1943: Elise and Otto Hampel, postcard writers

26 comments April 8th, 2011 Meaghan

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

On this day in 1943, a working-class German couple were executed for treason and sedition in Berlin, Germany: Otto and Elise Hampel’s reign of postcard-writing terror had finally come to its conclusion.

On the surface, the Hampels seemed like two very ordinary people. Elise had an elementary school education and worked as a domestic servant before she married Otto in 1935. Otto, a World War I veteran six years older than Elise, was a factory laborer.


Two of the treasonous postcards.

They lived modest, anonymous lives in Berlin and doubtless would have continued to do so if Elise’s brother, a soldier in the German Army, had not been killed in action in France in 1940.

Elise’s brother’s death was the catalyst for the Hampels’ tragically brave and utterly ineffectual two-year campaign of resistance against Hitler’s Germany.

Together the couple hand-wrote over 200 postcards and leaflets speaking out against the Nazi regime. The postcards urged people not to serve in the German Army, to refuse to donate to Nazi organizations, and generally do everything they could to resist the government. Otto and Elise scattered the cards in mailboxes, stairwells and other locations all over Berlin. The idea was that people would find the cards, read them and show them others, and thus the seed of rebellion would take root.

What actually happened was that almost all the cards were delivered to the authorities immediately. Nobody wanted to be caught in possession of such dangerous words.

Because of the sheer number of postcards and the long duration of their distribution, the Gestapo at first thought they were dealing with a much larger group of traitors. Doubtless they were frustrated that this riffraff, who couldn’t even write properly (the postcards were full of grammatical errors and misspellings), were able to evade them for so long. But the Hampels’ resistance activities eventually caught up with them.

They were unrepentant after their arrests in October 1942, and had little to say for themselves, beyond Otto’s statement that he was “happy” about protesting against Hitler. Roland Freisler‘s People’s Court duly condemned them to die for “preparation for high treason” and “demoralizing the troops.” They were executed by guillotine in the Plötzensee Prison.

For some reason, unlike their equally courageous, foolish and doomed counterparts in the White Rose, the Hampels’ story didn’t really catch on with historians.

They were saved from oblivion by the dangerously unstable, drug-addicted author Rudolf Ditzen, aka Hans Fallada, who came upon their Gestapo file after the war.

His 1947 novel, Every Man Dies Alone, written in just 24 days, is closely based on Elise and Otto’s story. This book was Fallada’s swan song; he died weeks before its publication. Titled Jeder stirbt für sich allein in Germany, it was not translated into English until 2009 — but it then became a runaway bestseller in the United States and (under the title Alone in Berlin) in Great Britain.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Guillotine,History,Martyrs,Treason,Wartime Executions

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2007: Ajmal Naqshbandi, Fixer

4 comments April 8th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 2007, the Taliban beheaded hostage Ajmal Naqshbandi, an Afghan “fixer” who arranged local contacts for foreign journalists.

Naqshbandi had been pinched on March 6 with La Repubblica writer Daniele Mastrogiacomo while both were out on a story together, even though Naqshbandi himself had set up Taliban interviews before.*

Quiet negotiations over several weeks produced a swap that would free the scribes, but a last-minute breach by the authorities — who decided not to return one of the agreed-upon prisoners — caused the Taliban to hang onto the Fixer. (Mastrogiacomo was set free. The man who was driving these two had been beheaded at the outset to prove the captors meant business.)

The story wasn’t quiet any longer, and as it mushroomed into a worldwide cause celebre with a scramble to save Ajmal, the Taliban evidently perceived a political advantage in butchering its hostage.

Success! Afghan President Hamid Karzai looked like a total stooge, willing to ransom a foreigner but not an Afghan.

So, for that matter, did the Italian government, which got it from both sides for being abject enough to deal with terrorists in the first place, and then ignoble enough once it did so to bail out its own national while letting his local partner die.

Naqshbandi is the subject of the (aptly titled) documentary Fixer: The Taking of Ajmal Naqshbandi (review).

Fellow-hostage Daniele Mastrogiacomo wrote this book about the ordeal.

The film follows Ajmal’s work with journalist Christian Parenti.

Doug Henwood of Left Business Observer interviewed Christian Parenti in the second half of this August 2009 episode from his (highly recommended, though rarely death penalty-related) WBAI radio program/podcast Behind the News, with intriguing coverage of the political context and the role of Pakistani intelligence:

[audio:http://shout.lbo-talk.org/lbo/RadioArchive/2009/09_08_15.mp3]

(Another leftist outlet, Democracy Now!, interviewed Parenti here.)

Pretty brutal.

But then, war is hell for journalists.

* “This work is very dangerous,” Naqshbandi said a few months before his death. “I bring one enemy to meet another.”

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Afghanistan,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Borderline "Executions",Cycle of Violence,Execution,History,Hostages,Innocent Bystanders,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Wartime Executions

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1763: Ann Beddingfield and Richard Ringe, two sides of a triangle

1 comment April 8th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1763, another century’s dumb criminals paid another century’s penalty for their timeless crime of lust.

Lovers have trod this path to Calvary since time immemorial, in every age and place.

In the present instance, 19-year-old Ringe had no sooner joined the Beddingfield house than “his mistress became so enamoured of him that her husband was the object of her contempt. Her behaviour to Ringe was such that he could not long doubt of her favourable inclinations; nor had he virtue to resist the temptation.”

So, naturally, “blinded by her passion,” the adulterous Beddingfield put the farmhand to work on a murder plot, without much bothering to conceal it from the other servants. A maid ratted them out … “but postponed the doing so till she had received the wages for her quarter’s service.”

Not every crime can have the stuff of immortality about it.

They were placed on one sledge on the morning of their execution, and conveyed to a place near Ipswich, called Rushmore, where Ringe made a pathetic address to the surrounding multitude, advising young people to be warned, by his fate, to avoid the delusions of wicked women, and to consider chastity as a virtue.

After the fervent exercise of devotion he was turned off, while the body of Mrs Beddingfield, who had been first strangled at a stake, was burning to ashes, agreeable to the practice respecting women who are convicted of the murder of their husbands.

Part of the Themed Set: Selections from the Newgate Calendar.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Public Executions,Sex,Women

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