March 20th, 2017 Headsman
On this date in 1954, East Germany beheaded Ernst Jennrich for the previous June’s short-lived popular protests.
A Magdeburg gardener of socialist proclivities, Jennrich was nothing more than an enthusiast who got swept up in events when metalworkers at the Ernst-Thälmann factory struck for better pay and lower food prices — a protest that quickly metastasized into what looked to the Communist authorities like a treasonable movement calling for liberalization, a release of political prisoners, and reunification with West Germany.
The movement was crushed within a day by Russian tanks — although some Soviet soldiers notably (and sacrificially) refused to fire on protesting workers. But before events played out, Jennrich had disarmed a guard at the prison in nearby Sudenburg. He fired the guard’s carbine twice, then destroyed the weapon.
It’s not certain how many people lost their lives in the suppression of this affair — hostile western estimates ran into the thousands — but two policemen were killed at Sudenburg prison, and in a cruel show of official impunity Jennrich got tapped to answer for their deaths. He said he’d just fired the carbine into a wall or the air in order to empty it … but the state said he’d emptied it into those two luckless officers.
On scant evidence, Jennrich harshly received a life sentence that August. But even this did not suffice for officials racing to manifest their righteous indignation against the late subversion. “The protection of our peaceful state requires the death penalty for the crimes committed by the defendant,” huffed the prosecutor, and appealed the sentence to Germany’s high court … which accordingly upgraded the sentence to “the extermination of the defendant from our society, and therefore the death penalty.”
Jennrich was beheaded on the fallbeil at Dresden still protesting his innocence. A post-unification court finally vindicated that protest in 1991, posthumously rehabilitating Jennrich as having been condemned without evidence even by the terms of East Germany’s 1950s laws.
On this day..
- 1916: Abraham Bevistein, child soldier - 2016
- 1531: Sikke Freriks, Menno Simons inspiration - 2015
- 1899: Martha Place, the first woman electrocuted - 2014
- 2007: Taha Yasin Ramadan, Iraqi Vice-President - 2013
- 1428: Matteuccia di Francesco, San Bernardino casualty - 2012
- 1393: John of Nepomuk, Bohemian rhapsody - 2011
- 1897: Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling, Pearl Bryan's murderers - 2010
- 1809: Mary Bateman, the Yorkshire Witch - 2009
- 1933: Giuseppe Zangara, who is not on Sons of Italy posters - 2008