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Otto Groth * 1920

Ausschläger Billdeich Ecke Großmannstraße (Hamburg-Mitte, Rothenburgsort)

JG. 1920
VERHAFTET 10.12.1941

further stumbling stones in Ausschläger Billdeich Ecke Großmannstraße:
Wilhelm Boller

Otto Groth, born 3 Apr. 1920 in Hamburg, shot 26 Aug. 1942 in Kiel-Holtenau

Ausschläger Billdeich/Großmannstraße (Ausschläger Billdeich 61)

Otto Groth parents were the pattern-cutter August Groth and his wife Elfriede, née Harms. They married on 24 May 1919. Otto left school to go to sea, and remained a seaman until he was 18 and had to do his compulsory service in the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labor Service). He was assigned to work in the area around Meppen on the Ruhr until his compulsory military service began.

Otto Groth was called up on 1 November 1938 to serve with the Kriegsmarine, and was assigned to the 1st Commando of the Marine Artillery Detachment, stationed at Schönberg near Kiel. His company commander gave him a good conduct report on 1 June 1939, although he had received a reprimand on 22 December 1938 for "negligent exceedance of furlough by four minutes on 20 December,” and his commanding officer had begun an investigation on the suspicion of desertion.

Otto Groth also failed to return to duty by the specified time (2 a.m. on 31 May 1939) after visiting his parents over Pentecost. His company commander suspected that he was laying low in Hamburg or Kiel for fear of the disciplinary action he could expect as a result of his tardiness, and reported him to the military tribunal at the headquarters in Kiel. The company commander characterized Otto Groth as a "slack, unstable” soldier, who suffered from anxiety, was not hard enough on himself, and was prone to letting himself go. The tribunal, under Rear Admiral Raul Mewis, ordered an investigation, to be headed by the Marine Court-Martial Counsel Adolf Hoss. The court issued a warrant for the arrest of Otto Groth on 7 June 1939, charging him with "intention to desert” and for the purpose of "upholding military discipline.” Photos of the 5’9” man were released to the public.

Three weeks later, on 28 June 1939, police arrested Otto Groth on the Reeperbahn in Hamburg. He was interrogated then handed over to the commanding officer of the local anti-tank division in Hamburg. He was picked up by his Commando on 30 June. During the entire month of June, he had not contacted his parents, from whom he had borrowed 2.50 Reichsmarks for the bus trip back to Kiel. But he decided to take a later train. While he was waiting he spent the money on drinks, and slept that night on a parkbench on Holstenwall. After two days with no food, he and an acquaintance went aboard the Portland, claimed to be on furlough and ate lunch there, then spent the night on the street again. On the next day he got rid of some pieces of his uniform, fed himself by visiting ships on which he had previously served, and earned some money by carrying baggage. This was the situation he was in when he was arrested.

The summary court martial took place on 4 August 1939 before the military court in Kiel. There was no defense counsel. Hans Köhler-Kaess was appointed to preside over the court-martial. On the charge of desertion, Otto Groth testified that his intention was not to desert, but that he had been afraid to return home and hadn’t known what he should do. The court countered that during his time at sea with the merchant marine he had proven to be a competent seaman, and that he was simply waiting for the first opportunity to join a crew, even though it would hardly be possible to hire on to a German ship. "It was seen as particularly grievous, that the accused deserted at a time at which immediate full readiness for action was expected, especially from his unit” – the war was imminent. The court sentenced Otto Groth to eight months in prison. He did not contest the judgement.
Otto Groth began serving his sentence on 18 August 1939 in the Torgau Wehrmacht prison. His term was extended by 42 days because he had repeatedly violated prison regulations – speaking without permission, for example – and had been disciplined. He was released to his unit in Kiel on 15 May 1940. His mother had submitted a plea for pardon to the "Führer” on 6 November 1939, claiming that it was simply carelessness that had caused her son to fail to return on time. The letter was received by the "Führer’s Chancellory” on the next day, and the plea was denied by Rear Admiral Mewis.

Otto Groth did not return to his previous company, but was assigned to the 5th Company of the Marine Artillery Detachment 511. He was promoted to Marine Artillery Lance Corporal on 1 October 1940. In July of that year he was disciplined with a three-week ban on leave because he returned 15 minutes late from furlough on 14 October. In late October he was confined to quarters for three days because he was once again 15 minutes late returning from leave.

On 21 April 1941 the Court of the Admiral of the Polar Coast initiated an investigation of Otto Groth for unauthorized absence. What had happened? At the end of his leave from 1-26 February 1941, Otto Groth arrived at the appointed time in Saßnitz, in order to take the prescribed ferry to Trelleborg and get the connection to Narvik. He reported to the duty officer, but because the transport was overcrowded, he was assigned to private quarters and his pass was taken away. Since nearly 2000 holiday-makers were waiting for the ferry in Saßnitz, Groth reasoned that he wouldn’t be able to travel any time soon, and returned to Hamburg.

Three days later he reported to headquarters, was given a Wehrmacht travel pass, and returned to Saßnitz, where he was assigned to the transport that would leave for Narvik in four days. Since no transport had left for Narvik during the time he was in Hamburg, and he had thus not delayed his return to his battery, his case was considered a lesser violation. It could have been penalized with 14 days of confinement to quarters, had Otto Groth not had a previous conviction for desertion. As this was the case, Rear Admiral Otto Schenk ordered an impromptu court-martial. It convened on 6 May 1941 in Narvik, presided over by the Marine Judge Advocate Heinrich Burckhardt and with the Court Officer Lt. Reimann as prosecutor. Marine Artillery Lance Corporal Henkel was defense counsel.

Groth admitted to having been in the wrong, but pointed out that he had returned promptly to his unit. The prosecution requested a four-month prison term for unauthorized absence; defense entered a plea for a confinement to quarters. The court sentenced him to four months in prison. It was the court’s opinion that his actions arose from thoughtlessness rather than from a bad character, and that, as his court and disciplinary records showed, he lacked a "sense of military discipline.” Rear Admiral Schenk confirmed the sentence and ordered it carried out. Groth was consequently demoted to seaman and barred from promotion until 28 February 1942.

Otto Groth was sent to the Akerhus Wehrmacht prison near Oslo, then transferred to the Anklam Wehrmacht prison in Pomerania on 19 June 1941. On 5 July 1941 he was transferred to the Wehrmacht prisoners’ division in Pinnow near Angermünde, and finally on 17 September 1941 to Bernau near Berlin. He was released after exactly four months on 6 October 1941 at 1:55 a.m. and assigned to the 3rd company of the 1st training detachment for guard and work duty.

On 29 November 1941, Otto Groth left the naval base in Kiel-Friedrichsort without permission and without informing anyone. He did not return. The presiding judge at the Court of the Vice Admiral of the Baltic station, Captain Sorge, ordered an investigation, issued an arrest warrant and requested a conduct report from the company commander. The report described Otto Groth as easily influenced, and stated that he performed well initially but quickly degenerated, for which reason he was in need of sympathetic leadership.

In the early morning hours of 10 December 1941, Otto Groth was discovered on the corner of Lange Reihe and Ernst-Merck-Straße in Hamburg-St. Georg, in the company of a woman sought by the Hamburg Vice Squad. He was arrested and turned over to the Naval Headquarters in Hamburg, which transferred him to pre-trial detention in Kiel. It is unclear whether Otto Groth intended to desert from the Wehrmacht, what he had done while he was AWOL, and whether he was involved in dubious activities with delinquent comrades, as was possibly indicated by entries in his notebook.

On 25 June 1942, Rear Admiral Kurt Slevogt called to order the summary court-martial before the Court of the Vice Admiral and designated the Marine Judge Advocate Möller as presiding judge. Representing the prosecution was Marine Judge Advocate Teichgräber, and defense counsel was the attorney Wacker. Seaman Felix Nickel testified as a witness. He was among a group of seamen who had stolen money from duffel bags, and had given Otto Grothe 70 Reichsmarks and military travel passes for safe-keeping. Groth had thrown the travel passes away because they had no official seal. With the money he had bought a round in the mess hall and used the rest to support himself in Hamburg. This was considered abetment and fraud. He had also given aid to another comrade who was absent without leave by trying to inform him that he was being sought. From another he borrowed pieces of a uniform under false pretenses, which he took to Hamburg with him. The jacket had a private’s chevron and an SA sports medal. He bought an Iron Cross, 2nd Class in the mess hall and pinned it to the jacket. He had thus made himself guilty of the unauthorized wearing of symbols of rank and medals. These violations were punished with a prison sentence of three years and six months.

The court was convinced that Otto Groth had intended to desert from the Wehrmacht, especially since he had expressed his dislike at being with his squad. In his notebook he had listed the names of several cities as possible escape routes. He had only visited his parents once, then spent the following weeks in bars and cinemas, and slept in the lobby at the Altona train station.

Otto Groth’s disciplinary and criminal records did not play into his favor. The court refused the defense counsel’s request for leniency. In accordance with Adolf Hitler’s guidelines from 14 April 1940, it sentenced Otto Groth to death by firing squad. He was automatically deemed unfit for service, and no appeal was permitted. There is no written statement, but the judge ordered that the court prepare for an appeal on the night before the execution of the sentence.

Otto Groth accepted the sentence, but asked his mother to submit a plea for pardon with the Supreme Commander of the Kriegsmarine, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder. Raeder confirmed the sentence on 1 August and denied the pardon. He ordered the immediate execution of the sentence. His orders were received by the court on 25 August 1942. On the next morning, Otto Groth, accompanied by a pastor, was taken to the firing range at Kiel-Holtenau. Present were Lieutenant Conty, as head of the proceedings, Marine Judge Advocate Hans Köhler-Kaess, Chief Surgeon Hermannsen, and a platoon of the Kiel Guard Company. Before the pastor spoke his last words to Groth, the sentence, the confirmation, and the decision of the Supreme Command of the Kriegsmarine, dated 1 August 1942, were read aloud. Then "ten troops, who were positioned in a row five steps in front of the prisoner, executed the sentence upon command. Chief Surgeon Hermannsen declared Groth dead at 6:04 a.m. The body was immediately removed from the place of execution.”

The chief justice immediately issued thirteen directives, the first of which was sent to the Hamburg police commissioner – he was to gently inform August Groth, Otto’s father, of the denial of pardon and the execution of the death sentence. He was also requested to inform the Kriegsmarine whether the body should be released to the family. August Groth’s waiver was received by 9:30 a.m. Otto Groth’s record was closed with the pronouncement of his "loss” to the 2nd company of the 1st training detachment on 7 September 1942.

Translator: Amy Lee

Kindly supported by the Hermann Reemtsma Stiftung, Hamburg.

© Hildegard Thevs

Quellen: BA/Militärarchiv Freiburg, RM 123/7448 2, 123/7455 3, 9577; StaH 332-5 Standesämter, 8737+308/1919; AB 1920.

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