1948: The Eilabun Massacre

Add comment October 30th, 2019 Headsman

This account of a dozen-strong summary execution at the Upper Galilee village of Eilabun by the Israeli Defense Forces during the Arab-Israeli War hails from The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited by Israel’s best-known “New Historian”, Benny Morris:

Christian villages, traditionally friendly or not unfriendly towards the Yishuv, were generally left in peace. An exception was ‘Eilabun, a mainly Maronite community, which fell to Golani‘s 12th Battalion on 30 October after a battle on its outskirts with the ALA [Arab Liberation Army], in which the Israelis suffered six injured and four armoured cars knocked out. The villagers hung out white flags and the Israelis were welcomed by four priests. The inhabitants huddled inside the churches while the priests surrendered the village. But the troops were angered by the battle just concluded and by reports of a procession in the village, a month before, in which a large number of inhabitants had participated, in which the heads of two IDF soldiers who had gone missing after the attack on 12 September on a nearby hilltop — ‘Outpost 213’ — were carried through the streets, or by the actual discovery in a house of one of the rotting heads. What happened next is described in a letter from the village elders to [Israeli Minister of Police Bechor-Shalom] Shitrit: The villagers were ordered to assemble in the square. While assembling, one villager was killed and another wounded by IDF fire.

Then the commander selected 12 young men and sent them to another place, then he ordered that the assembled inhabitants be led to [the neighbouring village of] Maghar and the priest asked him to leave the women and babies and to take only the men, but he refused, and led the assembled inhabitants — some 800 in number — to Maghar preceded by military vehicles … He himself stayed on with another two soldiers until they killed the 12 young men in the streets of the village and then they joined the army going to Maghar … He led them to Farradiya. When they reached Kafr‘Inan they were joined by an armoured car that fired upon them … killing one of the old men, Sam‘an ash Shoufani, 60 years old, and injuring three women … At Farradiya [the soldiers] robbed the inhabitants of 500 and the women of their jewelry, and took 42 youngsters and sent them to a detention camp, and the rest the next day were led to Meirun, and afterwards to the Lebanese border. During this whole time they were given food only once. Imagine then how the babies screamed and the cries of the pregnant and weaning mothers.

Subsequently, troops looted ‘Eilabun.

Not all the villagers were taken on the trek to Lebanon. The four priests were allowed to stay. Hundreds fled to nearby gullies, caves and villages, and during the following days and weeks infiltrated back. The affair exercised the various Israeli bureaucracies for months, partly because the ‘Eilabun case was taken up and pleaded persistently by Israeli and Lebanese Christian clergymen. The villagers asked to be allowed back and receive Israeli citizenship. They denied responsibility for severing the soldiers’ heads, blaming one Fawzi al Mansur of Jenin, a sergeant in Qawuqji‘s army [i.e., the ALA].

The affair sparked a guilty conscience and sympathy within the Israeli establishment. Shitrit ruled that former inhabitants still living within Israeli-held territory must be allowed back to the village. But Major Sulz, Military Governor of the Nazareth District, responded that the army would not allow them back. He asserted, ambiguously, that ‘Eilabun had been ‘evacuated either voluntarily or with a measure of compulsion’. A fortnight later, he elaborated, mendaciously: ‘The village was captured after a fierce fight and its inhabitants had fled.’ The Foreign Ministry opined that even if an ‘injustice’ had been committed, ‘injustices of war cannot be put right during the war itself’.

However, Shitrit, supported by Mapam’s leaders and egged on by the village notables and priests, persisted. Cisling suggested that the matter be discussed in Cabinet. Shitrit requested that the villagers be granted citizenship (relieving them of the fear of deportation as illegal infiltrees), that the ‘Eilabun detainees be released and that the villagers be supplied with provisions. Within weeks, Shitrit was supported by General Carmel, who wrote that ‘in light of the arguments [about their mistreatment]’ and of the fact that the area was not earmarked for Jewish settlement, the inhabitants should be left in place ‘and accepted as citizens’. Within weeks, the inhabitants received citizenship and provisions, and the detainees were released. At the same time, Shitrit, as Minister of Police, persuaded Yadin, to initiate an investigation of the massacre. During the summer of 1949, the ‘Eilabun exiles in Lebanon who wished to return were allowed to do so, as part of an agreement between Palmon, head of the Arab Section of the Political Department of the Foreign Ministry, and Archbishop Hakim, concerning the return of several thousand Galilee Christians in exchange for that cleric’s future goodwill towards the Jewish State. Hundreds returned to ‘Eilabun.

The abortive attack on ‘Outpost 213’, bizarrely enough, triggered a second atrocity four days after the first massacre. On 2 November,vtwo squads of the 103rd Battalion were sent on a search operation to Khirbet Wa‘ra as Sauda, a village inhabited by the ‘Arab al Mawasi beduins, three kilometres east of the outpost. While one squad kept guard over the villagers, the other — led by Lt. Haim Hayun, veteran of the September assault — climbed up to the outpost, where it discovered ‘the bones of the soldiers lost in the previous action’. The bodies were ‘headless’. The troops then torched the village (and presumably expelled the inhabitants), taking with them to their HQ in Maghar 19 adult males. There, the prisoners were sorted out and 14 were determined to have ‘taken part in enemy activity against our army’. They were taken away and ‘liquidated’ (huslu). The remaining five were transferred to a POW camp.

‘Eilabun and ‘Arab al Mawasi were only two of the atrocities committed by the IDF during Hiram, which saw the biggest concentration of atrocities of the 1948 war. Some served to precipitate and enhance flight; some, as in ‘Eilabun, were part and parcel of an expulsion operation; but in other places, the population remained in situ and expulsion did not follow atrocities.

Details about most the atrocities remain sketchy; most of the relevant IDF and Israel Justice Ministry documentation — including the reports of various committees of inquiry — remain classified. But there is some accessible, civilian documentation — and a few military documents have escaped the censorial sieve. It emerges that the main massacres occurred in Saliha, Safsaf, Jish and the (Lebanese) village of Hule, between 30 October and 2 November. In the first three villages, Seventh Brigade troops were responsible. At Saliha it appears that troops blew up a house, possibly the village mosque, killing 60–94 persons who had been crowded into it. In Safsaf, troops shot and then dumped into a well 50–70 villagers and POWs. In Jish, the troops apparently murdered about 10 Moroccan POWs (who had served with the Syrian Army) and a number of civilians, including, apparently, four Maronite Christians, and a woman and her baby. In Hule, just west of the Galilee Panhandle, a company commander and a sergeant of the Carmeli Brigade’s 22nd Battalion shot some three dozen captured Lebanese soldiers and peasants and then demolished a house on top of them, killing all. Civilians appear to have been murdered in Sa‘saas well.

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1948: Shafiq Ades

Add comment September 23rd, 2019 Headsman

Iraq’s June 1948 elections hard in the wake of the humiliating defeat of Iraq’s expeditionary by the infant state of Israel ushered in a ferociously anti-Zionist, anti-Jewish government.

A frightening persecution unfolded that summer.

In mid-July, both houses of the Iraqi parliament ratified a bill amending Law No. 51 of the 1938 Criminal Code. Under the 1938 law, communist or anarchist activity was defined as a criminal offence for which the punishment ranged from seven years’ imprisonment, to death. The new amendment included Zionist activity in the category of criminal activity. It stipulated that the sworn testimony of two Moslem witnesses would suffice to incriminate any Jew, whatever his standing. Under the amended law, numerous Jews, and particularly the prosperous, were arrested. The detention of rich Jews in particular and others as well, was now an everyday occurrence, initiated by government officials, judges and the police, with the aim of extorting money from them.

On 10 August 1948, the Iraqi government announced that all Jews who had left the country for Palestine since 1939 and had not returned, would henceforth be considered criminals who had defected to the enemy and would be tried in absentia by a military tribunal … the government issued a stringent edict dismissing all Jewish employees of government offices on the grounds that official secrecy must be protected … Young Jews who had completed their university studies encountered difficulties in finding employment. Jewish physicians were no longer accepted into government service nor were they granted licences for private practice. Various restrictions were imposed on entry of Jewish students into high schools and universities. (The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-1951, by Moshe Gat)

Driven by such incentives, no small portion of Iraq’s Jewry began to contemplate flight abroad — an inclination that an Israel hungry for settlers keenly supported. And the piece de resistance in those terrible months was the September 23 hanging of the businessman Shafiq Ades.

Wealthy and well-connected, Ades could have done for the poster child of Jewish assimilation in Iraq — a fact that made him exceptionally well-suited to become the unwilling star of a show trial. (Ades realized it too late, spurning advice to flee the country in the mistaken belief that he had too much pull for the fate that befell him.)

Ades had his fortune by virtue of an arrangement to act as the Ford Motor Company agent in Iraq, but his prosecution was based on a different business deal he’d done for remaindered British army equipment after World War II. Some of this stuff he had sold onward to Italy; he’d be charged with having used the pretense of export to clandestinely supply it to the Israeli Zionists who had in turn deployed it against Ades’s own countrymen in the late war.

Since it was a military court that delivered this verdict it would have been unthinkably dangerous for Iraq’s regent, ‘Abd al-Ilah, to exercise his theoretical prerogative of mercy.

And so Shafiq Ades hanged in front of his own Basra mansion on September 23, 1948, before a jubilant mob, the body gibbeted for hours thereafter.

Despite the atmosphere of genera persecution, Ades appears to be the only Iraq Jew actually executed during this dangerous moment; directly post-Ades, the official heat on this community was dialed back noticeably, albeit not entirely. The on-brand site IraqJews.org provides us a comment of the judge asserting a perspective of what one might call utilitarian philanthropy in his unjust sentence upon Ades: “I have ruled for the death sentence, since I was aware that the Iraqi people were seeking a sacrifice. If Ades were not hanged, pogroms would have taken place against the Jews, and who knows how many people would have been killed. By hanging Ades, I have saved the Jews from a massacre”

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1948: Ruth Closius-Neudeck

Add comment July 29th, 2019 Headsman

A notoriously brutal guard at the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp named Ruth Closius-Neudeck was hanged on this date in 1948.

With impeccable timing she exited a life of proletarian obscurity by applying for a gig as a camp warden in July 1944, right when the Third Reich’s prospects for surviving the war went terminal.

That left her scant few months to stack up fodder for the eventual war crimes tribunals but Neudeck had a knack for making hay in the twilight.

Almost immediately earning promotion to barracks overseer, she earned a reputation as one of the cruelest guards at the camp that once cultivated Irma Grese. (They didn’t overlap.) One prisoner would later describe seeing her “cut the throat of an inmate with the sharp edge of her shovel.”

She was subsequently detailed to the nearby Uckermark satellite camp, smaller and more lethal — as it was converted for the Third Reich’s final weeks into a killing center for inmates whose bodies had been broken at slave labor in Ravensbrück or elsewhere. She acknowledged sending 3,000 women to the gas chambers as Uckermark Aufseherin.

She was one of five camp guards charged in the Uckermark trial (also known as the Third Ravensbrück trial) in 1948, and the only one of those five executed.

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1948: Johannes Rasmussen, Danish Resistance betrayer

Add comment May 13th, 2019 Headsman

Anti-Nazi Danish Resistance turncoat Johannes Rasmussen was shot at Viborg on this date in 1948.

Arrested by the Gestapo in December 1943, Rasmussen (Danish link) broke under torture and informed on his former comrades, but he also extended his collaboration far beyond (more Danish) mere capitulation and became their henchman and collaborator. Rasmussen befriended his captors and working as an interpreter and interrogator until someone from the Resistance shot him in February 1945 and left him bedridden.

Arrested on the day after the German occupation ended, he unsurprisingly got no mercy from the countrymen he had betrayed.

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1948: Thomas Henry McGonigle, murder without a body

1 comment February 20th, 2018 Meaghan

(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)

The Latin legal term corpus delicti literally translates to “the body of the crime,” and many people are under the impression that it means the actual corpse of a murdered person and that no one may be convicted of murder without the victim’s body.

This is erroneous. Although it is true that no person can be convicted of murder without the corpus delicti, the term doesn’t mean the murdered person’s body but rather the body of evidence that proves a crime has been committed. Every criminal case must have the corpus delicti and, in most murder cases, that includes the victim’s body … but it doesn’t have to.

In the United States, murder-without-a-body prosecutions are not unheard of and happen with increasing frequency due to the advancement of forensic technologies like DNA analysis. Tad DiBiase, a former federal prosecutor, even wrote a book about them, titled No-Body Homicide Cases: A Practical Guide to Investigating, Prosecuting, and Winning Cases When the Victim Is Missing, which includes an appendix of over 400 cases.

On this day in 1948, Thomas Henry McGonigle was executed in California’s gas chamber in what was one of the earliest, perhaps THE earliest no-body homicide prosecution in the state. His victim was a fourteen-year-old high school sophomore named Thora Afton Chamberlain, and her body was never found and is believed to have been washed out to sea.

The prosecution would later call the case “one of the best organized and most intense investigations in the annals of the crime of kidnapping and murder.”

McGonigle, a married construction laborer with an arrest record for a variety of crimes including assault with intent to commit rape, was waiting in his car outside Campbell High School when classes ended for the day on November 2, 1945. Thora’s classmates saw her talking to him, and he offered her a job: he needed someone to babysit his sister’s children. It would only be for half an hour, he said.

For whatever reason, Thora trusted the stranger. Perhaps it was because he was dressed respectably in a Navy uniform with medals, including a Purple Heart. She didn’t know they weren’t his, that he’d never been in any branch of the military. He’d stolen the clothes and medals six weeks earlier.

Thora Chamberlain was never seen again after she got into the strange man’s car. McGonigle was an immediate suspect because of his record, and several witnesses identified him from a photo lineup, but in the immediate aftermath of Thora’s disappearance he skipped town.


Murderer and victim.

McGonigle told his wife he was taking a bus to Los Angeles, but in fact he hitchhiked to Illinois where his father lived. The FBI kept on his trail as he drifted across the country, registering in hotels under alias names. Finally he took an overdose of sleeping pills while on a bus bound for San Francisco, and was semiconscious on arrival. The Feds were waiting for him, but instead of jail they had to take him to the hospital for treatment. He was arrested upon discharge.

In custody, McGonigle gave a series of statements admitting culpability but providing wildly differing details as to what happened. He’d stabbed Thora. He’d shot her. He’d strangled her. She’d jumped from his car and was fatally injured. Her death was an accident. He hadn’t killed her at all; she was alive and well and working as a prostitute.

Although the entire truth about what happened is only known to Thora and her killer, the shooting story has the most evidence to support it.

McGonigle said he had shot Thora in his car and the bullet passed through her and got stuck in his car door. He said he’d removed the bullet and buried it under a certain tree in his yard, and also ripped out the vehicle’s bloodstained padding and upholstery and buried it near the construction site where he worked. There was a bullet hole in the door of McGonigle’s car, police recovered the bullet from under the tree where he said it would be, and ballistics later proved it had been fired from a .32 caliber revolver he owned. The police also found the ripped car upholstery at the indicated spot, and it was stained with human blood.

McGonigle lead the authorities to a coastal cliff in San Mateo County known as the Devil’s Slide. He said he’d thrown Thora’s body off the cliff, 350 feet down into the ocean. An extensive search revealed important, chilling evidence that may well have been the clincher: on the day of her abduction, Thora was dressed in her school colors of red and blue, including one pair of red socks and one pair of blue socks, one on top of the other. Searchers found both pairs wedged in separate crevices on the cliff face, and Thora’s parents identified them.

At the trial, prosecutor John McCarthy told the jury how it might have happened, painting a word picture of McGonigle killing Thora in a rape or attempted rape, then lifting her from his car by her armpits and dragging her along the ground to the edge of the Devil’s Slide. In the process her loafers come off and her socks are pulled down her feet. As she falls, they come off entirely and get stuck in the crevices of the cliff.

“In finding the socks,” McCarthy concluded, “the crime was solved.”

Given McGonigle’s string of confessions — which continued even at his trial — and the eyewitnesses who identified him, and the physical evidence that backed it all up, it’s no wonder the jury only deliberated half an hour. He was convicted on March 1, 1946.

While his conviction was under appeal he retracted his previous statements and denied everything. It was a frame-up, he said, all of it: he’d never confessed to anything and the FBI had planted all the evidence and the witnesses had lied. The police, meanwhile, stated he’d also confessed (over and over again…) to the murder of an unnamed “Negro waitress” from San Francisco and the only reason they weren’t going to charge him was because he was already under sentence of death.

The day he was executed, McGonigle wrote down a statement in longhand and left it with the warden:

I, Thomas Henry McGonigle, in this last testimony to the people declares [sic] that I did not shoot Thora Chamberlain and did not throw her body over a cliff and I have never made any such confession that I shot Thora Chamberlain in Santa Cruz County.

Santa Cruz County Sheriff Wallace P. “Bud” Hendrick didn’t agree. He witnessed the execution and later told reporters, “He threw his head back and gasped three times. Every time he gasped with that look of pain and death about him, I smiled. He was the most despicable … that ever walked the face of the earth. I only wish it could have taken longer.”

(Robert E. Cornish, a mad scientist and former child prodigy who made various Frankensteinian attempts to raise dead animals, wanted to try reviving a death row inmate after an execution. McGonigle volunteered himself for the experiment, but permission was denied.)

As for Thora, her body is presumed to have washed out to sea. She remains listed in missing persons databases, however, in the unlikely event that it turns up.

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1948: Meir Tobiansky, by summary judgment

Add comment June 30th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1948, an alleged spy was extrajudicially executed by the Israeli Defense Forces.

This execution occurred during a short truce punctuating Israel’s War of Independence, but prior to the ceasefire the nascent IDF had become suspicious at Jordan’s gift for accurately targeting critical infrastructure in Jerusalem.

Suspicions came to settle on Meir Tobianski a Lithuania-born former British officer who had become a captain in the Jewish militia Haganah: as an employee of the Jerusalem Electric Corporation, he would have made a great informant for enemy artillerymen.

On June 30, 1948, Tobianski was kidnapped and driven to a depopulated Arab village (present-day Harel, Israel), where four intelligence officers demanded to know if Tobianski had given any information to his British colleagues at the utility (he had), and then declared him condemned as a spy. (Efficiently, they had already prepared the firing squad ahead of time.)

The chief of these four, Isser Be’eri, was later charged with manslaughter for the affair, receiving a symbolic one-day sentence. His subordinates, who were never charged, had long careers in Israeli intelligence; one of them, Binyamin Gibli would go on to help cook up a subsequent espionage debacle, the Lavon Affair.

Tobianski has been officially rehabilitated by Israel. Despite the irregularity of the proceeding against him, he’s sometimes described as the first of only two executions in Israeli history, alongside the much more procedurally defensible hanging of Adolf Eichmann.

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1948: Arthur George Osborne, as per Harry Allen’s journal

2 comments December 30th, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1948, Arthur George Osborne hanged at Armley Gaol in Leeds for murdering 70-year-old Ernest Westwood in the course of a robbery.

Osborne’s execution date was also his 28th birthday.

Mustachioed assistant executioner Harry Allen kept a handwritten journal of the executions he officiated in his 23-year career — a journal recently sold at auction. From it we have notes on each prisoner’s height (5 feet, 6.5 inches in Osborne’s case), weight (188138 pounds) and the consequent length of the rope’s drop (8 feet).


Very good job? but not expected to be so. Was hung on his 28th birthday at HMP Leeds by S. Wade got highly complimented on the speed of the job.

Harry Allen was eventually promoted to a chief executioner, in which guise he became Britain’s Last Executioner: he carried out one of the two simultaneous last hangings in England, as well as the last in Scotland and the last in Northern Ireland.

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1948: Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson, for the Battle of Alcatraz

1 comment December 3rd, 2015 Headsman

On this date in 1948, Sam Shockley and Miran Edgar Thompson were gassed at San Quentin Prison for the failed prison break that led to the Battle of Alcatraz.

One of the bloodiest events to mar the history of that storied penal island, the “battle” began as an attempt by prisoners to break out of C and D Blocks and seize an an imminent afternoon prison ferry.

And like many prison breaks, preparations at once diligent, desperate, and ingenious were foiled by mischance … leaving only a hopeless, deadly shootout.

The revolt, which is narrated blow by blow here, began on May 2, 1946 in C Block, when two prisoners overpowered a guard. One of them, Bernard Coy — destined to die in the following days’ siege — had spent his last weeks on this earth fasting for this very moment: now, he disrobed and, with the help of a contraband bar-spreading gadget, squeezed his emaciated frame through some bars to gain access to a gallery connecting to D Block. The prisoners had the patrol patterns of the guards in the vicinity down to a “T”; the man walking this gallery was in his turn surprised and disarmed by Bernard Coy, who proceeded to lower the guard’s keys and a number of weapons to his accomplices.

Now armed, Coy was able to force his way into D Block where he released more prisoners from locked cells, including accomplices — and the eventual subjects of this day’s post — Shockley and Thompson.

So far, things couldn’t have gone much better. Only one obstacle remained: a locked door to access the yard that would take them to the Alcatraz launch and a rendezvous with their unsuspecting ride to freedom. And this, of course, is where it all went wrong.

Despite capturing a number of guards during the course of their progress, the aspiring escapees realized that they didn’t have the key for the cell house door. The escape siren went up while they were still stuck.

Having taken the trouble to come this far, the inmates did not abandon the enterprise but devolved it into futile violence, firing out of their locked-up redoubt for no better reason than that they had the guns. Patrol boats began to arrive; word soon got around the city — the gunfire was audible to Golden Gate Bridge motorists — and ordinary San Franciscans congregated near the shore to watch while “thousands of rounds of ammunition and tracer bullets split the night sky as thousands watched from hilltops and piers on both sides of the bay.” (From the San Francisco Chronicle‘s coverage; after an initial fusillade, prison officials waited until dark fell on the evening of May 2 to resume the attack.)


Press get as close as they can to the riots.

For Thompson, at least, this was familiar territory: he’d wound up in Alcatraz because, while being transported to jail on a federal kidnapping charge, he had slain an Amarillo, Texas officer making an unsuccessful bid for freedom.

Marines recently hardened in the Pacific theater helped orchestrate the plan of attack: after re-taking the cell blocks — which were found, contrary to worst fears — in relative calm, the trapped escapees were driven by grenades into a corridor where troopers could fire at them. By the morning of May 4, the lifeless bodies of Coy and two others were stretched out in that hall.


From left: Clarence Carnes, Sam Shockley, and Miran Thompson.

Shockley, Thompson, and a 19-year-old Choctaw named Clarence Carnes survived to face capital charges for the two guards killed in the fray. Carnes, already serving a life sentence for murder, enjoyed the mercy of an additional life sentence in this case, owing to his youth, and to testimony that he had disobeyed the orders of his confederates to execute captured guards.* Shockley and Thompson were not so fortunate.

This affair is dramatized in the 1987 TV movie Six Against the Rock.

* Carnes’s burial on Choctaw land after he died in Massachusetts of AIDS in 1988 was financed by crime lord Whitey Bulger, who served time in Alcatraz from 1959 and grew close to Carnes.

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1948: Tessie Hutchinson, Lottery winner

Add comment June 27th, 2015 Headsman

June 27 — of 1948, implicitly — was the setting for Shirley Jackson‘s classic short story “The Lottery”.


Before we dive into the grim stuff, here’s a hilariously campy pulp cover (mis)interpretation.

Less an “execution” than a human sacrifice — the village old feller’s folksy “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon,” evokes a primal flash of blood trickling off the maize-god’s altar — the titular event is an annual tradition for a tiny American town. Though unnamed, the town and some of its denizens were patterned on North Bennington, Vermont, where Jackson was living as the wife of a professor at Bennington College.

The setting was entirely contemporary to the story’s publication, right down to the day: it hit print in the June 26, 1948 edition of The New Yorker magazine. And what took Jackson two hours to write has continued to disturb and perplex generations of readers.

In “The Lottery” (available online here (pdf)), friendly townsfolk gather “in the square, between the post office and the bank” to enact a curious civic ritual dating to a time and purpose they no longer even remember.

We see each household’s father draw a slip of paper from a battered old box and although we do not understand the reason we grasp from the dark atmosphere afoot in the crowd that something ominous is unfolding.

After the last slip is drawn,

there was a long pause, a breathless pause, until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, “All right, fellows.” For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. “Who is it?,” “Who’s got it?,” “Is it the Dunbars?,” “Is it the Watsons?” Then the voices began to say, “It’s Hutchinson. It’s Bill,” “Bill Hutchinson’s got it.”

“Go tell your father,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son.

People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly. Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. “You didn’t give him time enough to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn’t fair!”

“Be a good sport, Tessie.” Mrs. Delacroix called, and Mrs. Graves said, “All of us took the same chance.”

“Shut up, Tessie,” Bill Hutchinson said.

Tessie has good cause to fear. A second drawing now ensues among the five members of the Hutchinson family — Tessie and Bill, plus their three children.

And as soon as Tessie reveals the slip of paper with the black spot, her friends and even her family (“someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a few pebbles”) immediately turn on her and stone her to death.

“I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives,” Jackson explained.

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1948: Hans Karl Möser, for rocketry

Add comment November 26th, 2014 Headsman

In 1943, punishing Allied bombing had chased Germany’s brilliant rocket scientist Wernher von Braun and his team away from the Baltic port of Peenemünde where their pioneering work on the V-2 rocket had taken such a heavy toll on London.

Casting about the Third Reich for a suitable spot to base the missile team, the rocketeers settled on the Kohnstein, a hill in Thuringia already hollowed out by gypsum mines. This tunnel network was readily adapted into a subterranean munitions factory called Mittelwerk — difficult for the Allies to find, and once they found it, difficult to bomb.


A U.S. Army soldier poses with a half-assembled V-2, one of about 250 such rockets found in the Mittelwerk labyrinth when the facility was captured.

With the facilities and the big brains in place, only one thing was missing: millions of man-hours of labor.

Nazi Germany had that in plentiful supply.

Beginning in late 1943, concentration camp inmates at Buchenwald began to be funneled out to a new facility, Mittelbau-Dora. Initially just a Buchenwald sub-camp, Dora grew over the course of 1944 into an immense facility holding 50,000 prisoners — a handful of German undesirables, but mostly captured foreign nationals: French, Dutch, Polish, Czech, and Russian. Short of food, sleep, and clothing for the 1944-1945 German winter, they were systematically worked to death in the Mittelwerk shafts to build a better bomb.

Our day’s principal, Hans Möser/Moeser (English Wikipedia entry | German) was an SS-Obersturmführer who made a living throughout the war years pulling guard detail in a number of concentration camps.

On May 1, 1944, Möser was transferred from Auschwitz to Mittelbau-Dora. It was the last job he would ever hold, but were Möser on the market today his C.V. would laud his team-player orientation and project management skills on a high-priority initiative. No doubt he was just the sort of reliable agent who understands how things are done that the world’s mad bombers need at their back.

“Ninety percent of the prisoners lived and worked in the tunnel of the mine,” testified one German who worked at Dora as a secretary and doctor’s aide.

As a result of the uninterrupted work in the mines and the absence of any installation for forced draft and ventilation, there prevailed a stuffy cold atmosphere, which made breathing difficult. The prisoners also slept in the subterranean tunnel in big chambers hewed out of the rocks, in five beds on top of each other. Already in 1944 3,500 prisoners used to sleep in such a room. In the tunnel of the mine there was no ater, the prisoners got absolutely insufficient quantities of tea for drinking purposes. But for weeks they were not able to wash themselves. As a result of the heavy work in the mines and of the bad food numerous prisoners died from exhaustion during their work.

According to that same testimony, the camp received a frightful order on Good Friday, which fell on March 30 in 1945: drive every last prisoner into those tunnels and bring down the caves around them. “No prisoner should be allowed to fall into Allied hands alive.”

The speedy arrival of the American 3rd Armored Division and 104th Infantry Division just days later prevented that order from taking effect.

The facilities themselves, too, were to be destroyed as part of Hitler’s scorched-earth “Nero Decree” intended to deny the benefit of German industry and infrastructure to the arriving conquerors. But Hitler’s War Production Minister Albert Speer was intentionally ignoring that order, a decision that might well have helped him avoid hanging at the Nuremberg trials.

Mittelwerk was a valuable capture indeed for the Allies. The Americans who first occupied it, and then the Russians who took it over a few months later, ransacked it for parts and technical specifications. The V-2 was the first man-made object to reach space, blasting at the speed of sound to the edge of orbit before plummeting back with its payload into the heart of London or wherever. It’s the ancestor of the long-range, intercontinental ballistic missiles that would come later, as well as the space programs of the countries who could build such missiles.

And of course, it wasn’t just the parts.

Wernher von Braun himself was the top prize of all — the young genius (he was just 33 when World War II ended) with the weapons of the future in his skull. As Germany collapsed in 1945, von Braun and his team of engineers had resolved to surrender themselves to the Americans rather than the Russians, but they too were subject to an order given the SS to execute the scientists if their capture appeared imminent. The Fuhrerbunker knew as well as the Allies how valuable this asset was.

In the event, von Braun managed to give himself up to a surprised American private. He disappeared into American custody, the crown jewel of “Operation Paperclip” that grabbed some 1,500 scientists from Germany and helpfully whitewashed their past misdeeds — misdeeds like Nazi party affiliation, and participating in slave labor camps.

Firing guided rockets into space was one thing. Unfortunately for our man Möser, his own skill set of bullying subordinates was not in short supply for either of the Cold War antagonists.

Möser was the one defendant (among 15) condemned to death at the resulting trial of Dora camp personnel. Rocket scientists, naturally, were not present for the occasion; Wernher von Braun and his team were hard at work at this time at Fort Bliss, Texas adapting the V-2 to the American Hermes program.

But at Dora, it had been Möser’s job to oversee camp discipline and labor strength for the slaves doing the grunt work manufacturing von Braun’s brainchild. Testimony convinced the court that the SS man had done this far too brutally, and perhaps with sadistic pleasure.

Several witnesses testified Möser frequently beat prisoners and participated in executions, often shooting at the men who were hanged for camp infractions — while they were hanging, or after they were taken off the gallows. (And of the latter, some already dead and some still alive.) “The accused told the twelfth witness that it was a pleasure to give the mercy shots, like shooting a deer.”

Möser for his part countered that he took no joy himself in the beatings and killings that he had to conduct as part of his job — and that the camp commandant had early on reprimanded him for leniency, threatening that “in view of the importance of the V-weapons operation, this could be interpreted as sabotage because it reduced the work efficiency.” How’s that for a hostile work environment?

(There’s a large .pdf of the entire trial summary here. Möser’s section begins on page 36 of the pdf (page 68 per the numbering in the scanned book pages).)

His presence on this here site betrays the outcome. On this date in 1948, Hans Möser was hanged at Landsberg Prison along with several other (unrelated) convicted war criminals.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Soldiers,War Crimes

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