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Fritz Freitag * 1919
Neuer Höltigbaum (Wandsbek, Rahlstedt)
Fritz Otto Freitag, born 22.4.1919 in Stettin, executed in Hamburg at Höltigbaum on 10.3.1945
Neuer Höltigbaum (Wandsbek, Rahlstedt)
Fritz Freitag was single and 20 years old when Germany unleashed World War II with the invasion of Poland in September 1939. In 1942 Fritz Freitag became a soldier. A few weeks before the end of the war, on March 10, 1945, in the morning at 11 o'clock, the now 24-year-old grenadier, together with the rifleman Willi Krüger and the grenadier Otto Grüning, stood bound and blindfolded on the Höltigbaum firing range in Hamburg-Rahlstedt, in front of them a firing squad led by Major Seifert. The soldiers of the firing squad had arrived from the barracks in the Bundesstraße to fulfill the murderous order of the Wehrmacht justice. An hour earlier, a commando under Corvette Captain Maurer had already executed four soldiers. Fritz Freitag and the two other soldiers became ear witnesses of this rifle volley. It announced to them their own death.
In Hamburg alone, eleven courts-martial were convened with a good ninety Wehrmacht judges. In parallel with the course of the war, the number of death sentences and executions in Hamburg had risen sharply from the end of 1943 onwards, the main purpose of which was to serve as a deterrent. Over 150 executions of death sentences at the Höltigbaum can be traced by name. Like Fritz Freitag, most of those murdered here were ordinary soldiers.
Fritz Otto Freitag, born on April 22, 1919 in Stettin (today: Szczecin), baptized Protestant, was an only child. Anna Freitag, his unmarried mother, lived in Stolp in Pomerania (today: Slupsk/Poland). The circumstances in which he grew up were probably anything but easy. He was left to his own devices from an early age. At the age of six, Fritz was sent to a children's home near what was then Neustettin and remained there until he was 14. After that he worked in agriculture. At the age of 19, he moved to Bremen to work in the shipping industry.
At first he worked as a stoker. He then found a job with a Rhine skipper in Duisburg as a machinist. However, thefts, embezzlement, beatings and bodily harm repeatedly brought him into conflict with the law as a young man. Before joining the Wehrmacht, he received several prison sentences.
Shortly after Fritz Freitag was drafted as a soldier with Infantry Replacement Battalion 184 in Herford in September 1942, he was sent to the front in Russia. Already in 1943 he received disciplinary punishments and arrest for exceeding leave and unauthorized removal from the troops.
According to his own account, Fritz Freitag was wounded several times during his front-line deployment. In August 1944, his injuries were so severe that he was admitted to a military hospital in Rhöndorf on the Rhine. Discharged on September 29, 1944, he was allowed to take a 14-day convalescent leave until October 15, 1944, to his home town of Stolp. After that he was to report to his replacement unit in Schleswig. Fritz Freitag, however, remained in Stolp. He changed the date of his leave pass from October 16 to October 26, 1944, but the hoax was soon discovered.
On October 19, 1944, a station guard in Stolp arrested him. In the following interrogation, Fritz Freitag apologized to the local stationmaster, saying that he had not been aware that he had forged a document. He had met a girl in Stolp and wanted to spend a few more days with her - nothing more. The interrogation protocol also recorded previous military convictions of "6 weeks of sharpened arrest" for unauthorized removal as well as "3 days of sharpened Arrest" for exceeding leave.
Under escort guard, Fritz Freitag arrived at his unit in Schleswig. On October 25, 1944, he was to be transferred from there, again under guard, to the Lübeck location command. On the way, he and his two companions were caught in a bombing raid. They had to interrupt their journey before Neumünster and leave the train. There they were assigned to clean-up work. In the confusion of this situation, Fritz Freitag was able to escape his guards.
He found shelter for a few days with a woman whom he had helped clear debris in Neumünster. Then he made his way to Hamburg, partly on foot, partly by car - presumably as a hitchhiker. Here he went into hiding for the next few weeks, without having a permanent place to stay. Occasionally he stayed with women he had met in pubs in Hamburg's old town.
On December 5, 1944, at 8 p.m., a Wehrmacht patrol arrested him during a check at the "Wolff" café on Beim Grünen Jäger street in the Schanzenviertel district. Fritz Freitag was wearing his uniform, but carried no identification papers. He was therefore taken to the Wehrmacht investigation prison in Altona and interrogated the next day. Further interrogations followed on December 12, 1944 and January 6, 1945. The investigators confiscated from him ration cards, a large number of stamps and ration coupons for potatoes issued in the names of others.
Fritz Freitag concealed the name of his unit in Schleswig and also his escape on the way to Lübeck. He mentioned the previous military convictions already recorded in Stolp, while he allegedly could not remember the names and addresses of the women who had helped him. On January 6, 1945, he finally admitted to having helped with cleanup work in Neumünster on October 25, 1944, and to having stayed there for a few days - nothing more.
The Hamburg criminal police treated Fritz Freitag for identification purposes and also took "photographs for identification purposes." The Hamburg police often provided administrative assistance to the military police. Especially in Hamburg's red-light district, deserted soldiers repeatedly managed to go into hiding in the confusing neighborhoods, often with the help of prostitutes. The capacities of the military investigators were usually not sufficient for a targeted search or for larger raids in the Gängeviertel or on the Reeperbahn. Therefore, they were supported by task forces of the criminal investigation and protection police or even the Gestapo.
On January 12, 1945, Fritz Freitag wrote a letter to the court in the Wehrmacht investigation prison in Altona. He made clear his distress and wrote that he wanted to return to the front, wanted to prove himself "in the punishment battalion, clearing unexploded bombs or mines". He did not want to have any more leave, then he could not run away again. He asked for a chance to make up for his mistakes.
A few days earlier, on January 8, 1945, the commander and court-master of Division No. 190, Major General Ernst Wisselink, had ordered the indictment of Fritz Freitag. Oberfeldrichter Richard Stoldt was appointed as judge (see below, Excursus. He is considered the judge who passed most death sentences in Neumünster and Hamburg).
On the same day, Oberstabsrichter Josef Grohmann, who had been appointed as the prosecution's representative, wrote to the police administration in Stolp and asked "on the orders of the Reichsführer SS" for more details about Fritz Freitag's family and for his character assessment (drunkard? Mental illnesses or hereditary diseases in the family, origin of the mother, incapacitations or infertility). A reply from Stolp has not been handed down.
The main hearing took place on January 20, 1945, in the Altona District Court. The division court met there frequently. It was a Saturday. At the trial, Fritz Freitag stated that he had managed to get by and had often spent the night with women he had met somewhere. He confessed that he had not really tried to return to the troop, but maintained that he had not wanted to leave permanently. The appointed defense counsel requested that he be sentenced to penal servitude instead of the death penalty. Fritz Freitag himself affirmed at the end of the trial that he wanted to return to the front and that the death penalty was too high.
For Oberfeldrichter Stoldt, however, Fritz Freitag's past life and his previous convictions did not allow him to expect any improvement. For him, Fritz Freitag was a "drifter," someone who had spent weeks in hiding in Hamburg, aimless and rootless, seeking bad company. He was an unreliable soldier who lacked all the prerequisites to be readmitted into the fabric of a troop, Stoldt wrote in the verdict with which he sent Fritz Freitag to his death on January 20, 1945, "in compliance with the Führer's guidelines for sentencing in cases of desertion."
The "Guidelines of the Führer and Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht for Sentencing in Cases of Desertion of April 14, 1940" would also have made it possible to decide on a less serious case of desertion, which would not have had to be punished by death. According to the guidelines, however, the death penalty was called for "if, according to special circumstances, it is indispensable in order to maintain manliness and likewise also if the perpetrator has a substantial criminal record or has engaged in criminal activity during the desertion." Thus there was nothing for Judge Richard Stoldt to consider: In his view, the death penalty was necessary for the soldier Fritz Freitag according to "Führer's will."
On February 23, 1945, the "Reichsführer SS and Commander-in-Chief of the Reserve Army (RFSS)" Heinrich Himmler confirmed the sentence. He refused to grant clemency. "The sentence is to be carried out," his order stated succinctly.
On March 6, 1945, the formal execution order against Fritz Freitag and four other soldiers followed. Four days later, the fatal shots were fired at the Höltigbaum.
Fritz Freitag was buried in the Ohlsdorf cemetery. It is not known whether his mother in Pomerania ever learned of his fate. On March 8, 1945, the Russian army had reached the Baltic coast near Stolpmünde and occupied the town of Stolp. Most of the German population was already on the run.
Fritz Freitag was not a hero who deserted out of political conviction, but a simple, probably plain-thinking and occasionally perhaps disoriented young man with a life story that was not easy. He found - especially after his wounding - little pleasure in soldiering, but obviously did not recognize the danger of deserting the troops. Fritz Freitag had to die in order to maintain or intensify the threatening effect on soldiers who were unwilling to serve and who might try to evade military service.
Oberfeldrichter Richard Stoldt was a willing accomplice in this. As a conservative and militant academic, he had already been among those who fought the new democratic republic after the end of the Kaiserreich since 1919. In Altona, where he had lived with his parents since 1911 and graduated from high school in 1914, he belonged to a Freikorps after the First World War. In 1919 he continued his law studies, which he had already begun. After passing the Second State Examination, he joined the Altona District Court as a district court judge.
In 1933 he joined the NSDAP, and in 1934 the National Socialist Motor Corps (NSKK). He quickly made a career for himself: in 1934, he became a member of the Higher Regional Court in Kiel, in 1937, a district court director in Hamburg and president of a chamber of the Hanseatic Special Court, an activity in political criminal justice. After an interruption by joining the Wehrmacht in 1939, Richard Stoldt - no longer fit for field service - was detached to the army judiciary in 1943. From July 1943 until the end of the war, he was assigned to the court of Division No. 190 or No. 490 in Neumünster, where he was promoted to Oberkriegsgerichtsrat and later, in the service of the troops, to Oberfeldrichter. Under his leadership, especially many hearings of the Hamburg court, now located in Neumünster, took place in the last months of the war.
Richard Stoldt survived the war. After the surrender, the Allies initially ordered the closure of all German courts and declared Nazi laws invalid. The courts martial continued to operate in many cases - in northern Germany then under the supervision of the British military government - until they finally ceased to exist under Control Council Law No. 34 of August 20, 1946.
Richard Stoldt spent the British internment together with the Wehrmacht judge Friedrich Hohmann in Neumünster-Gadeland. Afterwards, and following successful denazification, most lawyers returned to their professions. In Stoldt's case, a coincidence prevented this: in 1947, a death sentence by the Hamburg Nazi military justice system from the last days of the war against two young officers, Hans-Joachim Fischer and Hans-Rainer Möllmann, for unauthorized removal from the force had become known by chance. Both officers had been shot at the Höltigbaum on April 3, 1945, because "the maintenance of manly discipline" would require it and because the men at the front would have had "no understanding for a lenient sentence," as the judge later cited in justification. The judge was Gottfried Hagemann, and Richard Stoldt represented the prosecution.
After the war, both attempted to return to the Hamburg judiciary, unsuccessfully, which is to be considered a rare exception. Richard Stoldt's first application for reinstatement in 1946 had been rejected because of his formal charges as a Reich war councilor and member of the NSDAP and NSKK. In the denazification proceedings of July 10, 1948, he was classified only as a "fellow traveler," (Mitläufer) which allowed him to be employed as a judge in a lower salary grade. In a review the next year, he was deemed "denazified," so he made a second attempt to return to judicial service. But Justice Senator Wilhelm Kröger asked the president of the Hanseatic Higher Regional Court very clearly to refrain from proposing his appointment. In his later address book entries, he nevertheless proudly listed his former official title of "judge." We do not know his further professional activities. Richard Stoldt died on May 18, 1981.
Translation by Beate Meyer
Stand: February 2022
© Hans-Joachim Klier
Quellen: Staatsarchiv Hamburg, 332-5 Standesämter 4428/93/1966 – Sterberegisterauszug Fritz Freitag; Bundesarchiv, Gericht der Division Nr. 190, Akte Nr. 784; Gesetz Nr. 34: Auflösung der Wehrmacht v. 20.8.1946, Amtsblatt des Kontrollrats in Deutschland, Nr. 10, 31.8.1946, S. 172-173. Koch, Magnus/ Skowronski, Lars: Hamburg als Garnison und als Standort der Wehrmachtsjustiz. Strukturen und Topografie, S. 57-70, S. 72, in: s.u.; Bade, Claudia: Soldaten seiner Wesensart bedeuten für die Heimat eine schwere Gefahr. Todesurteilspraxis und Anwendung von Täterstrafrecht durch die Richter des Ersatzheeres in Hamburg, S. 77-90, in: s.u.; Bade, Claudia: Der Umgang mit den Akteuren und Tätern der Wehrmachtsjustiz in der Freien und Hansestadt Hamburg nach 1945, S. 255 ff, alle in: Bade, Claudia/Garbe, Detlef/Koch, Magnus (Hrsg.): "Rücksichten auf den Einzelnen haben zurückzutreten". Hamburg im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Hamburg 2019; https://www.hamburg.de/clp/dabeigewesene-suche/clp1/ns-dabeigewesene/onepage.php?BIOID=60&bezirke=5 (Zugriff 10.5.2021). https://www.servat.unibe.ch/dns/RGBl_1940_I_1347_VO_Neufassung_Militaerstrafgesetzbuch.pdf (Zugriff 6.5.2021); https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internierungslager_Gadeland (Zugriff 6.5.2021); Hamburger Adressbuch 1956.