Posts filed under 'Capital Punishment'

2004: Former vice-governor Wang Huaizhong

Add comment February 12th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 2004, the former deputy governor of China’s Anhui province was executed for official corruption.

It was just weeks after Wang’s conviction for grifting some 100 million yuan in real estate transactions dating back to the mid 1990’s.

We suppose Wang did his appeals no favors by steadfastly denying guilt — although he might have reckoned that the national “determination … to fight corruption” thwarted any such plan.

Instead of confessing to his crimes, Wang had stood against the public prosecutors and even continued to seek bribes during the investigation from some private business owners, said Wang Huanhai, head of the investigation team.

According to the prosecutor, Wang attempted to use the bribe to buy over more relations, hoping the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communist Party would spare him from being inquisited.

During the first trial on Dec. 29, 2003, Wang denied all the allegations, but in the latest trial confessed to most of the crimes and argued for a light penalty on the grounds that the bribes he had taken were not big enough to justify a death penalty.

His request was turned down, given the amount involved in the case as well as his resistance to investigation.

Wang’s prosecutors said he was an orphan and had climbed up the social ladder with an inferiority complex. “That’s why he was dictatorial and could not stand anyone questioning him,” said Wang Huanhai, “Nor did he ever confess to his wrongdoing in public.”

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1984: Maqbool Bhat, for Kashmir

3 comments February 11th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1984, India hanged Kashmiri nationalist Maqbool Bhat.

A terrorist to his enemies and a freedom fighter to his friends, Bhat was born in the Kashmir region back when it “was ruled by the Dogra Family and the entire Kashmiri nation was living a life of slavery.”

When Bhat was a nine-year-old child, the prince of Jammu and Kashmir inked a bitterly controversial accession of his domain to the foundling independent nation of India. Kashmir has been hitched to the adjective “troubled” ever since.

The broader Kashmir region remains a warren of competing claims among Pakistan, India, and China. Bhat operated not for any of these governments, but for Kashmiri independence … and since he came of age in the revolutionary twilight of colonialism, he did not shy from putting the fight in freedom fighter. Bhat was an early exponent of an armed independence struggle.

Both India and Pakistan proscribed as terrorist Bhat’s Jammu and Kashmir National Liberation Front (forerunner of the still-extant JKLF, which is the same acronym less the middle letter); both those longtime subcontinent antagonists arrested Bhat at different times for subversive activities. The most notable: Bhat engineered an airplane hijacking in 1971 to push his cause onto the world’s front pages.

But the hostage-taking game came a-cropper for the Kashmiri rebel.

Languishing under a dormant death sentence for the 1968 murder of an Indian policeman,* Bhat unexpectedly became the focus of his fellow-travelers’ revolutionary ardor: in Birmingham, England, Kashmiri activists kidnapped Indian diplomat Ravindra Mhatre in an attempt to force a hostage exchange.

When Delhi refused to deal, the captors executed Mhatre. Within days, India traded tit for tat by stringing up Bhat.

They may not have got their man, but they sure got a martyr.

Five years after Bhat’s execution, Kashmir finally broke into armed revolt — Bhat’s very own project, and one that has claimed tens of thousands of lives in the succeeding years.

That movement repeatedly demands the return of Bhat’s remains for burial. It annually marks this anniversary of his martyrdom with tributes and strikes.

* Bhat’s partisans insist that he was wrongly accused.

Update: Reprint of a 1984 article, “The last days of Maqbool Butt”

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2011: Rashid al Rashidi, Mousa mosque murderer

5 comments February 10th, 2011 Headsman

This morning in Dubai, Emirati sailor Rashid al Rashidi was executed by firing squad for raping and murdering four-year-old Moosa (Mousa) Mukhtiar Ahmed in a mosque washroom.

The pedophiliac crime on the first day of Eid al-Adha in 2009 shocked the United Arab Emirates. Eleven judges have okayed the death sentence; even one of al Rashidi’s own lawyers demonstratively resigned himself from the case of “the suspect who brought shame to mankind.”

The terrified al Rashidi met his death at a Dubai shooting range this morning, begging for God’s forgiveness … and also that of his victim’s relatives, five of whom witnessed the execution.

Unsurprisingly, the aggrieved family wasn’t biting.

“I will never forgive him,” Mousa’s father reportedly told the Grand Mufti to whom al Rashidi had entrusted his contrition.

It’s the first execution in the UAE since February 2008.

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2011: Martin Link

Add comment February 9th, 2011 Headsman

Minutes past midnight today, Central Daylight Time, Martin Link died by lethal injection at Missouri’s Bonne Terre state prison.

It’s just Missouri’s second execution since 2005, a marked decline from its five-per-year clip over the decade preceding.*

Condemned for raping and murdering an 11-year-old girl in 1991, Link “showed little willingness to fight the death penalty,” according to the Kansas City Star. (Not so little that he actually dropped appeals, mind.) He at least once attempted suicide in prison.

In common with many present-day U.S. executions, Link’s was also shaped by the nationwide shortage of sodium thiopental, one of the essential drugs in the traditional lethal injection cocktail.

(It’s an anesthetic, the first of three drugs administered and used for the purpose of inducing rapid unconsciousness so the other two can get to the killing business … though the sodium thiopental dose is itself potentially lethal, and some states have experimented with lethal injections using only that one drug.)

While other thiopental-scarce jurisdictions have moved towards alternative chemicals and injection procedures, Missouri did a classic three-drug injection using some of its dwindling stockpile — which was due to expire on March 1, anyway. What the plan might be for the next Show-Me State execution, whenever that might be, nobody seems ready to say. If recent trends are any indication, they’ve got plenty of time to work it out.

The chemical compounds, no doubt, were the last things on the minds of those directly concerned. Both the victim’s family and the investigating police officers reportedly planned to observe the procedure with some satisfaction.

“It was such a horrendous crime,” one of the officers told a reporter. “I’ve got a picture of that in my mind right now … of seeing the little girl and everything. It’s kind of hard to put it out of your mind.”

* Stats per the Death Penalty Information Center’s very handy execution database.

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1924: The first electrocutions in Texas

4 comments February 8th, 2011 Headsman

There is sweeping over Texas, as never before in her history, a wave of crime. Murder, theft, robbery and holdups are hourly occurrences that fill the daily press. The spirit of lawlessness has become alarming. Our loose method of dealing with violators of the law is in a large degree responsible for the conditions that today confront us.

-Texas Gov. Pat Neff, in a 1921 message to the state legislature.

It was just after midnight on this date in 1924 that the state of Texas first used its new electric chair, supplanting public hangings with a regime of private executions administered by the state.

Five men, all black, died in rapid succession on the new contraption. (Although witnesses, “sickened by the odor of burning flesh that filled the room, were given a brief respite” between the fourth and the fifth executions.) It was a half-year’s worth of backlog built up while the new death chamber had been constructed for the transition from county-level hangings.

Robert Perkinson’s Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire chronicles the evolution of that state’s prison regime after the Civil War in lucid, page-turning prose. We’re very grateful that he’s allowed Executed Today to mark the Lone Star State’s era of electrocutions with this brief excerpt from that book.


Although elected as a progressive, Pat Neff was the first Texas governor to make hard-fisted, no-nonsense crime fighting a central part of his political identity.

… Neff proposed tougher penalties for bootleggers, an expansion of the Texas Rangers, and the abolition of the state’s suspended sentencing law, an innovation enacted at the end of leasing. He also radically curtailed executive clemency. …

Walter Boyd, aka Leadbelly, was … caught in Neff’s clutches. “‘Dat man ain’ gonna tu’n you loose, ol’ Walter,'” his fellow convicts told him. “‘He wouldn’ tu’n his own mammy loose.'” … Leadbelly had tried everything but running to regain his freedom. Through hard work on the line, he had convinced a captain to request that his escape record be expunged, which under a different governor would have enhanced his chances of parole. About a year after his arrival at Sugar Land, Leadbelly’s father showed up carrying a “fat roll of bills.” He had sold the family’s last parcel of land and tried, rather brazenly, to buy his only son’s freedom, but the warden turned him down …

[Leadbelly] was well known as a musician. When he heard that Governor Neff was planning a personal inspection, he composed a special song. Neff was “a big, fine-lookin’ man,” he recalled, and “sho was crazy about my singin’ an’ dancin’. Ev’y time I’d sing a new song or cut a few steps he’d roll me a bran-new silver dollar ‘cross the flo'” Once his audience warmed, Leadbelly presented his unusual appeal.

Please, Governor Neff, be good and kind,
Have mercy on my great, long time.

With his boot tapping and strings blazing, the musician hit all the conventional clemency notes. He called himself Neff’s “servant,” pleaded on behalf of his wife Mary (in reality his girlfriend), lamented his thirty-year sentence, and even offered an oblique critique.

Some folks say it’s a sin,
Got too many women and too many men.
… In de pen.

Neff himself remembered the encounter almost as vividly. In his autobiography, The Battles of Peace, he painted the singer as a happy minstrel and himself as the benevolent master. “On one of the farms … was a negro as black as a stack of black cats at midnight,” he wrote. “This negro would pick his banjo, pat his foot, roll his eyes, and show his big white teeth as he caroled forth in negro melody his musical application for a pardon.” In his paternalistic way, the governor was moved, or at least amused. He announced that he would grant the supplicant’s request but in his own time. “Walter, I’m gonna give you a pardon,” Leadbelly remembered Neff telling him, “but I ain’ gonna give it to you now. I’m gonna keep you down here to play for me when I come, but when I get out of office I’m gonna turn you loose.” True to his word, the governor enjoyed Leadbelly’s high-spirited performances on command whenever he visited the lower farms, then set him free on his last day in office.


Lead Belly singing the prison blues song “Midnight Special”.

Few other convicts were as fortunate. Despite the costs to taxpayers, almost a thousand more convicts entered Texas prisons than were allowed to leave during Neff’s four-year reign. Inmates sentenced to death, most of them African Americans and Hispanics convicted of rape or murder, found especially little sympathy. Largely in response to lynching, which the governor condemned, Texas centralized the death penalty in 1923. Previously, every county had carried out its own executions, usually in the form of public hangings. Progressives hoped that by sequestering such events at the Walls, they would discourage mob sentiment and encourage reverence for “the majesty of the law.” But the site and method of execution did not alter its racial dynamics.

Following the lead of New York and other states, lawmakers also ordered prison officials to carry out executions by a new technique, one they perceived as “more modern and humane,” the electric chair. Huntsville officials thus built a new death house, the very same in use today, and by the end of the year a squat, straight-backed throne — soon christened Ol’ Sparky — was ready for operation. Governor Neff wasted little time in authorizing its use.

On a visit to the Walls in January, the governor stopped in to visit with five men he would soon send to their deaths. “A queer feeling creeps over you as you pass the death cell and pause,” he wrote. “They knew, and I realized, that I held within my hand the power to save them from the electric chair. How feeble were words, both theirs and mine, at such a time.” Not long after the governor departed, the men, all of them African American, ranging in age from twenty to thirty-nine, were approved for elimination.

In a dramatic gesture of conscience, Huntsville’s warden, R.F. Coleman, resigned his post only days before. “It just couldn’t be done,” he told reporters. “The penitentiary is a place to reform a man, not to kill him.” But a replacement was quickly found, and the Walls’ inaugural electrocutions went forward as scheduled. At nine minutes after midnight, the first condemned man, Charlie Reynolds, was escorted by two guards into the brightly lit death chamber. He blinked rapidly, reported a witness, was speedily strapped in the chair, and then stiffened violently when the new warden threw the switch. Within the hour, four other men met the same fate.

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1714: Various rebel slaves in the Cape Colony

1 comment February 7th, 2011 Headsman

This site has previously noticed a milestone 1714 execution in the Dutch Cape Colony of South Africa.

That execution of a black slave and his white lover was exceptional — and, of course, the chronicles of the Cape are replete with less exceptional fare, the humdrum penal brutality of an 18th century colony disposed of in a sentence of two between reports of smallpox outbreaks, price fluctuations, the transit of slave ships, and all the other business of frontier life.

A slave condemned to be burnt alive for arson; another to be hanged for theft … Two white men hanged for desertion, sheep-stealing, and attempt to murder … A Javanese “Guru” sentenced to death for instigating slaves to run away, harbouring and arming them … Matthys of Ternate punished for running away and cattle theft, &c. Sentenced to be hanged … A slave hanged for breaking into the house of Lieutenant Captain Slotsboo … Five slaves sentenced to be broken, and a female slave to be scourged … Two soldiers sentenced to run the gantlope …

And so on.

This date marks a number of such executions for a minor slave revolt (incidents of slave insubordination also pepper the Colony records). At three full entries in the chronicle, 16 implicated slaves, and some spectacularly savage punishments, it must have been one of the more noteworthy of its day; what the colonial register leaves us is just enough to suggest the forgotten suffering and resistance of the half-nameless chattel of yesteryear.

1714.

January 7 — Some 16 fugitive slaves who had conspired, armed themselves, and did much mischief. They resisted the officers of justice, shot a soldier, and murdered a Hottentot woman. They were now brought up for examination.

February 7 — The sentences passed on the fugitive slaves, and the whole history of the case. “Tromp” to be empaled alive, and to remain in that position till he dies. “Cupido” to be put on a cross, his right hand to be cut off, and with “Neptunus” to be broken on the wheel, and then to be left on a hurdle until dead. “Titus” to be broken with the coup de grace. Jeroon and Thomas to be hanged; three others to be scourged and have their right heels cut off. The eleventh prisoner is merely to look on, and afterwards to be sent home; paying the costs however.

February 8 — The empaled convict found strangled in the morning. He had received some linen from a kind friend during the night for the purpose. He would otherwise have been still alive.

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Feast Day of St. Agatha

1 comment February 5th, 2011 Headsman

(Thanks to Carl Pyrdum, III, the author of the hilariously incisive blog Got Medieval, for this guest post — which originally appeared as part of his decidedly irreverent Medieval Months stroll through the Catholic Church’s quirky calendar of saintly feast days. -ed.)

While not one of the Holy Helpers proper, St. Agatha, whose feast falls on February 5, has special powers to heal ailments of the breasts, on account of having had hers cut off for refusing to worship pagan idols.

Like Bartholomew, she is usually depicted in the unfortunate after state in iconography, carrying her severed breasts before her on a tray or plate.


St. Agatha of Sicily, by Orazio Riminaldi (1625).

Because detached breasts sort of resemble bells, she’s the patron saint of bellfounders, and because they also kind of resemble dough, she works double duty as the patron of bakers, too. Oh, and just to be clear, that last sentence isn’t one of those clearly nonsensical sentences I pepper my writing with for purposes of the comedy. Agatha is the patron saint of severed boobs and everything that kind of looks like a severed boob.


The treats on the left are a traditional Catania cassata known as “Agatha’s breasts” or “Virgin breasts” (“Minni di Vergini”). Image (c) Gergely Sipos and used with permission.

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1940: Robert Indrikovich Eikhe, “believing in the truth of Party policy as I have believed in it during my whole life”

Add comment February 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1940, the former Soviet People’s Commissar for Agriculture was shot for treason.

The 1930’s were a scary time in the USSR, but the agricultural posts — forced collectivizations, production quotas, and screw-ups that starved thousands — were particularly fraught.

R.I. Eikhe inherited the job from a fellow purged in the trial of the 21. And, unsurprisingly, he went the same way.

It was another former agricultural commissar (of Ukraine), Nikita Khrushchev, who managed to succeed Stalin.

When, in 1956, Khrushchev made his “secret speech” denouncing the savagery of his predecessor, the fate of his old comrade Eikhe was lamented in detail.

Excerpted below is the relevant portion of Khrushchev’s report, as cited here.


The great modesty of the genius of the revolution, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, is known. Lenin had always stressed the role of the people as the creator of history, the directing and organizational role of the party as a living and creative organism, and also the role of the central committee.

Lenin never imposed by force his views upon his coworkers. He tried to convince; he patiently explained his opinions to others. Lenin always diligently observed that the norms of party life were realized, that the party statute was enforced, that the party congresses and the plenary sessions of the central committee took place at the proper intervals.

In addition to the great accomplishments of V. I. Lenin for the victory of the working class and of the working peasants, for the victory of our party and for the application of the ideas of scientific communism to life, his acute mind expressed itself also in this that lie detected in Stalin in time those negative characteristics which resulted later in grave consequences. Fearing the future fate of the party and of the Soviet nation, V.I. Lenin made a completely correct characterization of Stalin, pointing out that it was necessary to consider the question of transferring Stalin from the position of Secretary General because of the fact that Stalin is excessively rude, that he does not have a proper attitude toward his comrades, that lie is capricious, and abuses his power. . . .

Vladimir Ilyich said:

“Stalin is excessively rude, and this defect, which can be freely tolerated in our midst and in contacts among us Communists, becomes a defect which cannot be tolerated in one holding the position of the Secretary General. Because of this, I propose that the comrades consider the method by which Stalin would be removed from this position and by which another man would be selected for it, a man, who above all , would differ from Stalin in only one quality, namely, greater tolerance, greater loyalty, greater kindness, and more considerate attitude toward the comrades, a less capricious temper, etc.”

As later events have proven, Lenin’s anxiety was justified …

Stalin originated the concept enemy of the people. This term automatically rendered it unnecessary that the ideological errors of a man or men engaged in a controversy be proven; this term made possible the usage of the most cruel repression, violating all norms of revolutionary legality, against anyone who in any way disagreed with Stalin, against those who were only suspected of hostile intent, against those who had bad reputations. This concept, enemy of the people, actually eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight or the making of one’s views known on this or that issue, even those of a practical character. In the main, and in actuality, the only proof of guilt used, against all norms of current legal science, was the confession of the accused himself, and, as subsequent probing proved, confessions were acquired through physical pressures against the accused. . . .

Lenin used severe methods only in the most necessary cases, when the exploiting classes were still in existence and were vigorously opposing the revolution, when the struggle for survival was decidedly assuming the sharpest forms, even including a civil war.

Stalin, on the other hand, used extreme methods and mass repressions at a time when the revolution was already victorious, when the Soviet state was strengthened, when the exploiting classes were already liquidated, and Socialist relations were rooted solidly in all phases of national economy, when our party was politically consolidated and had strengthened itself both numerically and ideologically. It is clear that here Stalin showed in a whole series of cases his intolerance, his brutality, and his abuse of power.

Stalin’s willfulness vis-a-vis the party and its central committee became fully evident after the 17th party congress, which took place in 1934. . . .

It was determined that of the 139 members and candidates of the party’s Central Committee who were elected at the 17th congress, 98 persons, that is, 70 percent, were arrested and shot (mostly in 1937-38). [Indignation in the hall.] . . .

The majority of the Central Committee members and candidates elected at the 17th congress and arrested in 1937-38 were expelled from the party illegally through the brutal abuse of the party statute, because the question of their expulsion was never studied at the Central Committee plenum.

Now when the cases of some of these so-called spies and saboteurs were examined it was found that all their cases were fabricated. Confessions of guilt of many- arrested and charged with enemy activity were gained with the help of cruel and inhuman tortures. . . .

An example of vile provocation of odious falsification and of criminal violation of revolutionary legality is the case of the former candidate for the central committee political bureau, one of the most eminent workers of the party and of the Soviet Government, Comrade Eikhe, who was a party member since 1905. [Commotion in the hall.]

Comrade Eikhe was arrested on April 29, 1938, on the basis of slanderous materials, without the sanction of the prosecutor of the USSR, which was finally received 15 months after the arrest.

Investigation of Eikhe’s case was made in a manner which most brutally violated Soviet legality and was accompanied by willfulness and falsification.

Eikhe was forced under torture to sign ahead of time a protocol of his confession prepared by the investigative judges, in which he and several other eminent party workers were accused of anti-Soviet activity.

On October 1, 1939, Eikhe sent his declaration to Stalin in which be categorically denied his guilt and asked for an examination of his case. In the declaration he wrote:

“There is no more bitter misery than to sit In the jail of a government for which I have always fought.”

On February 2, 1940, Eikhe was brought before the court. Here he did not confess any guilt and said as follows:

“In all the so-called confessions of mine there is not one letter written by me with the exception of my signatures under the protocols which were forced from me. I have made my confession under pressure from the investigative judge who from the time of my arrest tormented me. After that I began to write all this nonsense. The most important thing for me is to tell the court, the party and Stalin that I am not guilty. I have never been guilty of any conspiracy. I will die believing in the truth of party policy as I have believed in it during my whole life.”

On February 4 Eikhe was shot. [Indignation in the hall.] It has been definitely established now that Eikhe’s case was fabricated; he has been posthumously rehabilitated.

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1945: Not Fabian von Schlabrendorff, saved by a bomb

12 comments February 3rd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1945, July 20 plotter Fabian von Schlabrendorff was on his way to a certain death sentence at the hands of the German Volksgerichtshof.

Asshole jurist Roland Freisler

The outcome in the kangaroo court for anyone involved in the previous year’s near-miss bomb attack on Hitler was foreordained. Just the day before, the movement’s ineffectual but conscientious political statesman Carl Goerdeler had hanged for it.

But a funny thing happened to the lawyer and reserve officer Schlabrendorff on the way to the gallows.

As he awaited this date his tongue-lashing and inevitable condemnation at the hands of the vituperative Nazi judge Roland Freisler, a bombing raid led by Jewish future Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Rosenthal struck the People’s Court — killing not the prisoner, but the judge, who was reportedly found still clutching his prey’s file.

“It is God’s verdict” was the succinct epitaph issued by a worker at the hospital where they raced his body, and nobody cared to dispute the subversive remark.

Hysterically badgering defenseless prisoners in farcical show trials, ostentatiously obeisant to the Reich, and personally responsible for thousands of executions, Freisler was a hard guy to admire. His role model for courtroom demeanor was supposed to be the ruthless purge trials of the Soviets.*

(Freisler also attended the Wannsee Conference, where Reinhard Heydrich organized the Final Solution. What a guy.)

In the confusion of the bomb blast, Schlabrendorff was hustled off to detention un-sentenced, and spent the last months of the war being shifted from one concentration camp to the next. The Third Reich — and admittedly, it had a few other things on its mind in those days — neglected to kill him, trial or no.

Schlabrendorff went on to become a West German constitutional court judge, though in this career he could hardly be as memorable as his onetime persecutor.

That Schlabrendorff miraculously escaped the war with his life thanks to a timely explosion was a particular irony: Hitler had once unwittingly been preserved from a Schlabrendorff assassination attempt by a bomb that failed to detonate.

In a March 1943 attempt on Hitler’s life, Schlabrendorff himself had passed one of Hitler’s entourage a package supposedly containing two bottles of cognac for delivery to another officer. In fact, the package was meant to blow up Hitler’s plane.

When [Hitler] was boarding the plane I started the mechanism of the delayed-action bomb … timed to explode within half an hour. At a sign from Tresckow, I handed the parcel to Colonel Brandt,** the member of Hitler’s escort who had promised to take it. It was a great nervous strain to remain quiet at this juncture.

After more than two hours of waiting, we got the shattering news that Hitler had landed safely …

We were stunned and could not imagine the cause of the failure … even worse would be the discovery of the bomb, which would unfailingly lead to our detection and the death of a wide circle of close collaborators.

After considerable reflection Tresckow resolved to ring up Colonel Brandt at Hitler’s headquarters and ask whether the parcel for General Stieff had already been delivered. Brandt replied that it was still in his keeping. This gave us hope that the bomb had not been discovered. Its delivery had to be prevented by all means. So Tresckow asked him to keep the parcel. He added there had been some mistake. I would call on him the following day to exchange the parcel, as I had anyway to go on official business to headquarters in East Prussia.

On some military pretext, I flew to Headquarters with the regualr messenger plane. I called on Colonel Brandt and exchanged a parcel containing two bottles of brandy for the one containing the bomb.

I can still recall my horror when the man, unaware of what he held, smilingly handed me the bomb and gave it a jerk that made me fear a belated explosion. Feigning a composure I did not feel, I took the bomb, immediately got into a car, and drove to the neighboring railway junction of Korschen. From there a sleeper train left for Berlin in the evening.

At Korschen, I got into a reserved compartment, locked the door, and … dismantled the bomb … The mechanism had worked; the small bottle had broken; the corrosive fluid had consumed the wire; the striker had hit forward; but — the detonator had not fired.

* Not the only ostpolitik admiration the Nazis showed for their battlefield foes’ ruthlessness; Hitler, similarly, applauded (sometimes envied) Stalin’s 1930’s purge of the officer corps.

** This Heinz Brandt, too, has another unwitting part left to play in the story of the German resistance: it was he who, on July 20, 1944, moved Col. Stauffenberg’s deadly parcel behind an oaken table support, preserving Hitler from the bomb’s worst effects. Brandt died in that explosion.

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1945: Carl Goerdeler, as penance for the German people

1 comment February 2nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1945, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, godfather of the anti-Hitler resistance that had bid unsuccessfully for his assassination, was hanged at Plotzensee Prison. With him went fellow regime foes, Johannes Popitz and Father Alfred Delp.

The monarchist pol Goerdeler enjoys pride of place as one of the first German elites to opposite Hitler, though that opposition was not quite so early as the very beginning. Goerdeler was a creature of the pre-Nazi establishment, and shared many of perspectives that prepared that world to accommodate national socialism: Goerdeler bitterly opposed the Versailles Treaty, wanted to take a bite out of Polish territory, and had the customary strictly-within-legal-bounds anti-Semitism of his class. Even lying under sentence of death late in 1944, having denounced the Holocaust to his Gestapo interrogators, his “Thoughts of a Condemned Man” reflected,

We should not attempt to minimize what has been happening, but we should also emphasize the great guilt of the Jews, who had invaded our public life in ways that lacked all customary restraint.

A German patriot, then, committed to a “a purified Germany with a government of decent people”; a humanist Liberal from a bygone age, who had no weapons to fight a terror state.

As Mayor of Leipzig, he openly opposed the Third Reich’s excesses and pushed to moderate its policy.* In 1937 he copped a principled resignation and started cultivating contacts abroad, warning of Hitler’s aggression — also managing to impress his foreign interlocutors with his incapacity to affect events himself. His many memoranda urging Hitler to moderate this or that outrage went for naught.

The resistance circle around Goerdeler, which drew in his fellow-sufferer Popitz,** would be marked throughout the war years by that incapacity — a monument to high-minded failure, eternally short of the last ounce of will or that one key resource.

Goerdeler’s name adorned the ministry of many a fanciful post-Hitler government, but he himself, according to his friend and fellow-conspirator Gerhard Ritter, “preferred to begin with a debate rather than a power stroke”.

To be sure, the man looked in vain for some decisive form of aid: within the Reich, the sympathetic Wehrmacht brass couldn’t quite see their way to something as radical as breaking their loyalty oaths; without, he got no terms short of unconditional surrender from the Allies.

But even come the summer of 1944 when all was well past lost, Goerdeler entertained delusions of persuading Hitler to give up power voluntarily, and opposed Stauffenberg‘s assassination gambit.

Indecision would be no defense when he was hailed before bloodthirsty judge Roland Freisler for treason.

Goerdeler and Popitz, both viewed as influential with Germany’s Western enemies, were kept alive for months after the judicial purges commenced: Himmler‘s hope for a back channel deal. Our man had many hours in this Gethsemane for that essential contemplation of the 20th century.

In sleepless nights I have asked myself whether a God exists who shares in the personal fate of men. It is becoming hard to believe it. For this God must for years now have allowed rivers of blood and suffering, mountains of horror and despair for mankind … He must have let millions of decent men die and suffer without moving a finger.

-Carl Goerdeler (Source)

We do not know what account Goerdeler gave of himself to the afterlife; even the account he left of himself for our terrestrial posterity is disputable.

“I ask the world to accept our martyrdom as penance for the German people,” he wrote in prison. Is it enough to accept for Goerdeler himself? His actions, intrepid by the standards of most countrymen, were fatally unequal to the heroism demanded of his circumstance. By any measure, his is a very human tragedy.

Carl Goerdeler’s brother Fritz shared the same fate a few weeks later. Other family members were imprisoned at Dachau; Carl’s son, Reinhard Goerdeler, became an accountant after the war and is the “G” in the big four firm KPMG.

* Including Berlin’s heretically expansionary economic policy. Goerdeler hated Keynes; his prescription for the capitalist crisis of the 1930s was falling wages, low deficits, a mighty Reichsmark, and free trade. (The April 1938 Foreign Affairs published a Goerdeler essay entitled “Do Government Price Controls Work?” Answer: no.)

It would be too much to say that Berlin’s profligacy outraged him as much as the fact that it was being squandered on dishonorable war, but said profligacy was definitely on the bill of attainder.

** Father Delp, the other man hanged this date, was involved in the resistance but even Freisler’s court decided he wasn’t in on the July 20 plot.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Famous,Germany,Hanged,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Notable Participants,Notably Survived By,Politicians,Power,Torture,Treason,Wartime Executions

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