Günther Ohletz was born at Oberhausen in Germany on 26 April, 1924. Hitler came to power when he was nine. He practically did not know any other social system than the one created by Nazism, and when he was 15, war broke out. Like many others of his age group, he wanted his share of soldiering, and at 16 years of age, volunteered for the SS. But they didn’t want him yet.
One year later, he was accepted and assigned to a regiment which was part of the 10th SS Panzerdivision “Frundsberg”. He made his first battle experiences in the region of Kovel in Ukrainia, but when D-Day came, his division was hurried to Normandy in order to fight back the advancing Allies. Günther was 20 years old by now, and had gained promotion to Rottenführer – something like corporal in other armies.
On 10 August, 1944, Oberscharführer (T/Sgt) Seel, Günther's platoon leader, said: “I don't like the way these guys go on patrol. They go out, lie down in the grass and they all rest and come back and tell me that they haven't seen anything. I am completely in the dark as to where the enemy is. I would like you to go out on a patrol in civilian clothes. Get yourself some civilian clothes in one of these houses.”
When Günther came back dressed for the occasion, Seel handed him a piece of paper on which he had explained, for the benefit of the German outpost line, that this civilian was really an SS Rottenführer on reconnaissance mission.
Günther started out on his mission. Hearing some shooting a few hundred yards to the south, he went to see what was there but found only the tracks of a non-German armoured vehicle and some spent cartridges. When he passed what was supposed to be the German outpost line, he did not see anybody but just found some pieces of equipment. He found more tracks of armoured vehicles, crossed a river, went cross-country, found another road going south, passed a water mill… And then he met LT Max M. VanPatton.
Together with another officer and two soldiers, this officer in Company D, 82nd Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, had left the village of St. Georges de Rouelley in northerly direction. After about a mile, the car met a civilian smoking a cigarette. The lieutenant stopped to ask whether the civilian knew the location of the enemy. The civilian made a blank face. The lieutenant tried his best French: “Le boche?” and drew a swastika in the dirt. “Nix compre” was the answer. Now this did not sound French, and not English either. But “nix” for “nothing” was an expression a German might use… The “civilian” was searched, and the Americans found a Luger pistol on him. That was enough to arrest him and return him to St. Georges where he was searched again, and more thoroughly. A “soldbuch” (a military passport and pay book) was found, and a German army identification tag.
One week later Günther was interrogated by a master sergeant of the Military Intelligence. He freely spoke about his mission and admitted everything.
On 7 September, 1944, near Le Perray, a Military Commission sat and tried the case, pursuant to paragraph 1 of Special Orders No. 240. The specification of the charge was:
In that Rottenführer Günther Ohletz, 21st SS Panzer Grenadier Regiment, German Army, did, in the zone of operations of the Armies of the United States near Saint Georges de Reuelle, France, on or about 10 August, 1944, act as a spy by endeavouring, while disguised in civilian clothes, to obtain information with intent to impart same to the enemy.
With Günther's confession on record, the defense had a rotten job. The only thing that could be done was to plead his youth in mitigation of punishment. The Commission found the defendant guilty of espionage and sentenced him to hang. The sentence was reviewed on 13th, reviewed again on 19th by the Army Group Judge Advocate, and finally confirmed. Everything had been done by the book, army-style.
On 23 September, the US Army opened the Seine Disciplinary Training Center, complete with gallows. It was situated in the south-east of Paris in the Caserne Mortier, named after a French Marshal of Napoleonic times. On 7 October, 1944 Günther was to be executed there.
However: There was no hangman.
Army regulations so far had ordered that “The trap will be actuated personally by the officer charged with the execution of the sentence.” Usually that would be a career officer in the Military Police, for instance Major Mortimer H. Christian, the Commandant of the Seine Section DTC. But so far only one hanging had occurred in France, and for that the US Army had flown in their English contractor, Thomas William Pierrepoint. It was clear that this had been an exception, that an army hangman had to be found. Enquiries to that effect had already turned up likely candidates, but in this case, Major Christian still had to do it personally. It is possible that it was even the first hanging in his 48 years of life that he was present at.
In the evening of October 7 at about ten o'clock, Major Christian led the execution party into the death chamber at the Caserne Mortier. Günther was accompanied by two sergeants as guards and an army chaplain. They mounted the steps of the gallows and on the platform met two assistants which the “Report of Proceedings” does not name. An army surgeon took post at about eight feet from the gallows, facing the scaffold, and the Recorder who had the task to write everything down stood near the wall at the foot of the steps. One brigadier general, three colonels, two lieutenant colonels and one captain formed a line in order of rank at a distance of about 24 feet: the witnesses.
Günther did not have much to say when he was asked his last words: “Only that I thank the Chaplain, and I was not a spy.”
Leg strap, hood and noose followed, adjusted by one of those unnamed “assistants”. Major Christian faced about and cut the rope which released the weight which sprung the trap. It was 10.05 p.m.
“The body swayed only lightly and without jerks, tremors or convulsions, hung suspended in the lower screened portion of the scaffold”, wrote the Recorder (how could he know if the scaffold was screened?).
At 10.18 p.m., the surgeon declared Günther dead. The assistants took Günther's body down and handed it to two soldiers of the Quartermaster Graves Registration Service who had come in with a litter. The chaplain “administered the last rites of the faith of the prisoner” which probably means that Günther was a catholic and received the Extreme Unction. Since this involves, among other things, that Günther's hands had to be anointed, it was rather unfortunate that “(t)he assistants were unable to remove the handcuffs due to a faulty lock mechanism”.
Then the litter bearers left, after handing the Recorder a receipt for the remains. In quintuplicate.
Günther Ohletz was buried on “Solers Enemy Cemetery No. 2” which the US had started that year, 20 miles southeast of Paris. Today this is the Cimetière Militaire Allemand at Solers, with 2,228 German graves. Günther Ohletz is buried in Plot 1, Row 4, Grave 131.
Who knows – perhaps even with his handcuffs still on.
31 other men were shot for spying by the US Army in the European Theater of Operations, during World War II.