Archive for November, 2007

1944: An unknown Allied airman

11 comments November 21st, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1944, in the midst of a worldwide conflagration that would claim 70 million lives, one unknown crew member of an Allied bomber was shot by Nazi SS/SD troops in the woods around Enschede, Netherlands.

From late 1942, the Allies’ massive industrial capacity had sapped the vaunted Luftwaffe, bleeding down the German air force in desperate airborne combat in the Mediterranean and the Eastern front. Crippling losses in July and August 1943 lay Germany’s industrial heart open to devastating bombing and would within a year spell the end of the Luftwaffe as an effective fighting force.

The contest’s stakes were high. This hour-long compilation of contemporaneous U.S. propaganda footage celebrates the decisive effect of air supremacy in western Europe:

With hostile planes darkening Europe’s skies, the Germans called upon ruthlessness to stand in for materiel. Nazi SS chief Heinrich Himmler issued, according to Robin O’Neil, an August 1943 order to show no quarter to captured enemy pilots.

The young man shot this day suffered its effects:

The airman (estimated age 26 years), who was apparently unhurt, was taken by the SS to the cellar of the villa [serving as SS headquarters], where he was kept under guard while arrangements were made for his disposal. These arrangements consisted of the removal of his flying kit, and the substitution of a civilian light-coloured shirt, a pair of dark trousers, and a pair of socks.

In this dress he was put into a security vehicle, his hands handcuffed behind his back, and taken some distance in the grounds of the SS HQ to a spot within the compound where a grave had already been prepared. The airman was marched from the car by an escort of two SS men, one of whom dropped back and shot the airman in the back of the neck. He was buried and the grave was carefully camouflaged.

To this day, the airman’s identity has not been established. It was assumed that he was British or American, most probably American, as the trousers he was wearing were of a dark shade of khaki, and the fact that when he was informed in the car, in English, that he was to be executed, he made an indistinct reply in which the word “America” was uttered.

Countless such executions undoubtedly took place and were lost, forgotten or concealed in the charnel house of war. Thanks to the witness of Dutch prisoners who survived the war, this single act of routine brutality endured not only historically but juridically: little more than a year later, its author, Dr. Karl Eberhard Schongarth — an SS officer who participated in the Wannsee Conference and slaughtered thousands in occupied Poland and Holland — faced a war crimes prosecution for the execution of the anonymous airman.

His actions this date may have been small by the gauge of a bloodthirsty career, but since pre-war treaties explicitly regulated treatment of war prisoners, they also constituted a conveniently plain transgression of the far-from-bright line demarcating “war crimes.” For this one killing, Schongarth was himself hanged as a war criminal in Hamelin, Germany on May 16, 1946.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Known But To God,Netherlands,No Formal Charge,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,War Crimes,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , ,

1695: Zumbi dos Palmares

2 comments November 20th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1695, Zumbi dos Palmares, the last leader of Brazil’s most famous free colony of fugitive slaves, was captured by the Portuguese and summarily beheaded.

From the very beginning of European settlement in the New Wold, Maroon communities of escaped slaves, free-born blacks, Indians, poor whites, and mixed-race outcasts formed at the fringes of slave states.

Colonial power did not welcome their presence.

Consequently, the community of Palmares faced repeated harassment from the Portuguese and the Dutch West Indies Company from the time of its establishment around 1600 — even as it burgeoned into a kingdom of over 30,000 inhabitants.

Zumbi, a black free-born in Palmares, was kidnapped by such a sortie and raised with a missionary priest who taught him Portuguese and Latin. At 15, he escaped and returned to Palmares, quickly rising to prominence and in 1678 overthrowing his adoptive uncle King Ganga Zumba when the latter attempted to accept peace under Portuguese rule.

Zumbi’s skepticism was vindicated when the followers of Zumba who had defected to Portugal were re-enslaved, but free Palmares soon faced intensified Portuguese pressure. In 1694, artillery finally battered its largest settlement into submission — forcing its ruler into the bush, where he long eluded capture.

In Zumbi’s honor, November 20 is a Brazilian celebration of national pride and especially pride for those of African descent … while the king who would not be a slave has lent his name, somewhat paradoxically, to an international airport.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Brazil,Disfavored Minorities,Famous,Heads of State,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Portugal,Power,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Royalty,Slaves,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1915: Joe Hill

7 comments November 19th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1915, songwriter, poet and labor activist Joe Hill was shot in Utah for the murder of a local butcher.

Even before his execution, the Swedish immigrant was widely thought to have been railroaded for his IWW affiliation.

Though state authorities had little use for the worldwide clemency bid whose backers included U.S. President Woodrow Wilson — powerless to intervene officially, since the execution was a state matter — Hill walked spryly into his martyrdom. The strange post-mortem career of his totemic ashes is the least of the ways Hill lives on.

His dauntless last message to fellow Wobbly Bill Haywood — “Don’t waste any time mourning. Organize.” — is a permanent fixture on pins and placards among every stripe of left activist. The songs he wrote remain in print — and in performance.

And the Depression-era tribute ballad “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night” can seamlessly serenade ripped-from-the-headlines footage, as a Paul Robeson rendition does in these clips of 1998 protests against then-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Artists,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,History,Language,Martyrs,Murder,Popular Culture,Shot,USA,Utah,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1577: Soulmother of Kussnacht

1 comment November 18th, 2007 Headsman

On an uncertain date in November of 1577, a popular medium whose given name is lost to history was burned to death in a lakeside town for claiming to speak with the dead.

The Soulmother of Kussnacht ran a successful enterprise channeling spirits for those who survived them. Though her persecution by a Church ill-disposed to “wise women” seems a given in retrospect, she evidently ran this business openly for well over a decade, and was at least once before brought to the attention of authorities who found her harmless.


Kussnacht as seen in an old postcard. Image reproduced with permission.

Historian Carlo Ginzburg locates Die Seelenmutter within the cosmos of pre-Christian “shamanism” that persisted in Christendom under varying degrees of toleration. In Ginzburg’s Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century, which chronicles the Inquisition’s crackdown on a sect of northern Italian occultists, the contemporaneous execution of the Soulmother is both barometer and precedent for Rome’s rising intolerance of heresy.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Heresy,History,Known But To God,Public Executions,The Supernatural,Uncertain Dates,Witchcraft,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

1720: Captain John “Calico Jack” Rackham

7 comments November 17th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1720Nov. 18, 1720, the pirate captain “Calico Jack” Rackham was hanged together with his crew by the British governor of Jamaica.

Nicknamed for his flamboyant clothing, the Bristol-born buccaneer plundered the West Indies during the “Golden Age of Piracy”, having ousted his former captain Charles Vane. Rackham is chiefly remembered to history for two who were not hanged with the rest of his crew: Anne Bonny and Mary Read, rare female pirates who served aboard Rackham’s ship.

Immortalized by Daniel Defoe in his pseudonymous A General History of the Pyrates, Bonny and Read came to piracy by different paths but were both every bit the part and leaders aboard their ship — “very profligate, cursing, and swearing much, and very ready and willing to do any Thing on board.” Bonny, at least, was Rackham’s lover — having eloped with him from her husband.

Upon capture, both women “pleaded their bellies” to escape the gallows, and though it’s unclear whether either really was pregnant, it seems the gambit spared both from execution.

Read died in prison shortly after, while Bonny vanished from history — prompting speculation that she had escaped, secured a pardon, been ransomed by her wealthy father, and/or returned again to piracy under a different guise. Reportedly, she castigated Rackham at their last meeting in prison for lying drunk below decks while only the women resisted the capture of their ship: “I am sorry to see you here Jack, but if you had fought like a man, you need not be hanged like a dog.”

As the world’s best-known women pirates, Bonny and Read are recalled as anything from sexualized historical curios to action heroines to proto-feminists.

They feature in Disneyland’s “Pirates of the Caribbean” ride, the Witchblade comic book series, utopian theorizing, popular history … and the occasional action figure.

Update: A much more detailed foray into the lives of these daring women is at Scandalous Women.

Also, I posted this under the wrong date: it should be Nov. 18. Balls.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Arts and Literature,England,Famous,Gibbeted,Hanged,Jamaica,Mass Executions,Not Executed,Notably Survived By,Piracy,Pirates,Popular Culture,Public Executions,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1491: Eight current and converted Jews at an auto de fe

6 comments November 16th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1491, the murder of the Holy Child of La Guardia was punished with an auto de fe and the public execution of eight Jews — some practicing, some converted to Christianity (who enjoyed the mercy of strangulation before being burnt) — and three others already dead but exhumed for the occasion.

The auto de fe — literally, “act of faith” — was a public ritual of religious penance for the condemned. Though its performance did not always precede the execution of its participants, it became closely associated with the savagery of the Spanish Inquisition.

In the hysteria of the Holy Child of La Guardia case — one of history’s better-remembered instances of “blood libel” implicating Jews in the ritual murder of Christian children — the result was foreordained.

Knitting together (inconsistent) confessions obtained under torture, the famed Inquisitor Torquemada proved a conspiracy of Jews had kidnapped and crucified a child further to the concoction of a magic potion that depended on the heart of an innocent Christian — despite a fruitless high-and-low search for some missing child who might have been the actual victim.

After this day’s gaudy public slaughter, a cult sprang up around the supposed martyr, adored in a chapel erected where one of the prisoners had once had a home — the very spot, it was said, where the Jews conspired. The Holy Child was a staple of Spanish literature down to the 20th century and is still venerated in La Guardia.

But Torquemada aimed for results well beyond Christendom’s martyrology, and the wretches at the stake would not be this day’s only victims.

John Edward Longhurst argues in The Age of Torquemada that the Inquisitor seized on the Holy Child case to orchestrate “his heart’s desire — the expulsion of all Jews from Spain.”*

Early the next year, the Spanish monarchy obliged, permanently remaking Spain:

If Ferdinand and Isabella were hesitating over expelling the Jews from Spain, the discovery of this latest Jewish plot would surely resolve all doubts. The Auto de Fe of November, 1491, exploited the affair to its fullest, emphasizing not only all the gruesome details of the Murder but the Jewish menace to Christians intended by it. The sentence against the Jew Juce Franco, read aloud to the great crowd at the Auto de Fe, identifies him as a seducer of Christians to the Law of Moses in language that clearly foreshadows the Edict of Expulsion four months later

We may be sure that Ferdinand and Isabella were treated to a lengthy account of this case. It also is clear, from their own observations in the Edict of Expulsion, that Torquemada impressed on them the determination of the Jews to persist in their efforts to seduce Christians to Judaism. As long as they were permitted to remain, the danger of infection would never be eliminated, no matter how harsh the measures employed against them.

* Or, their forcible conversion … which would then keep the Inquisition in business for years to come.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Arts and Literature,Auto de Fe,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,God,History,Innocent Bystanders,Jews,Mass Executions,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Participants,Notable Sleuthing,Popular Culture,Posthumous Executions,Power,Public Executions,Spain,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1949: Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s assassin

15 comments November 15th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1949, Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin was hanged at India’s Ambala Jail, together with one of his co-conspirators.

Often spoken of posthumously as little less than a saint, Gandhi was deeply immersed in the controversial rough-and-tumble politics of his time — India’s independence movement, and the shape of the nascent state. Winston Churchill, for instance, scorned him as “a seditious middle temple lawyer, now posing as a fakir of a type well known in the east, striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace.”

The hatred of a Tory M.P. at the twilight of the empire might be expected, but it was a Hindu nationalist who struck Gandhi down after the partition into a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan. Gandhi had vocally opposed partition on the grounds of interreligious tolerance — but he eventually assented to Pakistan’s separation when he became convinced that the alternative was civil war.

Distrusted by Hindu partisans for his “appeasement” of minority groups within India, Gandhi survived numerous attempts on his life. But he sealed his fate by fasting to compel Delhi to make its agreed-upon partition payments to Islamabad even in the midst of war. Nathuram Godse, a Hindu nationalist, gunned him down during evening prayers on January 30, 1948.

(For a less Hollywood take on Gandhi, a five-hour documentary available online surveys his life.)

Godse never betrayed doubt or regret. On the contrary, he cogently justified the murder at trial:

I thought to myself and foresaw I shall be totally ruined, and the only thing I could expect from the people would be nothing but hatred and that I shall have lost all my honour, even more valuable than my life, if I were to kill Gandhiji. But at the same time I felt that the Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be proved practical, able to retaliate, and would be powerful with armed forces. No doubt, my own future would be totally ruined, but the nation would be saved from the inroads of Pakistan. People may even call me and dub me as devoid of any sense or foolish, but the nation would be free to follow the course founded on the reason which I consider to be necessary for sound nation-building.

I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to millions of Hindus. There was no legal machinery by which such an offender could be brought to book and for this reason I fired those fatal shots.

Sixty years later, the subcontinent and the world at large seem more strained than ever by the collision between these men’s visions — the secular and egalitarian as against violent religious animosity.

Godse’s old party, the RSS, has become a substantial far-right bloc in the modern political scene. And while the party has always disavowed responsibility for the murder, some still consider Godse a hero. Pakistan, for whose birth Gandhi was slain, totters on the brink of an abyss.

Gandhi, meanwhile, is not only the official “father of his country” but has become the very watchword for nonviolence, his tactics and ideas inspiring such luminaries as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. But his life and legacy remain live topics of research and dispute.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Hanged,History,India,Infamous,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1226: Frederick of Isenberg

1 comment November 14th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1226, Count — although he had been stripped of this title — Frederick of Isenberg, a German noble, was broken on the wheel for the murder of his cousin, the Archbishop of Cologne.

The proximate cause of the dispute between the two was said to have been Frederick‘s exploitation for his own benefit of an abbey he administered, to which the Archbishop, Engelbert of Berg, took exception. Underlying the conflict are the the outlines of power politics in fractious medieval Germany.

Engelbert was an aggressive and effective Archbishop, and the power he won for his diocese came at the expense of other claimants. Frederick was not likely the only noble menaced by the inroads of the vigorous bishop. One theory has it that, despite the 47 wounds found on the cleric’s body, the ambush Frederick laid for him aimed only to capture him as a hostage — a not unheard-of negotiating strategem of the period.

No matter Frederick’s intent, what he achieved was excommunication and the loss of all lands, title and wealth — including his castle, razed by the Archbishop’s successor. A year after the murder Frederick was captured returning from Rome, where he had sought to have his excommunication lifted. He suffered one of the more excrutiating forms of execution, his shattered body lingering alive overnight displayed atop a stone pillar.

Engelbert, who in life had been no stranger to worldly politics and himself had been excommunicated in his youth for backing an anti-papal power, was incorporated into the Catholic Church’s martyrology for his death in defense of the abbey and (though never formally canonized) has sometimes been venerated as a saint.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,God,Gruesome Methods,History,Murder,Nobility,Pelf,Power,Public Executions

Tags: , , , , ,

1002: St. Brice’s Day Massacre

6 comments November 13th, 2007 Headsman

On this date over a millennium past, according to the chronicle of John of Wallingford, King Ethelred the Unready of England conducted a massacre of Danes living in the realm.

The character of this sanguinary event — named after a fourth-century French bishop whose feast day Nov. 13 happens to be — lies half-buried in history’s shifting sands. Surely the slaughter of every Dane in a Britain then very much in the Scandinavian orbit would have been not only morally reprehensible but logistically unimaginable.

The accepted, albeit sketchy, story has it that to consolidate his own authority — or to check an actual or suspected plot against him — Ethelred ordered the surprise apprehension and summary execution of some sizable number of Danish lords and mercenaries. British historian Thomas Hodgkin characterizes it as a sort of coup d’etat.

On this date, it was the Danes who were unready for Ethelred.

But whatever its true extent or immediate object, it occurred within the context of intensifying conflict between the English crown and Scandinavian aspirants. Ethelred was to spend the better part of his life struggling — both militarily and through the ruinous tribute of Danegeld — to hold back the incursions of the Viking king Sweyn I.

The St. Brice’s Day Massacre exacerbated those tensions. Sweyn’s sister was apparently among those massacred, and — whether driven by vengeance or simply availing a pretext — Sweyn resumed harrying the English kingdom in the following years.

By 1013, Sweyn had driven Ethelred to Normandy and ruled all of England, welding together a Norse empire fringing the whole north of Europe.

But the empire — and England’s place in it — proved an historical cul-de-sac. Authority in England would be contested for another half-century, gradually sapping the crown’s strength until the Norman Conquest in 1066 swept aside Viking power and set England on a course that would redefine its history.

Update: The story of Ethelred, Normandy, and the Vikings told in Episode 3 of Lars Brownworth’s Norman Centuries podcast:

[audio:http://c4.libsyn.com/editions/58550/17915/03-richard-the-good.mp3]

The British History Podcast covers the St. Brice’s Day Massacre in episode 328.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Denmark,Early Middle Ages,England,Execution,History,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1755: Rowley Hanson

2 comments November 12th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1755, a young soldier named Rowley Hanson was hanged at Tyburn.

Though the hanging, like many of its era, was for a trifling theft, the account of the Newgate ordinary (chaplain) did not dwell overmuch on the watch he stole from a London barrister.

What wrought his ruin was, the company he fell into, when a drummer [in the army]; and shocking delusion from the most abandoned, and unnatural crew of wretches, that ever the world knew, called Sodomites, first led him into that damnable violation of all laws, natural, civil, and religious.

all he had besides his pay arose from the advantages which he received from those worse than brutes, whom St. Paul has complimented with the name of men, who leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one towards another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet.

This unfortunate youth, who laid open the way to these short observations, declared himself much more affected with sorrow, for that he had been among so vile a set of wretches, than that he was to suffer death for the robbery … He thanked God, who had thus afflicted him, and given him time to repent; and generally when we conversed he wept very bitterly.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Common Criminals,Disfavored Minorities,England,Hanged,Homosexuals,Public Executions,Soldiers,Theft,Tyburn

Tags: , , , ,

Next Posts Previous Posts


Calendar

November 2007
M T W T F S S
« Oct   Dec »
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!