A Nazi Army Recruit Took Pride in Fleeing

A growing minority of Germans say WWII deserters should be respected

ONE of Nazi Germany's last moves was to try to make Christian a soldier.

The young father had worked on the docks in the port city of Hamburg while World War II raged throughout Europe, having escaped service because of a physical disability. But after the Allies' two-front war drained most of Germany's might, the Nazis called in the Volkssturm, their last reserves.

Christian was drafted in September 1944. After dodging service for several months, he ultimately decided to make a run for Allied lines. ''This was how I have won the war,'' he says with a quiet note of triumph.

Most Germans don't see his actions as victorious. While all veterans of the Wehrmacht, or Nazi Army, remain unsure how to commemorate their actions in World War II, the role of deserters is particularly controversial. Many still see them as traitors and cowards who let others die for them.

''I knew that if I went I wouldn't return,'' Christian admits. ''At the front, you are not a human being any more; you turn into an animal.''

But a growing minority of Germans are stressing that every form of refusal toward the Nazi regime must be highly respected, taking into consideration a wide range of individual reasons for desertion.

''The ideological outlawing of Wehrmacht deserters turns more and more into a respectful appreciation,'' wrote Wolfram Wette, a historian, recently in the weekly Die Zeit newspaper.

The city of Erfurt in central Germany, for example, plans to erect a memorial to deserters tomorrow.

Despite this evolving change in attitude toward deserters, 50 years later, Christian still refuses to give his full name because he is still afraid of harassment.

Back when he was first drafted, Christian had two homes, one in Hamburg and one near Cologne, allowing him temporarily to avoid detection by the military authorities. Finally in April 1945, he was forced to flee with his family to relatives in the countryside.

''The train I took ''was full of men in uniforms,'' Christian remembers, ''sand I knew, if they discover you, they will shoot you right away.''

More than 20,000 death sentences were carried out against deserters by the German military during the Nazi era, right up to the last days of the war.

Christian was among those who got away. Several days after he reached the countryside, United States troops entered his little village on Easter Sunday.

Christian is proud of his deed, though he says he had no ideological motive. ''I didn't have much to do with politics, I only wanted to survive. Of course, it was dangerous to desert, but it was my only chance,'' he says.

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