Posts filed under 'Germany'

1905: Kinjikitile Ngwale, Maji Maji Rebellion prophet

Add comment August 4th, 2020 Headsman

Tanzanian medium Kinjikitile Ngwale was hanged as a traitor to Germany on this date in 1905.

He emerged as a prophet of the Maji Maji Rebellion, a rising in German East Africa (modern-day Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi) — provoked by the strains imposed by the mother country’s exploitation of their possession, most particularly the tilt into growing cotton for export.

The rebellion takes its name from the magical maji — that’s just the Swahili word for “water” — supplied by Kinjikitile, a castor oil potion that he said would melt German bullets into water. Both the ointment and the cult* behind it provided an organizing principle for disparate peoples and grievances of what is now southeast Tanzania. The German bullets, however, did not melt.

Kinjikitile was arrested almost immediately with the onset of the revolt in July 1905 and hanged soon thereafter. The rising that he kindled raged on until 1907, and the German reply of imposing famine** laid tens of thousands of souls in the earth in the course of suppressing it. In the 1950s, a journalist would remark that “even today the Southern Province of Tanganyika, the ‘Cinderella Province,’ has not fully recovered from the German terror half a century ago. The economy of the region has never been successfully rebuilt.” But the rebellion’s spirit of fellow-feeling against the colonizer has been invoked many times since as one of the foundational stirrings of Tanzanian nationalism.

* We use the term entirely without pejorative intent.

** Not unlike what had been done immediately prior to the Herero in German South West Africa (present-day Namibia).

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Religious Figures,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1942: Valentin Feldman, “Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”

Add comment July 27th, 2020 Headsman

Marxist philosopher and French Resistance figure Valentin Feldman was shot on this date in 1942, but he went out with an epic own of his firing squad: “Imbéciles, c’est pour vous que je meurs!” (“Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”).

A Jewish emigre from the Soviet Union, Feldman (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed French) matriculated at Paris’s prestigious Lycee Henri-IV alongside such luminaries as Simone Weil and Maurice Schumann. He mobilized during the “Phoney War” run-up ahead of Germany’s blitz on France, publishing a short Journal de guerre about his experiences.

He was excluded from his teaching work by anti-Semitic laws, leaving him plenty of time for anti-occupation subversion until he was caught sabotaging a factory.

Feldman’s last words were so unsurpassably revolutionary and modern and French that Jean-Luc Godard built a 1988 short film, Le Dernier Mot, around them.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous Last Words,France,Germany,History,Intellectuals,Jews,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Revolutionaries,Wartime Executions

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1943: The hanging of the twelve

Add comment July 19th, 2020 Headsman

This testimonial refers to an incident at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Those hanged were Poles from a forced-labor detail suffering collective punishment for the escape of other inmates from the same group; Janusz Skrzetuski was the man who kicked out his own stool.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Poland,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1980: Winfried Baumann

Add comment July 18th, 2020 Headsman

East German frigate captain Winfried Baumann was shot on this date in 1980 as a spy.

He and a collaborator, Dr. Christa-Karin Schumann,* were caught by the prolific DDR mail surveillance program dropping messages for the West German Federal Intelligence Service. (This Bundesnachrichtendienst, originally founded in 1956, remains unified Germany’s intelligence agency today.) East Germany’s last executioner Hermann Lorenz carried out the sentence by shooting at Leipzig Prison.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,East Germany,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Shot,Spies

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1788: Elisabetha Gassner

Add comment July 16th, 2020 Headsman

Thief Elisabetha Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was beheaded in Oberdischingen by executioner Xaver Vollmer on this date in 1788.

Gassner (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an industrious laborer who, born a vagrant and soon after losing her father, busted her hump into a home and a small farm of her own while maintaining a large family (seven kids by the time of her beheading, plus an invalid mother).

Nimble fingers made her this nest egg — fingers for knitting stockings, and, more and more, for picking pockets in Biderberg and Württemberg.

With a purported 300+ thefts attributed to her, she acquired outsized reputation as a thief transcendent enough to apotheosize her under the nickname Schwarze Lies (“Black Lisa”) alongside the legendary outlaws of the day.

Her ambition for a foothold in this precarious world made her as bold with the quality of her targets as their quantity: her arrest was for lifting a 1,700 guilder purse from Count Franz Ludwig Schenk von Castell, in the chapel of Ludwigsburg Palace.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Holy Roman Empire,Public Executions,Theft,Women

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1951: The Einsatzgruppen Trial war criminals

Add comment June 7th, 2020 Headsman

A batch of Nazi war criminals highlighted by four condemned at the Einsatzgruppen trial hanged at Germany’s Landsberg Prison on this date in 1951.

Formed initially to decapitate Polish intelligentsia when Germany invaded that country in 1939, these notorious paramilitaries were deployed by Reinhard Heydrich behind the advancing German line of battle to pacify occupied territory. “Pacify” in the event meant slaying Communists, partisans, and of course, the Reich’s innumerable racial inferiors. Einsatzgruppen authored many mass executions like the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev, each local atrocity a self-conscious contribution to the wholesale genocide. All told these units might have killed upwards of 2 million human beings; they were also used to gather Eastern European Jews into urban ghettos, which subsequently became the staging points for deportations to the camps.

Postwar, the big Nuremberg war crimes tribunal against the major names in the German hierarchy unfolded from late 1945 in a multinational courtroom: American, British, French, and Russian judges and prosecutors working jointly.

But the emerging superpower rivalry soon narrowed the window for similar cooperation in successor trials, leading the rival powers to try cases on their own.* Accordingly, United States military tribunals unfolded 12 additional mass trials, known as the subsequent Nuremberg trials — each exploring particular nodes of the Nazi project — such as the Doctors’ trial and the IG Farben trial.

The Einsatzgruppen trial was one of these — 24 Einsatzgruppen officers prosecuted at the Palace of Justice from September 29, 1947 to April 10, 1948.

Twenty-two of the 24 were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and 14 sentenced to death. However, ten of the fourteen prospective hangings were commuted, and all surviving prisoners had been released by 1958. The four who actually went to the gallows at Landsburg Prison on June 7, 1951 were:

    Out of the total number of the persons designated for the execution, 15 men were led in each case to the brink of the mass grave where they had to kneel down, their faces turned toward the grave. At that time, clothes and valuables were not yet collected. Later on this was changed …

    When the men were ready for the execution one of my leaders who was in charge of this execution squad gave the order to shoot. Since they were kneeling on the brink of the mass grave, the victims fell, as a rule, at once into the mass grave.

    I have always used rather large execution squads, since I declined to use men who were specialists for shots in the neck (Genickschusspezialisten). Each squad shot for about one hour and was then replaced. The persons which still had to be shot were assembled near the place of execution, and were guarded by members of those squads, which at that moment did not take part in the executions.

    -Paul Blobel on his mass-execution process

  • Otto Ohlendorf, an economist tapped as commander of Einsatzgruppe D (educated and ideologically reliable administrator were intentionally sought for leadership positions in these gangs). Together with Ukrainian and Romanian auxiliaries, this unit killed 90,000 people in southern Ukraine and Crimea which the good functionary strove to render “military in character and humane under the circumstances.”
  • Werner Braune, a former Gestapo man who became chief of one of Einsatzgruppe D’s units, called Einsatzkommando 11b.
  • Erich Naumann, a former brownshirt turned commander of Einsatzgruppe B who frankly acknowledged to the tribunal that “I was ordered to Heydrich and I received clear orders from him for Russia. Now, first of all, I received the Fuehrer-Order concerning the killing of Jews, Gypsies and Soviet officials” and “considered the decree to be right because it was part of our aim of the war and, therefore, it was necessary.”
  • Paul Blobel, a World War I veteran become architect who was into his late forties when he helped organize the Babi Yar massacre. Afterwards, he had charge of Sonderaktion 1005, a 1942-1944 project to destroy evidence of such massacres by, e.g., digging up mass graves to pulverize and dynamite the remains into unrecognizability. “The mission was constituted after it first became apparent that Germany would not be able to hold all the territory occupied in the East and it was considered necessary to remove all traces of the criminal executions that had been committed,” according to Adolf Eichmann aide Dieter Wisliceny. Blobel “gave a lecture before Eichmann’s staff of specialists on the Jewish question from the occupied territories. He spoke of the special incinerators he had personally constructed for use in the work of Kommando 1005. It was their particular assignment to open the graves and remove and cremate the bodies of persons who had been previously executed. Kommando 1005 operated in Russia, Poland and through the Baltic area.”

In a concession to efficiency or spectacle, they were joined by the three other condemned men from other installments of the Nuremberg trials, the , against the directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps.

  • Oswald Pohl, the head of he directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps. He was the only person executed from his own particular installment of the war crimes trials, called thePohl trial
  • Georg Schallermair, an SS sergeant convicted for murders he’d personally committed at Dachau.
  • Hans Schmidt, the former adjutant of the Buchenwald concentration camp who carried his implausible insistence of ignorance as to the camp’s deaths all the way to the end. Schmidt’s name in the news might have inspired an American wrestling promoter to assign it in 1951, along with a boffo Nazi persona, to one of pro wrestling’s great heels.

* Here’s some information about Soviet war crimes trials.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

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1629: Thomas Schreiber, “thistles, thorns, and strife”

Add comment May 30th, 2020 Headsman

The heartrending and entirely timeless story of a man destroyed for during the three-year witch hunt paroxysm in Mergentheim for having more wisdom and decency than the duly constituted authorities is excerpted from Witch Hunting in Southwestern Germany, 1562-1684: The Social and Intellectual Foundations.


Book CoverThomas Schreiber had a strong sense of justice. When the trials in Mergentheim had run only two months, he had already lost faith in the judicial procedure. On December 1, 1628, when Martha, wife of Bürgermeister Hans Georg Braun, was executed, Schreiber was heard by many persons exclaiming that she had been done a gross injustice. Schreiber even let slip that “King Nero” had also conducted such bloodbaths. Six weeks later Schreiber was again appalled when the extremely wealthy widow of Lorenz Gurren was convicted of witchcraft, and executed on January 12, 1629. When attending the execution of the lady, he had the temerity to express amazement over her confession. The Amtmann Max Waltzen turned to him and said pointedly, “Ha, ha, those who know the devil should not be so amazed.” That kind of talk perturbed Schreiber, and when magistrates began avoiding him, he prepared to flee. During this time he repeatedly denounced the court for its unjust trials and declared that “if anything happens to me, let every pious Christian fear for himself.” He also prayed that “God might preserve everyone from Neuenhaus [the jail and torture chamber], for even the most pious if put in there would be found to be a witch.” The trials, he insisted, were bloodbaths, and the magistrates were out to “wash their hands in my blood.”

Other records show some of the reasons for the behavior of the magistrates toward Schreiber. On December 12, 1628, Martha Dökherin claimed to have seen Schreiber at a witches’ dance. On January 29, 1629, a second woman denounced him. Schreiber’s terror grew as he sensed that things were closing in on him. Schreiber’s terror grew as he sensed that things were closing in on him. He arranged to have money sent out of town to a place where he could later pick it up. On February 1, 1629, he left town, and fled to Ansbach, and later to Hohenlohe. He left in such a hurry that he later had to write his wife to send him his cloak, shoes, black hat, and a pair of green trousers. He wrote also to his friend, the Latin teacher George Allemahn, asking him to examine the case secretly to see whether it was safe to return. In a letter to Bürgermeister Paul Nachtraben [whose own wife had also been executed as a witch -ed.], Schreiber again explained why he had left and protested his innocence. He noted that he feared trial because torture led people to confess lies. In yet another letter to his wife he comforted her with the thought, “Oh what pains these unjust judges will have to suffer in hell!” Finally in a tiny note no larger than three inches by four, he told his wife to meet him at Ebersheim in Hohenlohe.

Unfortunately this note and perhaps the other letters were intercepted by the magistrates in Mergentheim. On February 9, 1629, they wrote to Hohenlohe that Schreiber was staying in Ebersheim, and to kindly detain him until extradition papers could be prepared. By February 10, Schreiber was back in Mergentheim answering questions. He admitted at once that the trials seemed like bloodbaths to him but he could not be sure that anyone had been done an injustice. When asked if he had not defended the witches “and held that witchcraft was mere fantasy,” Schreiber replied that “he had always said [that witch trials were legitimate] only if no one is done an injustice.” At this point the authorities in Mergentheim were apparently confused. There were only two denunciations of Schreiber as a witch, not enough for torture, and Schreiber was too important a man to be dealt with lightly. The first deficiency was remedied on February 13, when Catharina, Georg Reissen’s wife, denounced Schreiber. We may suspect that Schreiber’s name had been suggested to her, as indeed it may have been to the preceding two women.

Schreiber’s friends were another matter. On April 10, the authorities in Mergentheim received a supplication from friends and relatives in Heidenheim, Langenau, Ellwangen, Dinkelsbühl, and Aalen. They protested the lengthy incarceration of Schreiber without specific charges, admitted that he might have sinned against the magistracy set up by God, but pleaded that his youth and his four little children be mitigating factors.

Instead of considering Schreiber’s children, the court wrote to Würzburg for advice. On May 6, 1629, the authorities at Würzburg replied that (1) because three persons had denounced him, (2) because he had fled, (3) because he had attacked the judicial system, Thomas Schreiber might be tortured. The court in Mergentheim proceeded to this step on May 19. Once again Schreiber called the ever mounting trials a bloodbath, [the author here footnotes that 33 more persons had been executed since Schreiber’s capture] but claimed to be glad that God was letting him suffer. Dr. Baumann interrupted to insist “as surely as God is in heaven, this is justice.” Schreiber countered by swearing “as truly as Christ died on the cross, and God created me, I am innocent.” He also asked, “Cannot the learned make mistakes in this matter too?” That ws the last straw; he was given over to torture. After hanging for the length of a Pater noster, he admitted that he had committed adultery three years ago with a woman who turned out to be the devil. In addition he had denied God and said that “men die like cattle.” The rest of his confession proceeded readily as he admitted attending witches’ dances and named those whom he had seen there. He claimed that he had never harmed anyone by magic, since his only reason for giving himself to the devil was Pullschafft (sexual intercourse). He confessed that he had stolen the host from the Eucharist, and proved to be incapable of repeating his rosary. For a man with so many relatives in Protestant Heidenheim, this incapacity must have seemed particularly significant. He confirmed this confession on May 22, naming seven complices, and ratified these confessions and denunciations again on May 25, 26 and 28. Clearly the authorities wanted to establish beyond all doubt the voluntary nature of his confession.

In letters to his wife during this time, Schreiber continued to protest his innocence and with great emotion took leave of his family. Fortunately he could look forward to meeting them again in heaven, but even this did not create resignation. He urged his wife to marry again and noted that she had always repeated an axiom that now had especially bitter relevance: “Whoever is chosen for eternal life must undergo thistles, thorns, and strife.” In the only note we have from Anna Schreiber, written in a very crude hand, she begs pardon for ever giving him the idea that she thought him guilty of witchcraft, and wishes she were dead. The letters are certainly as touching and revealing as the famous one of Mayor Junius in Bamberg, or that of [Magdalena] Weixler in Ellwangen.

The case of Thomas Schreiber is better documented than most, but it reveals the shock and fear that pervaded a town in the grip of panic. Friendships broke down as men lost confidence in one another; families were rent with grief and self-accusation. This case reveals most clearly the danger of attacking the judicial system in the midst of spasms of witch hunting. Doubts, if any, were for the judges, not the populace. Theoretical statements, especially in Latin, were also tolerable. But specific attacks on men and policies were contempt of court and brought swift retribution. On May 30, 1629, Thomas Schreiber was beheaded and burned. Yet how can one measure his contribution to the crisis of confidence in Mergentheim?

The fires continued to burn after the protest of this innkeeper “zum Hirsch.” But the growing awareness that he had been right after all brought witch hunting to a close in Mergentheim before the Swedes arrived to enforce such a policy. The panic had lasted two and a half years, had cost 126 lives, and had disrupted the lives of hundreds more. If this was social catharsis, it nearly killed the patient.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Wartime Executions,Witchcraft

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1527: Hans Hergot, immovable type

Add comment May 20th, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought

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

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

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

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1956: Sylvester Murau, via filial impiety

Add comment May 16th, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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1944: Oskar Kusch, Wehrkraftzersetzung U-boat commander

Add comment May 12th, 2020 Headsman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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