Posts filed under 'Occupation and Colonialism'

1573: Hans Boije af Gennäs

Add comment January 1st, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1573, the Swedish commander of Weissenstein (present-day Paide, Estonia), Hans Boije af Gennäs was executed when his fortress was overrun by Russian troops, during the Livonian War.


Ruins of (cc) image from Ivo Kruusamägi.

A walled city with a Teutonic Knights-built keep, Weissenstein sat at a crossroads in interior Livonia and changed hands several times during this decades-long multilateral conflict involving Russia, Sweden, Denmark-Norway, Poland, and Lithuania — the latter two of which united into a Commonwealth during the war.

Big picture, the Livonian War ran from 1558 to 1583; the stakes were, as one might guess, control of Livonia — essentially, the present-day Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia. Long ago this precinct had been the medieval remit of those same Teutonic Knights; after 1561, it was controlled in the south by the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (that’s Latvia), and in the north by Sweden (that’s Estonia, containing Weissenstein).

Needless to say, this brought enormous suffering to Livonian, which Livonian chroniclers like Johann Renner, Balthasar Russow and Salomon Henning blamed mostly on the Russians. As Charles Halperin summarizes,

To the Livonian chroniclers, the Russians were barbaric, sadistic monsters, whose atrocities they described in graphic, sensational detail. According to Renner, the Russians were cruel, bloodthirsty, and inhumane. They massacred men, women, and children among fishermen. They hanged Livonian women from trees and robbed them of their clothing, silver, and gold. They impaled babies on stakes or sharp picket fences, and hacked little children in two and left them, or hacked adults into pieces. They placed a huge stone on the stomach of a pregnant women [sic] to force her foetus from her womb. They burned alive a woman hiding in an oven. They cut off the breasts of maidens and women and hacked off the hands and feet of men. They threw fifty children into a well and filled it with stones. They flayed a man and cut open his side, poured in gunpowder, and blew him apart. They decapitated captives after flaying them and cutting off their fingers and toes. They massacred peasants young and old. They flayed captives in Moscow with whips of braided flails, marched them five miles to a cemetery and then beheaded them with axes. They drove naked peasants into great fires and nailed one peasant to a post and suffocated him with smoke. They tied a captured noble to a tree, cut open his body, and let his intestines fall out. They nailed a ferryman to a door and then killed him with arrows. They killed an old forest overseer by cutting open his body, nailing one end of his intestines to a tree, and then beating him with whips to make him run, pulling out his intestines and bringing about his death. Peasants were drawn and quartered. They murdered captives by snapping their necks in such a way that they suffered for one, two, or three days before expiring. The Tatars cut out the heart of one prisoner (killing him, of course), and ate it, saying that doing so would give them courage.

Russow adds that Russians committed terrible acts of murder, theft, and arson during their invasion. They tortured and tormented Livonians, massacred them, threw poor peasant, their wives and children to their deaths off city walls, hacked to death servitors of Magnus,* roasted captives on spits for days, stole the blanket off a dead woman, deposited children on the ice to die of overexposure or drown, put out a noble’s eyes before flaying him to death, drowned, tortured, and executed captives, sabered captives, plucked out the heart of the living body of a mayor, ripped a preacher’s tongue from his throat, sold captives into slavery, raped maidens and women, threw captives to their deaths off the walls of conquered cities, and starved captives nearly to death. They left the bodies of their victims for wild beasts to eat …

According to Henning, the Russians were bloodthirsty “ignorant barbarians”, who raged like savages, and tortured and killed their enemies in inhuman fashion, including stretching them and breaking them on the wheel. They cut down even the young and the old, women and children, who surrendered with their hands raised, or subjected them to inhuman barbarities and atrocities, and then barbaric slavery. Everywhere they went, they plundered, slew, roasted, and burned. They hacked pregnant women in two, impaled foetuses on fence stakes, slit men’s sides, inserted gunpowder and blew them up, and slit men’s throats and let them bleed to death. They smeared people with thick pine pitch, bound them, and burned them. They gang-raped women and girls, and sold the survivors into slavery to the Tatars. They tore nursing babes from their mothers’ breasts, chopped off hands, feet, and heads, and gutted the remainder of the bodies, stuck bodies on spits and roasted or baked them, and then ate them to satisfy their “diabolical, bloodthirsty hunger” … They massacred innocent Livonian townsmen, wives, and children in retribution for anti-Russian plots in which they had no part. They butchered poor little schoolchildren. Despite safe-conducts to the surrendered occupants of assaulted cities, they sabered them as they departed. Captives too old or infirm to be led into captivity, even nobles, were killed on the spot. Survivors of a castle whose occupants chose to blow themselves up rather than surrendered were sabered, hacked to bits, mutilated, and left unburied to be eaten by birds, dogs, and other wild beasts.

To skip past various twists of state- and warcraft, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was taking a breather from the fight in the early 1570s, leaving Russia and Sweden mano a mano.

The Russians invaded Swedish-defended Estonia in 1572 with Tsar Ivan the Terrible personally leading the army, and put the small garrison of Weissenstein/Paide to irresistible siege. Nevertheless, it did resist, and these defenders have the distinction of killing during this siege the sinister operative of the tsar — Malyuta Skuratov, so much the emblem of Ivan’s terrible Oprichnina that in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, the titular Margarita at an infernal ball can’t help but notice one “face ringed by a fiery beard, the face of Malyuta Skuratov”.


Portrait of Skuratov by a contemporary painter, the late Pavel Ryzhenko.

Considering the flaying and intestine-ripping that mere passersby were liable to expose themselves to, the Swedes earned no quarter from Ivan for compounding their resistance with the death of the tsar’s hand. Our man Hans Boije af Gennais (English Wikipedia entry | Swedish) and his chief aides were all impaled and slowly roasted over flames immediately upon Weissenstein’s New Year’s Day capture.

* Magnus, Duke of Holstein was Ivan’s unsuccessful puppet king in Livonia in the early 1570s, but he lost favor after being repeatedly thumped by the Swedes and eventually outright turned against the Russians. Ivan captured him and (alas for Executed Today) did not put him to death, but gratuitously brutalized anyone in Magnus’s train.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Estonia,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Impaled,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Russia,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Sweden,Torture,Wartime Executions

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1943: Four Aussie escapees, at the Hotel Tacloban

Add comment December 25th, 2019 Headsman

Christmas Day of 1943 witnessed the demoralizing beheadings of four Australian POWs in the Japanese camp near Tacloban on the Philippines island of Leyte.

This camp held Aussie and British war captives, but its definitive account titled The Hotel Tacloban* comes from the mouth of a lone American mixed in among them — witness to the cross-cutting tensions in this little world between the two nationalities, and between enlisted men and officers. Of notable import for this episode is the campwide resentment of the ranking British officer, one Major Roland Leeds Cumyns.

By the account of our American interlocutor, Cumyns “was the most arrogant, most conceited son-of-a-bitch I’d ever come across in my life; an impossible officer who was thoroughly convinced that God was an Englishman.” Worse, he embodied the class snobbishness of the privileged caste from whom British field officers were drawn and shamelessly aligned himself with the Japanese camp commandant Captain Yoshishito. The Australians in particular, for whom British class prerogatives were not imbibed with mother’s milk, abhorred him. “Pampered, primped and preened, the Major wholeheartedly believed that it was his manifest destiny to ascend to the pinnacle of his profession,” sneered our American observer, who fraternized mostly with the Aussies. “The Major took every opportunity to attend to his own creature comforts while flaunting his disdain for the plight of the Australians.”

On Christmas Eve, our four principals — names of Travis MacNaughton, Justice “Jassy” Colby, Larry Whitelam, and Tommy Philips, Aussies all — escaped from the Hotel Tacloban. Maybe they would have acted differently had they but known that the U.S. invasion of the Philippines would begin on the beaches of Leyte itself just ten months hence — but then again, ten months in this particular camp might have been worth the risk of one’s life. U.S. Army rangers who liberated the prisoners apparently wept to behold the “monstrous degradation” of their condition.

So thrilled that night by news of the breakout that the British and Australian sections competed in belting jovial renditions of “It’s a long way to Tipperary” and “Waltzing Matilda”, the camp by Christmas morning was tense with nervous anticipation. And as feared, right around daybreak, all four escapees were driven up on a flatbed truck, “badly beaten, blindfolded and bound in chains.” The entire camp was called to assemble for what came next, not excepting those in the infirmary who were carried out and propped up by their unwilling comrades, for “no ones was to be spared the executions.”

When everyone was present, Captain Yoshishito advanced and stood impassively beside the Major, both of their backs turned indifferently on the open space separating them from the four condemned Aussies on the back of the truck. With Yoshishito was the Executioner, a scabbard hanging from his hip, its tip dragging along the ground, the handle on the ceremonial sword itself almost a foot long and tucked up under his arm. Expressionless, their hooded eyes darting left and right, Yoshishito’s lieutenants stood poised and alert in front of Travis, Jassy, Larry and Tommy.

Tommy was reacting the worst; he’d gone completely to pieces. He was crying hysterically and had to be dragged kicking and screaming by the guards. Jassy and Larry were sobbing to themselves, struggling hard not to collapse. Travis was the only man who had not broken down. Standing ramrod straight, no sign of fear visible on his bearded face, he calmly asked that his blindfold be removed. The Major, with Captain Yoshishito’s approval, granted Travis’s request, and one of the Japanese officers untied it and pulled it off. And even though he stared directly into the rising sun, Travis didn’t blink. His eyes were glowing fiery red.

The guards separated the men four paces apart. They motioned for Travis to kneel in the dust with his head bent forward and he did so, without hesitation. The Executioner drew his sword and moved beside him. Dawn cast long shadows across the prison yard — the moment seemed arrested by the level sun.

I wanted to look away as I watched over the shoulder of the man standing in front of me, but there was some crazy compulsion to see. Try as I might, I couldn’t move my eyes from the blade on the ceremonial sword, which was long and slightly curved, but neither heavy nor thick nor ornate. Both hands on the hilt, the Executioner raised it above his shoulder, the sunlight momentarily glinting off the steel, then he brought it down.

I closed my eyes when he hit Travis — I couldn’t watch anymore after that — I just stood there with my eyes shut tight, hating myself and shivering inside, wanting desperately to cover my ears with my hands. But that wasn’t allowed, and three more times I heard that awful sound (the little bastards saved Tommy for last, for the devastating psychological effect), and then there was silence. Merciful silence. And in that absence of sound that followed the beheadings of Travis MacNaughton, Justice Colby, Larry Whitelam, and Tommy Philips, there wasn’t one man, Brit or Aussie, who didn’t know deep in his heart that the Major had to go. Speaking for every man there, Sgt. Major Goodhall, good soldier of the disgraced English Army, a man who’d been turned inside-out by his commanding officer’s treachery, a man who could no longer stand idly by while his honorable world crumbled around him, with utter contempt, turned and spit in the Major’s face.

Stunned speechless, his eyes blinking rapidly and his jaw muscle twitching uncontrolably, the Major quickly wiped the spittle away, then proceeded to strip Goodhall of his rank and ordered him placed under arrest. “Was there to be no end to the insults heaped upon him?” he seemed to be thinking. The man was insane.

Captain Yoshishito was astounded. It was inconceivable to him that ordinary soldiers of any army would demonstrate even the slightest hint of disrespect to their commanding officer. Such acts of defiance ate away at the very foundation upon which the chain of command is structured. Yoshishito stood there bewildered, regarding the situation with total disbelief — genuinely grieved that his brother officer, our lovely Major, had once again been publicly disgraced. Regaining his senses, Captain Yoshishito quickly signalled to his lieutenants, who selected eight Australians at random to dig graves and bury the dead. Then, speaking through a Filipino interpretor, he notified us that we were to be denied the right to conduct funeral services, that there would be no general issue of rice for the next two days, and that only the minimum water ration would be distributed, British officers excluded. The Australian officers were offered the same exemption, but flatly turned it down.

No one waited to be dismissed. Everyone just turned around and walked back to their huts.

The camp’s Aussie enlisted men drew straws the following morning for the responsibility of visiting their collective judgment on Major Cumyns. As night fell on Boxing Day, two of them garroted Cumyns in his tent, while their American adoptive comrade stood lookout.

* The Hotel Tacloban is by the American journalist Douglas Valentine, drawn from his conversations with (and primarily in the voice of) his father, the actual POW — also named Douglas Valentine. It’s a brief and compelling read, and it had an importance to the younger Valentine’s subsequent path quite surpassing the fact that it was his first book: Valentine’s empathetic portrayal of military men and the grim realities of war impressed CIA Director William Colby so much that Colby facilitated Valentine’s requested access to dozens of agents involved in the notorious Vietnam War-era assassination campaign, the Phoenix Program. The resulting interviews in turn led to Valentine’s still-essential tome The Phoenix Program and a subsequent career focus on the Agency which has produced (along with a great many articles) a book about intelligence coordination shaping the War on Drugs titled The Strength of the Pack, and the more recent volume, The CIA as Organized Crime. In Valentine’s own estimation, “Tacloban was key to unlocking the CIA’s door.”

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Australia,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Execution,History,Japan,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Philippines,Public Executions,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1521: The rebel Ribbings

Add comment December 23rd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1521, the Swedish rebel brothers Lindorm and Peder Ribbing were beheaded in Jönköping.

This event fell during the brief reign of the Danish king Christian II over Sweden, notably distinguished by the previous year’s Stockholm Bloodbath. Christian held Sweden only by force of arms and his continual bloody exertions to put down resistance have blackened his name in Swedish annals as “Christian the Tyrant”.

While the Ribbings were merely minor rebels in a country teeming with umbrage, their executions contributed a particularly atrocious (albeit perhaps folklorish) episode to that tyrannous reputation.

Not only the brothers themselves but their children also were put to death … and the story has it that after Lindorm Ribbing’s eldest son lost his head, his five-year-old brother pitiably implored the headsman, “My good man. Please do not stain my shirt as you did my brother’s or my mother will spank me.” Moved to tears, the executioner then discarded his sword and exclaimed, “Never! Sooner shall my own shirt be stained then I would stain yours.” Both he and the little boy then got the chop from a less sentimental swordsman.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Denmark,Execution,Executioners,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Separatists,Sweden,Treason

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1669: Susanna One-Ear

Add comment December 13th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1669, a slave of the Dutch East India Company named Susanna was sewn into a rock-weighted sack and tossed into Table Bay as punishment for infanticide in the Cape Colony (present-day South Africa).

The spare narration of the company’s journal describes Susanna’s speedy progress from the (not further explained) strangulation of her “half-caste” infant girl — reported on December 11, tried on December 12, and executed on December 13.

December 11th. — In the evening meeting the Fiscal [Cornelis de Cretzer] reported that a female slave of the Company, named Susanna of Bengal, lying stiff and stinking of the small-pox in the slave house, had not hesitated to strangle her infant, a half-caste girl; he likewise submitted the sworn declaration of the surgeon, which mentioned that the poor innocent child had died in consequence. The Council having considered this serious affair at once, ordered that the murderous pig should be placed in confinement in order to be punished according to her deserts.

December 12th. — This evening the Council decreed that the female slave, above mentioned, should be tied up in a bag and thrown into the sea. The minister [Adrianus de Voogd] and sick comforter [Joannes à Bolte(n)] were accordingly sent to her, to admonish her to repentence [sic] of what she had done, so that she might in a Christian manner prepare herself for death to-morrow afternoon.

December 13th. — About 11 o’clock the sentence was read here on the square in presence of the murderess and the public, and afterwards carried out on the roadstead in the presence of all the slaves. For the maintenance of justice it was executed with death [by drowning?].

Unsurprisingly we know little else about Susanna … but we do know something.

A documentation project on the first decades of the Cape Colony features a series called “Uprooted Lives”, by Mansell Upham focusing on the lives of slaves and aboriginals affected by the settlement has a fantastic article (pdf) on “Susanna van Bengale” or “Susanna Een Oor” (Susanna One-Ear). It’s a highly recommended read, not only illuminating the judicial perspectives on infanticide that would have informed her judges, but tracing other, fleeting glimpses of Susanna supplied by the documentary record and illuminating the context of her case in view of two other important trials of mothers that preceded it.

It’s worth the click to read it here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Abortion and Infanticide,Capital Punishment,Crime,Death Penalty,Drowned,Execution,History,Murder,Netherlands,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Slaves,South Africa,Torture,Women

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1805: Gabriel Aguilar and Manuel Ubalde, abortive Peruvian rebels

Add comment December 5th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1805, Cusco‘s Plaza Mayor hosted the hangings of two colonial Peruvian creoles who had aspired to revive the Incan resistance to Spain.

The devastating Tupac Amaru rebellion lay just 25 years in the background here, but these men were not themselves indigenes. They were, however, New World-born, and thus heirs to a resentment at colonial control from half a world’s distance that would within the coming generation separate Peru from Spain.

“Denizens of the lower strata of creole society,” as D.A. Brading writes, the lawyer Jose Manuel Ubalde and the mining entrepreneur Gabriel Aguilar — close friends from a previous association in Lina —

inhabited a world in which Catholic piety, patriotic fervour and personal ambition were fuelled by visions and dreams. For Aguilar obtained Ubalde’s support for proclaiming him Inca emperor of Peru by informing him of a childhood vision in which he had been assured of a great role in his country’s history. Both men agreed that Spanish rule was oppressive and that St Thomas Aquinas had recognised the right to rebel against tyranny. When they conferred with like-minded priests, one cleric cited the prediction of Raynal,* the 1771 representation of the Mexico City Council,** and the example of the ‘Americans of Boston’. But the current of religious emotion that underlay these arguments surfaced when another cleric fell into an ecstasy in Aguilar’s presence, and claimed later to have seen the pretender crowned in the cathedral of Cuzco.

Unfortunately, the path to such a coronation ran through the actions of sympathetic military men — and one of the officers that these conspirators reached out to shopped the plotters before they could set anything in motion.

After their arrest, Ubalde was reminded of the traditional doctrine that, since the Catholic king was God’s image on earth, any challenge to his authority was an attack on God. By way of reply, he insisted on the right of rebellion against tyranny and argued that natural law did not prescribe loyalty to any particular dynasty. After all, the Papacy had just recognised Napoleon as emperor of the French, despite the claims of the Bourbon dynasty to that throne. He went to his execution convinced that Aguilar had been chosen by providence as a creole Maccabee, called to liberate Peru from Spanish rule.

* French Enlightenment figure Guillaume Thomas Francois Raynal anticipated a rebellion that would destroy colonial slave empires from below: “Your slaves stand in no need either of your generosity or your counsels, in order to break the sacrilegious yoke of their oppression … they will rush on with more impetuosity than torrents; they will leave behind them, in all parts, indelible traces of their just resentment. Spaniards, Portuguese, English, French, Dutch, all their tyrants will become the victims of fire and sword.”

** Mexico submitted a notable May 2, 1771 petition to King Carlos III calling for most of the imperial positions in the New World to be staffed by people from the New World rather than home country cronies — and warning that to do otherwise was to invite “not only the loss of this America, but the ruin of the State.” (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Lawyers,Occupation and Colonialism,Peru,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Public Executions,Spain,Treason

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1892: Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne, Congo Free State hostages

Add comment December 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1892,* Belgian colonial agents Jozef Lippens and Henri De Bruyne were executed by the rebelling native king who had taken them hostage.

The gentlemen were a lieutenant (Lippens) and sergeant (De Bruyne) of the Force Publique colonial deployment in Belgian Congo.

Their misfortune was proximity when in 1892, rivalry over control of the eastern Congo ivory trade brought the European power into war with its erstwhile Zanzibar “Arab”** allies. (The Arabs were slave-traders, affording a classic humanitarian intervention pretext … which obviously is pretty rich coming from Belgium.)

The Congo-Arab War — which in practice was fought on both sides mostly by black Congolese troops — saw in its opening months the defection of one of the Arabs’ best commanders, Gongo Lutete,† a manumitted former slave who had risen to leadership of the Batetela and Bakussu tribes. In revenge when he switched sides to join the Europeans, the Arab leader Sefu bin Hamid seized Lippens, Belgium’s representative Resident at Kasongo, and De Bruyne, Lippens’s aide — demanding the return of his disloyal general and a settlement of hostilities as the price for these European envoys’ lives.

In fact, it was De Bruyne himself who had the honor of delivering the demand. Escorted by his captors to the eastern bank of the Lomami River on November 15, the emaciated De Bruyne shouted across to Belgian officers on the western side the terms of his captivity. The Belgians, who had the river covered by gunners, urged their countryman to leap into the water and swim for it; De Bruyne declined to abandon his comrade. “By this act of self-abnegation he was to go down in the Belgian folklore as a national hero.” (European Atrocity, African Catastrophe: Leopold II, the Congo Free State and its Aftermath)

His flight would have meant certain death for Lippens; instead, both paid the forfeit together after the Belgian commander Francis Dhanis repelled Sefu bin Hamid’s attack and smashed across the Lomani. According to the account of the war by Sidney Langford Hinde, one of many British officers employed by the Force Publique,

News also reached us here of the murder of Lippens and Debruyne, two officers representing the Free State Government, resident at Sefu’s court in Kasongo. We found out later that, after the defeat of Sefu on the Lomami (which resulted in the death of his cousin and several other noted chiefs), an advance party of the retreating Arabs arrived at Kasongo, and, by way of individual revenge, murdered the two Residents. It is probable, since we have no actual proof to the contrary, that this was done without Sefu’s orders. Twelve of these people, armed with knives hidden in their clothing, made some trivial pretext for visiting Lippens at the Residency, who, however, refused to come out and interview them. They then said that news of a big battle had come to them from Sefu; on hearing which Lippens came out, and, while talking in the verandah, was promptly and silently stabbed. Some of the murderers entering the adjoining room, found Debruyne writing, and killed him before he had learned the fate of his chief. When Sefu returned to Kasongo, a day or two afterwards, he gave orders that the pieces of Debruyne’s body should be collected and buried with Lippens, whose body, with the exception of the hands (which had been sent to Sefu and Mohara of Nyangwe as tokens), was otherwise unmutilated. The strong innate respect for a chief had protected Lippens’ body, while that of his subordinate had been hacked to pieces.

A curious fatality followed these twelve murderers. The chief of the band, Kabwarri by name, was killed by us in the battle of the 26th of February with Lippens’ Martini express in his hand. Of the others — all of whom were the sons of chiefs, and some of them important men on their own account — four died of smallpox, one was killed at Nyangwe, one in the storming of Kasongo, and the remaining six we took prisoners at Kasongo. During the trial they one day, though in a chained gang, succeeded in overpowering the sentry, and thus escaped. One was drowned in crossing a river; three more were killed, either fighting or by accident, within a month or two of their escape; and the two remaining we retook and hanged; — which brings to me a curious point. Of the many men I have seen hanged nearly all died by strangulation, and not by having the neck broken. As compared with shooting, hanging seems to me the less painful death; the wretched being becomes insensible in a very few seconds, whereas a man shot will often require a coup de grace, no matter how carefully the firing party is placed.


Monument to De Bruyne and Lippens in Blankenberge. (cc) image from Zeisterre.

* December 1 is the commonly attributed date for the hostages’ butchery but it can’t be documented with certainty.

** As we’ve noted elsewhere, the term “Arabs” as used for eastern Congo by European sources in this period denotes Muslim bantus. We’re following the prevailing term here, whatever its imprecision.

† As a reward for his services, Gongo Lutete was spuriously accused of treason by a Belgian officer in September 1893 and speedily executed without any form of superior approval.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Belgium,Borderline "Executions",Congo (Kinshasa),History,Hostages,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1954: Jonas Žemaitis, Lithuanian Forest Brother

Add comment November 26th, 2019 Headsman

Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan Jonas Žemaitis was shot in Moscow’s Butyrka prison on this date in 1954. He’s one of the big names in the Forest Brothers movement that kept up a hopeless fight against Moscow from 1944 into the 1950s.

An artillerist of Polish ancestry who deserted the retreating Red Army and surrendered himself the Wehrmacht arriving in the summer 1941, Žemaitis is breezily credited in state histories (and as of this writing, both English and Lithuanian Wikipedia pages) of essentially taking the war years off because “he did not want to serve the Nazis.” That was sure considerate of the Nazis! Instead the fellow just mined peat since he preferred not to get involved.

Now, peat production was and is an important economic sector in Lithuania; indeed, even this seemingly innocuous activity hints at exploitation of Jewish slave labor. But there is circumstantial and even eyewitness evidence that Žemaitis’s participation in one of the Reich’s most thorough exterminations was quite a bit more nefarious than vegetation management.

One could turn here to Joseph Melamed, a survivor of the Kovno Ghetto who collected witness testimonies and published thousands of names of alleged Lithuanian “Jew-Shooters” (zydsaudys). Melamed has charged that Žemaitis put his Polish fluency to use facilitating genocide and “having proved his efficiency and diligence in murdering Jews, was rewarded by the SS and promoted to the rank of Colonel” in the Police Battalions, Lithuanian paramilitaries that worked hand in glove with Nazi executioners.*

Or alternatively, one could rely on the plain fact that Žemaitis was a trained, early-30s officer in a desperate war zone where everyone was being pressed into action, and that anti-Soviet fighters afterwards treated him as a General. That’s not the profile of a figure who simply kept his head down while the Great War raged past him.

The post-USSR independent state of Lithuania, which has not been shy about whitewashing Holocaust collaborators, absolutely rejects such inferences and has retroactively elevated Žemaitis to its officially recognized head of state during his postwar resistance; there’s a Vilnius military academy that’s named for him.

* Melamed is now deceased but during his latter years Vilnius accused him of slander. Modern Lithuania is ferociously determined about apotheosizing the Forest Brothers; officially, the Venn diagram between wartime genocidaires and the postwar anti-Soviet resistance consists of two different shapes on two different planets.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Heads of State,History,Lithuania,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,USSR

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1883: Mampuru, Sekukuni rival

1 comment November 22nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1883, the Boer South African Republic hanged Bapedi chief Mampuru.

Sekukuni

Mampuru is notable as the half-brother and rival — eventually murderous rival — of Sekukuni (also rendered Sekhukhune), the chief of the Pedi or Bapedi people. Their backstory is significant: Mampuru had been the intended heir of their shared father, King Sekwati, but the warlike Sekukuni had seized rulership instead when Sekwati died in 1861.

While Mampuru skulked in exile with the neighboring Swazi, it was Sekukuni who led his people’s resistance to the incursions of the Dutch Boers settling the Transvaal.

In 1876, he successfully fought off the Boer Transvaal Republic — which contributed to it becoming in 1877 the British Transvaal instead, at least according to the British.

Less successful was Sekukuni in the war soon prosecuted against him by the British. Extensively narrated here (also see part 1 of this same article sequence here), the upshot was that the British eventually trapped Sekukuni’s last defenders in a rocky hill remembered as the “Fighting Koppie” and captured him. The Swazi, with that displaced rival Mampuru, fought in this war with the British.

Sekukuni and his surviving family would be marched to Pretoria and imprisoned there until 1881.

In the intervening years, power was rebalanced all around among the players. Mampuru had been able to re-establish himself among the Bapedi with no small help from his British allies — but those British allies had been defeated by a Boer rebellion in the First Boer War.* One article in the settlement ending the Boer-British conflict permitted Sekukuni’s release.

As might be expected the ex-chief’s return to his homeland was scarcely welcomed by his brother. After some months of political acrimony, Mampuru settled the feud by having a team of assassins stab Sekukuni to death in his sleep, on the night of August 13, 1882.

For Mampuru, the sibling rivalry win was as Pyrrhic as it surely was satisfying, for he was immediately branded an outlaw by the Boer Transvaal and himself obliged to flee from the countrymen whom he meant to rule. When the Boers captured him, they had him condemned a murderer and hanged him stark naked for an audience of 200-plus white men in Pretoria. As an added indignity, they botched the hanging and dropped Mampuru to the ground on their first go, when the noose snapped. (In 2013, the jail where he hanged was renamed for Mampuru.)

Cowardly murderer or anti-colonial resistance martyr? That’s still up for debate.

* A result to be avenged/reversed 20 years on.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,South Africa

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1842: The prisoner-mutineers of the Governor Phillip

Add comment November 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1842, four men hanged in Australia for the mutiny on the Governor Phillip.*

In this abortive rebellion, a dozen prisoners being carried on the aforenamed brig off the coast of Norfolk Island capitalized on the inattention of their guards and attempted to commandeer the vessel. By every account it was an unpremeditated affair, simply an attack of opportunity when the prisoners realized they’d been carelessly left free on the deck with only two guards, who were speedily thrown into the drink. (One drowned.)

Their aspirations at this moment ran along the lines of Fletcher Christian: merely to escape.

“Captain Boyle, I want to make a proposal with you,” one of the mutineers shouted at the momentarily deposed skipper while the latter was barricaded in his cabin. “Give us provisions and sails, and we’ll take the boat and leave you.” No deal was struck; instead, within a matter of minutes, the crew and guards rallied and took back the ship. It was the least they could do since, as one news article put it, “it certainly says little for their vigilance or prowess that such an attempt could have been made with any chance of success by a handfull of unarmed men.”

Five prisoners and the one drowning guard died in the scrap.

The seven surviving mutineers were left to stand trial for piracy, four — John Jones, John Sayers, Nicholas Lewis and George Beaver — of them ultimately consigned to the gallows at Sydney. (Two reprieves and a non-prosecution spared the remainder.) They arrived thence “so firm, yet in so resigned and devotional a state of mind” for they had “gradually become aware of their awful situation and received … those aids and consolations of religion” whilst “fully acknowledging the justice of the law.”

* The ship was named for Arthur Phillip, who commanded the First Fleet that founded the first British penal colony in Australia in 1788 — the germ of the eventual city of Sydney. (Named for Phillip’s patron, the Viscount Sydney.)

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Australia,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Piracy

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1941: Shura Chekalin, Hero of the Soviet Union

Add comment November 6th, 2019 Headsman

Sixteen-year-old partisan Alexander Chekalin earned his martyrs’ crown as a Hero of the Soviet Union when he was executed by the occupying Third Reich on this date in 1941.

“Shura” (English Wikipedia entry | the predictably better-appointed Russian) joined along with his father a unit of guerrillas in the vicinity of Tula just weeks into the terrible German onslaught.

The city of Tula, a transport hub 200 kilometers south of Moscow, was a key target for the German drive on the Soviet capital in those pivotal months; the Wehrmacht’s eventual inability to take it from determined defenders was crucial to thrwarting the attack on Moscow by protecting her from the southern tong of the intended pincer maneuver.*

Chekalin didn’t live long enough to see any of this come to fruition but in his moment he did what any one man could do: ambushes, mining, and other harassment of the occupation army in the Tula oblast (region) with his comrade irregulars. Our principal was found out by the Germans recuperating from illness in a town called Likhvin — see him defending his house of refuge against hopeless odds in the commemorative USSR stamp below — and then suffered the usual tortures and interrogations before he was publicly strung up on November 6. He hung there for 20 days before the Red Army took the town back and buried him with honors

In 1944, the tiny town of Likhvin was renamed in his honor: to this day, it’s still called Chekalin.

* Tula was recognized as a Hero City of the USSR for the importance of its defence.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gibbeted,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Russia,Soldiers,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions

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