This was a neat little euphemism covering a very desperate act at the sundering of the American colonies from their mother country.
We’ve previously covered in these pages the underappreciated extent of convict transportation from the British Isles in populating the future United States. Anthony Vaver, who blogs at Early American Crime, in his recent book Bound With An Iron Chain pegs convicts as the second-largest bloc of American “immigrants,” (after African slaves) to the tune of 50,000 souls in the 18th century.
The American Revolution put a halt to that human traffic.
But at the moment the colonies broke free, the Down Under wasn’t yet fulfilling that role, and policymakers faced a conundrum. The judicial machinery continued to sentence thieves to transportation; without an outlet, those unfortunates accumulated cheek to jowl aboard stinking prison hulks on the Thames.
What to do? In 1785, a Parliamentary committee looked back wistfully on the good old days:
That the old system of transporting to America answered every good purpose that could be expected from it; that it tended directly to reclaim the objects on which it was inflicted, and to render them good citizens; that the climate being temperate, and the means of gaining a livelihood easy, it was safe to entrust country magistrates with the discretionary power of inflicting it … that it tended to break, in their infancy, those gangs and combinations which have since proved so injurious to the community; that it was not attended with much expense to the public …
Well, it so happened that this effective and affordable solution, though interrupted by war, was not legally barred in the new United States.
So Britain did what any cost-conscious imperial power would do: sent out a ship with some convicts to see if they couldn’t still be gifted to labor-hungry America. “Perhaps a greater insult to any Nation could hardly have been offered,” griped one Founding Father afterwards.
The gallows held little terror for some prisoners sentenced to convict transportation, who might even have preferred execution. London’s Public Advertiser reported this never-implemented threat on March 24, 1785:
We hear that one of the respited capital convicts, who received sentence of transportation at the adjourned session at the Old Bailey, told the Recorder, in his own name and those of his companions, that they did not esteem the being pardoned, on condition of transportation to Africa, as an act of mercy, but had much rather be hanged at home; and that they were determined to endeavour to sink either the lighter which is to convey them to Gravesend (to which place they are to be guarded by 30 of the militia) or the ship which is to carry them over.
Alright, America. You don’t have to be that way about it.
The ship detailed for this insulting mission was the Swift, and its passage was troubled long before it sighted the Chesapeake. The “cargo” of the Swift mutinied and ran the ship aground in England.
Thirty-nine escapees were recaptured and most sentenced once again to transportation, but six swung at Tyburn on this date. They really were at the end of an era, and not only of North American convict transportation: Tyburn itself hosted its last public execution just a few weeks later.
Nothing daunted, the owners of the Swift reassembled a slate of captives and made another run, reaching Annapolis, Md. on Christmas eve: fortuitous timing, because irritated state legislators weren’t in session and therefore couldn’t block the ship’s unwanted merchandising. The problem was, it was little better wanted by its intended market. According to Vaver, “[o]nly 30 of those on board were sold by mid-January … [the shippers] managed to sell most of the convicts by the spring, but they incurred serious losses after having to provide food, clothing, and medicine for those who languished on board the ship until they could be unloaded.”
They were the last British convicts sold in her rebellious colonies. One last ship made another voyage in 1784 and was turned away flat by every U.S. port, finally managing to offload in British Honduras.
Gabriela took primary leadership of a 2,000-strong rebel army after its co-leader, her husband Diego, was assassinated by his enemies in May 1763.
Said enemies were the Spanish colonial authorities, whom Diego and his helpmate Gabriela had raised revolt against and with an army wielding homemade muskets and blowguns, driven from the capital of Ilocos Sur. It was Great Britain’s occupation of the Philippines during the Seven Years War that opened the opportunity for the rebellion: the British even appointed Diego Silang governor of the province his army was in the process of conquering. They just didn’t actually help him.
Spain’s assault on the rebels, once organized, was sufficiently overwhelming to drive Gabriela Silang out of the city of Vigan, and then to repel her counterattack — the occasion for her capture and her death.
Gabriela Silang is memorialized in a number of monuments and place names in the Philippines; the women’s organization GABRIELA also engineered its acronym to pay tribute to her.
He was asked to concoct a spell that would cause the officer’s father to leave his second wife.
According to the officer’s account Abdul Hamid agreed to carry out the curse in exchange for 6,000 Saudi Arabian riyals (approximately £1,000).
He was beaten after his arrest and thought to have been forced to admit to acts of sorcery.
In a secret trial, where he was not allowed legal representation, he was sentenced to death by the General Court in Medina in March 2007.
Few details are available about his trial but he is reported to have been tried behind closed doors and without legal representation.
At the time of his arrest, English language Saudi daily The Saudi Gazette ran an article entitled Magic Maids which said that ‘we must face up to the threats from some maids and servants and their satanic games of witchcraft and sorcery, their robbery, murder, entrapment of husbands, corruption of children and other countless stories of crime that have been highlighted by both experts and victims of these crimes’.
Glatman began trolling the City of Angels’ famous seedy underbelly for young women to model for “detective magazines” shoots — an understood euphemism for snapping illicit bondage pics. This excellent cover not only enabled him to have his victims willingly put themselves at his mercy in private, it enabled him to take their pictures as trophies.
They were images of Glatman’s detailed methodology of murder, which showed a sequence of terror by re-creating the entire psychological arc of the crime. He first photographed each victim with a look of innocence on her face as if she were truly enjoying a modeling session. The next series represented a sadist’s view of a sexually terrorized victim with the impending horror of a slow and painful death etched across her face. The final frame depicted the victim’s position that Glatman himself had arranged after he strangled her.
Photos Glatman took of two of his victims, models Judy Ann Dull (top) and Ruth Mercado (bottom). Images via Murderpedia’s collection, at least one of which is very distinctly NSFW. Murderpedia also has, as per usual, a detailed writeup of the Glatman case.
Glatman killed two women this way and a third via a lonely-hearts club meeting,** while losing a few targets along the way who were put off by his aspect or wily enough to demand a male escort for the photography sessions.
He was only stopped in 1958 when a police officer chanced to encounter him while attempting the more daring enterprise of roadside kidnapping. The perp was only 30 years old at the time, a frightening mixture of predatory calculation and homicidal lust: if not for this fortuitous early detection, it’s not too hard to imagine 1957-58 Glatman standing at the outset of a serial rape-murder spree of Bundyesque dimensions.
Unlike that later conniving, spotlight-hogging monster, Glatman post-arrest retreated quickly back to reclusion. He made only a token effort to deny his crimes; as soon as detectives tricked him (by pretending they had it already) into coming clean about a hidden toolbox full of incriminating evidence, the confessions started gushing out of him — another dam burst. He was begging detectives for death well before trial and willingly pled guilty to speed his own steps to San Quentin’s gas chamber. It took less than a year, time Glatman mostly spent in self-imposed isolation from the society of the inmates and guards around him in prison.
“It’s better this way,” he once said near the end, of his imminent date with those noxious fumes. “I knew this is the way it would be.”
Glatman’s LAPD interrogator, legendary detective Pierce Brooks, would later serve as a consultant for the made-for-TV Dragnet 1966 movie. In that film, the serial kidnapper, bondage-photographer, and murderer of young models, “Don Negler”, is conned by police into revealing the location of his incriminating toolbox — just like Glatman was.
The full film is available on YouTube; the interrogation sequence begins about 1:23:56. It clinches with the nebbishy “Negler’s” pathetic self-explanation.
Negler: The reason I killed those girls is they asked me to. (pause) They did; all of ‘em.
Joe Friday: They asked you to.
Negler: Sure. They said they’d rather be dead than be with me.
On the morning of September 17, 1895, in the presence of the British and American consuls, seven perpetrators of a Chinese massacre of western Christian missionaries were beheaded at Foochow.
Anticipating the better-known Boxer Rebellion by four years, the Kucheng Massacre (there are many other transliterations of “Kucheng”) was likewise a response to the Celestial Empire’s frustrating second-class status as against European interlopers.
“The attack came,” said a physician from a nearby town who was summoned to the bloody scene, “like a thunderbolt from a clear sky, not one of the victims having received the slightest intimation of the intended assault.”
Word of the carnage struck western powers with similar force.
Incensed newspaper-readers literally demanded** gunboat diplomacy, and literally got it, especially when Chinese authorities drug their feet on the condign punishment the missionaries’ countrymen were clamoring for.
All this put British diplomacy on a sticky wicket, which Welch (pdf) deals with in detail. To satisfy the domestic audience, the government had to be seen to be taking a hard line on avenging the outrages; at the same time, London was wise to the Chinese state’s shakiness and wary that a “barbarous holocaust” perpetrated against the Vegetarians would trigger a mass backlash and bring the whole thing down.
An obdurate Chinese viceroy impeded the quick resolution everyone was after by making inflammatory public proclamations against Christians, and releasing without explanation six of the thirteen men who had initially been condemned to death in the month of August. The seven who were executed on this date were therefore only the vanguard of 26 humans ultimately put to death for their involvement in the atrocity.
Raids and investigations to bring the Vegetarian movement to heel continued for several months thereafter, and the whole affair ultimately was quelled without doing any of the wider damage that might have been feared — not even to missionaries who continued pouring into China.
And that, effectively, kicked the can down the road on the anti-foreigner sentiments afoot in the land … sentiments that would find much costlier expression a few years later when another secret society kicked off the Boxer Rebellion.
* I’ve relied heavily on Welch for this post. He’s also collected a massive trove (over 1,200 pages) of primary documents from this incident available in a series of pdfs (some quite large) from the Australian National University website:
** This was not universally so. The wife of missionary Stephen Livingston Baldwin, who knew some of the victims of the attack, urged a “charitable” response and sensitivity that “the Chinese feel that all the world is against them, and they are not far from right.” (New York Times, Aug. 10, 1895) In letters responding to intemperate coverage elsewhere, she acidly compared (pdf) western editorialists’ high dudgeon to their look-forward-not-back dismissal of recent stateside anti-Chinese violence.
It was ten years yesterday since more Chinese were killed, and burned alive and left to die wounded, in one hour, at Rock Springs, Wyoming (the very same Territory in which the recent massacre occurred) than have been Americans and English in China in the thirty-four years I have personally known that land, being a resident there twenty years and closely connected with it ever since. Ten years yesterday since that awful Rock Springs massacre, and up to date no one arrested, much less punished! The anti-Chinese papers of the town and neighbourhood gloating over the awful details and assuring all that there would be “no Congressional investigation,” and no waste of “enterprising newspaper eloquence” over the woes of the Chinese, “though their blood flow like rivers, as they had no votes and no friends.” In less than four weeks after the Ku-Cheng massacre, arrest, investigation and execution have all taken place for the Ku-Cheng massacre. Would that our colored, red and yellow brethren, so helpless in our so-called civilized and Christian land, had some power behind them to bestir Ministers Plenipotentiary, wave flags, and run gunboats to the front, to bully, if necessary, our pusillanimous Government into some sort of civilization — I will not say Christian justice!
On this date in 1866 (September 3 O.S.; September 15 N.S.), Russian revolutionary Dmitry Karakozov was hanged in Peter and Paul Fortress for attempting to assassinate Tsar Alexander II.
Karakozov was a son of noble stock — the self-hating variety, obviously, and suicidally disturbed into the bargain. He supposedly hailed from a terrorism cell branding itself “Hell”, although this was bandied about by the police afterwards and conveniently supported a hunt for radicals.
Karakozov, at least, considered the state of tsarist Russia positively infernal, and on April 4, 1866, he went to scourge it — firing a shot at the monarch at St. Petersburg’s Summer Garden. He missed.
The tsar’s guards tackled him as he fled, and the unharmed Alexander walked up to the gunman and asked him, “What do you want?” He may have been genuinely bewildered: Alexander was the guy trying to liberalize Russia. Just a few years before, he had freed the serfs.
“Nothing,” Karakazov replied. “Nothing.”
A statement of implacability: no progress would be bargained with even the most progressive despot. The despotism itself must go. A manifesto addressed to “Friends-Workers” was found in his pocket underscoring the point; it read in part (translated from p. 21 of this Russian pdf):
I have decided to destroy the wicked Tsar, and to die for my beloved people…
If I accomplish this deed, I will die with the thought that in death I did something good for my dear friend, the Russian peasant.
If I do not accomplish it, then others will follow my path. Where I fail, they will succeed, and my death will be their example and inspiration.
Karakozov himself, the first Russian revolutionary to attempt regicide, didn’t seem to have revolutionary satisfaction on his mind at the end. He converted to Orthodox Christianity in prison, sought “as a Christian, of a Christian” his prospective victim’s clemency … and multiple newspaper accounts report him kneeling to kiss a cross presented to him on the scaffold by the priest. (All via Odd Man Karakozov, which argues that all this need not imply such a reversal of conscience as it might appear.)
What certainly did happen — more immediately than those copycat assassinations — was a reactionary wave of national chauvinism, whose more wretched manifestations will not be unfamiliar to the present day. The patriotic Glinka opera Ivan Susanin was staged a few days later at the Bolshoi in Moscow. According to an eyewitness account of Tchaikovsky quoted in Romanov Riches: Russian Writers and Artists Under the Tsars, this salute to a Russian peasant’s sacrifice for the Romanov dynasty went a little bit off-script.
I think the Moscow audience went beyond the bounds of sense in their outburst of enthusiasm. The opera was not really performed, for as soon as the Poles appeared onstage, the whole theater shouted, “Down with the Poles!” and so on. In the last scene of Act 4, when the Poles are supposed to kill Susanin …
… the actor playing him started fighting the chorus members who played Poles, and being very strong, knocked down several of them, while the rest of the extras, seeing that the audience approved this mockery of art, truth, and decency, fell down, and the triumphant Susanin left unharmed, brandishing his arms, to the deafening applause of the Muscovites.
If true, that is little short of fantastic.
The apparatus of state went so far as to build up a new Susanin for the occasion at hand, hyping a questionable story that a young peasant named Osip Komissarov — who was from Susanin’s own province of Kostroma — had jostled Karakozov just as he took the shot, causing it to go awry. The good-natured bumpkin was rewarded with summary ennoblement as “Komissarov-Kostromskoy” and eye-rollingly terrible poetic tributes from the likes of Vyazemsky and Nekrasov. However, Komissarov’s embarrassing stupidity and want of manners would eventually necessitate Komissarov-Kostromskoy’s being packed out of polite society to country estates on a generous pension to bankroll his ample appetite for liquor.
So Dmitry Karakozov did do something for the Russian peasant after all.
On this date in 1767, a jeering mob damning her to hell* saw Elizabeth Brownrigg hang at Tyburn.
“The long and excruciating torture in which this inhuman woman kept the innocent object of her remorseless cruelty, before she finished the long-premeditated murder,” says the Newgate Calendar, “more engaged the attention and roused the indignation of all ranks, than any criminal in the whole course of our melancholy narratives.” Hers is a very rich text.
As a middle-class midwife, Brownrigg mined the Foundling Hospital for young girls whom she would take on as apprentice domestic servants.
Brownrigg was far from the only one exploiting this ready pool of virtual slave labor, but it was her home’s marked sexualized sadism that really moved copy (pdf pamphlet). And Chateau Roissy it was not.
M. Mitchel. She used to tie her up in the kitchen; when first she began to be at her, she used to tie her up to the water-pipe, with her two hands drawed up above her head.
Q. Describe that water-pipe.
M. Mitchel. That goes across the kitchen; the hooks that hold it are fastened into a beam.
Q. Had she used to have her clothes on when your mistress tied her up in this manner to beat her?
M. Mitchel. No, no clothes at all.
Q. How came that?
M. Mitchel. It was my mistress’s pleasure that she should take her clothes off.
Q. What had she used to beat her with?
M. Mitchel. She beat her most commonly with a horse-whip.
Q. How long did she use to beat her in this manner?
M. Mitchel. I cannot justly say, but she seldom left off till she had fetched blood.
This witness Mary Mitchel(l) was the lucky one of the Brownriggs’ last two Foundling Hospital charges: both girls had been stripped and horsewhipped so regularly that ulcerating, infectious sores — never able to heal before the next thrashing — pocked their bodies.
But Mary Mitchell at least survived. Her fellow-sufferer Mary Clifford was flat beaten to death, the body stuffed in the family coal-hole like so much rubbish. (In life, Mary Clifford was sometimes made to sleep there, too.)**
Detail view (click for a larger, three-panel image) of Elizabeth Brownrigg and her crimes illustrated in the Newgate Calendar.
For working-class Londoners struggling to navigate the dislocations of the Industrial Revolution, here was a villainess indeed. London was swelling, urbanizing, bustling with vulnerable orphans and abandoned children like our foundling Marys; all its working classes, for that matter, had reason to feel endangered in the face of fights for their lives against emerging commercial powers working hand in glove with the state — not excluding the ubiquitous threat of the gallows for pitiable property crimes.
And as Peter Linebaugh observes, “apprenticeship” by the 18th century “was less likely to involve the development of highly qualified, skilled labour power than to be the means of organizing the exploitation of young labour power.”† Like it’s not enough working your crappy dead-end unpaid internship; now, it comes with flogging?
Somehow, Brownrigg’s husband and son were convicted only of a misdemeanor and got off with a few months in prison, but Elizabeth bore all the hatred of Londoners more used to seeing apprentices swing than even the vilest master. The Murder Act which had appropriated even the corpses of London’s marginal people was applied to anatomize our former midwife; her skeletal remains were long displayed in a niche at the Royal College of Surgeons.
Oh, and the Foundling Hospital — which had cautioned the Brownriggs before about their excessive abuse of servants but not actually stopped sending them young girls to abuse — started finally instituting some oversight.
There’s a vicious and unsigned satire, “Elizabeth Brownrigge”, published in the September 1832 Fraser’s magazine. Over the years, it has occasioned a great deal of dispute among Thackeray scholars as to whether it might not have been an early creation of that master satirist’s pen. (Thackeray would have just turned 21 when it published.)
We’re not qualified to render judgment on the literary forensics, but the skewering of a murderess through the author’s mock-sympathy has a deliciously Thackerian flavor about it: the world was “incapable of understanding the height of her virtue.” It also underscores the continuing resonance of Elizabeth Brownrigg to Londoners 65 years after her execution.
The magnanimity of her soul, like Mr. Smeaton‘s pharos on the Eddystone, was firmly fixed upon the rock of the soundest principles, and diffused a light around it, for the guidance of those who were beating the waves upon the dark and troubled ocean of adversity, but was itself unshaken by the storm … [in prison] the fair and excellent Elizabeth adopted, as nearly as circumstances would allow, the same admirable disposition of her time to which she had been accustomed when inhabiting her own romantic bower in the village of Islington. She completed a large stock of baby-linen for the poor; she perused new publications of the day; and she composed an elaborate parallel between the characters of Socrates and Lady Jane Grey, after the manner of Plutarch. These are the two distinguished personages, in the whole range of authentic history, who in their strength of mind, purity of life, and extensive accomplishments, bore the strongest resemblance to herself; and to them, perchance, the attention of our heroine was more particularly directed in the quiet and retirement of her cell by the many points of similarity which subsisted between their destiny and her own.
Later, the fictional Elizabeth mounts a defense of such oblivious loathsomeness that it naturally impresses the judge:
“… punishment is a moral medicine. I may, perchance, actuated by too eager a desire for the rapid cure of my little and much-cherished patient, have dispensed my alternatives too liberally, and produced and untoward, an unexpected, and a most deeply-lamented consequence; but am I, therefore, to be condemned as guilty? In the analogous case of the physician, whose too-abundant anodynes may have lulled the sufferer to endless slumbers, or whose too copious phlebotomy may have let out the fever and the life at one and the same moment from the veins, would this most harsh and unmerciful measure be applied? … I demand from the justice of your lordship and a jury of my countrymen — as a matter not of mercy, but of right — the same impunity in my case which would be accorded, freely an unasked, under parallel circumstances, to the medical practitioner.”
Thackeray or whomever lay behind this pasquinade had a wider literary target in mind than simply Elizabeth Brownrigg(e)’s class. The short story is prefaced with a dedication to “the author of Eugene Aram“, meaning the popular novel published earlier in 1832 by Edward Bulwer-Lytton — a lifelong Thackeray bete noir. That novel concerned another renowned 18th century murderer, and it’s safe to say from the dedication that our satirist considered Bulwer-Lytton’s empathetic portrayal of the titular homicide a little, er, soft on crime.
I have been taught by Eugene Aram to mix vice and virtue up together in such an inextricable confusion as to render it impossible that any preference should be given to either, or that the one, indeed, should be at all distinguishable from the other … I had, indeed, in my dramatic piece, been guilty of an egregious and unpardonable error: I had attempted to excite the sympathies of the audience in favour of the murdered apprentices, but your novel has disabused me of so vulgar a prejudice, and, in my present version of her case, all the interest of the reader and all the pathetic powers of the author will be engaged on the side of the murderess.
* The Newgate Calendar: “On her way to the place of execution the people expressed their abhorrence of her crime in terms which, though not proper for the occasion, testified their astonishment that such a wretch could have existed: they even prayed for her damnation instead of her salvation: they doubted not but that ‘the devil would fetch her,’ and hoped that ‘she would go to hell.’ Such were the sentiments of the mob.”
On either September 12 or (as we’re going with here) the early hours of September 13* in 1944, 30-year-old French spy Noor Inayat Khan (also known as Nora Baker, or by her code name Madeleine) was executed at Dachau for her activities on the behalf of the Resistance in Nazi-occupied France.
Noor, the first woman radio operator to be sent into France, came from a rather unusual background: her father was a Sufi religious leader descended from Indian royalty, and her mother an American from New Mexico.
Although Noor had strong pacifist leanings, she decided to join in against Nazi Germany. Because she was fluent in French and English and was a good radio operator, they decided to send her to France. She went in June 1943.
Many of those who had trained her had grave doubts about her suitability as a spy. As part of her Sufi upbringing she had been taught that lying was the worst of all sins. Leo Marks, who taught her cryptography, later wrote his initial impressions of her in his book Between Silk and Cyanide:
She was cycling towards her ‘safe-house’ to practice transmitting when a policeman stopped her and asked what she was doing.
“I’m training to be an agent,” she said, “here’s my radio — want me to show it to you?” She then removed it from its hiding place and invited him to try it. […]
She’d been so startled by an unexpected pistol-shot that she’d gone into a Sufi-like trance for several hours, and finally emerged from it to consult a Bible.
Once in France, however, she displayed lion-like courage.
Even when the Nazis were making mass arrests of the French agents she associated with and the British forces offered to let her come home, she refused to desert her post.
After three and a half months she was betrayed, and pacifism notwithstanding she fought so furiously on arrest that her Nazi guards were afraid of her. In spite of considerable pressure (and we know what that means) she refused to provide them with any information about herself or her Resistance colleagues. On top of all that, she also made two escape attempts.
They decided to send her to Germany to better keep an eye on her.
After her death she was awarded with the French Croix De Guerre and the British George Cross, and made a Member of the Order of the British Empire. Shrabani Basu published her biography, Spy Princess, in 2007 … and there’s a memorial in the works for her for London’s Gordon Square.
On this date in 1642, with the last words “Mon Dieu! Qu’est-ce que ce monde?”, 22-year-old former royal favorite Cinq-Mars was beheaded at Lyon’s Place des Terreaux.
Henri Coiffier de Ruze (English Wikipedia page | French) had been under Cardinal Richelieu’s protection since the boy’s father died in 1632; in 1639, the Red Eminence introduced the then-19-year-old whippersnapper to Louis XIII as a prospective royal favorite (read: lover).
Though the king did indeed take to the youth, Cinq-Mars, in the age-old custom of sullen teenagers everywhere, soon found the luxurious profligacy of the favorite’s life rather overbalanced by irritation at both of his sickly, aging patrons.
Tart talk to intimates graduated to something more serious after Richelieu rudely put the kibosh on Cinq-Mars’s (unrealistic) designs on a wealthy noblewoman — which was also a bid to parlay his tenuous favorite gig into some lasting power.
Now considering himself personally begrudged of the Cardinal, Cinq-Mars fell into the conspiracies (French link) to depose, assassinate, or otherwise replace him.
Eventually Cinq-Mars would go so far as a real blockbuster (French again): he signed a secret pact with the Spanish king to support a noble revolt in exchange for handing over French possessions, a seditious plan also backed by perennialplotter Gaston d’Orleans, the king’s scheming brother.
Our angry moppet had more than met his match in Richelieu, however: the cardinal’s agents intercepted (more French) the treasonable correspondence and had Cinq-Mars dispatched this date along with his confederate de Thou.
Execution of Cinq-Mars and De Thou in Paris (1642), engraving by Johann Luyken, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France (via)
Richelieu himself was already dying as he undid this last conspiracy against him. The cardinal succumbed on December 4, 1642 … with Louis following him into the grave the next May.
At the evening roll-call of the prisoners, Max Bialas instructed those who had arrived that same day to line up on the side. It was not clear who was to be liquidated — the new arrivals or those who had arrived earlier. At that moment Berliner jumped out from the ranks of the prisoners, lurched toward Bialas and stabbed him with a knife. A great commotion followed. The Ukranian guards opened fire. Berliner was killed on the spot. and in the course of the shooting more than ten other prisoners were killed and others were wounded. When the tumult subsided the prisoners were lined up again for roll-call. Christian Wirth, who was in Treblinka at the time, arrived on the scene accompanied by Kurt Franz, the second in command of the camp. Ten men were removed from the ranks and shot on the spot in full view of all the others. On the following day, during the morning roll-call, another 150 men were taken out, brought to the Lazarett [the so-called “hospital” which was in fact an execution site] and shot there.
Little is known about Berliner.
According to the testimony of fellow-inmate Abraham Krzepicki, he was a middle-aged Jewish citizen of Argentina who had lived in that country for many years.
He and his wife and young daughter traveled to Poland on vacation in the summer of 1939. They could have picked a better time: when Germany invaded on September 1, 1939, the Berliners were unable to return home. Their Argentine passports should have protected them, but they ended up in the Warsaw Ghetto and were transported to Treblinka. Berliner’s wife and child were gassed immediately, but he was spared to work.
This reprieve would be expected to last days, or a few weeks at the most before he too would go to the gas chamber. Berliner became consumed with rage and the thirst for revenge, supposedly saying, “When the oppressors give me two choices, I always take the third.”
As he must have known he would, Berliner died a horrible death — according to Krzepicki, he was beaten to death with a shovel.
Ironically, following Bialas’s murder, conditions for prisoners at Treblinka actually improved.
This was strictly for pragmatic reasons, as Arad noted: “The Jews selected for temporary work were a danger to the Germans, and the Berliner incident had proved it … When people knew they had nothing to lose, an act of despair like that of Meir Berliner could happen again and again.”
Rather than constantly killing and replacing their workers, the Nazis in charge of the camp decided to create a permanent staff of prisoner-workers and treat them with relative humanity. In this way, they hoped to prevent further acts of suicidal violence on the part of the Jews.
The existence of a permanent cadre of workers made it possible to plan and organize a revolt and mass escape from the camp. In August 1943, after months of conspiring and gathering the necessary weapons, the inmates killed most of the guards and made a run for it. About 300 or so actually made it outside of camp; of those, approximately 60 would survive the war.