THE LITTLE MAN with the deep voice who always asks the first question at auto show press conferences? That's our Georg Auer.
He's 78, but he's not slowing down. On a recent day at the Paris auto show he did 10 interviews.
He broke our Page 1 story last week, reporting that Mazda is ready to build cars in Europe.
Nobody goes after a story like Georg.
Where does he get his drive?
Our Vienna-based correspondent was born on August 4, 1922 in an Austria ravaged by inflation and starvation.
His father and mother tried to keep those worries far away from their only child, but Georg would have none of it and at age 12 he joined a political youth movement. When the fascists took power in Austria in 1934, the group had to be camouflaged as a boy scout troop.
Georg started his journalism career by publishing a news sheet for the group.
As a Jew, life changed abruptly for him when the Nazis marched into Austria in 1938. He left school to learn the glazing and glass polishing trade.
Georg's parents insisted that he leave the country and with the help of British Quakers he landed in Britain in December 1938. The 16-year-old moved in with a family on the English east coast, where he was apprenticed to a carpenter and undertaker.
When war broke out, Georg was classified a friendly alien and went on carpentering. But at the time of the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940 he was interned, branded a 'German parachutist.'
In what British Home Secretary John Anderson later admitted was 'a regrettable mistake,' a group of about 4,000 European refugees in Britain were rounded up and sent to Australia. Georg was one of them.
'When they herded us onto the boat we had no idea where we were going,' he remembers. 'We thought we were going to the Isle of Man for a tribunal. It turned out to be Australia.'
Many years later the BBC produced a television mini-series based on the plight of the refugees.
It took a year for Georg to clear his name. He then joined the Australian army and in his spare time he edited a newsletter for young Austrian refugees in Australia.
After the war he returned to the ruins of Europe - London first, then Paris and Austria, where he arrived in August 1946.
'Since I hadn't learned any decent trade I took up journalism,' he says.
He began at the newly founded Austrian Press Agency, then moved to a daily newspaper, covering murders and espionage in gruesome detail. After seven years of crime and felony, he turned to economic and industrial reporting.
Fascinated by large-scale industry, he began writing about the emerging computer and automotive businesses. The newspaper he joined was the Austrian Communist Party paper Volksstimme. Georg was its motoring correspondent. He also did auto industry reports for Austrian television.
Georg became the only person who ever killed a man with a camera. When Austria's pre-World War II fascist leader Furst Rudiger von Starhemberg returned in the 1950s, Georg went to the mountain resort where he resided and took Starhemberg's photo. The old fascist became so enraged that he stormed after Georg with raised stick - and was felled by heart seizure.
Georg had another first. He was the first and only journalist to be imprisoned under Austria's draconian post-World War II press laws. As Volksstimme's designated 'responsible editor' he was jailed in 1959 for political commentaries written by party functionaries. He was behind bars for a month. The result was an acclaimed series that led to reforms in Austrian prison conditions.
After the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, Georg left the Communist paper and became a taxi driver by night and freelance reporter for Austrian Television by day.
But his heart was in print so he joined the weekly political and economic magazine Wochenpresse. He did industrial and automotive reporting, while working for TV and freelancing in Austrian and German auto magazines and trade papers. He also wrote a weekly newsletter about the Austrian motor trade.
Georg began writing for Automotive News in the early 1970s and has been a correspondent for Automotive News Europe since we began publishing in February 1996.
After Georg retired from Wochenpresse in 1982 at age 60, he added several more magazines and newspapers to his freelance roster.
He now works about 13 hours a day.
He married Gertrude 50 years ago and they remain happily together - when Georg isn't on the road.
We know Gertrude as the woman who calmly informs editors who call his home: 'He's not here. You can get him on his mobile.'
Georg and Gertrude raised two sons and a daughter.
One son is a children's book author in Austria. Georg's daughter, a trained actress, is trying to make a living at her craft in London.
The younger son died in an accident a few months ago together with one granddaughter.
Blinded with grief, Georg said a few days after the tragedy: 'The only way I can get through this is to keep working.'
We cherish Georg Auer.
On the opposite page we present a small sampling of his work.
E-mail Richard Johnson at [email protected]