On 16 February 1945, six so-called temporary detainees were committed to the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp. They were Wehrmacht deserters who were to serve their actual sentences after the war. Their varied fates testify to the despotic nature of Nazi terror in the final months of the war.

The military justice code of 1944 claimed that most deserters were “psychopathic inferiors” who deserved no lenience. As a result, one of the six men, the 24-year-old Günter Bott, was sentenced to death for desertion. The military court branded him with “asocial abnormality”. Then he was taken to the concentration camp for “probation”.

The case of the 42-year-old Rudolf Steinbach was different. Despite similar circumstances – absence without leave – the military court refrained from the death penalty because “the defendant does not belong to those asocial elements whose extermination is desirable”. The consequences for both men were the same: once they entered the concentration camp, all trace of them was lost.

(Karsten Uhl)

Reference: Manfred Messerschmidt, “Deserteure im Zweiten Weltkrieg”, in Wolfram Wette (ed.), Deserteure der Wehrmacht: Feiglinge – Opfer – Hoffnungsträger? Dokumentation eines Meinungswandels, Essen 1995, pp. 58-74.