1952: Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah, Jewish bombers?

Add comment January 22nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1952, Iraq hanged Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah for an alleged Zionist bombing campaign in Baghdad.

The most remarkable thing about this campaign is that it was perpetrated against Iraq’s Jews — and if these men’s conviction was rightly secured, it was conducted by other Jews for the purpose of driving those Iraqi Jews to emigrate to the still-tenuous new state of Israel.

As the 1940s closed, well over 100,000 Jews lived in Iraq, a populace legendarily* dating to the Biblical Babylonian exile.

While this community had at certain moments in centuries past been the very flower of the diaspora, it was justifiably nervous here in the perilous 20th century.

In 1950-51, the Iraqi government offered its Jewish citizens an emigration window from a homeland tense with anti-Jewish hostility — at the same time the Israeli government was practically begging them to come. (The cost: give up Iraqi citizenship permanently. Iraq seems to have expected only a few thousand to depart.)

Against the grain of this “monstrous” mutuality of interest stood the natural obstacles for any emigre: affection for the familiarity of one’s native lands, the trauma and uncertainty of uprooting … plus the specific problem that most stood to lose their illiquid wealth either by hasty firesale disposal or (as eventually happened) outright confiscation. Particularly pending clarity in property remuneration, many Iraqi Jews were initially wary about departing.

Iraqi Jews also dismayed Zionist recruiters with their “lack [of] a Zionist outlook and even a Zionist instinct.”**

But these stick-in-the-Mesopotamians would soon receive some explosive encouragement: a headline-grabbing series of attacks on Jews and Jewish establishments during the emigration window encouraged thousands to seize the moment.

“The pace of registration for the citizenship waiver was slow in the beginning, but it increased as tensions rose between Jews and their neighbors and after acts of terror were perpetrated against Jewish businesses and institutions – especially the Mas’uda Shem-Tov Synagogue [bombed January 14, 1951]”

-Sasson Somekh, Baghdad, Yesterday: The Making of an Arab Jew

Israel historian Benny Morris summarizes the situation in this Q&A from 2009:

Iraqi Jews being airlifted to Israel.

Ultimately, Israel’s Operation Ezra and Nehemiah, named for two Old Testament prophets who led the Biblical Israelites out of bondage, relocated virtually the whole of Iraqi Jewry to Israel — more than 120,000 people. Today, virtually no Iraqi Jews remain.

Morris’s conclusion that Israeli intelligence did not engineer the bombing campaign that so spectacularly served its statecraft is the subject of vociferous dispute. It’s also, perhaps, a bit finely cut: a handful of zealots in the local Zionist underground, sensitive to the local sentiment and keen on the urgency of the brief denaturalization opportunity, might have undertaken the project freelance without actual straight-from-Jerusalem coordination.

Amazingly, this notion that some species of Zionist agents bombed Iraqi synagogues (pdf) in the interests of the Levant’s demographic future was commonly believed not only by Iraqi Arabs but by emigre Iraqi Jews themselves. Their suspicions can hardly have been allayed when a similar misadventure went down in Egypt a couple years later.

The inevitable dispute over the factual question can’t help but roll over into everything else that’s disputatious about the Zionist Entity.

Like, to pick just one, can Iraq and other Arab states be said to have ethnically cleansed their Jewish populations in the same sense that Zionist militias ethnically cleansed Palestine?

An account already exists between us and the Arab world: the account of the compensation that accrues to the Arabs who left the territory of Israel and abandoned their property … The act that has now been perpetrated by the Kingdom of Iraq … forces us to link the two accounts . . . We will take into account the value of the Jewish property that has been frozen in Iraq when calculating the compensation that we have undertaken to pay the Arabs who abandoned property in Israel.

Moshe Sharett, Israeli Foreign Minister, March 1951**

This sort of opportunistic ethnic arithmetic obviously loses its limited suasion to the extent that Jews can be held to have driven Jews out of Iraq — which is not to say that goring this or that ox is necessarily the reason for any one scholar’s taking this or that position.

One might, however, be less inclined to extend that benefit of the doubt to the Kingdom of Iraq itself. That realm was very pleased to point the finger at its absconding Jewry.

Our Zionist cadres, Yosef Basri and Shalom Salah, were hanged by that Iraqi Entity for three grenade attacks in the bombing series. Basri repudiated his confession in court, plausibly claiming it had been tortured out of him. (A third Jew was also convicted but not executed: Yehuda Tajar is the man Morris refers to, who returned to Israel after spending the Fifties imprisoned in Iraq.)

“Long live the state of Israel,” were their last words.

But not all “beneficiaries” of their alleged efforts shared the sentiment.

“That is God’s revenge on the movement that brought us to such depths,” one Iraqi Jewish refugee in the Holy Land reportedly exclaimed.**

Just where guilt really lies in all of this has been contested (pdf) ever since, a matter that mere hooded functionaries such as your author can hardly address with authority.

Jews Done It …
… They Never Did

* Not necessarily literally; the Mongol invasions are supposed to have broken the cultural chain of Jewish habitation of Babylon, with the city re-populated later by other Jewish migrants not of a lineal connection back to Nebuchadnezzar‘s conquests.

** Quoted by Yehouda Shenhav in “The Jews of Iraq, Zionist Ideology, and the Property of the Palestinian Refugees of 1948: An Anomaly of National Accounting,” International Journal of Middle East Studies (Nov., 1999)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Hanged,History,Iraq,Israel,Jews,Murder,Public Executions,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

1945: Szymon Srebrnik survives execution at Chelmno

6 comments January 17th, 2011 Meaghan

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

On the night of January 17-18 in 1945, Szymon Srebrnik was shot in the head, along with 46 other Jewish prisoners, at the Chelmno Extermination Camp near the village of Chelmno in central Poland.

Szymon (whose name has also been spelled Simon, Shimon, Shi’mon, etc.), was fifteen short years of age … but he had sixty-one more years to live.

Relatively little is known about Chelmno, simply because there were so few survivors. At least 150,000 people, and possibly as many as 300,000, died there. The victims included Gypsies and probably Russian prisoners of war in addition to Jews, notably most of the inhabitants of the Lodz Ghetto.

There were three survivors. Count’em, three. Szymon was one of them. And there were one or two others who successfully escaped Chelmno but did not survive the war.

The operation went like this: the victims would be taken to the camp and told they were being sent to work camps where they would be treated well, but first they had to clean up. They undressed, and they were supposed to give their valuables to one of the Nazi officers for safekeeping.

To maintain the pretense, they were even given receipts or claim tickets. Once the naked Jews left the undressing room, however, all pretense was over. Kicked, shoved, whipped and beaten with rifles and clubs, they were forced down a ramp into a waiting van. After no more could get inside it (the capacity was about 60-80 people per van, with a few of the larger vehicles having space for 100), the van was sealed and driven away. The carbon dioxide emissions from the engine were pumped into the back of the van, and by the time the driver had reached the burial site in a nearby forest, all of the Jews would be dead. If any of them happened to still be alive, they were shot. The bodies were disposed of by either burial or burning.

Not everyone was killed at once, however.

A small number of strong, healthy men were kept alive for awhile in order to help dispose of the bodies and sort through all the belongings of the dead Jews. They were kept in iron shackles 24 hours a day to prevent escape. They slept in the granary.

These people were usually killed within days or weeks and replaced by others from new transports. Our Szymon, however, lasted for about ten months.

There were several reasons for this. The Nazis at Chelmno, for their own amusement, sometimes forced the prisoners to have athletic contests like racing and jumping, and Szymon was good at that and often won.

He also had a beautiful voice, and they enjoyed listening to him sing. The Hauskommando chief, who was in charge of the work site inside the camp itself, liked Szymon and helped keep him alive.

But all things must come to an end.

Szymon and his fellow sufferers were the last prisoner-workers left at Chelmno, and they were shot as part of a clean-up operation by the Nazis. The Russians would arrive within days; the camp itself had been destroyed, and they had to leave no witnesses behind.

Unexpectedly, the Jews put up a fight and actually killed two of the Nazis inside the granary, hanging one and shooting the other with his own gun. Mordechai Zurawski was able to fight his way free and escape. He was the second survivor (a third, Michal Podchelbnik, had escaped the camp in 1942) and testified about his war experiences alongside Szymon. The rest were all killed.

At his testimony in Lodz in June 1945, Szymon recalled:

When the Soviet Army was advancing quickly, one night we were ordered to leave the granary in groups of five … Lenz ordered us to lie down on the ground. He shot everybody in the back of the head. I lost consciousness and regained it when there was no one around. All the SS-men were shooting inside the granary. I crawled to the car lighting the spot and broke both headlights. Under the cover of darkness I managed to run away. The wound was not deadly. The bullet went through the neck and mouth and pierced my nose and then went out.

Szymon made his way to a Polish farm nearby, and the farmer agreed to hide him in his barn until the Russians came two days later. A Soviet Army doctor treated his wound, and he made a complete recovery.

In September 1945, Szymon went to Israel, one of the first Holocaust survivors to arrive there. He met his future wife en route.

Szymon went on to testify at Adolf Eichmann‘s trial in 1961, and in 1978, he went back to visit Chelmno for Claude Lanzmann’s film documentary Shoah.

Those events aside, Szymon lived a long and surprisingly normal life in Israel, marrying, having a couple of kids and living in relative obscurity. He died of cancer in 2006, at the age of 76.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Children,Concentration Camps,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Executions Survived,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Jews,Lucky to be Alive,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Not Executed,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Poland,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

1941: Babi Yar massacre begins

14 comments September 29th, 2010 Meaghan

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

Between September 29 and September 30 in 1941, the Nazis, specifically Einsatzgruppe C, shot some 34,000 Jewish people at Babi Yar, a ravine outside of the Ukrainian city of Kiev.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum gives a suspiciously specific death count of 33,771. This is considered the single largest mass murder of World War II, and for Kiev it was just the beginning.

In the days prior to the massacre the Nazis put up posters around the city reading:

Kikes of the city of Kiev and vicinity! On Monday, September 29, you are to appear by 08:00 a.m. with your possessions, money, documents, valuables, and warm clothing at Dorogozhitskaya Street, next to the Jewish cemetery. Failure to appear is punishable by death.

The Jews believed they were being resettled. They had no knowledge of Nazi atrocities, as the Soviet press had supressed such accounts. By the thousands they arrived at the cemetery with their belongings, expecting to be loaded onto trains.

Instead they were forced to strip naked and leave their clothes, shoes and possessions at designated places, all while being beaten by the Nazis and their Ukrainian accomplices.

A Ukrainian truck driver and innocent bystander described the scene:

The naked Jews were led into a ravine which measured approximately 150 m long, 30 m wide and 15 m deep. Two or three narrow entrances led to the ravine, through which the Jews were driven. When they arrived at the edge of the ravine they were taken by Schupo officers, and laid down on top of Jews who had already been shot. All this happened very quickly. The corpses were neatly stacked. As soon as a Jew lay there, a Schupo marksman came with an mp and shot him in the neck. The arriving Jews were so shocked when they saw this horrible scene that they were absolutely submissive. It even happened that some lay themselves down and awaited the shot.

There were only two marksmen who carried out the shootings. One marksman was at one end of the ravine, the second one at the other end. I saw the marksmen standing on the already piled-up corpses while shooting one person after another. As soon as a Jew was killed by a shot, the marksman climbed over the corpses of the killed to the next supine Jew, and shot them. This went on again and again, without any distinction being made between men, women, and children. The children were led to the ravine with their mothers, and killed with them.

Babi Yar survivor Dina Pronicheva

Much of what is known about the massacre comes from Dina Pronicheva, a survivor who later testified at the war crimes trials in 1946 and whose story is told in the most graphic terms in Anatoly Kuznetzov‘s memoir/documentary history Babi Yar: a Document in the Form of a Novel.

Contrary to popular belief, Pronicheva was not the only survivor — there were at least three or four others — but she is the most famous one and the only one to testify at the war crimes trials.

Pronicheva, an actress at the Kiev Puppet Theater, tore up her identity card when she realized what was happening. Her last name and her appearance were not typically Jewish, and she told one of the Nazis that she was a Ukrainian who had been seeing someone off and gotten caught up in the crowd.

She was told to stand aside with a group of other people in the same situation. The Nazis decided to shoot them anyway, however, as they could not allow witnesses to come back to the city and tell what they knew.

When it was her turn, Pronicheva jumped into the ravine without waiting to be shot, and played dead among the mass of bodies. As Kuznetzov put it:

It seemed to her she fell for ages — it probably was a very deep drop. When she struck the bottom she felt neither the blow nor any pain, but she was immediately spattered with warm blood, and blood was streaming down her face, just as if she had fallen into a bath of blood. She lay still, her arms stretched out, her eyes closed.

All around and beneath her she could hear strange submerged sounds, groaning, choking and sobbing: many of the people were not dead yet. The whole mass of bodies kept moving slightly as they settled down and were pressed tighter by the movements of the living.

The Germans went around the ravine firing their revolvers into anyone who appeared to be still alive. One SS man got suspicious of Pronicheva’s appearance. He kicked her hard in the chest and then stomped on her hand until the bones cracked, but she managed to remain limp and silent and he went away without shooting her. Eventually she was able to crawl out of the ravine and make good her escape.

Babi Yar continued to absorb bodies throughout the Nazi occupation of Kiev: Jews, Gypsies, Ukrainians, political activists and basically anyone who pissed the Nazis off. The total number of victims will never be known because before they were driven from the area by the Russians, the Nazis dug up the ravine and burned the corpses.


Mass execution of Soviet civilians at Babi Yar. (Source)

A guesstimate would be between 70,000 and 120,000, but some accounts run as high as 300,000. Some traces were left, as Kuznetzov remembers:

The river bed was of good, coarse sand, but now for some reason or other the sand was mixed with little white stones. I bent down and picked one of them up to look at it more closely. It was a small piece of bone … in one place we saw that the sand had turned to gray. Suddenly we realized we were walking on human ashes …

Nearby there had been a fall of sand, following the rains, which had exposed an angular projection of granite and a seam of coal about a foot thick. There were goats grazing on the hillside with three little boys, each about eight years old, looking after them. They were hacking away diligently at the coal with little picks and breaking it up on a granite block.

The coal was brown and crumbly, as though it was a mixture of ashes from a railway engine and carpenter’s glue.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“See here!” And one of them pulled from his pocket a handful of something that glittered where it was not covered in dirt, and spread it out in his hand.

It was a collection of half-melted gold rings, earrings and teeth. They were digging for gold.

Babi Yar was filled in after the war and the site is now part of a residential neighborhood in Kiev. There were many international protests in 2009 after the city’s mayor announced plans for a hotel on the site, but he changed his mind.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Children,Disfavored Minorities,Executions Survived,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Innocent Bystanders,Jews,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Russia,Shot,Summary Executions,Ukraine,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1942: Lodz ghetto “Children’s Action” begins

4 comments September 5th, 2010 Meaghan

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

Between September 5 and September 13 was the great deportation of vulnerable individuals from the Lodz Ghetto, one of the largest Nazi ghettos in Europe.

The 150,000-odd Jews within had starved, slaved and suffered for nearly two years, but what came next was almost too much to bear. The Nazis demanded that Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski,* the ghetto’s controversial chairman, turn over 20,000 non-working people for deportation, including the elderly and all children under the age of ten.

Those two groups constituted only 13,000 people altogether, so the gap had to be filled with the sick. The police and other Jewish authorities in the ghetto would have a chance to round up the deportees themselves. If they didn’t accomplish this, the Germans would do it themselves.

Rumkowski’s policy had always been one of accomodating to the Nazis’ demands and appeasing them with the goal of saving as many Jews as possible. He didn’t deviate from his plan even in this instance, and tried to explain himself to the ghetto population in an electrifying speech on September 4:

A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They are asking us to give up the best we possess — the children and the elderly. I was unworthy of having a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children. I’ve lived and breathed with children, I never imagined I would be forced to deliver this sacrifice to the altar with my own hands. In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me! Fathers and mothers: Give me your children! […] I must perform this difficult and bloody operation — I must cut off limbs in order to save the body itself. I must take children because, if not, others may be taken as well — God forbid.

I have no thought of consoling you today. Nor do I wish to calm you. I must lay bare your full anguish and pain. I come to you like a bandit, to take from you what you treasure most in your hearts! I have tried, using every possible means, to get the order revoked. I tried — when that proved to be impossible — to soften the order. Just yesterday, I ordered a list of children aged 9 — I wanted at least to save this one aged-group: the nine to 10-year-olds. But I was not granted this concession. On only one point did I succeed: in saving the 10-year-olds and up. Let this be a consolation to our profound grief.

There are, in the ghetto, many patients who can expect to live only a few days more, maybe a few weeks. I don’t know if the idea is diabolical or not, but I must say it: “Give me the sick. In their place we can save the healthy.” I know how dear the sick are to any family, and particularly to Jews. However, when cruel demands are made, one has to weigh and measure: who shall, can and may be saved? And common sense dictates that the saved must be those who can be saved and those who have a chance of being rescued, not those who cannot be saved in any case. […]

Although it was never explicitly stated, the beaten-down, demoralized Lodz Jews harbored few illusions about the fate of deportees; most of them knew by now that deportation meant death.

Naturally there were cries of protest. People in the crowd suggested alternatives. They should all go together. Parents’ only children should not be taken; children should only be taken from families who had several. Rumkowski would have none if it:

These are empty phrases! I don’t have the strength to argue with you! If the authorities were to arrive, none of you would be shouting! I understand what it means to tear off a part of the body. Yesterday, I begged on my knees, but it did not work. From small villages with Jewish populations of 7000 to 8000, barely 1000 arrived here. So which is better? What do you want? That 80,000 to 90,000 Jews remain, or God forbid, that the whole population be annihilated? I have done and will continue doing everything possible to keep arms from appearing in the streets and blood from being shed. The order could not be undone; it could only be reduced.

One needs the heart of a bandit to ask from you what I am asking. But put yourself in my place, think logically, and you’ll reach the conclusion that I cannot proceed any other way. The part that can be saved is much larger than the part that must be given away!

In short, Rumkowski believed that only by cooperating with the German orders could he prevent even more lives from being lost.

He did have a point: The chairman of the Warsaw Ghetto, when faced with a similar deportation order, had committed suicide, and, as the Jewish authorities dragged their feet, the Nazis stepped in and, with much terror and bloodshed, forcibly deported close to 300,000 people over the course of six weeks. Resistance in Warsaw had made no appreciable difference in the death toll.

During the days that followed Rumkowski’s announcement, a general curfew was implemented and everyone was ordered to remain in their homes while the German SS and authorities, assisted by the Ghetto police and fire department (whose own families were exempted from the deportation) went from house to house to select their victims. The orphanages and old age homes were emptied, and Rumkowski himself supervised this to make sure no one was left behind.

People worked desperately to try to save themselves and the families. They knew the Germans would not be picky, would not be closely checking birth records or doctors’ certificates; it was enough for someone to simply look old or sick or very young.

Older men and women darkened their gray hair with coffee. Sick people dragged themselves out of bed and used makeup to brighten their faces. Children tried to hide, with their parents’ help, as Gordon J. Horwitz described in his book
Ghettostadt: Lodz and the Making of a Nazi City:

Some children hid in furniture and bedding, others in basement, in heaps of garbage and laundry, or in woodpiles. Parents did whatever they could, concealing children “in barrels in the attics, in ditches in the field, covered with leaves and branches.” One child sought refuge in a tree but was shot dead when discovered. Another, thanks to his father’s efforts to fashion an unusual hideout, rode out the danger concealed in a chimney on the roof. Though isolated and abandoned by the time they had been assembled in the collection area, child captives fought and scratched at the walls in a last-ditch effort to resist removal.

One teenage girl, after many attempts, managed to escape the assembly point and hid inside a mattress until it was safe to come out. Six-year-old Sylvia Perlmutter, whose experiences were fictionalized in her niece’s verse novel Yellow Star, hid in the cemetery.

Most of these efforts were in vain, however.

The search was thorough and the hunters ruthless. On September 13, the Nazis announced that the deportation was over. The survivors could resume their daily lives. It was not as bad as it could have been; 20,000 were not taken, after all. 15,859 people had been packed into trains, taken to the Chelmno Extermination Camp and killed. A further 600 had been shot within the ghetto itself.

For a long time after this, there were no more deportations. The ghetto inhabitants, although many of them continued to perish from starvation, overwork and disease, dared to hope that perhaps the Nazis would let them survive as long as they worked. But in the end, they didn’t escape: in August 1944, with the approaching Russian Army just 60 miles away, the entire ghetto population was deported to Chelmno and Auschwitz. An overwhelming number, including Chairman Rumkowski, perished.

* It was an open secret that Rumkowski was a pedophile who sexually abused the children in his charge both before and during the war. See Lucille Eichengreen’s Rumkowski and the Orphans of Lodz, and Edward Reichter’s Country of Ash.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Children,Concentration Camps,Disfavored Minorities,Escapes,Gassed,Germany,Guest Writers,History,Jews,Lucky to be Alive,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Notable Participants,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Pelf,Poland,Power,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1941: Masha Bruskina, Kiril Trus, and Volodia Shcherbatsevich, partisans

21 comments October 26th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1941, the German occupiers of Minsk conducted an infamous public hanging of partisans — perhaps the first such salutary public execution of resistance members of the war.

Jewish* 17-year-old Maria (Masha) Bruskina was the central figure of the grim tableau, and wore the placard announcing “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers.” Evidently, she also attracted the most attention** from the onlookers to whom the scene was addressed.

Before noon, I saw the armed German and Lithuanian soldiers appear on the street. From over the bridge they escorted three people with their arms tied behind their backs. In the middle there was a girl with a sign-board on her chest. They were led up to the yeast factory gate. I noticed how calmly these people walked. The girl did not look around … The first one led to the gallows was the girl.

She was hanged with bewhiskered World War I vet Kiril Trus and the 16-year-old Volodia Shcherbatsevich. The men were members of a partisan cell organizing anti-fascist resistance; Masha Bruskina was a nurse who had been caught aiding the partisans by providing civilian clothes and papers for wounded Red Army soldiers under her care to smuggle them back to the resistance.

The scene of their deaths was captured in a series of powerful photographs taken by one of the Lithuanian Wehrmacht collaborators.

(More images here and here.)

* Phototextualities: Intersections of Photography and Narrative claims that Bruskina lightened her hair and changed her name to prevent her Jewishness affecting her resistance work; even though she was a Minsk native, her initial identification didn’t happen until 1968. The men who suffered with her were named almost immediately after the war.

** Despite the eye-catching place of the girl, she was officially unidentified for decades even after the name Masha Bruskina surfaced. In “A Historical Injustice: The Case of Masha Bruskina,” (Holocaust Genocide Studies 1997, 11:3) Nechama Tec and Daniel Weiss argued that Soviet authorities, and later Belarusian ones, found her Jewishness problematic and resisted identifying her because of it — while an ethnically Russian female partisan like Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya could be more conveniently accepted as a heroine. Maybe, but bureaucratic inertia and simple precedence (since Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was known immediately while Masha Bruskina was not) are also plausible contributing factors.

A plaque unveiled at the Minsk yeast factory in 2009 finally called her Maria Bruskina.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belarus,Capital Punishment,Children,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Germany,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Jews,Martyrs,Mature Content,Milestones,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Soldiers,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1946: William Joyce, Lord Haw-Haw

4 comments January 3rd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1946, fascist William Joyce, famous by the nickname “Lord Haw-Haw” for his English-language Nazi propaganda broadcasts, was hanged at Wandsworth Prison for treason.

As a pugilistic young anti-Semite with the unusual credential of being a Unionist Irish Catholic, Joyce had been a moving spirit in the interwar British fascist party. (Since audio broadcasts would define Joyce’s life, it seems appropriate to refer the reader for a fuller biography to this recent Oxford biography podcast.)

But because time loves a good laugh, it had the guy haranguing his countrymen for insufficient patriotism marked out for the last treason execution in British history, and unrepentant about it by the time he got there.

The Brooklyn-born Joyce (he never lost his American citizenship) who naturalized as a German in 1940 had a rather tenuous claim on the patriotic high horse to begin with, and after the war, that meant the treason charge proceeded on legally doubtful grounds: speaking the King’s English didn’t mean he owed allegiance to the king. Prosecutors ultimately hung him with a British passport he’d obtained fraudulently, and the legal principle has never since sat well with jurists.

It was just the tool at hand. The British government really hated the guy.*

However limited the resources at his disposal — sparse intelligence, paltry staff, and of course, after 1942, a disastrously collapsing war effort — he had fashioned them into broadcast spin to twist the British lion’s tail in countless British homes throughout the war.

Here’s one episode, with Joyce savaging Winston Churchill, selected from archive.org’s library of Joyce broadcasts (1-7, 8-16, 17-23).

[audio:William_Joyce_Churchill.mp3]

Joyce’s star shone brightest and his invective cut deepest early in the war. Once everything at the front stopped coming up Teutons, he descended into irrelevance and self-parody, albeit without professing the slightest doubt in his fascist convictions.

This last broadcast, prepared just a few days before Germany capitulated, has our day’s principal ramblingly drunkenly from the besieged Nazi capital.

[audio:William_Joyce_final_broadcast.mp3]

Content-wise, not much had changed eight months later, but at least he managed to make his gallows statement coherently.

In death as in life, I defy the Jews who caused this last war, and I defy the power of darkness which they represent. I warn the British people against the crushing imperialism of the Soviet Union. May Britain be great once again and the hour of the greatest danger in the West may the standard be raised from the dust, crowned with the words — you have conquered nevertheless. I am proud to die for my ideals and I am sorry for the sons of Britain who have died without knowing why.

There’s a thorough, and lavishly illustrated, history of Joyce here.

* Authorities passed on prosecuting his wife Margaret, who’d also appeared on some Lord Haw-Haw broadcasts. Under the circumstances, Joyce’s daughter (by his first marriage) Heather Iandolo turned out pretty balanced.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,England,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Infamous,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Treason,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1594: Rodrigo Lopez, Shylock inspiration?

3 comments June 7th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1594, a 70-year-old Portuguese physician was torn apart at Tyburn before a jeering London mob for attempting to poison Queen Elizabeth I.

Born around 1525 to a family of conversos — Jewish converts forcibly converted to Christianity — Rodrigo Lopez (alternatively, Lopes) went abroad because the Spanish Inquisition menacingly suspected him of secretly maintaining the faith of Abraham.*

For us, the man’s true doctrines might be a matter for his god. In the 16th century, Lopez never could outrun his Jewishness.

Establishing himself in London in 1559, nearly the precise midpoint of his life, Lopez built a thriving medical practice, eventually rising in 1586 to the attendance of Her Majesty herself. England in those days was scrapping with the mighty Spanish empire, one front of which was endlessly byzantine diplomatic intrigue. It happened that Elizabeth gave harbor to a Portuguese pretender (Lopez had attended him, too), whose circles the Spanish were naturally endeavoring to infiltrate.

Some nefarious machinations in this ambit that came to light in 1593 opened an investigation characteristically heavy on the torture, and Lopez’s name came up. Allegedly, the doctor was negotiating to take Spanish gold for slipping the Queen a mickey.

Image from the Internet History Sourcebook Project

Lopez doesn’t seem to be any less capable of greed or intrigue than anyone else at court, but poison? It was doubted at the time, the prosecution itself a product of the courtly rivalry between Essex and Cecil.** Despite a confession (extracted by torture, like the accusations), even Elizabeth never seems to have really bought the charge: she held Lopez more than three months after his sentence before finally permitting the punishment to go forward, and pensioned his family when the treason conviction entitled her to confiscate their property.

The London mob entertained no such nuance. When Lopez was hauled to the scaffold this day for his public butchery — still protesting that he “loved the Queen as he loved Jesus Christ,” derisively taken as a backhanded confession by spectators who didn’t doubt the practicing Protestant was really a Jew — it elevated popular anti-Semitism to fever pitch.

Hath not a Jew eyes?

Lopez, or at least the popular mood of Jew-baiting current after his trial, is thought to have helped inspire William Shakespeare’s use of the Shylock character in The Merchant of Venice — one of the most controversial and captivating of all the Bard’s creations, a villain far more compelling (and sympathetic) than the play’s lightweight good guys and one whose place in the Shakespeare canon and the fabric of Elizabethan England is still vigorously debated.

Is Shylock a vicious caricature? A sublimely three-dimensional human? Both? Wherever the “real” William Shakespeare stood on the matter of religious equality, he put one of literature’s great apologias for it in Shylock’s mouth:

* Insincerely converted Muslims and Jews were a choice target of the Inquisition in the 16th century; many thousands were driven to emigrate. For the fate of some other crypto-Jews who fled to Spain’s possessions in the New World, see here.

** Lopez’s Javert, the Earl of Essex, lost the power struggle a few years later … and with it, his own head.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Doctors,Drawn and Quartered,Execution,Famous Last Words,Gallows Humor,Gruesome Methods,History,Jews,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Scandal,Torture,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Next Posts


Calendar

October 2022
M T W T F S S
« Nov    
 12
3456789
10111213141516
17181920212223
24252627282930
31  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!