very first test flight.

It was not only a perfect job for a skilled mechanic, but the fact that he stood watch for a couple hours at a time in the Hindenburg's outboard engine gondolas meant that it was also a prime opportunity for Moser to indulge in his passion for photography. The view from the engine gondolas was one of the best on the entire ship, and during his travels Moser took numerous photographs from this unique vantage point.

He also took full advantage of his time spent in port in the United States and Brazil. According to fellow mechanic Eugen Bentele, on one occasion when the Hindenburg was moored at Pernambuco, Moser was between watches (with at most only four hours until he was due to go back on watch again.) Rather than sleeping, he instead rented a horse, took his camera, and rode off into the jungle to explore, later showing Bentele the photos he'd taken during his little adventure.

Moser seemed, however, quite conscious of the danger of his chosen profession as a Zeppelin mechanic. Once, not long before his death, Moser brought home a Dornier propeller and said "If I should be killed somewhere, use this as my gravestone."

Robert Moser (left) and an unidentified mechanic (behind girder) at one of the engineering work stations alongside the Hindenburg's lower keel walkway. (photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

Moser was on the last flight of the Hindenburg, and as the ship came in to land, Moser was at his landing station, along with flight engineer Wilhelm Dimmler, in one of the engineering rooms, amidships between the two forward motor gondolas. He apparently tried to jump out as the ship crashed to the ground, but he was trapped under the wreckage. He was later identified by his wallet, and by some self-addressed mail that he had in his pocket.

Robert Moser's location at the time of the fire.

Robert Moser's body was returned to Germany with those of the other German crash victims, and he was laid to rest in his home town of Winzeln. Family and friends all turned out to mourn him, but the church was also noticeably full of brownshirts and Nazi flags. Local politicians took full advantage of Moser funeral as an excuse to proselytize on behalf of the Nazi regime. Local Ortsgruppenleiter Theodor Heimburger spoke to the congregation at Moser's funeral, saying, "Robert Moser, your death is not in vain. Your death compels us to defend our Führer and our Fatherland at a moment's notice, to always be true and strong, and to remain unified." Kreisleiter Arnold added, "The German people have suffered a blow of fate, which the rest of the world believes will weaken them. But through the strength and fortitude that God has given them, this shall be overcome. The death of Robert Moser will give us new strength to march forward in his spirit."

While the Nazi propaganda machine sought to bury a national martyr, the town of Winzeln buried a son, a brother, and a friend. Many decades later, his brothers and sisters still treasured photo albums filled with the many photographs that Robert Moser took with his Kodak Retina during his flights onboard the Hindenburg. The camera itself, salvaged from the Hindenburg's wreckage at Lakehurst, found its way to the Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen.

(Many of the details of Robert Moser's life come from this excellent article on the cameras recovered from the Hindenburg wreck: http://www.3d-historisch.de/Zeppelin-Retina/Hindenburg-Kameras.htm )

Thanks also to Herr Manfred Sauter of the Freundeskreis zur Förderung des Zeppelin Museums e.V., whose memorial article on the Hindenburg crew members who lost their lives at Lakehurst (Zeppelin Brief, No. 59, June 2011) provided additional details on Moser's career, and to Dr. Cheryl Ganz for providing me with a copy of the article.

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