Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

2005: Shanmugam Murugesu, for the chronic

2 comments May 13th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2005, Singapore hanged a 34-year-old for pot.

Shanmugam Murugesu, an ethnically Tamil Singaporean, was nabbed carrying a kilo of marijuana.

Your basic “wtf drug war” case study, this divorced father actually represented Singapore at international watersports competitions and otherwise led a productive, non-criminal life.

The city-state: a mite crazy over drugs. (And over the death penalty.) Mere mary jane is among the substances that can get you a death sentence there — carrying 500 grams or more is supposed to trigger automatic execution.

While awaiting that fate, Shanmugam befriended the young Australian drug mule and “simple soul” Van Tuong Nguyen, who was bound to follow in his footsteps; Shanmugam’s last appeal to his lawyer was “to save Nguyen Tuong Van’s life at all costs.”

(No luck, but it’s the thought that counts.)

Shanmugam Murugesu’s hanging was also notable as a civic event in Singapore for the landmark public protest (organized in large measure by the hanged man’s own family) it generated — a rarity for that “Disneyland with the death penalty”.

Public Forum on Death Penalty and Campaign for Shanmugam Murugesu from Jacob George on Vimeo.

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1730: James Dalton, Hogarth allusion

1 comment May 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1730, career criminal James Dalton was executed at Tyburn.

Detail view (click for full image) of James Dalton’s wig box depicted in the boudoir of prostitute Moll Hackabout in Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress.

Crime ran in the family for young master Dalton; his father hanged upon the information of notorious (and himself eventual gallows-bird) Jonathan Wild. According to the Ordinary of Newgate’s report, our day’s principal “went between his Father’s Legs in the Cart, to his fatal Exit at Tyburn.”*

Who knows but what naughty urchins (or parents) in the throng were deterred by that affecting spectacle. For the Daltons, it was more like Take Your Child to Work Day.

While the elder Dalton’s skills ran towards card-sharping, young master James went in for the more conventional varieties of larceny — both those practiced by stealth, and those practiced by force.

These pursuits saw him twice transported to America, for which we have to thank the English judiciary on account of Dalton’s resultant biography at Early American Crime.

(In)famous for his many dalliances, Dalton’s exploits could move copy in their day — and their author transgress the lines between the underworld and “legitimate” celebrity.

“In the height of all our Robberies” [Dalton] and his companions “used to go to the Playhouse, dressed like Gentlemen,” and that once, while watching The Beggar’s Opera, “Captain Macheath’s Fetters happening to be loose,” one of them “call’d out, Captain, Captain, your Bazzel is undone.” The real thieves, having shown up the actors with their superior knowledge of both irons and cant, then retired in style to an alehouse, “in four Chairs, with six Lights before each Chair.”**

Just another hanged thief.

Except, also not — because while his career in malefaction would undoubtedly have added up to a death sentence, his condemnation was secured upon the word of a perjurer upon a very doubtful charge.

A character named John Waller, an “affidavit man” whose profession was supplying bogus testimony to hang whomever could be hanged where a reward was available, insisted that Dalton had robbed him upon the roads. Dalton vigorously denied (and even rebutted with evidence) this charge even while admitting his general life of crime, but it was upon this dubious offense against Waller that he stretched his neck. Dalton died at Tyburn with three others, though a fifth member of their party, one Hugh Norton or Haughton, managed to cheat the executioner by hanging himself in his cell.†

It was the rough justice of the 18th century, a time frequently admitting opportunity to repay tit for tat.

In this case, the professional perjurer who hanged Dalton was two years later convicted himself after making a bogus accusation of highway robbery. Waller was condemned by the court to stand in the pillory at the Seven Dials — a dangerous punishment cousin to the era’s death penalty, inasmuch as the mob violence thereby invited not infrequently proved fatal.

John Waller bombarded with refuse in the pillory.

Waller had quite a reputation, but the fury of the crowd was nothing next to that of James Dalton’s brother, Edward — who, with a confederate, brazenly climbed onto the platform, wrenched the “assize man” out of his pillory, and savagely beat him to death.

* Cited in this impressive compendium of Dalton-related primary sources.

** Andrea McKenzie, “The Real Macheath: Social Satire, Appropriation, and Eighteenth-Century Criminal Biography,” Huntington Library Quarterly, Vol. 69, No. 4 (December 2006), with the quotes supplied by a 1730 publication called “The Life and Actions of James Dalton (the Noted Street-Robber)”

† Norton/Haughton was posthumously hanged in chains the next day.

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1744: Jan, of Johonnes Van Houten

Add comment May 11th, 2011 Headsman

From the Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, only one small instance of the “terrible example” in store for the Garden State’s “large body of slaves to be kept in subjection.”

May 10, 1744 — The negro man “Jan,” of Johonnes Van Houten, was tried “for poysoning and attempting to do the same to several blacks at the township of Bergen; to wit, the negro man of Arent Toers, named Lowis, and has some time past poysoned two wenches of Garret Ross, of the same precinct, and attempted several more.” Convicted and sentenced to be hanged May 11, between 10 and 12, at Bergen; “at the suitablest place, where Peter Marselis and Michel Vreeland shall think proper.”

Was it the slave trade that capitalized the Van Houten cracker empire?

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1900: Three Algerians in Setif

Add comment May 10th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1900, three Algerian criminals called (in the next day’s dispatch in Le Petit Parisien) Bou-Mechada-Saïd-ben-Mohamed, Chabli-Lakdar-ben-Abdallah and Boulakras-Tahad-ben-Saad were guillotined for a murder committed just 11 days before in Setif, Algeria.

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1766: Thomas Arthur de Lally-Tollendal, undiplomatic

Add comment May 9th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1766, a refugee noble with more honor than sense lost his head in Paris.

Thomas Arthur, comte de Lally, baron de Tollendal — more efficiently known as Lally, or as Lally-Tollendal, though he’s not to be confused in this with his son, a French Revolution bit player — entered this world in County Galway, the child of a minor lord.

Since said lord hewed to the Jacobite party favoring restoration of the Stuarts to the English throne, the family found itself relocated with the exiled Pretender to a continental power whose spiritual and temporal interests were similarly inimical to the Hanoverian king.

Our man landed himself, like a proper retainer of his adoptive liege, a gig in the French army in which capacity he actually served at the Jacobites’ last doomed British hurrah, the 1746 Battle of Falkirk.

But his problems came from his Bourbon service much further afield — in India.

There, his expeditionary force suffered reversal after reversal at the hands of the hated Brits, even then in the process of appending India to their dominions.

Our general’s military misadventures were compounded by impolitic high-handedness towards his officers and men, and to the locals whose alliances he needed. He was, in the main, a man ill-suited to the job entrusted to him. As the Memoirs of Sanson remark, “his temper, his obstinacy, and especially his contempt for all means of action except brutal strength, were destined to lead him into mistakes in a position demanding more knowledge of politics than science of war. Sixteen years before Lally-Tollendal’s appointment, Dupleix, with scanty forces, at enmity with the Company, receiving neither help nor subsidies from the mother country, had held in check English power in the Indian peninsula by mere diplomatic proficiency. Lally knew how to conquer; but he was incapable of studying and detecting the secrets of Dupleix’s policy.”

By the time the bad news that established all this hit France, the subcontinent was pretty much Britain’s to command — just another piece of the imperial butt-kicking France suffered in the Seven Years’ War.

And Lally’s enemies were holding him personally responsible as a potential traitor. After all, he was conveniently now in English custody.

Incensed at having his honor impugned, Lally unwisely obtained English parole to return to repel these charges. He proved no more diplomatic with the barristers than he had been with the Hindus:

he was so convinced of his own innocence that he was imprudent enough to impeach the officers who had served under his orders, together with the administrators of the colony. He charged them with such violence that his death and condemnation became indispensable for their justification … When the accused appeared before his judges, he was no more able to control his temper than when he was in India … answering, fuming, retorting, stigmatising the cowardice of some, the cupidity of others, and hinting that the only guilty party was the powerless Government.

Just the sort of vindication liable to appeal more to posterity than to said government. Louis XV, another man unequal to his position, was by this autumn of his reign plumbing the nadir of his unpopularity; for the officer who had risked his life in battle under French colors throughout adulthood, Louis calculated more profit in severity (or expedience) than in clemency. Hey, it had worked for the English.

And really, for a Stuart adherent, sacrificial execution was kind of an apt fate.

We guess it worked.

“The people were pleased with all that made his punishment ignominious: the cart, the handcuffs, and the gag,” recorded aristocrat-of-letters Madame du Deffand (Source) “He was a great rascal, and besides he was very disagreeable.”

Thomas Carlyle, in his The French Revolution, spared in Lally’s defense a few sentences of delicious invective for the rotting regime that did him in.

The Parlement of Paris may count itself an unloved body; mean, not magnanimous, on the political side. Were the King weak, always (as now) has his Parlement barked, cur-like at his heels; with what popular cry there might be. Were he strong, it barked before his face; hunting for him as his alert beagle. An unjust Body; where foul influences have more than once worked shameful perversion of judgment. Does not, in these very days, the blood of murdered Lally cry aloud for vengeance? Baited, circumvented, driven mad like the snared lion, Valour had to sink extinguished under vindictive Chicane. Behold him, that hapless Lally, his wild dark soul looking through his wild dark face; trailed on the ignominious death-hurdle; the voice of his despair choked by a wooden gag! The wild fire-soul that has known only peril and toil; and, for threescore years, has buffeted against Fate’s obstruction and men’s perfidy, like genius and courage amid poltroonery, dishonesty and commonplace; faithfully enduring and endeavouring,–O Parlement of Paris, dost thou reward it with a gibbet and a gag?

There’s a public-domain 19th century lecture on our man’s adventurous career here. And there’s a monument back home near Tuam, Ireland.

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1951: Willie McGee

1 comment May 8th, 2011 Headsman

As of today, it is sixty years since the Laurel, Mississippi execution of Willie McGee for rape — a lightning rod for controversy over race, crime, and justice in one of the Cold War’s principal antagonists.

McGee died silent in the state’s portable electric chair, rigged up in the very courtroom of his trial, right in front of the box from whence his all-white jury had retired two and a half minutes before convicting him. Fifty or so observers were there with him — plus those of the hundreds of local residents milling around outside intrepid enough to scale a tree for an illicit view through the courthouse windows.*

(Given the setting, some sources call this a “public execution,” which is not technically correct. This courtroom tableau was actually a standard deployment for the mobile electric chair.)

But McGee’s own silence hardly muted global outrage: for years, appeals for McGee’s life had deluged Mississippi and the White House from Europe, the Soviet Union, and what was quaintly known as “Red China.”

Oh, yes. The Reds.

Willie McGee’s case popped out of backwoods obscurity when he got from the pinko Civil Rights Congress a leftist young attorney — future U.S. Congresswoman Bella Abzug.

Once it got out there, it became the Free Mumia case of the nascent civil rights movement and the nascent Cold War. Its appeal to communist countries and cadres only raised the hackles of American establishment types. This was a Negro raping a white housewife literally and metaphorically.

Author Jessica Mitford (The American Way of Death) campaigning to save Willie McGee’s life. William Faulkner, Albert Einstein, and Josephine Baker also publicly supported McGee.

Whether there actually was a literal rape is the enduring mystery — the enduring Rorschach blot — of the McGee case. The accused himself remained silent on the matter for years; eventually, he claimed that the two were having a consensual but forbidden interracial affair and that he had been brutalized into a confession.

McGee’s defenders believed that the “victim” herself initiated the affair, and

threatened to cry rape if he refused her flirtatious advances … McGee reluctantly went [along] with Hawkins, fearing the tragic consequences of turning her away. “People who don’t know the South don’t know what would have happened to Willie if he told her no,” [Willie’s wife] Rosalee told a friend. “Down South you tell a woman like that no, and she’ll cry rape anyway. So what else could Willie do?”

-At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance

(In this version, the manipulative Hawkins executed the threat when her husband — who later witnessed McGee’s electrocution — found out. McGee’s cited reason for changing his story was the very plausible fear of lynching.)

A Laurel African-American who was then a child remembers being taken by his family to view the body, and impress upon him the lesson of its electrical burns: “Don’t mess with white girls.”

McGee’s persecutors considered all that miscegenation stuff so much subversive rubbish, a “revolting insinuation,” in the words of the Mississippi Supreme Court.**

And if at its apex the controversy generated more heat than light, its historical fade to embers has not sufficed to resolve the factual questions.

McGee has benefited from a recent rediscovery — one that indicates such memories of the McGee case as persevere in Laurel still divide starkly along racial lines.

Explore this case and its many resonances (without the Perry Mason big reveal) in Alex Heard’s 2010 The Eyes of Willie McGee (review); and, in a spellbinding NPR series on “My Grandfather’s Execution” by Bridgette McGee-Robinson, which is exactly what it sounds like. (Direct links to several Radio Diaries mp3 episodes can be found from the RSS feed here.)

Both were facilitated by a recording of execution-night radio news coverage fortuitously preserved by a young Hattiesburg reporter.

Book Cover

* New York Times, May 8, 1951.

** McGee did at least win two retrials in Mississippi; federal courts gave him short shrift, with anti-civil rights judge Sidney Mize — later memorable for fighting the legal rearguard against integrating Ole Miss — lecturing Abzug in a last-ditch appeal that McGee’s “guilt is plain” and that “courts ought to rise up and defend themselves.” (Source)

Taken as an obvious given: “actually guilty” or not, a defendant executed for rape in the American South is certainly a black man with a white accuser.

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1323: Jourdain de l’Isle-Jourdain, Gascon rascal

Add comment May 7th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1323, Jourdain de l’Isle-Jourdain, lord of Casaubon, was “stripped naked, drawn on a hurdle from the Chatelet to the gibbet, and hanged there.” (Source)

This robber-baron‘s offense had been nothing less than the years-long defiance of his every actual and potential liege — consequence of the wide scope of action available to feudal nobles before the ascendance of absolutism.

Jourdain was the younger son of a lord, but managed to inherit a good chunk of land and marry into more of it … giving him power well beyond his merely nominal aristocratic rank.

Jourdain’s stomping ground was Gascony in the southwest of France, which in this period was a contested fringe of English and French authority* and so was under little true authority at all.

An unscrupulous operator could have a field day — or in Jourdain’s case, a field decade or two.

Joseph Klicklighter, “The Nobility of English Gascony: the case of Jourdain de l’Isle” in the Journal of Medieval History 13 (1987), pp. 327-342 documents Jourdain de l’Isle-Jourdain’s run of rapine in the “chaos and lawlessness” of 14th century Gascony.

He would occupy lands to extract official concessions, rip off the sailors and merchants crossing his territory, play English and French power off against one other (not neglecting to drag in the Avignonese pope John XXII, who had our crooked noble’s back as his kinsman), even rape, murder, and plunder outright. When forced to fight a judicial duel that turned out inconclusively, he peevishly razed a castle of his opponent.

“For years,” Klicklighter notes, “Jourdain de l’Isle was able to … pursue his wars and crimes and to flaunt ducal [English] and French authorities alike.”

Mind, he was hardly the only Gascon noble amok, but he seems to have been the most offensively undiplomatic of the lot. When the new French King Charles IV** sent armed envoys to summon him (along with other lords) to Paris, Jourdain had the envoys beheaded.

At last someone prevailed upon our man to make the trip, and despite arriving “in grand array and with great arrogance,” the French clapped him in prison with what we can only assume was relief. The Pope’s frantic appeals on Jourdain’s behalf didn’t do him any good: in fact, our man was hanged in a garment derisively sporting the papal insignia.

Though this date’s execution put an end to one man’s depravities, the violence attributable to his contumacious native region was just getting started. Fourteen years later, the next French monarch, Philip VI, went to put an end to this foolishness by definitively reclaiming Gascony for France … and triggered the Hundred Years War.

* Formally, Gascony was an English fief of the French crown. Functionally, that meant that whenever the English seneschal issued an edict, the local lords could ignore it by appealing to Parlement.

** Charles IV was the last ruler of the House of Capet … thanks in part to the dynasty-destroying Tour de Nesle scandal.

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1972: Deniz Gezmis, Yusuf Aslan, and Huseyin Inan, Turkish revolutionaries

Add comment May 6th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1972, three Turkish youths hanged at Ankara Central Prison for attempting to “overthrow the constitutional order.”

Deniz Gezmis

“The three urban guerrillas,” reported the New York Times the next day, “stood on chairs placed on a platform as the nooses were placed around their necks. They asked for and were given the right to kick the chairs out from under themselves.”

Deniz Gezmis, the best-known of them, was a 1960s student radical who eventually helped found the People’s Liberation Army of Turkey (THKO) and received guerrilla training in Syria from Palestinian terrorists.

As Turkey made the turn into the 1970s, left-right violence made the country all but ungovernable.

Gezmis and his comrades got in on the action by kidnapping four U.S. radar technicians for ransom in March 1971, leading Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci to declare that “it is necessary to halt this anarchy which is pushing our country to a dark and bloody future.”*

The Turkish armed forces were right on the case, and just days later intervened with a bloodless military coup.

The servicemen were released unharmed … but there was a bloodbath waiting for others on account of THKO.

An army-backed conservative government started shuttering left-wing papers, banning left-wing organizations, and eventually imposed outright martial law.

Our principals became the first hanged under that regime, but scores of others** were also tried for their lives for revolutionary activities. Since the young socialists had robbed banks and taken hostages but never actually killed anyone, their actual executions were controversial within the government itself … and ultimately undertaken on the unseemly “three for three” body count equivalence to the Prime Minister and two aides who had hanged when Turkey last had a leftist coup government.

In the streets, paramilitary violence continued.

During the trials of Gezmis and other radicals, Israeli ambassador Efraim Elrom, a Polish emigre who had interrogated Adolf Eichmann, was kidnapped and murdered in Istanbul by THKO activists. (The kidnapping in turn prompted an intensified crackdown — arbitrary detention, torture, the usual stuff.) Years later, another communist cell assassinated the man who had presided as Prime Minister when Gezmis hanged, Nihat Erim, allegedly in revenge for this date’s executions.

London Times, May 8, 1972.

Conversely, for Gezmis, the handsome young Che Guevara of Turkish insurrectionary Marxism — this date was only the beginning of a rich afterlife as iconic martyr.

Graffiti of Gezmis and Che Guevara, with a sentiment common to both. (cc) image from somebody_

Also imprisoned in the roundup of radical activists was Turkish writer Erdal Oz, who turned the conversations he had with this date’s doomed into a notable book.

* Quoted in the March 8, 1971 London Times. Ipekci was eventually murdered by the Turkish assassin who subsequently tried to kill Pope John Paul II — Mehmet Ali Agca.

** e.g., Irfan Solmazer, a Senator who had been involved in Turkey’s left-wing coup a decade before. (He wasn’t executed.)

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1720: A deserter, by fellow-deserters

Add comment May 5th, 2011 Headsman

The sentence of death was often pronounced by courts-martial and not unfrequently carried out, a deserter convicted for the third time rarely escaping with his life. Many a man was shot in Hyde Park during the twenty years of peace, and no opportunity was lost to enhance the terror of the penalty, the firing party sometimes consisting solely of fellow-deserters, who were spared in consideration of the warning given by the ghastly body which their own bullets had pierced

-John Fortescue, A History of the British Army, vol. 2

Fortescue’s notes on this passage draw attention to the following account in the May 7, 1720 Weekly Journal.

On Thursday Morning the four Men, sentenced by a Court-Martial for Desertion, were brought hand-cuff’d to the Tilt-Yard Guard, from whence they marched with the Grenadiers at the Head of the Detachment to Hyde-Park; at the Place of Execution they were met by the Chaplain of the second Regiment of Guards, who prayed with them for a while; then three of the Prisoners, having before received the King’s Pardon, were restored to the Regiment, and ordered immediately to load their Pieces, and fire at their Comrade, which they obey’d; the Man was observed to give a little Spring after the Discharge of their Pieces, and a Corporal, who was kept, as usual, in Reserve, shot him through the Head; the other three Shot were lodged in his Breast. This is the third Time of his deserting.

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1948: Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann aide

Add comment May 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1948, SS man Dieter Wisliceny was hanged in Bratislava for his role in the destruction of European Jewry.

The Hauptsturmfuhrer joined the Nazi party in 1933 and became one of Adolf Eichmann‘s key lieutenants* implementing the Final Solution in the occupied east.

The porcine Wisliceny himself seems to have been more of an opportunist than anything else — a washout theology student who got in with the Nazis on the upswing and happily enriched himself shaking down Jews who were trying to avoid deportation from his fiefs in Slovakia, Hungary or Greece, generally without providing much substantive life-saving in return.

Arrested after the war, Wisliceny gave damning testimony to the Nuremberg court about his onetime boss.

[Eichmann] said he would leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had 5 million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.*

Wisliceny had actually been Eichmann’s superior in the 1930s, and helped to promote the man. As Eichmann surpassed him in rank, so the policy of wholesale extermination Eichmann came to symbolize surpassed Wisliceny’s Zionist emigration position.**

Notably, Wisliceny would claim that Eichmann showed him a written extermination order never recovered after the war.

I was sent to Berlin in July or August 1942 in connection with the status of Jews from Slovakia, which mission is referred to more fully hereinafter. I was talking to Eichmann in his office in Berlin when he said that on written order of Himmler all Jews were to be exterminated. I requested to be shown the order. He took a file from the safe and showed me a top secret document with a red border, indicating immediate action. It was addressed jointly to the Chief of the Security Police and SD and to the Inspector of Concentration Camps. The letter read substantially as follows :

“The Fuehrer has decided that the final solution of the Jewish question is to start immediately. I designate the Chief of the Security Police and SD and the Inspector of Concentration Camps as responsible for the execution of this order. The particulars of the program are to be agreed upon by the Chief of the Security Police and SD and the Inspector of Concentration Camps. I am to be informed currently as to the execution of this order”.

The order was signed by Himmler and was dated some time in April 1942. Eichmann told me that the words “final solution” meant the biological extermination of the Jewish race, but that for the time being able-bodied Jews were to be spared and employed in industry to meet current requirements. I was so much impressed with this document which gave Eichmann authority to kill millions of people that I said at the time : “May God forbid that our enemies should ever do anything similar to the German people”. He replied : “Don’t be sentimental-this is a Fuehrer order”

This version of the story presents its narrator in a notably un-culpable light, as befits a man giving evidence with his own life on the line. Eichmann, the nimble bureaucratic operator, scoffed at the story.

Do you believe that he sat down in order to write to me: ‘My dear Eichmann, the Fuhrer has ordered the physical annihilation of all Jews’? The truth is that Himmler never wrote down a single line in this matter … I never received an order of any kind.†

Wisliceny’s evidence against his former associate may have been motivated by the prisoners’ dilemma, but his testimony injured Eichmann all the same when the latter finally came to trial years after the war. It was cutting.

I consider Eichmann’s character and personality important factors in carrying out measures against the Jews. He was personally a cowardly man who went to great pains to protect himself from responsibility. He never made a move without approval from higher authority and was extremely careful to keep files and records establishing the responsibility of Himmler, Heydrich and later Kaltenbrunner.

Reliable or not, this stuff didn’t do Wisliceny (enough) good, either. He was handed over to Czechoslovakian authorities after the war, and hanged for war crimes.

(Some sources give February 1948 as the execution date; I believe this may have been when Wisliceny was convicted.)

* In the version Eichmann gave at his trial in Israel, his line was “five million enemies of the Reich.”

** “A memorandum (Vermerk) of April 7, 1937, signed by Wisliceny presents an argument for the emigration of all German Jews, which could be achieved only by supporting the Zionist enterprise.” (Yehuda Bauer, Jews for Sale? Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945)

Jews for Sale? Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945

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