Posts filed under 'History'

546: Croesus

Add comment January 5th, 2019 Headsman

It was perhaps around the winter outset of 546 BCE that the Lydian king Croesus was captured and executed or spared by the Persians.

Famed for his wealth — he funded the construction of the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders* — Croesus was heir to a 600-year-old empire dominating western Anatolia. Herodotus credits the Lydians as the inventors of coinage, a likely basis for the “rich as Croesus” expression.

Would that he had been so rich in wisdom.

In perhaps 547 BCE, Croesus launched a war against the rising power on his eastern border — the Persian Achaemenid Empire, led by Cyrus the Great. In a classic ancient own-goal, Croesus got the thumbs-up for this adventure from the Oracle of Delphi, who told the Lydian envoys that if Croesus fought Persia, he would destroy a great empire.** That empire turned out be his own.

After fighting to a stalemate in the autumn of 547, Croesus retired to his capital of Sardis to winter, believing war would abate with the end of the campaigning season — even dismissing his allies until the spring.

Cyrus surprised him instead, marching aggressively on Sardis and putting it to siege after routing a much larger Lydian army at the Battle of Thymbra.† It wasn’t long before the Persians found an ill-defended entrance into the city’s citadel via a mountain ascent, and fulfilled the Pythian priestess’s prophecy.

We have no certain record of Croesus’s actual fate; the histories for him come from later Greeks, whose accounts are contradictory and even folklorish; J.A.S. Evans suggests in a 1978 scholarly exploration that the Greeks were equally in the dark about the matter but that “Croesus had become a figure of myth, who stood outside the conventional restraints of chronology.”

Herodotus renders his version thus, turning the action on Croesus’s remembrance of a previous encounter with the Greek wise man Solon, who had counseled him that wealth is not happiness:

The Persians gained Sardis and took Croesus prisoner. Croesus had ruled fourteen years and been besieged fourteen days. Fulfilling the oracle, he had destroyed his own great empire.

The Persians took him and brought him to Cyrus, who erected a pyre and mounted Croesus atop it, bound in chains, with twice seven sons of the Lydians beside him. Cyrus may have intended to sacrifice him as a victory-offering to some god, or he may have wished to fulfill a vow, or perhaps he had heard that Croesus was pious and put him atop the pyre to find out if some divinity would deliver him from being burned alive. So Cyrus did this.

As Croesus stood on the pyre, even though he was in such a wretched position it occurred to him that Solon had spoken with god’s help when he had said that no one among the living is fortunate. When this occurred to him, he heaved a deep sigh and groaned aloud after long silence, calling out three times the name “Solon.” Cyrus heard and ordered the interpreters to ask Croesus who he was invoking … He explained that first Solon the Athenian had come and seen all his fortune and spoken as if he despised it. Now everything had turned out for him as Solon had said, speaking no more of him than of every human being, especially those who think themselves fortunate.

While Croesus was relating all this, the pyre had been lit and the edges were on fire. When Cyrus heard from the interpreters what Croesus said, he relented and considered that he, a human being, was burning alive another human being, one his equal in good fortune.

In addition, he feared retribution, reflecting how there is nothing stable in human affairs. He ordered that the blazing fire be extinguished as quickly as possible, and that Croesus and those with him be taken down, but despite their efforts they could not master the fire.

Then the Lydians say that Croesus understood Cyrus’ change of heart, and when he saw everyone trying to extinguish the fire but unable to check it, he invoked Apollo, crying out that if Apollo had ever been given any pleasing gift by him, let him offer help and deliver him from the present evil.

Thus he in tears invoked the god, and suddenly out of a clear and windless sky clouds gathered, a storm broke, and it rained violently, extinguishing the pyre.

Even in this one text, Cyrus both does and does not execute Croesus, a figure whose proportions of historicity and legend are impossible to measure. In different variants of this tragic fall, Croesus puts up his own pyre for desperate self-immolation like the Steward of Gondor

… or it is or is not successfully extinguished. A post-pyre Croesus then goes on to become a dutiful slave of Cyrus, the relationship of conquered and conquering kings full of aphorism and fable-ready vignettes with no dependable historical warrant.

* For the pedants in the room, the “Seven Wonders” roster was composed later in antiquity, and the Temple of Artemis made the list based on its rebuild version after the one put up by Croesus had been torched by the fame-seeking Herostratus.

** Croesus rated the Delphic oracle’s advice highly. Aesop, the fable guy got himself executed by the Delphians by misbehaving while in the course of delivering a tribute from Croesus.

† Allegedly, the unnerving sight of Cyrus’s camels arrayed for battle panicked the Lydian cavalry into flight.

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Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Burned,Execution,Executions Survived,Famous,Heads of State,History,Language,Last Minute Reprieve,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Pardons and Clemencies,Persia,Popular Culture,Power,Reprieved Too Late,Royalty,Summary Executions,The Supernatural,Turkey,Uncertain Dates,Wartime Executions

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1667: Pedro Bohorquez, Inca Hualpa

Add comment January 3rd, 2019 Headsman

Spanish adventurer Pedro Bohorquez — better known as Inca Hualpa, a title he asserted for himself based on his final racket pretending to be an Incan prince — was garroted in Lima on this date in 1667 after a

[A]t once simple and astute, timid and audacious, quick to form plans, but slow in their execution, without principles, but effective in persuasion, and particularly fortunate in making his wild talk pleasing to many persons of discretion,” Bohorquez hailed from Andalusia but made his mark in the New World with his want of gold and scruple.

“Bohorquez’s deeds are clouded by the contradictions of colonial documents,” write Michael Brown and Eduardo Fernandez in War of Shadows: The Struggle for Utopia in the Peruvian Amazon, a volume whose concern is laying the historical backstory of the Ashaninka people prior to a 1965 rebellion.

Around 1620, the eighteen-year-old Bohorquez left the poverty of Andalucia to seek his fortune in Peru. He lived in relative obscurity until his arrival in Lima in 1637 with a group of highland Indians who claimed to know the location of the fabulously wealthy kingdom of Paititi. The viceroy authorized an expedition in search of the city but excluded Bohorquez from the expedition’s ranks. The venture met with disaster and Bohorquez was held responsible …

A temporary setback only, for our picaro. Later, from 1645 to 1651,

Bohorquez apparently exploited the competition between the Franciscan and Dominican orders to obtain Dominican support for his expedition to Salt Mountain. During the months he and his band of freebooters controlled the settlement of Quimiri, they rustled cattle from nearby highland communities, murdered a native headman, abused the wives of Ashaninka converts, and abducted Indian children for use as servants. Eventually Bohorquez’s men soured on their fruitless search for gold and came within a hair’s-breadth of killing their leader. He was taken to Valdivia and imprisoned, but it was too late for the Dominicans: the Bohorquez reign of terror had undone four years of Dominican missionary work among the Ashaninka, all of whom fled Quimiri.

… escaping from prison yet again in 1656, he crossed the Andes to the Calchaqui Valley, where he persuaded 25,000 Indians that he had come to restore the Inca Empire. His tenure as the Son of the Sun lasted until 1659, when the Spanish arrested him because of their unhappiness with the rebellious behaviour of his Calchaqui vassals. Bohorquez languished in prison until January 3, 1667, when the authorities garroted him in his cell at midnight.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Garrote,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Spain,Strangled

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1959: Joaquin Casillas Lumpuy, Batista regime soldier

Add comment January 2nd, 2019 Headsman

Joaquin Casillas Lumpuy, an officer of Cuba’s defeated Batista regime, died on this date in 1959 — either executed, or killed in a struggle trying to escape his executioners. (Both reports, amounting to the same thing, went abroad.)

Casillas most “distinguished” himself by carrying out the Batista dictatorship’s 1948 murder of trade unionist Jesus Menendez.* He served a token jail sentence for his trouble.**

Restored to his situation, Casillas was called upon to defend Fulgencio Batista once again in the last days of 1958 at the Battle of Santa Clara — what would prove to be the decisive battle clinching the triumph of the Cuban Revolution. The battle was won on New Year’s Day, and Casillas captured that day by revolutionary commander Che Guevara.

“The sources contradict each other concerning names and numbers,” writes Paco Ignacio Taibo in Guevara, Also Known as Che, “but there is no doubt that in the hours following the liberation of Santa Clara, Che signed death warrants for several of Batista’s policeman whom the people accused of being torturers and rapists … including Casillas Lumpuy.”

Quoting Che now, Taibo continues: “‘I did no more and no less than the situation demanded — i.e., the death sentence for those twelve murderers, because they had committed crimes against the people, not against us.'” They would scarcely be the last.

Meanwhile,

the crowds in Havana were exacting a long-delayed justice. A sort of reasoned and selective vandalism took hold of the crowds, who attacked the gas stations belonging to Shell, which was said to have collaborated with Batista by giving him tanks. They also destroyed the casinos belonging to the American Mafia and the Batista underworld, trashed parking meters — one of the regime’s scams — and attacked houses belonging to leading figures in the dictatorship.

* Casillas carried out the murder in a law enforcement guise: sent on some pretext to arrest Menendez, Casillas shot his man dead when Menendez flexed his parliamentary immunity and told the cop to pound sand.

** Casillas’s defense lawyer in the Menendez proceeding was Jose Miro Cardona, who briefly became Prime Minister of post-Batista Cuba but had a much longer career as a prominent anti-Castro exile. As chair of the Cuban Revolutionary Council, he was the potential head of state had the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion succeeded.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Mass Executions,Murder,No Formal Charge,Notable for their Victims,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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2003: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri mock-executed at CIA black site

Add comment January 1st, 2019 Headsman

Around this time — “sometime between 28 December 2002 and 1 January 2003” — a CIA debriefer questioning Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri at a CIA “black site” in Poland mock-executed his prey.

The Saudi national had been captured in October of 2002 and vanished into the 9/11-mad empire’s dark heart of secret torture dungeons scattered across the globe.

He’d already been renditioned to Afghanistan, and then to Thailand, and then onward (for the events of this post) to a onetime Third Reich base in Poland. In Afghanistan he’d been stripped and hanged up by his shackled hands, his toes barely touching the floor. In Thailand, interrogators waterboarded him and locked him in a coffin.* Graphic videos of his treatment in Thailand, at least, once existed; they are among the evidence destroyed by the CIA in 2005 in its successful project to scotch any public accountability for its torture program.

Nashiri stands accused of the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, although different intelligence officers characterize him as anything from the “mastermind” to “the dumbest terrorist I ever met.” The only judicial hearing he’s ever had on this matter occurred in abstentia in Yemen in 2004, and resulted in a death sentence. He resides today in America’s forever oubliette at Guantanamo Bay, where a supposed prosecution began in 2011 and has been formally ongoing ever since, mired like all other cases there in the place’s intrinsic juridical incoherence. It seems likely that Nashiri will spend the rest of his days at Guantanamo, his mind a wreck from his ordeals.

One such ordeal, the one qualifying him for consideration by Executed Today, was his feigned execution by handgun and then by power drill — as disclosed by the CIA Inspector General’s report; the quoted excerpt below appears as paragraphs 91 and 92, beginning on page 49 of this pdf. The incident is likewise described in a subsequent Senate Intelligence Committee report, which can be perused here (see p. 98). The name of Nashiri’s mock-executioner is among the many bracketed redactions in this text; it has been publicly reported that the man in question is former CIA and FBI linguist Albert El Gamil.

[     ] interrogation team members, whose purpose it was to interrogate Al-Nashiri and debrief Abu Zubaydah, initially staffed [     ] The interrogation team continued EITs on Al-Nashiri for two weeks in December 2002 [     ] they assessed him to be “compliant.” Subsequently, CTC officers at Headquarters [     ] sent a [     ] senior operations officer (the debrief) [     ] to debrief and assess Al-Nashiri.

[     ]The debrief assessed Al-Nashiri as withholding information, at which point [     ] reinstated [     ] hooding, and handcuffing. Sometime between 28 December 2002 and 1 January 2003, the debriefer used an unloaded semi-automatic handgun as a prop to frighten Al-Nashiri into disclosing information. After discussing this plan with [     ] the debriefer entered the cell where Al-Nashiri sat shackled and racked the handgun once or twice close to Al-Nashiri’s head. On what was probably the same day, the debriefer used a power drill to frighten Al-Nashiri. With [     ] consent, the debriefer entered the detainee’s cell and revved the drill while the detainee stood naked and hooded. The debriefer did not touch Al-Nashiri with the power drill.

Mock execution was not among the menu of torture techniques given legal imprimatur by the Agency, and other interrogators’ protests at his methods led to El Gamil’s removal from the case shortly thereafter.

Sanctioned or no, it is not the only mock execution known to have been inflicted by CIA torturers. Scrolling past seas of black redactions to paragraphs 169-174 of that same Inspector General’s report, we find that

The debriefer who employed the handgun and power drill on Al-Nashiri [     ] advised that those actions were predicated on a technique he had participated in [     ] The debriefer stated that when he was [     ] between September and October 2002, [     ] offered to fire a handgun outside the interrogation room while the debriefer was interviewing a detainee who was thought to be withholding information. [     ] staged the incident, which included screaming and yelling outside the cell by other CIA officers and [     ] guards. When the guards moved the detainee from the interrogation room, they passed a guard who was dressed as a hooded detainee, lying motionless on the ground, and made to appear as if he had been shot to death.

The debriefer claimed he did not think he needed to report this incident because the [     ] had openly discussed this plan [     ] several days prior to and after the incident. When the debriefer was later [     ] and believed he needed a non-traditional technique to induce the detainee to cooperate he told [     ] he wanted to wave a handgun in front of the detainee to scare him. The debriefer said he did not believe he was required to notify Headquarters of this technique, citing the earlier, unreported mock execution [     ].

A senior operations officer [     ] recounted that around September 2002 [     ] heard that the debriefer had staged a mock execution. [     ] was not present but understood it went badly; it was transparently a ruse and no benefit was derived from it. [     ] observed that there is a need to be creative as long as it is not considered torture. [     ] stated that if such a proposal were made now, it would involve a great deal of consultation. It would begin with [     ] management and would include CTC/Legal, [     ] and the CTC.

The [     ] admitted staging a “mock execution” in the first days that [     ] was open. According to the [     ] the technique was his idea but was not effective because it came across as being staged. It was based on the concept, from SERE school, of showing something that looks real, but is not. The [     ] recalled that a particular CTC interrogator later told him about employing a mock execution technique. The [     ] did not know when this incident occurred or if it was successful. He viewed this technique as ineffective because it was not believable.

Four [     ] who were interviewed admitted to either participating in one of the above-described incidents or hearing ab out them. [     ] described staging a mock execution of a detainee. Reportedly, a detainee who witnessed the “body” in the aftermath of the ruse “sang like a bird.”

[     ] revealed that approximately four days before his interview with OIG, the [     ] stated he had conducted a mock execution [     ] in October or November 2002. Reportedly, the firearm was discharged outside of the building, and it was done because the detainee reportedly possessed critical threat information. [     ] stated that he told the [     ] not to do it again. He stated that he has not heard of a similar act occurring [     ] since then.

* Gina Haspel oversaw the Thailand site at the end of 2002, and her countenancing torture against Nashiri and other detainees there made for a passing controversy when Donald Trump appointed her to direct the Agency.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Execution,History,No Formal Charge,Poland,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Terrorists,Torture,Uncertain Dates,USA

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1666: James Blackwood and John M’Coul, two Covenanter martyrs

Add comment December 31st, 2018 Headsman

From The Homes, Haunts, and Battlefields of the Covenanters. The martyrs in question, who were among many of that profession in these years, were executed by a condemned fellow-Covenanter who days before in Ayr had miserably consented to turn hangman in order to save his own life. We’ve previously covered that tragedy in these pages.

STOP PASSENGER
THOU TREADEST NEAR TWO MARTYRS
JAMES BLACKWOOD & JOHN M’COUL

who suffered at IRVINE
on the 31st of December 1666
REV xii. 11th

These honest Country-men whose Bones here lie
A Victim fell to Prelates Cruelty;
Condemn’d by bloody and unrighteous Laws
They died Martyrs for the good old cause
Which Balaams wicked Race in vain assail
For no Inchantments ‘gainst Israel prevail
Life and this evil World they did contemn
And dy’d for Christ who died first for them
‘They lived unknown
Till Persecution dragged them into fame
And chas’d them up to Heaven’ [Cowper lines -ed.]

Erected by Friends to Religious Liberty -31st Dec. 1823.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,Scotland

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1787: Three robbers, “very penitent”

Add comment December 27th, 2018 Headsman

On the morning of the 27th December the following malefactors were executed in the Old Bailey, viz., Richard Carrol, a blind man, for breaking open the house of John Short, in the parish of St. Botolph, Aldgate and, and stealing a quantity of wearing apparel, &c.; George Roberts, for assaulting Benjamin Morgan on the highway near Finchley, and robbing him of one guinea and some silver; and Thomas Kennedy, for stealing a quantity of silver buckles, plate, jewels, and other goods, to the amount of 100 l. in the dwelling-house of Richard King, where he was shop man. They all behaved very penitent. There have been 105 persons executed from the 12th December, 1786, to the 11th December, 1787, only 24 of which number have been reported to be buried as such within the Bills of Mortality.

Clipping found in the prison journal of 19th century Newgate Ordinary Horace Cotton — beside the handwritten notation, “105 executed in one year”.

The Old Bailey was in use at this time as a venue for conducting executions as well as pronouncing them, following the end of the Tyburn tree in 1783. A temporary gallows in the central courtyard of the Old Bailey served the purpose, with the hanging conducted using the classic “turn the man off the cart and let him strangle” technique.


London Morning Herald, Jan. 1, 1788. The blind(?) man was also reputed to be oddly adept at playing cards.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Theft

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1328: Willem de Deken, Flemish merchant-rebel

Add comment December 24th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1328, Willem de Deken, burgomaster of Bruges, had his hands cut off and his neck strung up in Paris for treason.


Belgian illustrator Jean-Leon Heuns‘s 20th century depiction of Willem de Deken.

De Deken was among the leaders of the 1323-1328 Revolt of Coastal Flanders.

“As with most rebellions in Flanders, the revolt was not a straightforward clash of social classes,” notes Medieval Bruges: c. 850-1550.

At first, the protests of the rebels of the castellany of Bruges and other rural districts in coastal Flanders were aimed at the abuses in tax collection by the ruling elites — and more specifically members of the castellany’s noblemen who were thought to be exploiting the commoners to line their own pockets … However, the rising was soon joined by a Bruges coalition of artisans and some disgruntled members of the city’s commercial elite.

De Deken “led a rebellious coalition uniting various social groups though with the textile workers as its backbone”; at one point the rebels even captured Louis, Count of Flanders. (He escaped.)

The rising’s scale brought in the intervention Louis’s French allies,* and the French finally brought Flanders to heel at the Battle of Cassel on August 23, 1328.** De Deken did not have the good sense of his peasant rebel counterpart Nicolaas Zannekin to die at this battle.


The Battle of Cassel, by Hendrik Scheffer (1837).

This was all bad news for the men and women in rebellion in the 1320s but triumph on the Cassel battlefield could not resolve a fundamental contradiction in the Low Countries between Flemish merchants, whose booming wool trade pulled them ever closer to the English cloth industry, and the French-facing political alignment of Count Louis.

Just a few years later when English-French rivalries blossomed into the start of the Hundred Years’ War, a new merchant-rebel succeeded where De Deken had failed, expelling the Count and aligning the Low Countries with England. (Eventually these precincts would become part of the Burgundian patrimony, and those dukes’ running rivalries with the French crown.)

* Times being what they were, French intervention also entailed having the Avignon Pope John XXII pronounce a sacramental interdict against Flanders pending its submission.

** It’s one of several battles of Cassel in northern France, further muddled by several battles of the unrelated but homophonic Cassel/Kassel in Hesse.

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Entry Filed under: 14th Century,Belgium,Burgundy,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Hanged,History,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Torture,Treason

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1572: Johann Sylvan, Antitrinitarian

Add comment December 23rd, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1572, Antitrinitarian Calvinist Johann Sylvan lost his head in a Heidelberg market.

Sylvan — or Johannes Slyvanus — was a pastor and theologian in the service of Calvinist Elector Frederick III.

Frederick’s own Calvinist scruples were theoretically anathema in a Holy Roman Empire whose writ of tolerance did not extend past Lutheranism.

But Sylvan gravitated towards a circle of reformers whose concept of the divine left orthodox Calvinism far behind — “a group of ministers within the Palatine church, who were not only prepared to deny the eternal divinity of Christ, but secretly aspired to promote a further reformation of received doctrine with a view to restoring the pristine monotheism of the faith,” according to this pdf volume, The Heidelberg Antitrinitarians.

This rejection of the long-canonical Christian mystery of threefold godhead formed a recurring subtheme of Europe’s Reformations, its exponents — like Michael Servetus — forever prone to martyrdoms administered by any respectable sect.

This proved to be the case for Sylvan as well; given his dubious theological position within the empire, Elector Frederick might have felt it politically necessary to come down hard on these radicals.

Still, while Sylvan was made the example, others in his Antitrinitarian circle lived to expound their heresies in other lands. Matthias Vehe fled to Transylvania — where a Unitarian Church was founded in 1568, protected by a sympathetic prince — and then to other fellow-travelers in Poland. Adam Neuser also escaped, later converting to Islam and defecting to Ottoman Istanbul, an event that did a lot of lifting for anti-Anti-trinitarian propagandists.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,God,Heresy,History,Holy Roman Empire,Intellectuals,Martyrs,Public Executions,Religious Figures

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1591: Marigje Arriens

Add comment December 18th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1591, the Dutch “witch” Marigje Arriens was burned at the stake.

A 70-year-old Schoonhoven folk healer, Arriens (English Wikipedia entry | Dutch) was accused of enspelling some little twerp and driven into the whole copulating with Satan in exchange for supernatural powers thing common to many witch trials.

A fairly well-known witch hunt victim, she’s the dedicatee of Swedish metal band Bathory‘s* “Born for Burning”.

* The band’s name of course pays tribute to a whole other historic atrocity.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Netherlands,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1944: The massacres of Wereth and Malmedy, during the Battle of the Bulge

Add comment December 17th, 2018 Headsman

Two mass shootings of U.S. World War II infantrymen in Belgium marked this date in 1944.

It was the second day of the Battle of the Bulge, Nazi Germany’s surprise last offensive in the Ardennes. Hitler, in an inspired albeit ultimately unsuccessful gambit, intended here to burst through the thin-spread Allied line under cover of air power-negating foul weather, and still his western front enemies in time to fortify his east before the Red Army could destroy the Reich.

Needing to inflict a demoralizing lightning defeat, Hitler authorized rougher treatment of POWs than was usual on the western front, resulting in six weeks of savage no-quarter fighting and battlefield atrocities more characteristic of the eastern front. Our focus today is two such instances.

Wereth Eleven

Eleven artillerists from the all-black 333rd Field Artillery Battalion — having taken refuge at a farmhouse in the village of Wereth after their position was overrun during the German offensive — were arrested by the SS on December 17, 1944, taken to a nearby field, and summarily executed.

A monument in Wereth commemorates the massacre. (cc) image from Herald Post.

A villager named Matthias Langer had willingly taken them in, but an informer in the community made the Germans aware of their presence.

So, as dusk fell, a patrol of SS men pulled up to Langer’s home and took the black Americans into custody. They weren’t ever seen alive again.

Their bodies were recovered after Americans recaptured the position weeks later, showing the injuries of gratuitous brutalization inflicted before their murder.

However, the U.S. Army closed its investigation hastily and kept the soldiers’ families in the dark about the nature of the men’s deaths.

It only came to public light many years later thanks to Matthias Langer’s son, Hermann — who was a 12-year-old boy during the Battle of the Bulge but could never shake the haunting sight of the frightened refugees being marched away under German guns.

Malmedy Massacre

About 10 kilometers away on the same day, a column of approximately 120 American POWs was machine-gunned without warning by its German captors in a field near the village of Malmedy — which is where those who survived fled to for safety.

This Malmedy Massacre, which is much the larger and better-known atrocity compared to that of Wereth, claimed 84 lives.*

It also resulted in a postwar death sentence for the German commander Joachim Peiper — although that sentence was never carried out, at least not judicially. Controversially freed in 1956, Peiper was assassinated in 1976: an unknown group calling itself the Avengers claimed credit.


The Malmedy Massacre as depicted in the 1965 film Battle of the Bulge.

* The figure of 72 is sometimes given; this appears to describe the count of bodies initially (in January 1945) recovered in the meadow where the shooting took place. An additional 12 victims of the massacre were discovered in outlying stretches over the following weeks: men who had managed to flee some distance before they were felled. This same unit also massacred other prisoners in the surrounding days.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions

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