Posts filed under 'Germany'

1717: The witch-children of Freising

1 comment November 12th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1717 a witch hunt in the Bavarian town of Freising concluded with the beheading of three beggar children as magicians.*

The accusations of other kids in the city against two youths named Andre and Lorenz got the snowball rolling with the aid of adults credulous enough to believe the pubescent warlocks could conjure piglets and mice.

Andre and Lorenz, naturally, then supplied confessions and additional accusations, as a result of which several more children aged 9 to 14 were arrested, all of them cajoled and tortured towards symoptic allegations. Thirteen-year-old Andre eventually hanged himself; Lorenz and two others were put to sword and fire on November 12, 1717.

Notably, two other boys were spared execution but forced to watch their fellows’ fate. One of those, Veit Adlwart, would stand at the center of a second Kinderhexenprozess in Freising that claimed eight boys and three adults in the early 1720s. Veit Adlwart was put to death on December 15, 1721.

* Street children were at great risk of catching the witch stigma given the wrong place at the time.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Burned,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft

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1945: The Rüsselsheim Massacre perpetrators

6 comments November 10th, 2018 Headsman

The U.S. Army hanged five German civilians as war criminals at Bruchsal Prison on this date in 1945. Their crime: lynching the crew of a downed American bomber, the day after Allied bombing raids devastated the manufacturing town of Rüsselsheim.

The lynching is known as the Rüsselsheim Massacre, and it claimed the lives of six of the nine flyers of a B-24 Liberator cheekily christened Wham! Bam! Thank You, Ma’m!. One of their number survived thanks to his shrapnel wounds, which saw him safely to hospital while his comrades were being transported.

The other two were simply lucky to survive the beatings administered by a mob of enraged civilians who caught sight of the Americans under the escort of only two German soldiers. On the night of August 25-26, Britain’s Royal Air Force had dumped more than 1,600 tons of explosives on Rüsselsheim to destroy the Opel factory and rail lines there. It was only the latest, and ultimately the largest, of several raids on the town dating back to July. A later U.S. study reckoned 315 Opel workers killed and 277 injured during the July-August raids, to say nothing of the devastation on other townspeople and on Opel’s slave labor.* A POW, Frenchman Pierre Cuillier, recorded of the August 25-26 attack that “a bomb fell on the dug-out for Russian women. We hear of 119 victims, a number that in reality is surely much higher.”

Under the circumstances, the good folk of Rüsselsheim were not pleased on the morning of the 26th to see Allied airmen in their town being marched to a train transfer … even if, and surely the distinction must fail to impress amid the smoldering rubble of one’s own hometown, this particular American crew had not been part of this particular British bombing. (The Americans had been shot down two days earlier en route to do a similar thing to Hanover.)

“There are the terror flyers. Tear them to pieces! Beat them to death! They have destroyed our houses!” cried Margarete Witzler and Käthe Reinhardt. As the Americans protested, the crowd overpowered the guards and took its rough revenge with whatever bludgeons were ready to hand.

At last, Joseph Hartgen, an air raid warden, finished them off with his pistol … or at least, finished off six before his chamber went empty.


Spoiler alert: it will not go well for Herr Hartgen.

Somehow the two un-shot men, Sgt. William M. Adams, and Sgt. Sidney E. Brown, still drew enough breath by the end of the ordeal to sneak away when they were being dumped into a mass grave. Captured again a few days later, they survived the war in a POW camp.**

Eleven Rüsselsheimers stood trial in Darmstadt for these Lynchmorde by July, when war was still raging in the Pacific: it was the very first war crimes proceeding under U.S. occupation.

The defendants tried out a pre-Nuremberg version of the “only following orders” defense, blaming Nazi propaganda against bomber crews for inciting the murders. The U.S. prosecutor† scoffed: “They were all grown men and women. If they are called on to commit the murder and they do, they are just as responsible as any other murderers.”

Harten and six others of the 11 caught death sentences, but the two women — Witzler and Reinhardt — both had their sentences reduced.

Warning: Although not graphic, this is a video of actual hangings.

* Quotes and figures from Working for the Enemy: Ford, General Motors, and Forced Labor in Germany During the Second World War, which is topical because Opel was a General Motors subsidiary.

** Brown lived long enough to return to Rüsselsheim at official invitation in 2001 for a formal apology. However, at the time of the trial, it was still mysterious how there came to be only six exhumed bodies from eight lynched airmen: Adams and Brown only emerged out of the mass of returning POWs after convictions had already been secured.

† The army prosecutor at the proceeding was one Lt. Col. Leon Jaworski, but he’s better known for hunting larger game later in his career as the special prosecutor during the Watergate investigations. (Jaworski is the guy embattled President Richard Nixon appointed after firing Archibald Cox in the Saturday Night Massacre.) Jaworski’s eventual legal victory over the White House in United States v. Nixon obtained the incriminating Watergate tapes in late July of 1974, forcing Nixon’s resignation just days afterwards, on August 9, 1974.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Mature Content,Milestones,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,U.S. Military,USA,Wartime Executions

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1721: Catharaina Margaratha Linck, lesbian

1 comment November 8th, 2018 Headsman

On this date in 1721, a woman named Catharina Margaretha Linck was beheaded with a sword in the Halberstadt fishmarket for homosexuality.

One projects modern sexualities into the past at peril but as Rictor Norton concludes, “there seems no reason why we should not agree with the lawyers at the trial, who defined her as a fricatrice, a ‘rubbing woman’ — in other words, a lesbian.”

Linck (English Wikipedia entry | German) busted out of the anonymous drudgery due an orphan seamstress and into historical monographs by joining an itinerant Quaker movement called the “Inspirants”.

Under those circumstances her habit of going about in men’s clothing might really have been an expedient to elude the male gaze just like Joan of Arc.

It was also a door into the male world: the gender-bending “Anastasius Rosenstengel”, as she called herself, proceeded to enlist herself by turns in the Hanoverian, Prussian, and Polish armies and fight in the War of Spanish Succession.

By 1717 a demobilized Linck was in Halberstadt, several years gone from the martial life but again passing as “Anastasius” in masculine attire … which was also the case when she married 18-year-old Catharina Margaretha Mühlhahn in St. Paul’s church. Who knows how quickly or slowly the young wife grasped the true situation: Anastasius used a homemade leather strapon dildo in the marital bed to such effect that “whenever she [Linck] was at the height of her passion, she felt tingling in her veins, arms, and legs.” (Source)

According to surviving court records, “Anastasius” during soldiering days had delighted in the habit of seducing or hiring women for the same usage. But seemingly the younger Catharina experienced enough physical discomfort from the object that she mentioned it to her mother, who blew the whistle on the whole arrangement after a dramatic domestic confrontation wherein she ripped off her “son”-in-law’s clothes to reveal the artificial cock.

There needs to be a movie made about Catharina Linck. In the meantime, German speakers have access to a 2004 biography, In Männerkleidern. Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Rosenstengel, hingerichtet 1721 or the 2015 historical novel Rosenstengel (review).

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Homosexuals,Prussia,Public Executions,Sex,Soldiers,Women

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1944: Werner Seelenbinder, communist grappler

Add comment October 24th, 2018 Headsman

Left-wing athlete Werner Seelenbinder was executed by the Third Reich on this date in 1944.

An Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, Seelenbinder’s plan to scandalize patriots by refusing to make the Nazi salute from the podium at the 1936 Berlin games was scratched when he came in fourth in the event.

Nevertheless, Seelenbinder (English Wikipedia entry | German) had already by then given more material aid to Hitler’s foes by using his sportsman’s travel itinerary as cover to act the courier for the banned Communist party.

Arrested in 1942 during the smash-up of the Robert Uhrig resistance ring, Seelenbinder was tortured horrifically in prison but died with courage — as he had pledged in a last letter to his father.

The time has now come for me to say goodbye. In the time of my imprisonment I must have gone through every type of torture a man can possibly endure. Ill health and physical and mental agony, I have been spared nothing. I would have liked to have experienced the delights and comforts of life, which I now appreciate twice as much, with you all, with my friends and fellow sportsmen, after the war. The times I had with you were great, and I lived on them during my incarceration, and wished back that wonderful time. Sadly fate has now decided differently, after a long time of suffering. But I know that I have found a place in all your hearts and in the hearts of many sports followers, a place where I will always hold my ground. This knowledge makes me proud and strong and will not let me be weak in my last moments.

As a visible public person who died in resistance to fascism, Seelenbinder made for ready national-icon material in postwar Germany … but because of his red affiliations he was honored in this fashion mostly in East Germany. (Indeed, even a sports club that had been named for him weeks after the war’s end, in the American-occupied sector, stripped his name right off a few years later to keep with the times. The stadium was reverted to its Seelenbinder christening in 2004.)


East Berlin’s Werner-Seelenbinder-Halle was demolished in 1993 and replaced by the Velodrom.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1581: Peter Niers

Add comment September 16th, 2018 Headsman

The execution of legendary German bandit and mass-murderer Peter Niers took place in Neumarkt on this date in 1581 … or at least, it started on this date.

A veritable bogeyman figure thanks to the reputation-magnifying effects of early print culture, Niers/Niersch (English Wikipedia entry | the cursory German) enjoyed a years-long career in brigandage across the fractured German map, with upwards of 500 murders to his name.*

No matter the plausibility discount we we might reckon for this sensational figure, it is verifiable that Niers was was an early modern public enemy for years before his death. He enters the documentary trail in 1577 when the first of several known crime pamphlets** about him hit movable type upon Niers’s arrest in the Black Forest town of Gersbach. Under torture, he copped at that time to 75 murders … and then he broke out of captivity and into the nightmares of every German traveler wending gloomy highways through the unguarded wilds.

Actually “rather old,” according to an arrest warrant, with crooked figures and a prominent scar on his chin, the fugitive Niers gained an outsized reputations for disguise and ferocity. As Joy Wiltenburg describes in Crime & Culture in Early Modern Germany, that Niers of fable became like Keyser Soze “assimilate[d to] various supernatural elements” that elevated the crafty gangster into a shapeshifter or magician powered by a demonic patron.

The roving killer Peter Niers and his gang appeared in a number of accounts, several without demonic content. Johann Wick followed Niers’s career with horror; his collection includes three pamphlets on his misdeeds between 1577 and 1582. Niers was arrested and tortured in Gersbach in 1577, confessing to seventy-five murders. According to a song pamphlet from 1577, he learned the art of invisibility from an earlier arch-murderer, Martin Stier. (Wick also owned an account of Stier’s misdeeds and added a note in the margin of the Niers pamphlet, cross-referencing Stier’s 1572 execution in Wurttemberg.) Both Stier and Niers confessed to killing pregnant women. Each had also ripped a male fetus from the mother’s body, cut off its hands, and eaten its heart. Niers evidently escaped in 1577, to be rearrested in 1581 and this time finally executed. According to the pamphlet account, he was caught only because he was separated from the sack containing his magical materials and so could not turn invisible. Here the capture is considered an act of God, but the Devil gets no explicit credit for Niers’s evil magic or his 544 murders, including those of 24 pregnant women. Only the final pamphlet, printed in Strasbourg in 1583, fully explains the diabolical reason for the mutilation of fetuses. Here, the Devil makes an explicit pact with the killers and promises them supernatural powers from the fetal black magic.

He must have been a few fetuses late by the end, for it was his disguise that failed him when he slipped into Neumarkt in August 1581 intending to freshen up at the baths. Instead, he was recognized and arrested.

His body — already put to the tortures of pincers and oil — was shattered and laid on the breaking-wheel on September 16, 1581, but it was two agonizing days before this terror of the roads finally breathed his last.

* 500 murders sounds like plenty to you, me, and Ted Bundy, but it wouldn’t have even made him the most homicidal German outlaw executed in 1581.

** A 1582 print reporting Niers’s execution is available online here.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,History,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft,Torture

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1941: Viggo Hasteen and Rolf Wickstrom, for the Milk Strike

Add comment September 10th, 2018 Headsman

On September 10, 1941, the German authorities occupying Norway martyred two labor activists.

The Third Reich occupied Norway in the spring of 1940, adding their puppet ruler’s surname to the world’s lexicon.


Rations queue in Oslo, 1941.

Besides the obvious consequences — national humiliation, political executions — the occupation brought terrible economic hardship to ordinary Norwegians. Most of Norway’s western-facing trading relationships were severed by the wartime takeover, and the lion’s share of national output was appropriated by Berlin. Norway’s GDP fell by nearly half during the war years.

“There was a real risk of famine,” Wikipedia advises us. “Many, if not most, Norwegians started growing their own crops and keeping their own livestock. City parks were divided among inhabitants, who grew potatoes, cabbage, and other hardy vegetables. People kept pigs, rabbits, chicken and other poultry in their houses and out-buildings. Fishing and hunting became more widespread.”

And people got more and more pissed off.

On September 8, shipyard workers protesting the withdrawal of their milk rations triggered a large, but brief, labor disturbance. The Milk Strike was violently quashed by September 10 with a declaration of martial law in Oslo and nearby Aker and the arrests of a number of labor leaders, five of whom were condemned to death.

Two of those five sentences were actually carried out:* those of lawyer and Communist Viggo Hansteen (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian), and labor activist Rolf Wickstrom (English | Norwegian).

They’re honored today in Oslo with a monumental joint tombstone and a memorial.

* Generous commutations awarded to Ludvik Buland and Harry Vestli permitted them to die in prison before the war was out. Their comrade Josef Larsson survived the war and chaired the Norwegian Union of Iron and Metalworkers until 1958.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Lawyers,Norway,Occupation and Colonialism,Rioting,Shot,Wartime Executions

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1943: Jarmila Zivcova, correspondent

1 comment September 9th, 2018 Headsman

In the early morning hours on this date in 1943, Jarmila Zivcova, her husband Vaclav Zivec, and their friend Ruzena Kodadova were beheaded in Berlin. These Czechoslovakians had been condemned for complicity in the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich.

Their deaths were part of the mass of executions ordered by the Reich after Allied bombing damaged Berlin’s Plotzensee Prison, but we notice them via this thread on the information-dense Axis History Forum, thanks to the unusual circumstance of having their “last letters to their families” — a palliative exercise whose product was often destroyed rather than delivered — rescued by Karel Rameš. In his Zaluji: Pankracka Kalvarie, he gives the text of Jarmila Zivcova’s heartbreaking last missives, as translated by a forum poster:

9 September 1943:

Dear Mrs Taskova:

We are here with Ruzena in the preparation cell and at 4:30 we will be executed – us two, and my husband. We believed till the last moment that this would not happen, but unfortunately this morning we had to hear the awful truth that we must die. You were deceived if they promised you that we will be saved. Ruzena is very devastated, her hands shake, so she cannot even…

… and, scrawled on the back of a photograph of Vaclav and Jarmila’s son:

9/9/43, from your mom and dad:

My dear Jiri, keep this picture, kissed thousand times, in memory of your mother who found solace in it even in the saddest moments.

These aren’t names rich with search hits, but a German volume called Berufswunsch Henker contributes this letter from friends on the harrowing experience of proximity to the fallbeil:

We have seen our best friends go — Rosa Kodakova, Jarmila Zivcova, and many others. We can hear the severed heads crash onto the floor. We hear every detail in the vicinity of our cell. We hear the gate of the preparation cell open, then the executioner’s footsteps to the door; we hear his helpers grab the victim, shove her on the wooden bench, and cut off the head. Then they carry the body away without a head. They place the body in a rough coffin, their chopped-off head thrown between the dead man’s legs. The whole thing is then transported away somewhere for burning. By now we all know the whole story by heart.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Terrorists,Wartime Executions,Women

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1941: Henri Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, the first martyr of Free France

Add comment August 29th, 2018 Headsman

Henri Honoré d’Estienne d’Orves, the “first martyr of Free France”, fell to German guns at the Fort du Mont Valerien on this date in 1941, along with two companions.

A Catholic nationalist naval officer, d’Estienne d’Orves found himself in Egypt in June 1940, when his government capitulated to the devastating German blitz.

Eschewing the accommodationist crowd, d’Estienne d’Orves made his way first to a fleet in Somaliland, and then around the Cape of Good Hope and up to London, to link arms with de Gaulle’s Free French government-in-exile. By December of 1940, he’d infiltrated himself into German-occupied France to set up a spy network. By January of 1941, most of the network had been arrested by the Gestapo.

He and eight others were death-sentenced on May 13 and although the German brass entertained the possibility of clemency as their tribute to an honorable fellow-troop, the growth of partisan attacks against the Reich throughout that summer* eventually dictated a more punitive course. D’Estienne d’Orves, Maurice Barlier, and Jan Doornik were fusilladed together, disdaining blindfolds.


Proclamation in German and French announcing the August 29, 1941 executions of Henri Louis Honore d’Estiennes d’Orves, Maurice Charles Emile Barlier, and Jan Louis-Guilleaume Doornik.

* Germany’s invasion of the USSR in June 1941 forced European Communist parties — and very notably the formerly reticent French Communists — into violent anti-Nazi resistance.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,France,Germany,History,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Shot,Soldiers,Spies,Wartime Executions

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1918: Boris Donskoy, Left SR assassin

1 comment August 10th, 2018 Headsman

One hundred years ago today, the Germans hanged Russian revolutionary Boris Donskoy.

Donskoy was not a Bolshevik but a Left Social Revolutionary — the party faction most closely aligned with Team Lenin. And his offense was a revolutionary crime, but one that events soon swept into irrelevancy.

In March of that same year, Russia’s revolutionary government had fulfilled its promise to exit the charnel house of World War I, ceding in exchange for peace the huge territorial gains that Germany had exacted in the bloodlands in-between empires.

These prospectively gigantic territorial gains were not long held by Berlin, whose wartime government would collapse suddenly before the year was out … but in the short interim where we lay our post, the Baltic States, Belarus, and Ukraine are under firm German control.

The last of these stood under the authority of Field Marshal Hermann von Eichhorn. Donskoy, a radical sailor who had served on the Executive Committee of Kronstadt when it demonstrated against the Revolution’s initial, too-moderate Provisional Government, on July 29 assassinated the field marshal — declaring to his captors that the old Prussian warhorse had been condemned by the Left SRs for suppressing the Ukrainian revolution.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mature Content,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Occupation and Colonialism,Public Executions,Revolutionaries,Russia,Terrorists,Ukraine,USSR,Wartime Executions

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1599: Elisabeth Strupp, Gelnhausen witch

Add comment August 3rd, 2018 Headsman

The German town of Gelnhausen executed Elisabeth Strupp as a witch on this date in 1599.


Sculpture erected before Gelnhausen’s Marienkirche on the 400th anniversary of Elisabeth Strupp’s prosecution; it is one of five monuments to the victims of Gelnhausen’s witch hunts — all 52 of whom were symbolically rehabilitated in 2015.

The widow of a Protestant pastor,* Strupp is little known for her life. Strupp was probably in her sixties when a preceding accused witch, one Barbara Scherer, served Strupp’s name up to interrogators in a Hexenprozesse.


Illustration of a witches’ sabbat, from the Swiss National Museum.

The usual farrago of gossip and defamation then compiled itself into legal trappings sufficient for execution: a woman who miscarried after Strupp stroked her belly; some foul words exchanged with a maid; a couple of townsfolk who had suffered random injuries that they attributed to Elisabeth Strupp’s influence; and some colorful confessions of black sabbaths. Her rank earned her only the “privilege” of beheading prior to burning.

Elisabeth Strupp is the best-known witch hunted in Gelnhausen, thanks in part to a romantic early 20th century novel by Heinrich Zipf which names her “Maria” and considerably fictionalizes her story. This book is presumably in the public domain, but if it’s available online I have not been able to locate it.

* The Strupp family had been instrumental in the early promulgation of Lutheranism in Gelnhausen.

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

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