October 22nd, 2011 Headsman
On “a beautiful autumn day” this date in 1941, four dozen French leftists were executed by that country’s occupiers as punishment for the murder of a German officer.
News of this crime went straight to Adolf Hitler himself, who personally ordered a fearful reprisal.
Accordingly, the collaborationist Petain government was induced to select 50 persons from among the ranks of detained German political prisoners. Pierre Pucheu, who would later be executed himself,* intentionally selected Communist types in an effort to confine the retaliation to fellow-travelers.
On this date, those 50 — well, 48, but who’s counting?; the numbering can get dodgy in these mass-execution scenarios — were put to death at three different locations: five at Fort Mont-Valerien; sixteen at Nantes; and most notoriously, 27 internees of Choisel (French link) at Chateaubriant.**
In three different batches of nine, the 27 reds and trade unionists were fusilladed into the ranks of Gallic martyrdom. They remain among the most emblematic French martyrs of the occupation; there’s a cours des 50-Otages named for them in Nantes, and various streets that bear individual victims’ names — such as Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud in Paris. (Timbaud was a Communist steelworker.)
He made headlines in 2009 when current French President Nicolas Sarkozy had added to the educational curriculum the reading of Moquet’s brave-but-sad last letter to his family: the decision drew some rather mean-tempered fire because of Moquet’s political persuasion. In the end, the text bore a fairly universal reading that could play inoffensively to posterity — like its postscript injunction,
“You who remain, be worthy of the 27 of us who are going to die!”
There’s a thorough roundup of the Oct. 22 executions (including poetic tribute) here.
* Vindicating Winston Churchill’s prophecy to the Times upon receiving news that “These cold-blooded executions of inocent people will only recoil upon the savages who order and execute them.” (Oct. 25, 1941, as cited in the The Churchill War Papers, vol. 3)
** Fifty more were supposed to be executed if the assassins weren’t promptly turned in, but that second batch never took place. (There was, however, a different batch of 50 executed on October 24 in retaliation for a different political assassination. Maybe they just all ran together.)
Part of the Themed Set: Illegitimate Power.
Also on this date
- 1875: Henry Brown, Skinker assassin
- 1865: Johnson Speed, arson bystander
- 2008: Wang Zhendong, ant profiteer
- 1789: The murderers of the baker Francois
- 1858: Marion Ira Stout, for loving his sister
- Nine Executed People Who Make Great Halloween Costumes
- Seven Generic Halloween Costumes You Can Spice Up With an Execution Story
Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,France,Germany,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,Martyrs,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Wartime Executions