By Dr. Vladimir Geiger
Branimir Altgayer was the most prominent Croatian of German nationality in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, but he was especially so during the period of the Independent State of Croatia. Altgayer was born December 8, 1897 in the town of Przekopane (Galicia), where his father (born in Osijek) served as an Austro-Hungarian cavalry lieutenant. Altgayer spent his childhood in Slavonia, where he was brought up in a Croatian cultural atmosphere. After completing Croatian public school in Kutjevo and Croatian Gymnasium in Osijek and Zemun, he attended an Austro-Hungarian cavalry cadet school in Moravia between 1912 and 1915. He was an officer (ensign) in the Austro-Hungarian army (after 1915) until the end of the first world war, serving on the Russian, Rumanian, and Italian fronts. He was wounded twice and decorated several times. In the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes he was a cavalry captain (first class) of the Royal army. Following four years of service, he resigned.
He worked at various civilian occupations for a time, but returned to the military between 1924 and 1927. He was very active in the cultural and political life of the German minority of Osijek and Slavonia. He was selected to the united council of the German minority association, the Kulturbund of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia (Schwabisch-deutscher Kulturbund), in December 1934. He was a prominent representative of the so-called Renewal Movement (Erneuerungsbewegung), a radical current in the Kulturbund.
Following a conflict between the old leaders of the ethnic Germans in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and the Renewalists which occasioned a split in the Kulturbund, Altgayer and the Renewalists are ejected from the Kulturbund for insubordination. At the beginning of 1936 he established a cultural and charitable organization for ethnic Germans of Slavonia in Osijek (Kultur-und Wohlfahrtsvereinigung der Deutschen in Slawonien). In January, 1939, he became a regional leader (Gauobmann) of the Germans in Slavonia (Following the readmittance of the Renewalists to the Kulturbund at the end of 1938).
In early 1939, he leaves the Yugoslavian Radical Union, whose city councillor he was in Osijek, and joins the Croatian peasant party. After the creation of the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) in 194I, he was named leader of the ethnic German national assembly for the NDH (Volksgruppenführer). From December 1941 he was director of state for the presidency of the NDH, but after January 1943 he was secretary of state for the same, and he was likewise promoted to the rank of reserve colonel in the Ustasha army. He was decorated by Leader of the Ustasha Dr. Ante Pavelić with the title “knight.” For a short time in mid-1943 he went to the Eastern Front.
At the end of the second world war he was deported to Yugoslavia from Austria by the British. In 1950, the district court of Zagreb sentenced him to death by firing squad. The sentence was carried out May 15, 1950. The investigative material of the Office of state security (UDB-a) concerning Altgayer, especially the transcript of the trial from 1949, is an excellent source of Information about the German minority in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia during the thirties and during the period of the Independent State of Croatia.