1946: Laszlo Baky and Laszlo Endre, Hungarian Holocaust authors

4 comments March 29th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1946, fascist Hungarian politicians Laszlo Baky and Laszlo Endre were executed by hanging in Budapest for their role in the decimation of Hungarian Jewry.

These two charmers were major figures in Hungary’s horrible final months of World War II.

Post-Stalingrad, the Hungarians had realized they were yoked to the losing side and started looking for an exit strategy; instead, early in 1944, they got a German occupation.

This occupation lifted the virulent anti-semites Baky and Endre into national power, because along with keeping Hungary in the Axis coalition, the Nazis also forcibly overcame its junior partner’s former reticence about Jewish genocide.

Adolf Eichmann arrived into Nazified Hungary and used our day’s two principals (along with another executed collaborator, Andor Jaross, they’re known as the “deportation trio”) as his instruments. Within months, hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were being shipped to the gas chambers. This period is one of the waypoints of pernicious Nazi race theory, when the collapsing German regime spent military resources urgently needed at the front to organize the mass slaughter of Jews.*

And they had to work fast, because by that next winter the Red Army was seizing Budapest. These enthusiastic fascist operators did not fare well by the postwar government.

Most photos from Kuruc.info (the garishly branded ones) and the Yad Vashem database (the not garishly branded).


Laszlo Endre under arrest.


Both men, just prior to their execution.

* To do justice to the breadth of the human capacity, this is also the time and place where we find Raoul Wallenberg minting lifesaving Swedish passports by the thousands.

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1948: Dieter Wisliceny, Eichmann aide

Add comment May 4th, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1948, SS man Dieter Wisliceny was hanged in Bratislava for his role in the destruction of European Jewry.

The Hauptsturmfuhrer joined the Nazi party in 1933 and became one of Adolf Eichmann‘s key lieutenants* implementing the Final Solution in the occupied east.

The porcine Wisliceny himself seems to have been more of an opportunist than anything else — a washout theology student who got in with the Nazis on the upswing and happily enriched himself shaking down Jews who were trying to avoid deportation from his fiefs in Slovakia, Hungary or Greece, generally without providing much substantive life-saving in return.

Arrested after the war, Wisliceny gave damning testimony to the Nuremberg court about his onetime boss.

[Eichmann] said he would leap laughing into the grave because the feeling that he had 5 million people on his conscience would be for him a source of extraordinary satisfaction.*

Wisliceny had actually been Eichmann’s superior in the 1930s, and helped to promote the man. As Eichmann surpassed him in rank, so the policy of wholesale extermination Eichmann came to symbolize surpassed Wisliceny’s Zionist emigration position.**

Notably, Wisliceny would claim that Eichmann showed him a written extermination order never recovered after the war.

I was sent to Berlin in July or August 1942 in connection with the status of Jews from Slovakia, which mission is referred to more fully hereinafter. I was talking to Eichmann in his office in Berlin when he said that on written order of Himmler all Jews were to be exterminated. I requested to be shown the order. He took a file from the safe and showed me a top secret document with a red border, indicating immediate action. It was addressed jointly to the Chief of the Security Police and SD and to the Inspector of Concentration Camps. The letter read substantially as follows :

“The Fuehrer has decided that the final solution of the Jewish question is to start immediately. I designate the Chief of the Security Police and SD and the Inspector of Concentration Camps as responsible for the execution of this order. The particulars of the program are to be agreed upon by the Chief of the Security Police and SD and the Inspector of Concentration Camps. I am to be informed currently as to the execution of this order”.

The order was signed by Himmler and was dated some time in April 1942. Eichmann told me that the words “final solution” meant the biological extermination of the Jewish race, but that for the time being able-bodied Jews were to be spared and employed in industry to meet current requirements. I was so much impressed with this document which gave Eichmann authority to kill millions of people that I said at the time : “May God forbid that our enemies should ever do anything similar to the German people”. He replied : “Don’t be sentimental-this is a Fuehrer order”

This version of the story presents its narrator in a notably un-culpable light, as befits a man giving evidence with his own life on the line. Eichmann, the nimble bureaucratic operator, scoffed at the story.

Do you believe that he sat down in order to write to me: ‘My dear Eichmann, the Fuhrer has ordered the physical annihilation of all Jews’? The truth is that Himmler never wrote down a single line in this matter … I never received an order of any kind.†

Wisliceny’s evidence against his former associate may have been motivated by the prisoners’ dilemma, but his testimony injured Eichmann all the same when the latter finally came to trial years after the war. It was cutting.

I consider Eichmann’s character and personality important factors in carrying out measures against the Jews. He was personally a cowardly man who went to great pains to protect himself from responsibility. He never made a move without approval from higher authority and was extremely careful to keep files and records establishing the responsibility of Himmler, Heydrich and later Kaltenbrunner.

Reliable or not, this stuff didn’t do Wisliceny (enough) good, either. He was handed over to Czechoslovakian authorities after the war, and hanged for war crimes.

(Some sources give February 1948 as the execution date; I believe this may have been when Wisliceny was convicted.)

* In the version Eichmann gave at his trial in Israel, his line was “five million enemies of the Reich.”

** “A memorandum (Vermerk) of April 7, 1937, signed by Wisliceny presents an argument for the emigration of all German Jews, which could be achieved only by supporting the Zionist enterprise.” (Yehuda Bauer, Jews for Sale? Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945)

Jews for Sale? Nazi-Jewish Negotiations, 1933-1945

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1942: The village of Lidice, for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich

18 comments June 10th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1942, the Germans visited upon the Czechoslovakian village of Lidice one of the most notorious butcheries of World War II: the physical destruction of the town, and the execution of most of the adult population, in revenge for the assassination of Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich.

Heydrich had power of life and death in Nazi-occupied Bohemia and Moravia, and did not scruple to use it.

“The Hangman of Prague” was no mere functionary, but a Nazi grand wizard from way back, who’d had a hand in the Third Reich’s most terrifying greatest hits — the Night of the Long Knives, Kristallnacht. Just four months before this date, Heydrich had chaired the Wannsee Conference.* (Watch Kenneth Branagh as Heydrich ride herd over a gaggle of bureaucrats to get the Final Solution up and running in Conspiracy.) Hitler called him his “man with the iron heart.”

So he was a natural target for the Czechoslovakian army-in-exile and their British handlers, made more so by his lordly disdain for common-sense security safeguards.

Zipping along a predictable route in an open car, he was a sitting duck for a hit squad, who gave the Nazi bastard a mortal shrapnel wound from a grenade that had him lingering painfully at death’s door for several days before he finally died of blood poisoning.

The 1964 Czechoslovakian film Atentat (“Assassination”) chronicles the plot to kill Heydrich and its aftermath.

For this effrontery, Czechoslovakians would pay a dreadful price.

Naturally, the Nazis mercilessly hunted down and slaughtered those with any connection to the plot.

But the Reich also exacted collective reprisals to make plain that the entire “protectorate” could be considered hostage against such plots in the future.

Special transports of Jews marked “Attentat auf Heydrich” were shipped to the camps, and 152 were executed on the day Heydrich succumbed. But then, the Nazis were brutalizing Jews anyway. Something more headline-grabbing would be needed.

Enter Lidice.

After gaudy funerals for the slain Reichsprotektor, the Reich settled upon the small town of Lidice north of Prague — trumping up a few connections to resistance to “justify” collective punishment.

On this date, German troops stormed it, summarily executed all the men and boys** old enough to bear arms and a fair number of women, deported the others, and then physically destroyed and buried the town.

Lidice was intended as a demonstration — boldly published to the world as proof against a repeat,† it became the byword of Nazi cruelty towards subject nations. Though not by quantitative standards the greatest crime of the occupation, not even the greatest crime in reprisal for Heydrich, its three syllables distill all the evil of Hitler’s conquest for Czechoslovakia.

Lidice did live, and does yet, as an emblem par excellence those terrible years.

Less alive: Heydrich’s right-hand man Karl Hermann Frank, who was hanged in Prague after the war for engineering this monstrous crime. Those survivors of Lidice able to make the trip enjoyed priority seating.

* Heydrich’s aide at the Wannsee Conference, and taker of cleaned-up minutes, was Mr. Banality of Evil himself, Adolf Eichmann.

** Only three men of Lidice survived the destruction: two who were in England at that time, and one who was imprisoned in Prague for killing his son. The sentence for this crime, it turned out, was life.

† An effective proof — the calculated wholesale slaughter apparently did cool both the conquered populace and the enemies of Germany on enthusiasm for further assassinations.

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1944: Twenty-two or more Poles

3 comments February 11th, 2009 Headsman

The demonstrative public hanging this day in 1944 of Poles in the remains of the Warsaw Ghetto* was little more than an everyday atrocity in Nazi-occupied Poland — although, ten days after the gauleiter responsible for previous mass executions had himself been assassinated by the Polish Home Army, it presumably had an extra bit of meaning for the city’s denizens.

According to Gregor Dallas’s 1945: The War That Never Ended,

Nazi terror reached new heights for the non-Jewish population of Warsaw in the winter of 1943-4. People were seized at random in the streets and executed on the spot; between October and February some 270 to 300 men and women were publicly hanged or shot each week — the kind of atrocities the French commemorate in Tulle and Oradour were, in Warsaw, a part of daily life. ‘On my way to Leszno Church today,’ Julian Kulski, a young soldier of the Home Army, recorded on 11 February 1944, ‘I saw a crowd of people standing in front of the Wall. They were gazing at something above the Wall, on the Ghetto side of it. As I got closer, I could see for myself — hanged from the upper-storey balconies of what had been an apartment house were the bodies of twenty-two of our Freedom Fighters.’ Kulski, at any rate, took them for Freedom Fighters.


This blurry photo dated to the same day and location was taken from a moving tram.

This mass execution may also be one alluded to by Jewish resistance fighter Yizhak “Antek” Zuckerman,** who survived the war in Warsaw with false papers identifying him as a Pole. His A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising remembers such an execution occurring while they lived on Leszno Street after the ghetto’s destruction — and that it greatly upset his wife, Zivia Lubetkin, because Zuckerman was so late arriving home that day.

One day the Germans hanged fifty Poles on street lamps, something they often did. This time it was on Leszno Street, in retaliation for harassing Germans. In such a case, they would take fifty Poles from their “stock” in Pawiak, publish their names, add the crime for which they were being murdered, and hang them in the city on electric poles. In this case, they also strung people up on the outside walls of the ghetto, where there was still a wall, even though there was no longer a ghetto.

* Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto had been liquidated the previous spring; at this point, it was rubble behind the still-standing wall.

** Zuckerman also appeared as a witness in the Israeli trial of Adolf Eichmann.

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1962: Adolf Eichmann

6 comments June 1st, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1962, the architect of the Final Solution received such justice as could be meted to him on earth at Israel’s Ramla Prison.

Adolf Eichmann, the vacuum cleaner salesman turned SS Obersturnbannfuhrer, remains the only person judicially executed in the history of modern Israel, whose intelligence services kidnapped him from Argentina where he had settled after the war.

Other Nazis had used the “only following orders” defense with little success in the Nuremberg Trials shortly after World War II. On trial years later (and at the hands a Jewish state) Eichmann — a bookish, unmenacing man who invoked Kant — posed the questions of individual responsibility and human psychology in starker terms.

To be sure, he was no anonymous functionary. Neither, however, had he dirtied his nails at the stomach-churning business end of the Holocaust: rather, he had engineered the stupendous logistical project of deporting Eastern Europe’s Jews for extermination, an (impressive) accomplishment worth exponentially more lives than any Einsatzgruppe could ever account for, yet simultaneously abstract from the upshot.

Eichmann said he did it without ill-will towards its subjects — simply to obey and to achieve.

The Banality of Evil

[I]f it was of small legal relevance, it was of great political interest to know how long it takes for an average person to overcome his innate repugnance of crime, and what exactly happens to him once he has reached that point. To this question, the case of Adolf Eichmann supplied an answer that could not have been clearer or more precise.
-Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt took him at his word* and saw in Eichmann the abyss gazing back into us, into his judges — not a monster but a man unsettling in his normalcy, whose job was not TPS reports or quarterly sales results but turning humans into ash.

The company man. The career man. Every man, standing in for countless thousands more who pushed the papers that drove the trains to Auschwitz.

What for Eichmann was a job, with its daily routine, its ups and downs, was for the Jews quite literally the end of the world.

Not everyone accepts her conclusions, but Arendt’s characterization of “the banality of evil” has become the man’s epigraph. And Eichmann disturbs us precisely because we seem to be able to meet him on his terms, even sympathize with him when the horror of his crimes begs for a monster like Streicher or Goebbels we could safely consign to the Other.

Arendt’s turn of phrase has a certain breezy (hackneyed, even) life in the public discourse, but her analysis of Eichmann’s careerism remains a challenging and deeply relevant one for we heirs of the world that hanged him.

The complete transcript of Eichmann’s trial is available online here. Video of his trial has been posted online here (in English) and here (original languages).

* Albeit with some reservations; others have argued that Eichmann was considerably more personally invested in his mass-murder project than his demeanor at trial admitted. Certainly he had an interest in showing the mellower Eichmann when he was on trial for his life.

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