Posts filed under 'Germany'

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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1630: Stine Teipel and Grete Halman, nine-year-old witches

Add comment May 4th, 2020 Headsman

Horribly, on this date in 1630 nine-year-old “witches” named Christine Teipel and Grete Halman were executed for witchcraft, in either Oberkirchen (where they were from) or Fredeburg (where they were tried).

For unknown reasons — maybe some deep well of trauma, or maybe just being a mischievous small child with no grasp of the consequences — “Stine” Teipel began spouting off in 1628 about being a witch herself, and about all the neighbors she knew who were also witches. The damage was not immediate — likely she wasn’t taken seriously — but the girl’s fabulisms lay around like dry tinder, perfect material in early 17th century Germany for gathering to a pyre.

The next year, a Hexenprozess local maximum brought her charges into the ambit of a judiciary and she

told the court that, after some ointment had been applied under her arm, she had flown to a meeting place of witches, several of whom she had recognized. She had also been on a mountain where the devil had provided everyone with beautiful clothes, as well as beer and wine in barrels of gold. In her mind the sabbath was a sort of dressing-up party in which the villagers acquired higher status and partook in a splendid meal. Belonging herself to one of the poorest families of cotters, the feast represented a kind of Schlaraffenland (Land of Cockayne). The dance had lasted two hours, and her partner had had a ‘thing’ on his body, which he had put in her private parts, but it had not given her any pleasure. (The Oxford Handbook of Witchcraft)

Grete Halman was another girl whom she accused, and who corroborated the charges, with their implications of various named adults then echoing in the customary fashion into secondary accusations and cross-confirmations. Both children, along with seven adults, were executed on May 4 — just a fraction of some 61 witches known to be put to death by this court over the span of about a year. Stine Teipell’s stepmother and Grete Halman’s parents were among the other victims.

Visitors to Schmallenberg can take in an exhibit on this particular horror at the local Holthausen museum.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Mass Executions,Public Executions,Witchcraft,Women

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1919: Gustav Landauer, anarchist intellectual

Add comment May 2nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1919, the anarchist writer and intellectual Gustav Landauer was summarily executed — or just murdered — by the Freikorps after the fall of the Bavarian Soviet.

A Jewish bourgeois from Karlsruhe, Landauer (English Wikipedia entry | German was a pacifist who ran in radical circles (with the usual prison interims) around the fin de seicle.

Although the newspaper he edited was confusingly called Der Sozialist, Landauer “wanted a revolution in which — contra Marxists — “individuals, and not the proletariat, would help to fashion a new mode of cooperative living through personal example rather than through politics and party.” He influenced the Bruderhof Movement, the Kibbutzim, and contemporaries like his friend Martin Buber.

Come World War I, he was part of the Social Democrat coalition that rejected that party’s craven support of the national war machine and cleaved off as the Independent Social Democratic Party (USPD), an affiliation that led him into the short-lived workers’ council government in Munich. It was ironic given his long advocacy of non-violent non-cooperation as the key to remaking the world that his last days would be tied to a violent rising of militants, and its violent suppression. He spurned opportunities to escape before the right-wing militias overran the Soviet.

On May 1st 1919 he was arrested by troops from the counterrevolutionary White Guard and thrown into jail in the nearby town of Starnberg. The next morning he was transferred to Stadelheim Prison. An eyewitness later described to Ernst Toller the events of May 2nd:

Amid shouts of “Landauer! Landauer!” an escort of Bavarian and Württemberger Infantry brought him out into the passage outside the door of the examination room. An officer struck him in the face, the men shouted: “Dirty Bolshie! Let’s finish him off!” and a rain of blows from rifle-butts drove him out into the yard. He said to the soldiers round him: “I’ve not betrayed you. You don’t know yourselves how terribly you’ve been betrayed”. Freiherr von Gagern went up to him with a heavy truncheon until he sank in a heap on the ground. He struggled up again and tried to speak, but one of them shot him through the head. He was still breathing, and the fellow said: “That blasted carrion has nine lives; he can’t even die like a gentleman.” Then a sergeant in the life guards shouted out: “pull off his coat!” They pulled it off, and laid him on his stomach; “Stand back there and we’ll finish him off properly!” one of them called and shot him in the back. Landauer still moved convulsively, so they trampled on him till he was dead; then stripped the body and threw it into the wash-house.

Another witness later told Toller that Landauer’s last words to his attackers were “Kill me then! To think that you are human!” Landauer’s body was buried in a mass grave from which his daughter Charlotte secured its release on May 19th that year, but it was not until May 1923 that the urn containing his remains was interred in Munich’s Waldfriedhof. In 1925, with financial backing from Georg Kaiser, a monument was erected by the Anarchist-Syndicalist Union of Munich but it was later torn down by the Nazis, who dug up his remains in 1933 and sent them to the Jewish community in Munich. He was finally laid to rest in the Jewish cemetery on Ungererstrasse. (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Intellectuals,Jews,No Formal Charge,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1918: Bolo Pasha

Add comment April 17th, 2020 Headsman

French adventurer Bolo Pasha (English Wikipedia entry | French) was shot at Fort Vincennes on this date in 1918 as a World War I German agent.

Paul Bolo was his proper name, and a striving, wandering soul was his fatal curse. “A rolling stone that gathered no moss,” says this chronicler of the Great War’s spies, “and for sheer audacity, bold resourcefulness and indifference to fate his career matched, if it did not surpass, the strangest characters depicted by the master pen of Dumas.”

He’d spent his youth in Marseilles, and subsequently Lyon, repeatedly going bust in several attempted businesses — barber, soap-seller, lobsterman, photographer, silk manufacturer. But his charm and enterprise successfully landed him the hand of a wealthy Parisian widow and with the inheritance she eventually left him, he took himself to Cairo and made himself a good chum of the European-friendly Khedive who ruled that place as an Ottoman viceroy.

‘Twas this gentleman who bequeathed upon Paul the Turkish honorary under which he would pass for the balance of his years.

Those years accelerated upon the onset of the Great War in 1914. The Khedive was deposed in Egypt by the British, and his friend the Pasha segued from sharing Nile pleasure cruises to expatriating the former ruler’s wealth.

And upon this financial chicanery he pivoted — as he had formerly done with crustaceans and straight-razors — into a jag as a wartime operative.

What was alleged against him was an attempt to sow “defeatist,” pro-peace editorial lines in French papers via the influence of laundered German money. The evidence in his eventual military tribunal was circumstantial and firmly rejected by the proud Pasha — “I am the master of money, not its slave!” — but he had attracted the attention of Entente spies with his shuttling from Rome to Geneva to Paris and then on to New York. Financial footprints in the U.S., investigated by New York at the behest of France while diligently exonerating the cooperating bank (“so skillful had been the cunning of the German agent that Morgan & Company was utterly innocent of having been made a cat’s-paw of German intrigue”) showed his suspicious manipulation of $1.7 million apparently received from the German ambassador. His defense counterattacked with some effect, contending that his prosecution was a self-interested attack by the proprietor of Le Journal, Senator Charles Humbert, after the latter unsuccessfully tried to buy back Bolo’s own shares in his paper at a wartime discount.

Humbert was subsequently arrested himself on a similar suspicion of fifth-columnist machinations; he defeated the charge. It sounds like the Third Republic basically just had a beef with the inadequate bellicosity of Le Journal.

Wartime Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau had sharp words for any Frenchmen (or their new American allies, just entering the war) similarly disinclined to the fight after the Asiatic schemer stood before his firing squad:

This Bolo Pasha, who had had his way with everybody and in almost every situation, had met a strong man at last! Bolo Pasha was one of those gentlemen who began life by betraying women; he ended it by betraying nations. There is a great difference between betraying women and betraying nations! Women forgive and forget, but nations never, never! And so at the conclusion of their little interview Mr. Clemenceau escorted Bolo Pasha to the Forest of Vincennes, and placing him with his back to a wall, compelled him to face the business end of twelve French rifles. Bolo Pasha will never betray another nation. I want to tell you Americans that that is the only way to treat a traitor!


Sketch of Bolo Pasha being escorted to his firing squad, by Jean-Louis Forain.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Businessmen,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Germany,History,Shot,Spies,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1572: Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder

Add comment March 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1572, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder were all condemned and burned at Neustadt am Rübenberge, as witches and poisoners.

Although commoners, they were the luckless casualties of misbegotten marital politics in the Holy Roman Empire, and in the words of Tara Nummedal in Anna Zieglerin and the Lion’s Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany, “the entire incident laid bare simultaneously the fear of poison and sorcery and the reluctance to advance witch accusations against women of elite status in the princely courts of central Europe.”

The particular princely court of interest for us is that of Eric(h) II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a Lutheran convert who married a House of Wettin princess called Sidonie of Saxony. It was one of those love-matches by which the bluebloods slip the bonds of arranged dynastic alliances and often, of historical irrelevancy. ‘Tis a likely antechamber to the volumes of Executed Today.

Sidonie was a decade Eric’s senior, leading one wise grandee to predict, “All sorts of things will happen inside this marriage after the kissing month ends.”

Just so. Eric reverted to Catholicism and the childless couple became bitterly estranged — not only over religion, but money, and the want of a child. (Eventually Eric would die without an heir, and pass his realm to a cousin.) So intense would the couple’s antipathy become that they began to suspect one another of seeking an abrupt annulment by the hand of the poisoner.

That hypothesis became self-confirming when Eric fell ill in 1564, and Eric (this is Nummedal again) “initiated an investigation, accusing four women in Neustadt am Rübenberge, close to Hannover, of both trying to poison him and using sorcery to disrupt his marriage, keep him away ‘from his land and people,’ and make Sidonie barren.”

Three of these four women broke under torture and admitted not only poisoning but witchcraft; they were burned in 1568. But the fourth woman, Gesche Role, had the fortitude to withstand her interrogators and was released.

It’s by way of Gesche Role that we arrive at our day’s principals — for in some fresh turn of the diplomatic jockeying between the estranged power couple, Eric renewed his accusation and re-arrested the poor woman upon fresh claims of fiendery. This time she succumbed and confessed — adding, as is the style, a series of charges against five other acquaintances: our three victims, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder; plus, Annecke’s husband Hans Lange, who died under torture; and, a woman named Margarethe Ölse or Ölsin, whose fate was stayed by dint of her pregnancy. Hans Lange had actually been a barber and surgeon who had been in ducal employment, affording some material connection to the “victim’s” plate, but of course all confessions were secured in the usual violent manner.

On the 28th of March, our three victims were condemned at Neustadt and immediately sent to the stake. Several others in the widening witch inquiry shared a like fate later that same year; the overall number of Neustadt “witches” executed from the various procedures initiated by Eric is not known, but might run up towards 60.

The reader will mark that all these souls were merely humble folk destroyed as flies to wanton boys. Witch fires were usually quenched once their flames licked titled estates, and so it was in this case, as the 1572 Hexenprozesse “also implicated a cluster of noblewomen (Anna von Rheden, Katharina Dux, and Margaretha Knigge), and it was not long before Duke Erich’s estranged wife, Sidonie, herself was accused of directing the poison plot against her husband, purportedly because of his relationship with his mistress, Katharina von Weldam. This escalation of the trial as it reached into the nobility proved to be too much, apparently, even for Duke Erich II, who halted the trial before the noblewomen were sentenced,” and after a pause the Holy Roman Emperor reconvened a hearing at which all concerned were exonerated.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Attempted Murder,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1945: Theo van Gogh, famous name

Add comment March 8th, 2020 Headsman

Theo van Gogh, a Dutch resistance fighter of portentous lineage, was executed by the German occupation on this date in 1945.

This man was the grandson of the famous Theo van Gogh, art dealer and brother to troubled, brilliant painter Vincent van Gogh.

Our Theo was a 23-year-old university student in Amsterdam pulled into anti-Nazi resistance by the imposition of a hated loyalty oath on university personnel and was arrested several times, repeatedly tolling his father for bribes to extract him.

The arrest he couldn’t buy his way out of was a home raid on March 1, 1945 — the very last weeks of the war, while these Germans were in the process of being stranded in the Low Countries. Evidently the collapse of the Reich didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the cause, because on March 8 the Germans imposed a collective punishment of 100+ executions in revenge for the Dutch resistance’s attempt to assassinate a prominent SS officer.* Theo van Gogh was one of them.

Besides his name-brand ancestry, Theo the World War II resistance figure is also the uncle (quite posthumously — this man wasn’t born until 1957) of film director Theo van Gogh, who’s a far-right martyr in his own right thanks to the vociferous anti-Islamic work that resulted in his 2004 assassination.


Prisoners’ Round (after Gustave Doré) (1890), by Vincent van Gogh.

* That officer, Hanns Albin Rauter, was executed for war crimes in 1949.

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1944: Osmund Brønnum

Add comment March 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Osmund Brønnum — boxer, Communist, and anti-Nazi Resistance martyr — was executed in Quisling Norway on this date in 1944.

Brønnum (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian) practice the sweet science for still-extant Oslo club Vika IF and later progressed into a municipal sports administrator.

A committed Popular Front advocate who had also studied in Moscow, Brønnum greeted the German occupation of his native soil with a turn to printing underground propaganda for the Norwegian Resistance — until, sensing danger, he attempted to escape to Sweden only to be arrested at the border.

He was shot with six other men (notably ichthyologist Iacob Dybwad Sømme) at the Trandumskogen forest execution site (and, a natural enough double role, mass grave). A granite marker unveiled there in 1954 pays tribute to “173 Norwegians, 15 Soviet subjects, and 6 Britons” executed in the forest over the course of the war.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Mass Executions,Norway,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions

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1903: Mathias Kneissl, Bavarian bicycle bandit

Add comment February 21st, 2020 Headsman

Bavarian bandit Mathias Kneissl was beheaded by the fallbeil guillotine in an Augsburg prison on the morning of February 21, 1903.

Kneißl/Kneissl got a juvenile start on his delinquency — the family trade, one might say; his parents were part-time thieves and fences and an uncle was a famous robber of the Munich-Augsburg roads named Johann Pascolini. He caught his first serious jail time at the tender age of 18 in an affair when his brother Alois shot dead a police officer who had come to investigate them for poaching.

Alois died of tuberculosis in prison but Kneissl emerged from his cell in 1899 — 24 years old and penniless. He soon returned to his vomit, mounting a bicycle-borne crime spree around Bavaria’s Dachau district.

Quaint though it might read in retrospect, a mobile gunslinging cyclist could be a hell of a menace in a world without cars or telephones. Kneissl proved it over the span of about a year and a half before his March 1901 arrest, raiding farms and passersby trying to accumulate a stake sufficient to vanish with his sweetheart to America.

Instead that sweetheart betrayed his hideout to authorities, who require an hourslong siege to capture the wanted outlaw. Two Altomünster gendarmes whom he had killed in a shootout supplied the requisite capital charge, notwithstanding the popular “social bandit” glow he had gained from his many months on the lam. (Folk songs celebrating him are still in circulation to this day; there have also been 1970 and 2008 cinematic treatments of this criminal legend.)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Austria,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,Murder,Outlaws,Popular Culture,Theft

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1803: Mathias Weber, Rhineland robber

Add comment February 19th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1803, robber Mathias Weber was guillotined.

“Fetzer” made a scintillating career in brigandage in 1790s Rhineland — whose west bank Prussia had been forced to cede to revolutionary France. (The legendary bandit Schinderhannes plied his trade in the same unsettled environs; the two men shared a ride to Mainz as prisoners.)

Fetzer’s gang robbed liberally and violently on the roads; their pinnacle capers were twice raiding the river town of Neuss.

Tried (and eventually executed) in Cologne, he was persuaded to confess — albeit not regret — his considerable career in villainy by a prosecutor named Anton Keil, who made use of his access to this notorious figure to print a little biography of his famous prey. Fetzer, for his part, amused himself by sketching guillotines on his cell wall and building a tally of the distinct robberies he could recollect, eventually cataloguing 178 of them. He wowed the standing-room crowd at his trial with his nerve in the courtroom, joking and sparring and readily revealing all without any expectation of trading admissions for leniency.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,France,Germany,Guillotine,Murder,Outlaws,Public Executions,Theft

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1935: Benita von Falkenhayn and Renate von Natzmer, Germany’s last beheadings by axe

Add comment February 18th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1935, Germany conducted its last axe-beheadings.

The axees were impecunious noblewomen Benita von Falkenhayn (English Wikipedia entry | German) and Renate von Natzmer (English | German), spies for Poland recruited via society love affairs with Polish envoy Jerzy Sosnowski.*


Benita von Falkenhayn (left) and Renate von Natzmer.

At 6:00 a.m. on February 18th, Benita von Falkenhayn was brought in a state of near-collapse to a courtyard of Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison. There a red-clad prosecutor read out her condemnation espionage and treason and gave her over to longtime Prussian headsman Carl Gröpler.** The old Scharfrichter bent van Falkenhayn over a rude block and crashed his heavy blade cleanly through her neck, dropping her head into a basket. After a hurried clean-up, they repeated the same ritual for Renate von Natzmer.

The Reich had within living memory to folks of Herr Gröpler’s age still remained a quiltwork confederation of small states; one artifact of its unification was penal codes that used beheading for executions yet no further specificity on the manner of beheading. The most usual means was the fallbeil, a small guillotine, but it was ultimately a matter for the jurisdiction where the sentencing took place — and antiquated manual cleavers were still sometimes deployed by the state of Prussia, which included Berlin.

In October 1936, Nazi Justice Minister Franz Gürtner successfully prevailed upon Adolf Hitler to codify the fallbeil as the explicit means of beheading throughout the Reich, putting an end to the archaic reliance on Gröpler’s brawn and aim.

* Sosnowski was released back to Poland in a prisoner exchange and there tried for treason on grounds of getting too friendly with Germany. After the 1939 invasion of Poland by the Third Reich and the USSR, he appears to have come into Soviet custody and pressed into cooperation; various reports have him thereafter dying in custody, being executed by the NKVD, or returning to the field and dying in action or after capture by the Polish Home Army.

** Four days shy of his 67th birthday at this moment, Gröpler was coming into a pension windfall courtesy of the Third Reich’s liberal expansion of capital punishment. He retired in 1937 with 144 documented executions to his name; he died in Soviet custody in January 1946.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Germany,History,Milestones,Nobility,Prussia,Spies,Treason,Women

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