Sun May 13, 2007
German and Canadian sentries guard the entrance to the IJmuiden (NL) Concentration area.
The Execution of German Deserters by
Surrendered German Troops Under Canadian
Control near Amsterdam, May 1945
On the morning of 13 May 1945, five days
after the formal capitulation of Hitler's
Wehrmacht, a German military court delivered
death sentences on two German naval
deserters, Bruno Dorfer and Rainer Beck. The
trial occurred in an abandoned Ford assembly
plant on the outskirts of Amsterdam, a site
used by the Canadian army for the
concentration of German naval personnel. Later
that same day, a German firing squad, supplied
with captured German rifles and a three-ton
truck from the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada
and escorted by Canadian Captain Robert K.
Swinton, executed the two German prisoners
of war a short distance outside the enclosure.1
Dorfer and Beck were among the last victims of
a military legal system distorted by the Nazi
state. At the time no one, Canadian or German,
questioned the justice of the event.
The execution of Bruno Dorfer and Rainer
Beck by surrendered German troops in
Canadian custody was a product of many
factors. Under a dubious interpretation of
international law, Canadian military authorities
permitted a continuation of the German military
structure after the demise of the Third Reich.
German assistance was indispensable in the
disarmament, concentration, and evacuation
of the German armed forces within Holland.
Unfortunately, disinterested Canadian military
authorities also left the German military in
control of order and discipline. German
commanders and military judges applied a
military law warped by National Socialism.
The Canadian military, distracted by larger
political and strategic concerns, tardily
instituted restrictions on these proceedings.
Dorfer and Beck, seeking safety and friends,
instead found indifference and enemies. Were
the deaths of Dorfer and Beck avoidable? Yes!
Indeed, it is hard to understand why Canadian
military authorities did not follow, from their
first arrival in Amsterdam, the graduated policy
eventually adopted towards German deserters.
In the case of Dorfer and Beck, only one strong
voice along the Canadian or German military
hierarchies was needed to question the irony of
the situation. Disappointingly, none was