Posts filed under 'Soldiers'

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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1754: Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, the first Washington atrocity

Add comment May 28th, 2020 Headsman

A volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.

Horace Walpole (Source)

On the 28th of May in 1754, a wilderness skirmish in colonial Pennsylvania set spark to the Seven Years’ War — thanks to a battlefield execution under the auspices of the future United States founding father George Washington.

The backdrop to what pro-French partisans would call the “Jumonville Affair” was the rivalrous jockeying of French and British flags in contested North American territory. Looking to check French raiding in Ohio that was feared prelude to an attempt to effect control of that valuable and disputed tract, Washington — here a 22-year-old British lieutenant colonel, many years away yet from his future glory as the American Revolution’s great general — had engaged the French 11 miles from present-day Uniontown, Pa..

It was a short fight: Washington got the drop on the French encampment and efficiently flanked them with his Iroquois allies. Fifteen minutes, and about 10 to 14 French killed, told the tale.

It’s remembered now as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, but its namesake wasn’t around to enjoy the distinction. Instead, that defeated French commander, one Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, was allegedly taken prisoner by his opposite number but then killed out of hand by the Iroquois leader Tanacharison or Tanaghrisson (known as “Half-King” to Europeans).

There are differing accounts of exactly what happened and only speculative surmises as to why; in the most cinematically catchy version, Jumonville is attempting to communicate his mission to the victorious Washington — the two men do not share a language — when Tanaghrisson steps up to the captive and “cries out ‘Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père’ (‘Thou art not yet dead, my father’), raises his hatchet over Jumonville’s head, and crashes it into his skull. Reaching into the skull, he extracts a handful of Jumonville’s brains and washes his hands in the pulpy gore.”* According to historian Fred Anderson, this was the native chief making a declaration of war against the French, rejecting their asserted “paternity” over Indians.

Now caught out with a small force of militiamen against a rival state that was sure to be incensed when it caught word Jumonville’s killing, Washington hastily dug in behind improvised palisades, a bunker unassumingly christened “Fort Necessity”. The Iroquois did not stick around, correctly urging Washington that he’d do best to abandon the field as he’d have no prospect of withstanding the large force of French regulars that was sure to answer Jumonville Glen. Just so: on July 3, the French reached the fort and forced its surrender after a few hours’ fighting.

The French-language capitulation that Washington signed on this signal occasion — the only surrender of his military career — characterized the slaying of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville as an “assassination”. This word would be grist for years of competing propaganda between the contending empires, especially since the flying musket-balls from these two engagements would spiral into the French and Indian War (within the North American theater) and the Seven Years’ War (the larger European and global great powers war). Proving himself even at this moment to be every bit the American, Washington would spend the rest of his career attributing his assent to this incendiary word to his infelicity with French.

Despite slinking out of Pennsylvania with an L and a grudge against his translator, this frontier Gavrilo Princip did great service for his future country. Great Britain won the big war he’d started; her attempt in the 1760s and 1770s to settle the terms of her resulting domination of North America — like restricting colonization past the Appalachian Mountains, in deference to native allies like the Iroquois, or ratcheting up taxes to service gigantic war debts — only inflamed the colonists into the rebellion that put George Washington’s name onto his own imperial capital, and George Washington’s face on the world’s reserve currency. Tu n’es pas encore mort, mon père, indeed.

* Other accounts have the murder effected by musket shot, or even have Jumonville killed during the battle.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Borderline "Executions",England,Execution,France,History,No Formal Charge,Nobility,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Pennsylvania,Put to the Sword,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Tomahawked,USA

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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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1935: John Stephenson Bainbridge, ten-minute alibi

Add comment May 9th, 2020 Headsman

The defense attempted to show that Bainbridge could not have committed the crime because Mr. Herdman’s daughter stated in court that she and Bainbridge left her father in the house at 7.55pm and testified that the clock was 10 minutes fast. Herdman was supposed to be murdered between 7.50 and 9.50pm. The judge noted that if that were true and the clock were not fast then Bainbridge was innocent. The is why the case was known as the “Ten Minute Alibi”.

-From the May 9, 2020 Facebook post of the Capital Punishment UK Facebook page. Click through for a lovely photo in the comments of the crime scene, in present day.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Pelf,Soldiers

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1935: Three Venizelist officers

Add comment April 24th, 2020 Headsman

Greek Venizelist generals Anastasios Papoulas and Miltiadis Koimisis, and major Stamatis Volanis, were shot on April 24, 1935, for a failed coup attempted weeks earlier.

The Liberal titan of the Greek polity over the preceding quarter-century, Eleftherios Venizelos had forged and politically dominated the post-monarchy Hellenic Republic. The last of his several turns as Prime Minister had ended two years previous amid the wrack of the Great Depression; now, Greece was led by the center-right government of Panagis Tsaldaris who seemed keen on midwifing the return of the deposed ex-king.*

The tense relations between monarchists and republicans were catalyzed by an unsuccessful 1933 assassination attempt on Venizelos …

… and this in turn drove the republican/Venizelist faction to contemplate more desperate measures. General Nikolaos Plastiras, who had the considerable credential of having led the successful 1922 rising against the monarchy, led a failed coup in 1933 and then from exile coordinated with a second putsch attempt on March 1, 1935. Venizelos himself had coordinated with the latter attempt in the preceding months and supported it when it was launched — triggering a furious backlash that included the release from prison of his would-be assassins.

More importantly, the coup failed to command critical mass of loyalty from the armed forces.

Although the casualties of this rising numbered in the single digits, the revenge upon it was wide-ranging.

Two officers committed suicide and three more were court-martialled and executed. Among them were the leading figures of Republican Defence, Generals A. Papoulas and M. Kimissis, who had done nothing during the evening of 1 March 1935 … their death sentence was an act of anti-Venizelist vengeance. Both Papoulas (a royalist before 1922) and Kimissis had in different ways been instrumental in the execution of the six prominent royalists in 1922 [after Greece attempted to seize parts of Asia Minor from the collapsing Ottoman Empire, with disastrous results -ed.]. Cavalry Major S. Volanis, who was left to rebel alone against the authorities of Thessaloniki, was also executed. Between 10 March and 14 May, when martial law was finally lifted, 1130 officers and civilians were tried. Sixty were sentenced to death, of whom fifty-five — including Venizelos and Plastiras — had already fled abroad, and two were pardoned. Fifty-seven were sentenced to life imprisonment and seventy-six were given light terms.

-Paschalis M. Kitromilides, Eleftherios Venizelos: The Trials of Statesmanship

The failure of their attempt and the wide purge that followed opened the path for the return of the monarchy that they had so feared: after a rigged plebiscite, Greece had her king back on November 30 of that same year. Venizelos died in exile a few months later.

* Chased into exile repeatedly throughout his reign — during World War I, by Venizelos’s Republic, and again during World War II — King George II was famous for his quip that “the most important tool for a King of Greece is a suitcase.” He’s the cousin of current British royal consort Prince Philip.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Greece,History,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason

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1986: David Funchess, Vietnam War veteran

Add comment April 22nd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1986, Vietnam War veteran David Livingston Funchess was electrocuted in Florida for a double stabbing committed in the course of robbing a liquor store.

A late casualty, with his victims, of America’s imperial exertions in Indochina, Funchess had returned from the Vietnam War with leg wounds that earned him the Purple Heart, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eventually an addiction to self-medicating drug addiction.

“But for Vietnam, all indications were that he was well on his way to entering Florida’s middle class,” in the words of the late anti-death penalty attorney Michael Mello.*

In addition to the horrors of jungle combat, Funchess was exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange, which has since been linked to a wide range of serious health problems in Vietnam veterans. Among the common symptoms among many Vietnam veterans has been neuropsychological damage.

After his return from Vietnam, Funchess was a deeply disturbed and confused young man. Compounding these problems, the medication he was receiving for his painful leg wounds eventually led him onto a debilitating heroin habit.

Understanding of PTSD — within the clinical, juridical, and public realms — advanced significantly during the course of 11-plus years from Funchess’s crime in December 1974 until his execution. In one of those perverse technicalities of the U.S. death penalty system, this issue was so little understood that it was not litigated at all at the time of his initial conviction … and by the time his appeals had run his course, it could only be litigated in the court of public opinion because its irrelevance to the 1970s trial court had procedurally disbarred it.

By the end, the toll of PTSD upon Funchess was being taken up by Vietnam veteran advocacy organizations, but it cut no ice with Governor Bob Graham, whose unilateral power of executive clemency was the man’s best hope of avoiding the electric chair.

* Mello wrote the anti-death penalty book Dead Wrong: A Death Row Lawyer Speaks Out Against Capital Punishment

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Diminished Capacity,Disfavored Minorities,Electrocuted,Execution,Florida,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,USA

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1976: Bayere Moussa, Niger putschist

Add comment April 21st, 2020 Headsman

Countrymen, Brothers and Sisters of Niger,

In the name of the Nigerien officers and soldiers aware of the incessant evil perpetuated by a regime of men who are unstable, cowardly, who are enslaved by a dictator inspired by Satan, I, who speak to you, Major Bayere Moussa, announce to you that from this moment, liberty is recovered at the end of this incompetent and tyrannical regime. I would like to assure you that this noble action comes from the “base,” that is to say inspired and wanted by conscientious soldiers and countrymen.

-Note announcing the attempted March 1976 coup against Niger military dictator Seyni Kountche (Sourcebeen one of Kountche’s cabinet ministers until weeks prior, was executed on April 21, 1976; Kountche ruled Niger until his death in 1987.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Niger,Power,Soldiers,Treason

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2015: Mohammad Qamaruzzaman, militia commander

Add comment April 11th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 2015, Bangladesh hanged the former assistant secretary-general of the militant Jamaat-e-Islami party, Mohammad Qamaruzzaman.

He’d been sentenced for crimes against humanity during the 1971 war of independence that separated Bangladesh — the former “East Pakistan” — from Pakistan; his was just one of several high-profile 2010s prosecutions (and the second execution) by a special tribunal to settle scores from that bloody parting.

Jamaat-e-Islami’s party history traces back to the British Raj and versions of it exist in each of Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. In the 1971 war, that Islamist party was ferociously anti-independence, collaborating with the Pakistani military’s violent attempted suppression of the rebellion; according to Al Jazeera, Qamaruzzaman was convicted of having “headed an armed group that collaborated with the Pakistani army in central Bangladesh in 1971 and was behind the killings of at least 120 unarmed farmers.”

Qamaruzzaman proudly (and also realistically) declined to bend the knee in hopes of an unlikely presidential pardon and swung serene in the rightness and future triumph of his cause.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Bangladesh,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Pakistan,Politicians,Ripped from the Headlines,Soldiers,Terrorists

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1892: Louis Anastay, “I wish to mount the scaffold”

Add comment April 9th, 2020 Headsman

Louis Anastay was guillotined on this date in 1892.

The young army lieutenant, catching word of a windfall coming to a wealthy benefactress of his named baroness Dellard, assailed and left for dead both the lady and her servant in December 1891. (The servant survived; Dellard did not.) As the accused described it to a courtroom all aghast:

Yes, I entered; — I chatted with her; — and then I struck, –. Ah! you do not know what it is to have struck your fellow creature with a knife. I have always Madame Dellard before my eyes. I have committed a crime; — not only as an officer have I committed faults, but I have committed a crime against society; — I demand to expiate it; — I accept the responsibility; — I wish to mount the scaffold.

Sensational enough in its time that “the scum of Parisians” were jostling for sightlines to the guillotine for full two days before the blade fell, Anastay rates a passing reference in the anarchist Ravachol‘s secret courtroom address among several criminals notorious for their cupidity. (“We will no longer see men like Pranzini, Prado, Berland, Anastay and others who kill in order to have [gold].”)

According to medical historian Lindsey Fitzharris, Anastay invited his brother to attend his beheading and attempt to interact with his severed head as part of the age-old quest to prove that life subsists a few moments after decapitation. There’s no indication that any such experiment actually took place, however.

As a strange coda of compounded tragedy, that very brother, Leon Anastay by name, was himself murdered in a lovers’ quarrel in 1907.

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

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1799: Francesco Antonio Lucifero, mayor of Crotone

Add comment April 3rd, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1799, the Jacobin mayor of the Calabrian city of Crotone was shot by counterrevolutionists with three comrades.

Francesco Antonio Lucifero hailed from a devilishly powerful family that had produced several prior mayors who weren’t left-wing radicals. Our Lucifero cleaved to the Parthenopean Republic, the Neapolitan revolutionary state that from the first days of 1799 displaced the Kingdom of Naples.

The Republic was short-lived, and so was Lucifero.

Southerly Crotone was one of the first targets of the Catholic and monarchist Sanfedismo militia led by Calabrian Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, which counterattacked the Republic with fury and alacrity. Ruffo overcame that city in March; Lucifero was condemned to death along with three other leading nobleman-revolutionaries Bartolo Villaroja and Giuseppe Suriano, and a Captain Giuseppe Ducarne — the leaders of the holdout republican resistance whom Ruffo besieged in Crotone’s fortress.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Italy,Naples,Nobility,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Treason,Wartime Executions

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