Curt Gustav Friedrich Walther von Gottberg (11 February 1896 – 31 May 1945) was a high-ranking Nazi official and SS commander. Beginning in October 1942, within a few years he combined the highest civil and military powers in occupied Belarus: from March 1943 as representative of the Higher SS and Police Leader for central Russia and from October 1943 as the acting Commissioner-General (Generalkommissar) of the occupied Belarus.
Gottberg personally ordered many war crimes and commanded units that committed atrocities against the civilian population of occupied territories. After the end of the war, he was arrested and committed suicide while in custody.
Gottberg was born in East Prussia, to an old Farther Pomeranian aristocratic family. After a training in agricultural management, from 1912, he fought in World War I, serving from 2 August 1914. He served through nearly the entire war, receiving numerous bullet and shell wounds, and was decorated with the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class. Along with other demobilised officers, he then joined the Marinebrigade Ehrhardt (a Freikorps). Gottberg returned to East Prussia in 1924, finished his agricultural training and until the end of the 1920s managed personal estates near Königsberg.
Early SS career
Following a common route for former Freikorps members, Gottberg joined the SA in 1931, and the NSDAP in February 1932. In September 1932 he joined the SS. By the end of 1933, as an SS-Sturmbannführer, he was head of the 3rd battalion of the SS Verfügungstruppe regiment 1 in Ellwangen: the desire to construct a military force (the basis for the Waffen-SS) compelled the SS leadership to rely on trained military personnel from World War I.
In 1936, Gottberg assumed leadership of the 49th SS-Standarte in Brunswick. In January 1936 Gottberg was involved in a car accident, and his left leg was amputated below the knee. Heinrich Himmler personally intervened on his behalf: the cost of medical care and of the damaged car (which was not Gottberg's) was covered. Himmler also intervened so that Gottberg was promoted to head of the Office for Settlement into the Race and Settlement (RuSHA) in July 1937. However, Gottberg became overwhelmed by his duties; by summer 1939 he was also the acting Commissar of Land Management for Prague. Gottberg's financial mismanagement in these roles (dubious transactions, "donations", loans to private individuals, lack of supervision of subordinates, losses running into the millions) led to a scandal within the SS administration. In November 1939 his superior at RuSHA, Günther Pancke, called for Gottberg's resignation, even threatening him with dispatch to a concentration camp.
His suspension and 'house arrest' lasted until November 1940, after interventions on his behalf. The long-delayed disciplinary proceedings at an internal SS court took place in April 1942, ending with Gottberg's rehabilitation. It was decided that "factual errors" had led him to make "inappropriate" decisions, but that he had also conducted himself with "remarkable" persistence, intelligence and "personal devotion".
Later SS career and war crimes
Gottberg was successively promoted as the head of SS and police for Belarus between October 1942 and June 1944 due to Himmler's sponsorship. He was delegated with the duties of the Generalkommissar for Belarus on 27 October 1943 after Wilhelm Kube was killed by a bomb in Minsk on 23 October.
Gottberg developed a new 'strategy' in the fight against partisans on the occupied territory of the Soviet Union, mounting aggressive operations against suspected 'partisan bases' (generally ordinary villages; Gottberg's strategy seems to have largely involved terrorising the civilian population). Whole regions were classified as "bandit territory" (German: Bandengebiet): residents were expelled or murdered and dwellings destroyed. "In the evacuated areas," said Gottberg in an order, "all people are in future fair game". An order of Gottberg's of 7 December 1942 stated: "Each bandit, Jew, gypsy, is to be regarded as an enemy". After his first operation, Nürnberg, Gottberg reported on 5 December 1942: "Enemy dead: 799 bandits, over 300 suspected bandits and over 1800 Jews [...] Our losses: 2 dead and 10 wounded. One must have luck".
As a result, Kampfgruppe von Gottberg, along with the Dirlewanger and Kaminski Brigades, under the coordination of Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski, were responsible for the organised mass murder of countless civilians in Belarus. Within a short time Gottberg had received the highest military awards, and a few days before the collapse of the front in June 1944 was promoted to HSSPF for Central Russia and Belarus, and on 30 June to the rank of Obergruppenführer.
The defeat of Army Group Centre saw Kampfgruppe von Gottberg thrown into front-line service against the Red Army's Minsk, Vilnius and Belostock Offensive Operations, all part of the strategic offensive Operation Bagration. His forces were tasked with helping to defend Minsk and subsequently Lida, though in both cases they withdrew (contrary to Wehrmacht orders) when faced with Soviet attack.
Gottberg was appointed the head of anti-partisan activity in occupied France, but because of the rapid German retreat was not employed in this role. Shortly before the war's end he commanded the XII SS Corps. In March 1945, Himmler put Gottberg in charge of screening the railroad system for soldiers who were traveling away from fighting fronts. Joseph Goebbels also directed Gottberg that spring as desperate efforts were made to send men who had been released from the Wehrmacht back to combat.
Arrest and death
Gottberg was arrested by the Allies after the war's end. He committed suicide on 31 May 1945 while in British captivity in Flensburg.
Awards and decorations
- German Cross in Gold on 7 August 1943 as SS-Brigadeführer and Generalmajor of the Polizei, commander of a Kampfgruppe, and SS and SS and police leader "Weißruthenien"
- Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross on 30 June 1944 as SS-Gruppenführer and Generalleutnant of the Polizei and leader of Kampfgruppe von Gottberg