Archive for February, 2020

1803: Mathias Weber, Rhineland robber

Add comment February 19th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1803, robber Mathias Weber was guillotined.

“Fetzer” made a scintillating career in brigandage in 1790s Rhineland — whose west bank Prussia had been forced to cede to revolutionary France. (The legendary bandit Schinderhannes plied his trade in the same unsettled environs; the two men shared a ride to Mainz as prisoners.)

Fetzer’s gang robbed liberally and violently on the roads; their pinnacle capers were twice raiding the river town of Neuss.

Tried (and eventually executed) in Cologne, he was persuaded to confess — albeit not regret — his considerable career in villainy by a prosecutor named Anton Keil, who made use of his access to this notorious figure to print a little biography of his famous prey. Fetzer, for his part, amused himself by sketching guillotines on his cell wall and building a tally of the distinct robberies he could recollect, eventually cataloguing 178 of them. He wowed the standing-room crowd at his trial with his nerve in the courtroom, joking and sparring and readily revealing all without any expectation of trading admissions for leniency.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Germany,Guillotine,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1935: Benita von Falkenhayn and Renate von Natzmer, Germany’s last beheadings by axe

Add comment February 18th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1935, Germany conducted its last axe-beheadings.

The axees were impecunious noblewomen Benita von Falkenhayn (English Wikipedia entry | German) and Renate von Natzmer (English | German), spies for Poland recruited via society love affairs with Polish envoy Jerzy Sosnowski.*


Benita von Falkenhayn (left) and Renate von Natzmer.

At 6:00 a.m. on February 18th, Benita von Falkenhayn was brought in a state of near-collapse to a courtyard of Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison. There a red-clad prosecutor read out her condemnation espionage and treason and gave her over to longtime Prussian headsman Carl Gröpler.** The old Scharfrichter bent van Falkenhayn over a rude block and crashed his heavy blade cleanly through her neck, dropping her head into a basket. After a hurried clean-up, they repeated the same ritual for Renate von Natzmer.

The Reich had within living memory to folks of Herr Gröpler’s age still remained a quiltwork confederation of small states; one artifact of its unification was penal codes that used beheading for executions yet no further specificity on the manner of beheading. The most usual means was the fallbeil, a small guillotine, but it was ultimately a matter for the jurisdiction where the sentencing took place — and antiquated manual cleavers were still sometimes deployed by the state of Prussia, which included Berlin.

In October 1936, Nazi Justice Minister Franz Gürtner successfully prevailed upon Adolf Hitler to codify the fallbeil as the explicit means of beheading throughout the Reich, putting an end to the archaic reliance on Gröpler’s brawn and aim.

* Sosnowski was released back to Poland in a prisoner exchange and there tried for treason on grounds of getting too friendly with Germany. After the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Third Reich and the USSR, he appears to have come into Soviet custody and pressed into cooperation; various reports have him thereafter dying in custody, being executed by the NKVD, or returning to the field and dying in action or after capture by the Polish Home Army.

** Four days shy of his 67th birthday at this moment, Gröpler was coming into a pension windfall courtesy of the Third Reich’s liberal expansion of capital punishment. He retired in 1937 with 144 documented executions to his name; he died in Soviet custody in January 1946.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Milestones,Nobility,Prussia,Spies,Treason,Women

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1819: Pierre Charles Rodolphe Foulard, Henry-Clement Sanson’s first execution

Add comment February 17th, 2020 Henry-Clement Sanson

(Thanks to Henry-Clement Sanson for the guest post. The former executioner — the last of his illustrious dynasty comprising six generations of bourreaux — was the grandson of that dread figure of the Paris Terror, Charles Henri Sanson. Henry-Clement’s Memoirs of the Sansons: From Private Notes and Documents (1688-1847) describes some famous or infamous executions from the family annals. We have observed in previous Sanson “guest posts” that his annals merit caution as pertains to the adventures of his forefathers; in this instance, however, he communicates — albeit in dramatized form, through an interlocutor ghost-writer — his firsthand recollection of his own debut. -ed.)

MY FIRST EXECUTION.

The first year of my marriage was calm and peaceable. I had every reason to be happy. Thanks to the cares of my good mother, we had very little to think of beyond our pleasures and comforts. My young wife was as cheerful and kind as she was pretty, and our union promised to be one of undisturbed harmony.

My father made no allusion to my promise to take his office;* but that promise was constantly in my mind; it was the only thought that clouded my happiness. Sometimes I looked with sadness at my young partner, thinking that a time should come for her to assume in her turn the title of Madame de Paris. The fulfilment of my pledge was even nearer at hand than I expected. My father was taken ill in the middle of the winter of 1819, and he was laid up for two months. His constant preoccupation during his illness was a sentence of death passed by the assize court of the Seine on a soldier of the Royal Guard, Pierre Charles Rodolphe Foulard, who had murdered two unfortunate women, to steal a watch and a pair of earrings. Foulard was barely twenty years of age, but his crime was so atrocious that there was no hope of a reprieve for him. Foulard’s case, however, had still to pass before the Court of Revision; but my father felt that his health would not permit him to superintend the execution. He was thinking of appealing to one of his provincial colleagues. This was rather awkward, as it was well known that I was to be my father’s successor, and the judicial authorities might well inquire why I did not act as his substitute. Since my marriage I had made a point of following my father in the few executions that had occurred, but I had taken no active part in them. I may add that my father’s part was hardly more active than mine; he had said the truth when he told me that almost everything was done by the assistants, and that the executioner only superintended what his servants did.

The time came for Foulard’s execution; it came sooner than my father expected, so that he was unable to secure some one else’s services. He was much better, but certainly not well enough to resume his duties; and my conscience smote me when he expressed his determination to risk his health, perhaps his life, and execute Foulard. I said to myself that, since I must begin, I had better begin at once, and I proposed to my father to take his place.

He gladly acquiesced, and gave me all the necessary instructions; he also pointed out two assistants on whose zeal I could especially rely; and finally I was assured that my attendance at the execution was little more than a formality. The assistants entered my father’s room just as I was leaving it, and he made them a short speech in which he urged them to afford me their best help and protection.

I was very nervous and frightened; nevertheless, I strictly acted upon the instructions furnished to me, and I gave the necessary directions to the carpenters. As night came on, my discomfort increased. I could scarcely eat any dinner. Fortunately my father was in his room, otherwise he might have insisted on doing the work himself My mother and my wife were as uneasy as I was, but they abstained from making any observation on the matter. After dinner I retired to my room, and passed one of the worst nights of my life. When I got up next morning I was feverish and tired. The assistants were waiting for me in the courtyard. My father had ordered out his carriage for me, and with my new servants I silently proceeded to the Conciergerie. The horses went slowly enough, yet the journey seemed to me fearfully short.

It was yet dark when we entered that dismal prison. My assistants followed me at a short distance. I thought I saw an expression of disdain on the faces of the turnkeys and prison officials. I was in no humour to brook the contempt of men whose position, after all, did not much differ from mine. I assumed a sharp and imperative tone calculated to make them understand that I was not to be imposed upon, and ordered the head gaoler to hand us over the culprit. He led us into a low-ceilinged hall, where Foulard shortly after appeared, accompanied by the worthy Abbe Montes, a priest whose friendship I afterwards acquired. Foulard’s consternation struck me. The unfortunate boy was under age;** had his father left him the smallest sum of money he could not have touched it; nevertheless he was considered responsible. This appeared to me iniquitous, the more so as I was only a year older than he. Foulard was a tall and handsome fellow, and his face betrayed no signs of the perversity he had shown in the perpetration of his horrible deed.

Fauconnier, my chief assistant, saw I was flurried; he came forward and told Foulard to sit down. When the young man’s hair was cut, we got into the cart: the Abbe Montes and Foulard were behind us, and I stood in front with my two assistants.† The almoner of the Conciergerie doubtless perceived that I required encouragement and support as well as the man whose life I was going to take, for he spoke to me with much kindness: “I see, sir, that you are now attending to your father’s duties. Such missions as yours demand no small amount of courage. We are invested with duties which in some degree are akin: you represent the justice of men, I represent the mercy of God. You may be assured of my good disposition towards you, and of my readiness to assist you whenever it is in my power.”

I could not find a single word to answer, although I felt intensely grateful to the Abbe Montes for his kindness. Foulard was taciturn, but when we reached the quay he became very excited, and cried out in a loud voice:

Fathers and mothers! behold the consequences of neglect of one’s children! I am guilty, but my parents are responsible for my crime, for they gave me neither advice nor education.

We reached the Place de Greve. The guillotine raised her two red arms, and the pale rays of a winter sun were reflected by the polished steel of the knife. A great many people were looking on. Foulard embraced the priest, and looked round before ascending the steps. In the first rank of the soldiers who surrounded the guillotine he saw a sergeant of his company. “Come to me, my old comrade,” he cried to him, “and let me bid you farewell.” The old soldier did not hesitate; he came forward and embraced the dying man. Foulard was very excited. He suddenly turned to me: “Let me embrace you too,” he said, “if only to show that I forgive everybody.” This, I confess, gave me a fearful blow. I stepped back. I really think that if the unfortunate man had embraced me I could not have given the signal for his death.

But even in this I am mistaken; this signal I did not give. My assistants saw my movement of retreat and understood the peril. They pushed Foulard up the steps. In less time than I take to write it he was strapped down and his head fell. I looked stupidly at the bloody scene. I saw one of the assistants pushing the headless trunk into a basket, while another was sponging the blood which had spurted on the scaffold.

I was seized with irresistible terror, and I ran away as fast as my legs could carry me. I wandered about town hardly knowing what I was about. I thought people were following and hooting me. It was only when I found myself at Neuilly that I recovered, and even then my conscience smote me bitterly. At last I made up my mind. I had crossed the line, there was no help for it; I had, as it were, passed my examination of executioner, and I could not return on my steps. I went home subdued, if not comforted, and I found some relief in the thought that the first step was made, and the first bitterness had passed.


Shinichi Sakamoto: The Sansons in tragic manga.

* Narrated by the author in the preceding chapter, in which he solicits an interview with his father for the twofold purpose of announcing that “I have thought the matter over for the last two years, and I have now to express my resolve to select no other profession than yours” and also soliciting the old fella’s permission to marry his sweetheart. (Dad approved both of these questionable decisions.)

** The age of majority was 21; it had been lowered during the Revolution from its ancien regime threshold of 25 — a blow against the prolonged authority of a family’s patriarch. (See Suzann Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France.) This is distinct from marriageable age, which had been increased by revolutionaries from 12 or 14 (for girls or boys, respectively) to 15 or 18. In today’s France all these ages — full legal adulthood, and marriageability — have converged at 18, regardless of gender.

† Sanson himself has a footnote here, noting a deviation from the traditional arrangement of passengers on the fatal cart with a defensiveness that suggests he got some stick about it: “Until then my father and grandfather had occupied a back seat beside the priest, and assigned a front place to the culprit. I was the first to alter this custom. My object was to leave the culprit with his last friend, the priest. I hope this does not appear childish. I acted with the best intention, and I believe I acted rightly.”

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Guest Writers,Guillotine,History,Milestones,Murder,Other Voices,Public Executions,Theft

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1938: Herman Hurmevaara, Finnish Social Democrat

Add comment February 16th, 2020 Headsman

Finnish parliamentarian Herman Hurmevaara was shot during Stalin’s purges on this date in 1938.

Hurmevaara (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed Finnish) sat in parliament for the Social Democrats from 1917 to 1919, which was also the period when long-restive Finland broke away from Russia’s grasp while the latter was preoccupied with deposing its tsar.

This rupture brought Finland into a nasty Whites-versus-Reds civil war. The Whites won, and Hurmevaara ended up knocking about in exile in Sweden and (after expulsion in 1930) the USSR. There, he worked in publishing.

Shot as a spy in the capital of Russia’s Finland-adjacent Karelian Republic, he was among numerous emigre Finns destroyed during the late 1930s nadir of Stalinism. Hurmevaara was posthumously rehabilitated in the Khrushchev era.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Finland,History,Politicians,Russia,Shot,USSR

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1946: Maliq Bushati, Lef Nosi, and Anton Harapi, of Balli Kombëtar

Add comment February 15th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1946,* communist Albania executed three former officials of its deposed wartime government.

Fascist Italy occupied Albania during World War II.

In a situation mirroring that of neighboring Yugoslavia, there were two resistance movements that sometimes maintained an uneasy truce and other times went straight at one another’s throats: the communist National Liberation Movement (LNC or LANC), and the nationalist National Front (“Balli Kombëtar”).

In 1943, when Mussolini’s government collapsed, Nazi Germany took over control of Albania. Wary of postwar domination by communists — and the likelihood that this party would not cede bordering “Greater Albania” regions like the Yugoslavian province of Kosovo — Balli Kombëtar cut a deal with Berlin to run a collaborationist government.

Our principals for this date were all prominent figures in that government: Maliq Bushati, the prime minister; Lef Nosi, a member of the High Regency Council, and Anton Harapi, a Franciscan friar who consented to be the Catholic community’s representative in the governing council.

Needless to say, Balli Kombëtar did not long benefit from German support, and succumbed to the partisan movement — both the domestic LNC, and the allied Yugoslavian partisans under Tito. Its adherents faced the fury of their conquerors.


From left: Maliq Bushati, Lef Nosi, and Anton Harapi.

Those who could, fled to the west to enroll as exile auxilia for the coming Cold War: the attempted 1949 Albanian Subversion was one of the CIA’s earliest regime change attempts — notable in that the covert operation was betrayed to Moscow by the Kremlin’s British intelligence mole Kim Philby, resulting in hundreds of deaths.

* The Internet brings some citations for February 20 instead of February 15; I have not been able to locate the source of the discrepancy. The British diplomatic communique reporting on the trial is my authoritative primary source here: “The trial took place, in eight sessions, in a squalid cinema in Tirana before a house packed by Party members who constantly interrupted and jeered, while three military judges on the stage kept hurling accusations and abuse at the defendants, jointly and severally. All three were held responsible for, among other things, Albania’s entire war losses … Defendant’s counsel was howled down as a ‘fascist’ and never succeeded in making himself heard … The three accused were shot two days afterwards, on 15 February.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Albania,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Religious Figures,Shot,Treason

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1032: Hasanak the Vizier

Add comment February 14th, 2020 Headsman

On 28 Safar 423 — that’s 14 February 1032 — Hasanak the Vizier was executed by strangulation in Herat, in modern-day Afghanistan.

He was the powerful state minister for the final six years of the 31-year reign of Iranian Ghaznavid sultan Mahmud.*

When the latter died in 1030, a fight for the succession ensued between the old man’s designated heir Muhammad and Muhammad’s older twin brother Mas’ud. Hasanak backed Muhammad, who lost.

Mas’ud punished his foe by reviving an old charge that Mahmud had laughed out of court years prior — namely, that Hasanak in the course of his hajj pilgrimage had adhered to the rebel/schismatic sect of Qarmatians.**

The writer Abu’l-Fadl Bayhaqi chronicled those years in his History† and devoted an extended narration to the fallen vizier’s trial and punishment. Hasanak’s headless corpse — that bit had been sawed off to deliver as a trophy to a political enemy — reportedly decayed for seven years lashed to a public pillory.

* A Persianate empire ruled by Turkic mamluks that spanned from western Iran, across Afghanistan and Transoxiana (comprising what is now the former Soviet “stans” of central Asia).

** The cause of the suspicion lay in Hasanak’s having chosen to return from his pilgrimage via Fatimid Egypt; the Fatimids and the Qarmatians themselves were both strains of Isma’ilism, a branch of still-extant dissident currents within Shia Islam.

† Arabic speakers can peruse this chronicle at archive.org; if a translated version is available, I have not located it.

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Entry Filed under: 11th Century,Afghanistan,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gibbeted,Heads of State,Heresy,History,Iran,Persia,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Strangled

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1879: Anders Larsson, the first private execution in Sweden

Add comment February 13th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1879, Sweden conducted its first private execution, that of Anders Larsson.

Executioner Johan Fredrik Hjort.

Deep in the 19th century’s Long Depression, the farmer had murdered his pregnant wife in despair at providing for the whole family.

This positioned him to become the first* subject of an 1877 royal decree moving Sweden’s beheadings behind prison walls. The time and the location of the execution were also supposed to be concealed from the public — announced only after the fact, like present-day hangings in Japan — but in this instance word got around and the walls of Västerås county jail were thronged with would-be gawkers.

* There’s a complete list of modern Swedish executions here.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Milestones,Murder,Sweden

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1728: Joseph Barret

1 comment February 12th, 2020 Headsman

January 17, 1728:

Joseph Barret, of St. Giles’s in the Fields, was indicted for the Murder of James Barret, (his Son, aged 11) by flinging him down, and giving him a mortal Bruise on the left Side of the Head of which he instantly died. He was a second Time indicted on the Coroner’s Inquisition for the said Murder; to both which Indictments he pleaded Not Guilty.

Thomas Belcher depos’d, That he saw the Deceas’d on the 29th of Decemb. about Noon at the Vault, that going in, his Father, the Prisoner followed him, and the Deceas’d having shoul’d himself the Prisoner kick’d him, and call’d him Dog and Son of a B – h; and going up Stairs the Deceas’d followed him, and then the Prisoner turned, and kick’d him on the Head without Provocation, repeating it again at the Stair-Case. The Prisoner desired this Deponent might be ask’d, If he did not know the Deceas’d followed bad Courses? To which be answered, He only heard of this once staying out all Night.

Elizabeth Nichols depos’d, That she saw the Deceas’d in Bed some Time before this happen’d, and that he was without a Shirt, and his Arms were beat black and blue; that he got out of Bed, and would have made use of the Pot, but his Father would not suffer it, saying, he should go down, which he did, and returning, his Father said, he had foul’d himself before he got to the Vault; that the Prisoner then shov’d him, that he fell, and he then kick’d him on the Head; that this Deponent then said, The Boy is dying, the Prisoner said, he is only fallen, and taking a Cat of Nine Tails, he hit him two or three Slashes as he lay on the Ground, that after the Prisoner kick’d or stamp’d on him he never spoke more, but gave 14 or 15 Breathes, and then departed.

This was likewise confirm’d in every particular by another Evidence, they both agreeing that the Deceas’d was very weak, and could scarcely creep up and down Stairs.

Mr. Rainby the Surgeon depos’d, That he being desir’d by a Neighbouring Justice to examine the Body, he observed it to be bruised in several Places, particularly the Head: for dividing the common Teguments, a Confusion, with a small Tumour without a Wound, appeared on the Left side, extending from the sore, to the back Part; the Skull being laid bare, there was no Fracture nor Depression, which he said might probably to owing to the Tenderness of the Bony Fibres in so young a Subject, and taking off the upper part of the Cranium, and dividing the external Membrane of the Brain, a great Quantity of extravasated Blood lay between this and the Membrane that immediately covers it, which must have been occasioned by some Violence, and very likely the same that produced the external Contusion, and was undoubtedly the Cause of his Death.

Some witnesses appeared in Behalf of the Prisoner, to prove that he had before this Time been a very loving, indulgent Father to the Deceas’d: But the present Fact appearing plain, the Jury found him Guilty. Death.


Ordinary‘s Account, February 12, 1728:

Joseph Barret, (as he said) Forty-two Years of Age, of honest, but poor Parents, who gave him little Education, for he could not Read much, and knew but little of Religious Principles. When of Age, he was not put to any particular Trade, but wrought at Husbandry, or any thing he could get to do in the Country. Afterwards he past some Years at Sea, in Station of a Marine, and when he came Home and Married, he serv’d as a Labourer to Plaisterers, and such Tradesmen.

And said, that he always liv’d Soberly and work most Laboriously for his Family; that the Son, of whose Murder he was Convicted, was of a first Marriage, and turn’d most Extravagant in wicked Courses of any Boy of his Age; for some Weeks before he Died, staying out Night after Night, and sometimes coming Home in the greatest Disorder imaginable; adding that he beg’d, or got Money from People and bought Gin with it, drinking till he appear’d worse than a Beast, quite out of his Senses; and that he was a most notorious Lyar, and withal, that he was of an obstinate Temper, and Disobedient to his Parents. Upon these, and such like Accounts, he was forc’d to use the Rod of Correction against him in an extraordinary Manner, and for that purpose, prepar’d a Cat of Nine-Tails for his Chastisement, as not being in any Danger of breaking Bones.

I told him, that he had certainly been too Severe upon the Boy, and that gentler Methods might have been more proper for reducing him; the way of Correction he us’d, being the Punishment inflicted upon Men of Age and Strength, on Board of Ships. He said, that he never intended harm, but only to reclaim him (if possible) from his wild Courses; and that any excessive Correction was given him, proceeded from the Instigation of his Wife, Mother-in-Law to the Deceas’d, who (it seems) did not Love the Child, and for the spite she bore him lost her Husband, and Ruin’d her Family.

He reflected upon the Witnesses, as not having Sworn true, in the Points of Fact, for which he was Convicted; particularly, that he did not Kick nor Strike the Child down, either below, or as he was coming up Stairs, and that he did not stamp upon his Head with his Foot in the Room. He believ’d, he had treated the Child too Severely, by Advice of his Wife, without any Malice or Thought of wronging him.

I told him, how Barbarous it was to beat the Child, till his Arms and parts of his Body were in a manner Corrupted with the Blows, when he saw him Indispos’d, and scarce able to rise from the Bed. He said, that he was so Sullen as not to tell him that he was Bad, and that he knew nothing of it. Upon the whole, he acknowledg’d that he had been Cruel in his Chastisements; that he remember’d not his Kicking him on the Head with his Foot, which was the immediate Cause of his Death; he could not deny but that the Evidence had Sworn the Truth; only but said, he had never corrected the Child but three Times in an extraordinary Manner, but that whatever Misfortunes happen’d, he had no Evil Intention.

I exhorted him to Repent of all his Sins, and particularly, that unnatural and brutish Sin of killing his own Child. He appear’d to have been a very Ignorant, illeterate Fellow, and, as appears from the usuage of his Child, of a Cruel, brutish Temper. He complain’d upon his Wifes going into the Country, and doing nothing for him, after she had expos’d herself and two young Children to the greatest Hardships, by her foolish and inconsiderate Advice. He declar’d himself truely Penitent for all his Sins, particularly the great Misfortune of Murdering his Son; that he believ’d in Christ his only Saviour, and Died in Peace with all the World.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Mass Executions,Murder,Public Executions

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1918: The Cattaro Mutineers

Add comment February 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1918, four sailors who were ringleaders of a failed Austrian naval mutiny were executed at the Montenegrin port of Kotor.

It’s been largely forgotten beyond its Balkan environs — indeed, reports of its very existence were hushed up at the time it occurred — but it prefigured the more famous, war-ending Kiel mutiny later that year in Austria’s Entente ally. It was a heyday for radical sailors, taking heart from the inspiration of the famed Russian cruiser Aurora, whose guns launched Russia’s October Revolution.

The mariners in question for this post were the crew of the SMS Sankt Georg,* stationed in the aforementioned Kotor — aka Cattaro, which is commonly how this mutiny is named.

On February 1, this crew, gnawed by hunger, deposed their officers and ran up the red flag, chanting for bread and peace.

Although about 40 other ships in the Austrian fleet there responded with revolutionary flags of their own, the mutiny collapsed within two days. Alas, the sailors of this flotilla were not so determined as their Russian counterparts upon any particular course of action: they waffled upon considerations like defecting in the war or firing on the naval base, and deferred action until morale and common purpose dissipated. The Austrian military kept a tight lid on news of the rebellion, frustrating any prospect of catalyzing a wider insurrection among landlubbers.

Some 800 participants in the mutiny were arrested and some of them tried months afterwards; forty leader figures, however, were prosecuted within days by a summary court-martial and four of them executed on February 11: Franz Rasch, Jerko Šižgoric, Anton Grabar and Mato Brnicevic.

There’s a 1980 Yugoslavian film about events, Kotorski mornari.

* Aptly, Montenegro is among the innumerable places answering to the patronage of Saint George. There’s a St. George Island right there in Kotor Bay, the apparent inspiration for the Arnold Böcklin painting and Sergei Rachmaninoff symphonic poem Isle of the Dead.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Military Crimes,Montenegro,Mutiny,Revolutionaries,Wartime Executions,Yugoslavia

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1945: Giovanni Cerbai, partisan

Add comment February 10th, 2020 Headsman

Italian partisan Giovanni Cerbai was shot on this date in 1945.

A communist who fought in the Garibaldi Battalion during the Spanish Civil War, “Giannetto” was interred in transit through France and spent the early part of World War II confined to the Bourbon island panopticon of Ventotene* — a misery shared by many other prospective guerrillas.

“While the flames of the war grew and approached all around, while in the cities and in the countryside workers, employees, professionals and intellectuals were agitating, moving, pressing for peace and freedom, in Italian prisons and confinement islands hundreds and thousands of anti-fascists pined in their forced inactivity,” wrote fellow Ventotene detainee Luigi Longo in his memoir. “The island of Ventotene was like the capital of this captive world. In the spring of 1943 it gathered about a thousand leaders and humble militants from all the currents of Italian anti-fascism … We shared our common sufferings, the same hopes and an equal love of freedom.”

This prison was liberated by American forces in December 1943 but Cerbai had already escaped in August, joining the partisans.

“A fighter of exceptional enthusiasm and daring,” per the hagiographic words of his posthumous military valor decoration, he had a brief but distinguished service in the field, surviving the Battle of Porta Lame. Cerbai was eventually captured, and shot at the outset of a notorious weekslong massacre of prisoners by the fascists.

There’s a street named for him in his native Bologna.

* Another communist political prisoner in this same fortress, name of Altiero Spinelli, drew up with fellow leftists in 1941 an illicit text titled “Manifesto for a free and united Europe” — more familiarly known as the Ventotene Manifesto. (Full text here.) Spinelli’s document called for a federation of European states to mitigate the potential for wars, a crucial precursor of the European Federalist Movement that Spinelli would co-found in 1943; Spinelli for this reason is a forefather of postwar European integration. And not just a forefather: he died in 1986 as a member of European parliament, having dedicated his postwar life to the project.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Italy,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,Wartime Executions

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