An attempt at reconstruction | by Dr Kees Vernooij

1. Prior to
Following the murder of Mike Goedhart on 26 March 2020 in Cothen, the Dutch Atlas of Murders stated the following:

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“It was the first murder in Cothes since the war. During the war, the resistance did liquidate 22-year-old SS Unterscharführer Karl Baumgärtner there.”

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Almost nothing is known in Cothen about the death of Baumgartner. When in 1995 I wrote a booklet about Cothen in the Second World War at the request of the then municipality of Cothen, I found nothing in the archives of the municipality about a killed German soldier at the end of the war. The people I spoke to then said nothing about it either.

The so-called Atlas of Murders, but also a conversation in 2019 with the very elderly Siem Vernooij were the reason to do research to find out more about Baumgartner’s death. Because of the almost complete absence of written information, the question arose as well: was Baumgartner’s death perhaps also one of the taboos that still exist in Cothen about certain matters from the Second World War? Taboos include subjects such as:

  • The betrayal of Van Leur and Van de Kamp by a family member; betrayal that resulted in their deaths in April 1945;
  • The death of Marius Middelweerd on 21 February 1945;
  • Dance evenings organised by the German military in De Kroon;
  • The young women from Cothen who left for Germany at the end of the war with the German military.

The taboos also mean that people do not want to talk about them..

2. Who is Karl Baumgartner?
Illustration: possible photo of Baumgartner

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Karl Baumgartner was born on 10-02-1922 in Liefering, a district of the Austrian city of Salzburg. The then 23-year-old held the rank of SS-Rottenführer (corporal) in the 1./ SS-Gebirgs-Nachrichtenabteilung 6 of the 6. SS-Gebirgsdivision “Nord”, decorated on 30-01-1944 with the Kriegsverdienstkreuz 2. Klasse mit Schwerten (also called KVK2, Cross for War Merit 2nd Class with Swords).

According to Siem Vernooij (2019), his brother Gert Vernooij jr. had picked up a German soldier and brought him home on the flat wagon. The German SS soldier was alone. He had probably deserted and had psychological problems. The house is the Dom farm on Groenewoudseweg. That night, the soldier slept in Vernooij’s living room, because all rooms on the farm were occupied by evacuees. The next day the soldier went on foot to the Stefanushoeve of Jan van Dijk (now Graaf van Lijnden van Sandenburgweg 6). Van Dijk was picked up by two people of the Cothen resistance. He would not give them his weapon. He was probably taken to a barn next to Jan Rosengarten’s house on Bredeweg. In that barn, the soldier was imprisoned or in hiding for some time. We do not know how long. However, Baumgartner did pinch him at some point, because he was afraid the Germans would find him. For this reason, he pretended that he had been picked up by the resistance.

In the village ‘oude’ Baumgartner was at one point called Kees by Kees van Woudenberg, because he was bald at a young age, he was taken away by the Cothen resistance on the back of his bicycle and later shot dead in the woods near the Weerdesteinselaan (Peklap) on the evening of 6 April 1945 by members of the Cothen resistance. Then, according to a letter by Vollmüller (1995) – letter from the archive of D’Hert – who was in hiding at Middelweerd in the Dorpsstraat in 1945, he was thrown into a foxhole along the then provincial road – now the Graaf van Lijnden van Sandenburg – in the direction of Werkhoven. The question remains: why was he not buried near the Weerdesteinselaan? That area lends itself to ‘disposing of’ people.. Then, according to a letter by Vollmüller (1995) – letter from the archive of D’Hert – who was in hiding at Middelweerd in the Dorpsstraat in 1945, he was thrown into a foxhole along the then provincial road – now the Graaf van Lijnden van Sandenburg – in the direction of Werkhoven. The question remains: why was he not buried near the Weerdesteinselaan? That area lends itself to ‘disposing of’ people.

Resistance fighter Van Woudenberg was not at home for a few days and when he came back home to his parents in the Kerweg, he said to his father: It’s over.

Baumgartner was found by German soldiers moving towards Utrecht and eventually buried at the Tolsteeg General Cemetery in Utrecht and later reburied at the German War Cemetery in Ysselsteyn, Limburg.

Illustration: Baumgartner buried at the German military cemetery Ysselsteyn. (Source: Find a Grave)

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The book ‘3 Dorpen over Bunnik, Odijk en Werkhoven in de periode 1940-1945’ (1980) mentions that at the end of the war, a German soldier was shot in Cothen. The soldiers who transported Baumgartner’s body on a farm wagon to Utrecht, were roaring about it. They bore him in the yard of B. – probably the farm Het Wed on the Leemkolkweg in Werkhoven – and picked tulips from the farmer’s garden to put on the bier and then brought Baumgartner to the section for deceased German soldiers of the Tolsteeg General Cemetery in Utrecht.

3. What else is known about Baumgartner’s death?
In Dutch and German archives, almost nothing can be found about Baumgartner’s death. Not even about how he ended up in the Tolsteeg cemetery. There is no information about this anywhere.

Baumgartner’s death is mentioned in the book ‘Recht op wraak. Liquidaties in Nederland 1940-1945’ (Right to Revenge. Liquidations in the Netherlands 1940-1945) by Jack Kooistra and Albert Oosthoek (PENN Publishers, Leeuwarden 2009). On his Grabmeldung of the Tolsteeg General Cemetery is written: ‘Baumgartner ist auf 6 april 1945 durch Terroristen erschossen’. The German Grabmeldungen are now accommodated at the cemetery Soestbergen.

4. Why did members of the Cothen resistance kill Baumgartner?
Earlier it was indicated that the deserted soldier became “troublesome”. That could be the reason for his death. The resistance was possibly afraid that the soldier would betray them to the Germans. He. occasionally. hinted. that. he. would. be. arrested. by. the. resistance. This may have been perceived as a threat by the resistance. However, there is also talk by various Cothenians about revenge by some members of the resistance. Why revenge? In the case of the young resistance fighter Kees van Woudenberg, the fact that his slightly handicapped brother Henk, aged 11, was hit by a drunken German soldier near Jan van Dijk’s farm (Stefanushoeve) in December 1944, and died shortly afterwards, may have played a role. In addition, on 20 March 1945, five members of the Cothen resistance, including the leaders Van de Kamp and Van Leur, were arrested by the Germans after betraying them. This caused great panic among the other – mainly young – members of the Cothen resistance.

In short: It seems – and also several old Cothenians believe it – that revenge was the motive to kill the soldier. This also explains that members of the Cothen resistance never spoke about Baumgartner’s death.

5. Did Baumgartner’s death have any consequences?

According to Vollmüller (1995), the execution of the arrested Cothen resistance fighters Ben van Leur and Arnold van de Kamp on 16 April 1945 at fort De Bildt would have been a reprisal for Baumgartner’s death.

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Ben van Leur
Arnold van de Kamp

That was the story that circulated in Cothen in April 1945. The other three arrested Cothen resistance fighters were released by the Germans in the evening of the day of execution of Leur and Van de Kamp (Vernooy 1995).

On 16 April 1945, Van Leur and Van de Kamp were shot together with eight other resistance fighters on fortress De Bildt, without being convicted. According to Caspers (1989), their execution was retaliation for the attack on SS-General Rauter in the night of 6 to 7 March 1945 near Woeste Hoeve on the Arnhem-Apeldoorn road. Caspers’ statement on the death of Van de Kamp and Van Leur must be questioned because the reprisals for the attack on Rauter took place almost immediately after the attack, whereas Van de Kamp and Van Leur were executed over a month later. Also in the publication ‘Woeste Hoeve’ the names of Van de Kamp and Van Leur do not appear, whereas Berends (1995) in his book publishes a definitive list of the victims of the reprisal.

Also, after Baumgartner had been found, the Germans hung up a pamphlet in Cothen stating that if such an act was repeated, any three farms in Cothen would be expropriated and set on fire.

6. In conclusion
Consulting various war archives did not help to obtain more information about the death of Karl Baumgartner. Especially during the last weeks of the war, little or nothing was written down by the Germans but also by members of the resistance. For that reason, notes and observations of civilians from that time, like those of Vollmüller, are extremely important for research. Such notes belong in the regional archives.

Literature:

  • Berends, Henk (1995): ‘Woeste Hoeve. 8 maart 1945’. Kampen: Kok Voorhoeve.
  • Caspers, Loek (1989). Langbroek in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Langbroek: de gemeente Langbroek.
  • Culturele Raad (1980). 3 Dorpen 1940-1945. Bunnik, Odijk en Werkhoven. Bunnik: Culturele Raad van Bunnik.
  • Slot, Eric (2020). Praten met een vuurwapen. Moordatlas 26 maart 2020.
  • https://moordatlas.nl/event/2898
  • Vernooy, Kees (1995). Een impressie van Cothen in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Cothen: een uitgave van de gemeente Cothen.
  • Vollmúller, C. (1995). Een brief van C. Vollmüller uit Ommen (29 mei 1995) aan Levien D’Hert. Cothen: archief Levien D’Hert

Thanks to: (for the information provided by them)

  • Siem Vernooij († 2021)
  • Richard Schoutissen of the Stichting Oorlogsslachtoffers (War Victims Foundation)

Dr. Kees Vernooy was a lecturer in Effective Language and Reading Education and is interested in the social history of the Kromme Rijn area.