Posts filed under 'History'

1780: Johann Heinrich Waser, persecuted whistleblower

Add comment May 27th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1780, statistician Johann Heinrich Waser

“One of the most spectacular and horrific treason cases of the late eighteenth century” in the words of Jeffrey Freedman (A Poisoned Chalice | here’s a review) — one that “shattered the complacent belief that such a brutal and cynical act of repression could no longer occur in an age of Enlightenment, let alone in Switzerland, the land of William Tell, republican virtue, and free, self-governing citizens.” Subsequent centuries laugh in bitter commiseration.

Initially a pastor, Waser’s idealism had not been fully wrung out in the seminary and so he got himself fired from his Zurich-area parish for complaining too loudly about the oligarchic graft that left his flock’s poor relief barren.

Nothing daunted, he effected a career change and “threw himself with zeal and success into all researches in natural history, history, agriculture and statistics.” He surely had little notion that this technocratic exercise could imperil his life … but as with his time in the ministry, he suffered for his inability to pay the tithe of politic hypocrisy to the unrighteous mighty. Freedman again:

One of Waser’s demographic studies uncovered evidence of a stagnating and even declining population in certain rural districts. To Waser (and indeed to cameralists in general) it was axiomatic that a growing population was good, that it was both cause and symptom of economic prosperity. So the evidence of a stagnating and declining population demanded an explanation, which Waser believed he had found in the trade in mercenaries practiced by the Swiss cantons. With this, Waser was touching upon a very delicate subject indeed, for the trade in mercenaries was not only a useful safety valve for disposing of excess population, it was a major source of fiscal revenue. Yet Waser condemned the lucrative trade without restraint, documenting with hard statistical evidence the population losses it caused; and he drove home his point with anecdotes such as the following, which appeared in the introduction to a study provocatively entitled, “Swiss Blood, French Money”:

With the General Stuppa in attendance, the Marquis de Lauvois, the War Minister of Louis XIV, is supposed once t0o have said to his king: “Sire, if you had all the gold and silver paid by yourself and your royal ancestors to the Swiss, you would be able to pave the highway from Paris to Basel with Thalers.” Whereupon General Stuppa declared: “Sire, that may well be so; but if it were possible to collect all the blood shed by our nation for you and your royal ancestors, one could build a navigable canal from Paris to Basel.

Waser’s incautious muckraking got him the Julian Assange treatment: he’d be condemned for treasonably stealing the information he reported for the public weal; in an attempt to blacken his name, he was even spuriously investigated for poisoning the sacramental wine.

The May 27 beheading of the “unhappy pastor” raised a clamor of European outrage against Zurich’s oligarchs. True, the salon-dwelling demographic liable to such a sentiment had no power to chastise. But it at least enjoyed the satisfaction inside of 20 years to see the lords toppled who had built Waser’s scaffold … thanks, appropriately enough, to the French.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Switzerland,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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1831: Ciro Menotti, hero to Garibaldi

Add comment May 26th, 2020 Headsman

Italian patriotic hero Ciro Menotti was hanged on this date* in 1831.


Marker in Modena to the martyrdom of Ciro Menotti and Vincenzo Borelli. (cc) image from Filippo Fabbri.

Menotti (English Wikipedia entry | Italian) was a member of the revolutionary carbonari who stood at the fore of an insurrection in northern Italy in 1831. The plot was sponsored by the Duke of Modena and quashed by the same when he realized its premature exposure compromised its utility as a vehicle for expanding his dominions. The arrival of Austrian troops in March of 1831 swiftly pacified the risings.

In tribute of Menotti, national patron saint Giuseppe Garibaldi named one of his sons for him — Menotti Garibaldi, later a deputy in the parliament of the independent and unified Italy whose realization had been the common quest of both his namesakes.

* There are some citations out there for May 23, rather than May 26. This appears unambiguously mistaken to me (witness the date on the monument pictured in this post); I haven’t been able to determine the initial source of the discrepancy.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Habsburg Realm,Hanged,History,Italy,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1537: John and Margaret Bulmer, Bigod’s rebels

Add comment May 25th, 2020 Headsman

And on the 25 day of May, being the Friday in Whitsun week, Sir John Bulmer, Sir Stephen Hamerton, knights, were hanged and headed; Nicholas Tempest, esquire; Doctor Cockerell, priest; Abbot quondam of Fountains; and Doctor Pickering, friar, were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered, and their heads set on London Bridge and divers gates in London.

And the same day Margaret Cheney, ‘other wife to Bulmer called’, was drawn after them from the Tower of London into Smithfield, and there burned according to her judgment, God pardon her soul, being the Friday in Whitsun week; she was a very fair creature, and a beautiful.

Wriothesley’s Chronicle

This date’s prey were casualties of Bigod’s Rebellion, the lesser-known sister rising to the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Pilgrimage, a rising of the northern Commons against Henry VIII’s dissolution of Catholic monasteries, had indeed been settled rather bloodlessly by the end of 1536, with the king hosting its leader, Robert Aske, for Christmas at Greenwich Palace where holiday sweetmeats mingled with insincere concessions.

The naive Aske was probably doomed no matter what for seeking the overthrow of the mighty Thomas Cromwell, but his nearly direct path from the royal apartments to Tyburn was directed by the onset of Bigod’s Rebellion in January 1537. Aske strove in vain to dissuade this rising as ruinous to the arrangement he thought he had negotiated, which indeed it was: Bigod was crushed in a matter of days, and the disturbance furnished Henry with his pretext for arresting Pilgrimage leaders like Aske.

We’re drawn in particular here to a power couple implicated in both risings, Sir John Bulmer and his wife Margaret Bulmer (formerly or also Margaret Cheyne*).

These executions had, on the whole, a settling effect on the country. The reformers [i.e., English Reformation enthusiasts, like Cromwell] were delighted. The large and powerful class who desired peace above everything were reassured. Most of the conservatives were frightened into silence …

Lady Bulmer, or Margaret Cheyne as she was called, was drawn after the other prisoners from the Tower to Smithfield and there burnt. Burning was the ancient penalty for treason in the case of a woman, but it was seldom exacted. The poor women in Somersetshire, for instance, suffered the same fate as the men. The death of Margaret caused some sensation at the time … At Thame in Oxfordshire her fate was discussed on the Sunday before she died. Robert Jons said that it was a pity she should suffer. John Strebilhill, the informer, answered, “It is no pity, if she be a traitor to her prince, but that she should have after her deserving.” This warned Jons to be careful, and he merely replied, “Let us speak no more of this matter, for men may be blamed for speaking the truth.”

Froude says, “Lady Bulmer seems from the depositions to have deserved as serious punishment as any woman for the crime of high treason can be said to have deserved.” The depositions show only that she believed the commons were ready to rebel again, and that the Duke of Norfolk alone could prevent the new rebellion. In addition to this she kept her husband’s secrets and tried to save his life. She committed no overt act of treason; her offences were merely words and silence. The reason for her execution does not lie in the heinous nature of her offence, but Henry was not gratuitously cruel, and her punishment had an object. It was intended as an example to others. There can be no doubt that many women were ardent supporters of the Pilgrimage. Lady Hussey and the dowager Countess of Northumberland were both more guilty than Lady Bulmer. Other names have occurred from time to time, Mistress Stapleton, old Sir Marmaduke Constable’s wife, who sheltered Levening, and young Lady Evers. But these were all ladies of blameless character and of respectable, sometimes powerful, families. Henry knew that in the excited state of public opinion it would be dangerous to meddle with them. His reign was not by any means an age of chivalry, but there still remained a good deal of the old tribal feeling about women, that they were the most valuable possessions of the clan, and that if any stranger, even the King, touched them all the men of the clan were disgraced. An illustration of this occurred in Scotland during the same year (1537). James V brought to trial, condemned, and burnt Lady Glamis on a charge of high treason. She was a lady of great family and James brought upon himself and his descendants a feud which lasted for more than sixty years.

James’ uncle Henry VIII was more politic. He selected as the demonstration of his object-lesson to husbands, which should teach them to distrust their wives, and to wives, which should teach them to dread their husbands’ confidence, a woman of no family and irregular life, dependent on the head of a falling house. This insignificance, which might have saved a man, was in her case an additional danger. She had no avenger but her baby son, and we only hear of one friendly voice raised to pity her death. The King’s object-lesson was most satisfactorily accomplished.

-Madeleine Hope Dodds and Ruth Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1526-1537, and The Exeter Conspiracy, 1538: Volume 2

* She’d been passed from her first husband, William Cheyne, via a wife sale to John Bulmer. This odd and sub-legal custom was exactly what it sounded like, and while that sounds horrible, in practice wife sales negotiated the effective impossibility of securing a regular divorce. They were often — as it seems to have been true here, given the reported comity of the Bulmer household — an arrangement in which all three parties were willing participants. However, in the context of the post-Bigod crackdown, prosecutors did not fail to bludgeon the Bulmers, especially the wife, with moral turpitude for this illicit remarriage business, and they made sure to call her “Margaret Cheyne” for that reason.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Drawn and Quartered,England,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Treason,Women

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1726: Étienne-Benjamin Deschauffours

Add comment May 24th, 2020 Headsman

Etienne-Benjamin Deschauffours (or Duchauffour) was burned at Paris’s Place de Greve on this date in 1726.

Although executed on a sodomy conviction, it wasn’t mere same-sex indulgence but a monstrous, Jeffrey Epstein-like project of elite sexual depravity that cinched his fate, at least if the trial records are to be believed.

“Under a variety of pseudonyms, and in various lodgings, Deschauffours earned a living by spotting ‘likely lads’ and supplying them on payment of commission to wealthy clients, both French and foreign (perhaps some 200 in all),” quoth Who’s Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to World War II.

Deschaffours frequently tried out his finds (young and very young), and found his pleasure in their pain (it is difficult not to think forward to the Marquise de Sade, or backward to Gilles de Rais). He castrated a young Italian whose admirer hoped this might render him more compliant.

Reportedly, he procured these semi- or unwilling charges for overmighty magnates who were — as with the previous century’s Affair of the Poisons — far too powerful and numerous to bring to book without inviting systemic crisis. Their vices thus remain mere rumors even down to our remove of posterity, for whom shadowy and redacted documentation yet conceals god knows what monstrosities.

Jim Chevallier, in The Old Regime Police Blotter II: Sodomites, Tribads and “Crimes Against Nature”, notes a 1734 doggerel capturing the scandal-mongering that became as the popular impression of the affair.

Du Chauffour and d’Oswal
are two unparalleled buggers,

There’s the resemblance.

One burned for his crime,
The other was made cardinal,

There’s the difference.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,France,History,Homosexuals,Murder,Organized Crime,Public Executions,Rape,Scandal,Sex

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1701: Captain Kidd

Add comment May 23rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1701, the pirate William Kidd hanged at London’s Execution Dock; his body was afterwards gibbeted at Tilbury Port.

Alhough his famous buried treasure and its subsequent literary afterlife has helped make Kidd one of history’s best-known buccaneers, the man more closely resembles a startup entrepreneur … just a monumentally unlucky one.

The Scotsman had done well enough as a relatively legitimate privateer raiding enemy French ships to settle down in colonial Manhattan in the 1690s. He made a prosperous marriage to a wealthy widow, and for several years he dwelt as a respectable burgher who helped underwrite construction of the still-extant landmark Trinity Church.

Induced by whatever reason of restlessness or cupidity, Kidd in 1696 came to captain the venture that would be his undoing: the voyage of the aptly if unimaginatively christened Adventure Galley. Backed by a who’s who of Whig worthies up to and including the king himself, Kidd set out for the Indian Ocean bearing letters of marque that authorized him not only to prey on the French, but to attack “Pirates, Freebooters, and Sea Rovers,” which is like when Willie Sutton explained that he robbed banks because that’s where the money is.

The adventure flopped owing to the galley’s singular infelicity with locating suitable prizes. As 1697 stretched into 1698, there grew the prospect of ruin and the discontent of the crew — who, like Kidd’s investors, would only be paid out of such loot as their ship could capture. Desperation drove Kidd to increasingly reckless attacks against unauthorized targets, most notoriously an Armenian-owned merchantman called the Quedagh Merchant, heavy with trade goods owned by an Indian nobleman well-connected to London through the Mughal court. Kidd would argue that French passes purchased by that ship’s English captain made this a legal prize, but you can’t muddle high statecraft and big business on legal chicaneries. In English eyes he had by this and several other incidents gone the full pirate himself; on top of that, he also fatally bashed a truculent gunner about the head, which added charges of murder to his eventual indictment.

Kidd’s career ended in the New World where his reputation as a criminal hunted by the English Navy precluded protection — everywhere from the Caribbean to his own former haunts in the North American colonies. Eventually it was the Earl of Bellomont (who was also governor of New York) who clapped Kidd in irons, possibly concerned to display a profligacy of zeal lest his own early sponsorship of Kidd’s disastrous mission redound against Bellomont himself. Kidd’s unsuccessful attempt to bargain with his patron turned jailer using the promise of hidden pirate booty is one source of the legends that have followed his name down the years.

Another source is the public and greatly protracted nature of the proceedings against Captain Kidd. It was nearly two years from his arrest to his execution, an age that saw him returned to England and examined personally by Parliament — product of an attempt by Tories to tar their political rivals with the association.

Kidd for his own part pleaded innocence and wrote plaintive letters to the king from his stinking cell in Newgate, to no avail. “It is a very hard Sentence,” he reproached the judge upon hearing his fate. “For my part, I am the innocentest Person of them all, only I have been sworn against by perjured Persons.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,Gibbeted,Hanged,History,Infamous,Murder,Pelf,Piracy,Pirates,Public Executions

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1559: Spanish Protestants at Valladolid

Add comment May 21st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1559, an auto de fe in Valladolid marked the onset of an Inquisition purge of nascent Lutheranism in Spain.

Now you’d expect to find the Spanish Inquisition policing spiritual disloyalties of the realm’s backsliding Jewish and Muslim conversos

… but of course the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition had a broad remit to defend orthodoxy and considering that Spain is still a predominantly Catholic country they’d be entitled to point at the scoreboard.

In 1558, it caught wind of an actual Lutheran movements, heretofore rarely seen on the peninsula — and as Joseph Perez notes, it alarmingly penetrated clerical and aristocratic circles. “A blast of hysteria struck Castile. Suspects filled the prisons, where there was soon no room for newcomers. Nor were there enough inquisitors to conduct the trials. Others had to be brought in from Cuenca and Murcia … It proved necessary to provide special protection for the detainees, to prevent them being lynched by the infuriated populace.”

A series of autos collectively comprising scores of defendants unfolded over 1559-1560, beginning in Valladolid — where the Lutheran cadre seemingly numbered close to 100 literate and influential souls.

Underscoring how deeply this heretical sect reached into the Spanish state’s heart, the star attraction among the 14 Protestants burned that day was Augustino de Cazalla, a chaplain to Emperor Charles V. Others joining him included:

  • Two siblings of Augustino de Cazalla: Francisco de Buiero [Vivero], a priest, and Beatriz de Buiero
  • Alfonso Perez, another priest
  • Juan Garcia, a goldsmith
  • Antonio Herrezuelo,** a lawyer
  • Christoforo de Ocampo de Zamoza
  • Christoforo de Padilla de Zamoza
  • Caterina Roman
  • Doña Caterina de Ortega, daughter of the Treasurer
  • Francisco de Herrera
  • Isabella de Strada de Pedrosa
  • Juana Velasquez de Pedrosa
  • Gonzalo Vaiz

The Lutheran crackdown was only getting started. As our chronicler Joseph Perez observes, “On 24 September, over 100 individuals were sentenced in Seville; twenty-one received the death penalty. Among them was a son of the count of Bailen, first cousin to the duke of Arcos. Here too, one man was burnt alive for having remained true to his convictions to the end. On 8 October, Philip II presided over the second auto da fe of Valladolid in the course of which fourteen individuals were sentenced to death, among them Carlos de Seso, who was burnt alive for persisting in his errors. Then, on 22 December 1560, another auto da fe took place in Seville: seventeen of the accused were sent to the stake, three of them in effigy, one of whom was Doctor Constantino Ponce de la Fuente.”

* The whole family received the fury of the Inquisition: two other siblings caught non-capital sentences, an the already-deceased mother Doña Leonora de Buiero was exhumed for burning along with the living heretics. Not only that, the family house was razed and a marker disgracing the family was erected in its place.

** Herrezuelo’s wife, Leonor de Cisneros, recanted to avoid the stake but the resulting reproach from her martyr-husband stung her so deeply that she followed his fate in 1568. Herrezuelo was the militant of the crowd: all of the other 13 disavowed their errors to obtain the mercy of strangulation prior to incineration; Herrezuelo died gloriously obstinate, suffering burning alive to spite his persecutors.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Auto de Fe,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Heresy,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Spain

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1527: Hans Hergot, immovable type

Add comment May 20th, 2020 Headsman

Nuremberg printer Hans Hergot was beheaded in Leipzig on this date in 1527.*

He’d previously published work of revolutionary Thomas Müntzer and he proved his simpatico with that fellow’s millenarian vision by publishing his own tract, Von der newen Wandlung Eynes Christlichen (The New Transformation of Christian Living). It was for this utopian sedition that Hergot lost his life, and no wonder.

The vision is of an egalitarian, agrarian society organized on a parochial basis in which goods are held in common for the use of all, habitation is after the Carthusian pattern, farming and crafts operate harmoniously, and every invidious ground and sign of social distinction has disappeared …

The enemies of Hergot’s revelation on whom he pronounces God’s imminent wrath are the ruling nobility and the Lutheran “scripture wizards” who theologically collude with them, the unjust acquitting the unjust …

It is precisely the eclecticism of Hergot’s prophetic voice that underlies its importance. For it suggests how a far-flung outburst of enthusiasm for divine or evangelical law, as opposed to corrupt and compromised human ordinances, was a connecting thread among myriad reforming orientations int he early sixteenth century — humanist, Lutheran, mystical, and apocalyptic — all of which intersected with the German Peasants’ War and the development of Anabaptism and other strands of Christian social radicalism.

From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought

There’s a “Hans Hergot Tower” in the Saxon town of Uelzen.

* Overshadowed, on the Reformation martyrology, by Anabaptist Michael Sattler, who burned at Rottenburg on the same date.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,God,History,Martyrs,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries

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1956: Sylvester Murau, via filial impiety

Add comment May 16th, 2020 Headsman

East Germany beheaded Sylvester Murau by fallbeil on this date in 1956.

A blue-collar laborer who served a jail sentence for poaching under the Third Reich, he’d joined GDR’s feared security service, the Stasi — until he was dismissed when some fascist dalliances during the war years came to light.

He then transitioned from Stasi agent Sylvester Murau to defector Sylvester Murau, fleeing to West Berlin and settled down in West Germany for life as a communist apostate.

That was in 1954. Later that same year, his daughter Brigitte “Gitta” Cullmann, popped in for a visit — transit between East and West Germany was not yet impeded by any wall back then — and fell to drinking with him in Heubach with some pals.

Well, it turns out that Brigitte was a Tier 1 Operative of a Stasi agent herself, albeit a real bum as a child: her presence induced dad to let his guard down with her acquaintances, and once ol’ Sly was sufficiently sauced, the visitors tossed him into a car and bundled him back over the border. It’s among hundreds of cases where Communist bloc defectors were forcibly repatriated eastward by Stasi kidnappers, there to meet all manner of mistreatment — but Murau’s situation was surely exceptional in depending on such obligingly disloyal kin for its very implementation.

Ruthless Gitta later married the Stasi colonel who planned the body-snatch.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Treason

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1920: Four denunciators of Laon

Add comment May 15th, 2020 Alphonse Lemonon

(Thanks to Alphonse Lemonon for the guest post, which originally appeared under the title “Civilization’s Thin Veneer: War Shows the Seamy Side of Human Nature” in The Overland Monthly (July 1920). As noted in the foreword paragraph, it’s substantially an English translation of reporting from May 16, 1920 edition of Le Petit Journal. These were the unlucky half of eight people convicted in a trial touching 44 Frenchmen and -women from the northern regions occupied by Germany at some point during the late war, who were accused of collaborating with those Germans and denouncing their patriotic countrymen. There’s much more about this case (in French) including more pictures (in grainy black and white) in this police magazine. -ed.)

[Almost at the moment when Joan of Arc was being canonized with all the clerical ceremonies at Rome [this occurred on May 16, 1920 -ed.], four political prisoners — one a woman — were tied to stakes and shot according to military and civic ceremony near Paris. The tragic and instructive narrative is here told in a translation from the most popular Paris Newspaper — Le Petit Journal, May 16, 1920.]

FOUR of the condemned informers of Laon, of which affair one has not forgotten the dolorous echo, Georges Toque, Moise Lemoine, Leander Herbert and the woman Alice Aubert were shot yesterday morning, at Vincennes, and if it were an affecting execution, it assuredly was to them. Two of them fell while swearing to their innocence and crying “Viva la France!”

The Last Awakening.

All four were awakened at 4 a.m. Some instants before the officers charged with the transfer of the condemned to execution had presented themselves at several prisons; some at the prison de la Sante where Toque and Lemoine were confined, others at Cherchi-Midi where Herbert was detained, and a third group at the prison de Saint-Lazare, where one other, Alice Aubert, condemned of the same affair, was held. She occupied a cell with Helen Favre, who had been reprieved.

The lawyers of the four condemned were on hand to assist their clients until the last moment. Maitres Delmont and Campinchi arrives at the prison La Sante about the same time as lieutenant-colonel Beyle, commissioner of the government. All were shown together to the cells and Toque was called. He was seated and dressing himself. The usual words on such occasions having been pronounced by the commissioner of the government, the condemned man moved towards the foot of his bed and finished his dressing — never ceasing meantime to protest his innocence.

Maitre Delmont handed the prisoner his shoes which he took with a gesture of indifference and while putting them on remarked: “I go to make the journey to eternity and have no need.” Having completed his dressing he wrote two letters, which he intrusted to Maitre Delmont for delivery. One he addressed to his wife, the other to the minister of Justice. It follows:

Monsieur le Ministre de la Justice.

At the moment of dying, I affirm solemnly my innocence and of you demand vengeance.

I swear that i have never belonged to the spy service of Germany. I swear to have never rendered them any service, nor to have informed on anybody. I swear that Waegele has odiously lied.

Georges Toque.

At that moment the prisoner Lemoine who had been awakened about the same time as Toque passed in the corridor of the prison, and seeing his associate, called out to him:

“Let us go Toque, have courage.”

After the formal entry on the prison register, the two condemned men appeared in the court of the prison, their heads bare but their demeanor calm.

They were placed in the same automobile, seated opposite each other, the prison abbe and a gendarme accompanying them. The journey to the execution grounds began for them. Meantime painful scenes were being enacted at the prisons containing the two other doomed persons, Leandre Herbert the soldier and Alice Aubert. The soldier appeared demented. His lawyer could not calm him and called the prisoner’s attention to the automobile in company with two religienotice of the civilian doctor, Socquet, demanding a reprieve.

The doctor refused declaring that the wards Vincennes. prisoner enjoyed all his faculties.

“You are going to shoot an insane man. I leave the responsibility with you” concluded the lawyer.

Herbert was placed in a voiture and arrived at the scene of execution at Vincennes some minutes after Toque and Lemoine.

The three condemned men were subjected to an atrocious delay of three-quarters of an hour till the third voiture containing Alice Aubert appeared.

To allay the mental sufferings of the delay, when minutes seemed hours, it was proposed to the prisoners to alight from the voitures and walk in the court of the donjon at Vincennes, but Lemoine refused, as being too cold.

At Saint-Lazare.

While the three condemned men awaited death at Vincennes, a touching scene took place at the prison Saint-Lazare, where the condemned woman Aubert shared a cell with Helene Favre, condemned at the same time but commuted. The Favre woman thought she was the one about to be taken to execution and fell in a terrible nervous crisis.

On the contrary Alice Aubert had good control of herself, listened to the official orders without evincing any emotion; but her eyes filled and she cried silently some minutes. Then she began to dress herself, a figure sad and resigned. She said to her lawyer who tried to comfort her:

“If I am sad — if I cry — it is not for me, it is for my sister, it is for my child. It is also for the others condemned.”

She put on her yellow silk hose and patent-leather shoes which contrasted with her simple petticoat and mantle, and all the time she repeated: “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven.” These words she used till she alighted at the execution ground at Vincennes.

Before quitting the prison Saint-Lazare the condemned woman wished to hear mass, and it was not until she had received communion that she mounted the automobile in company with two religieuses who assisted her until the last moments. The automobile then sped towards Vincennes.

At La Caponniere.

At five hours and a half (5:30 a.m.) an order rang out upon the ground of la Caponniere: “Garde a vous!” (Attention). The voitures containing the condemned advanced upon the road. The soldiers of the 13th artillery, the 23rd dragoons, and the 26th chasseurs, who formed the square, presented arms; the trumpets sounded “Aux champs!” the firing squads rectified their position before the four stakes placed in line at a distance of ten metres from one another.

Slowly the autos came to a a [sic] stop, and from the one at the head descended Toque and Lemoine, absolutely livid but calm.

The abbe Geispitz embraced the two condemned men and they in turn embraced their lawyers, and then Toque addressed his lawyer:

You have seen my memoranda and you know that I am innocent. Preserve well all the pieces show that I am not culpable. After my death — long time after — when calm will be returned to the consciences, make clear my innocence. Rehabillitate my memory, I pray you.

He directed again the attention of his lawyer to certain leaves of his memoranda that were not in their order, nor did he forget any detail.

And that man who came to die insisted again that in the future he be not misrepresented, that he be not disparagingly spoken of as “Toque the traitor”.

The painful and prolonged scene wore out the patience of Lemoine who tugged impatiently on the lapel of his companion’s overcoat and said “Let us go,” and took a step forward. The two condemned men escorted by the gendarmes then began to direct their steps towards the stakes where they were to stand before the firing squads, but were halted as the other two condemned prisoners, had not yet descended from their automobiles.

Turning about, Toque and Lemoine saw Herbert the soldier wearing his blue uniform, his cap turned the wrong way and advancing with long strides. He continued to speak incoherently: “Me also, I wish to say something — say something”. He did not cease to repeat these words and addressing the gendarmes he said: “Do not hold me — do not hold me — You will see — you will see — Ah! ah!”

Behind him came Alice Aubert, without coiffure like Toque and Lemoine and like those marching with firm step.

One moment where she entered the square, by one gesture instinctive of feminine coquetrie, she drew over her light colored dress her manteau of sombre hue.

Toque and Lemoine, who were advancing towards the stakes, turned again to speak the last word to their lawyers, the hands — a dernier au revoir — accompanied by a sign of the hands. And then the four condemned marched in Indian file traversing the square and directing their steps to the stakes at which the gendarmes tied them.

The Execution.

Toque was at the extreme right. Lemoine was at the second stake. Herbert was attached to the third. The fourth stake on the left propped Alice Aubert.

Lemoine and Toque refused the bandage intended to mask the view of the firing squad. Herbert remained mute and let things proceed.

The clerk of the Council of War at this moment appeared between the two firing squads in the centre and read the sentence of death.

All the official details in full had been finished and in the silence impressive the clear and strong voice of Toque elevated itself once more: “I swear that I am innocent; vive la France!”

Also Lemoine, elevating his right hand took the same oath and also cried: “Vive la France!”

As for Herbert, he articulated again the same phrase: “Me also I wish to say something.”

With hand raised Toque again avowed his innocence, until the soldiers of the front rank knelt to fire. All put their pieces to the shoulder. Again Toque cried: “Vive la France!” The officer lowered his sword and the fusil[l]ade crackled. But a frightful rattle, like an appeal for help escaped from the gorge of Toque. He was not dead. The guns had trembled in the hands of the firers.

Maitre Delmont, the lawyer of Toque, cried to an under-officer: “Dispatch him, dispatch him”! The soldier approached the palpitating body, from which escaped continually the heart-rending cries and discharged his revolver twice in the head of the condemned. The rattle ceased but the man still stirred and a third ball found the brain.

Alice Aubert, with her hands clasped upon her breast, and holding in her fingers a crucifix rested upright against the stake. She too received in her turn the coup de grace. Her head fell. Then she became completely erect and sank for the last time to move no more.

The two others also received their coup de grace; but it was unnecessary for Lemoine who had his skull stove in. It was not so with Herbert whose pulse continued to beat and his lips to move at the moment when a doctor examined him.

The civilian doctor Socquet, declared that he was dead, and the body of which one of the legs had been broken by a bullet was placed in a coffin.

After examining the two other cadavers, the doctor Socquet came to certify the death of Alice Aubert. He wished to examine the heart, but the chemise of the woman obstructed. A soldier, by the aid of a knife, cut the shoulder-strap and the doctor plunged his hand which trembled in the gorge of the woman streaming with blood. He drew forth a photograph equally blood-stained — the picture of the child of Alice Aubert. She had placed the photograph on her heart before going to die. It was piteously replaced upon the breast of the dead.

A sonnerie guerriere, resounded then, and to those notes of the trumpets the troops defiled.

All the assistants were paler than the dead.

Some minutes after two wagons, surrounded by dragoons, quitted the scene of execution and proceeded to the cemetery of Vincennes four kilometers distant. In the wagons were four wooden coffins. They contained the stripped bodies of the four executed prisoners.

The bodies not having been reclaimed they have been, after a mock burial, delivered to the faculty of medicine.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,France,Guest Writers,History,Other Voices,Public Executions,Shot,Treason,Women

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1944: Oskar Kusch, Wehrkraftzersetzung U-boat commander

Add comment May 12th, 2020 Headsman

No assignment in the Third Reich’s war machine, nay not even the fearful eastern front, was as dangerous as service in the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat fleet.

Terrors of English shipping in the early war years, these submersible predators became prey once overwhelming U.S. materiel poured into the theater, and Allied intelligence started cracking German signals. By war’s end, fully three-quarters of the wartime U-boat personnel had sunk into watery graves.

And on top of all the intrinsic perils of fighting a losing war from the inside of a submerged tin of beans, you’d better do it with enthusiasm or you’ve got the prospect of going up against the wall like Oskar Kusch did on May 12, 1944.

A submariner since 1937, Kusch come 1943 stood in command of U-154.

He fulfilled his office creditably — that’s what the official history has come to reflect via a postwar rehabilitation — but was ratted out for Wehrkraftzersetzung, a lethal polysyllable meaning “subversion of the war effort”. This capital crime classed as sedition a wide range of utterances that showed their speaker anything other than relentlessly positive about the war effort: spreading skepticism in official propaganda, showing distaste for Naziism, and most certainly entertaining doubt as to the Reich’s manifestly fading prospects for victory.

In practice, of course, not everybody who cast a gimlet eye on Berlin’s war pronouncements was so handled, but it’s the sort of law to keep everyone nervous. And if, say, one has torpedoed the promotion prospects of one’s second-in-command with a lukewarm performance evaluation, then it’s the sort of thing that First Watch Officer Ulrich Abel can wield for revenge.

Soon enough, Kusch was being informed upon for candidly assessing the Germans’ dire strategic prospects and for seditiously removing the mandatory picture of Hitler to a place less likely to oblige a lot of gratuitous obeisance. He was moreover found to have tuned into foreign radio stations, which was also a crime. The brass decided to make an example of him, overriding an initial prison sentence so that they could stand him in front of a firing squad near the Baltic Sea juncture of the Kiel Canal.


Marker honoring Oskar Kusch, on the present-day street Oskar-Kusch-Straße, near the place Kusch was executed.

For all the mean absurdity of his death, Kusch’s shit luck lay not in being denounced to a kangaroo court but in the mere fact of his enrollment in the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat service. After all, seven weeks after his own execution, his former vessel was sunk off Madeira with all hands lost. And for that matter Kusch’s enemy, Ulrich Abel, predeceased his own victim, having attained through his complaints command of a vessel of his own, his great desideratum which Executed Today hopes that he enjoyed with urgency — for Abel and his own ship were likewise sent to the bottom in April 1944.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Wartime Executions

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