1943: Elfriede Scholz, Erich Maria Remarque’s sister

10 comments December 16th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1943, pacifist novelist Erich Maria Remarque lost his youngest sister to the Nazi regime — beheaded because her “brother is beyond our reach.”

Actually, Elfriede Scholz was convicted (upon the denunciation of her landlady a few weeks before) by the kangaroo People’s Court for undermining the war effort. (“Wehrkraftzersetzung” — German has a word for everything.)

Like her brother, Elfriede was a staunch opponent of the Nazi government, and in 1943 that could certainly have sufficed to get her a one-way trip to Plotzensee Prison.

But Roland Freisler‘s verdict explicitly referenced (German link) her more famous brother — upon whom the Nazis would have poured out an interwar era’s worth of fury had they been able to get to him in America.

Ihr Bruder ist uns entwischt, aber Sie werden uns nicht entwischen! (Your brother is beyond our reach, but you will not escape us!

Though Erich Maria Remarque and Adolf Hitler had served together at the Third Battle of Ypres, they didn’t quite see eye to eye after the Great War.

Remarque’s immortal anti-war novel All Quiet on the Western Front was banned and burned by war-glorifying Nazis (they also said Remarque was of Jewish descent, apparently without any factual basis).

Erna, Elfriede and Erich Remark — the author later restored an ancestral spelling of his name that had been Germanized in the 19th century — in happier times.

Remarque left Germany, an intellectual celebrity and man-about-town who rubbed shoulders with the likes of Marlene Dietrich (with whom he had a passionate affair) and Ernest Hemingway (with whom he did not).

The Nazis stripped his citizenship, and fumed that they couldn’t get their jackboots on him. (At one point, Goebbels invited Remarque to return. Sly.)

But Elfriede, they could get. She had stayed in her native Germany with her husband and family.

Not content with taking her head off, Berlin added a particularly vicious twist by billing the expatriate author 90 marks for the executioner’s trouble.

The author never said or wrote much about Elfriede, even his diaries. But years later, Erich Remarque dedicated his novel about life in a concentration camp, Spark of Life, to his late sister. Today, there’s a street named for Elfriede in the Remarques’ native Osnabruck.

More about Remarque at the German (but the site is multilingual) Erich Maria Remarque-Friedenszentrum and this online exhibit from New York University.

Better still, here’s the 1930 film version of All Quiet on the Western Front — that year’s Academy Award winner as Best Picture.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,Murder,Notably Survived By,Wartime Executions,Women

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1594: Alison Balfour

5 comments December 16th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1594, Alison Balfour was burned as a witch on the strength of a confession extracted under the hideous torture of her family.

Balfour had been implicated in a plot — probably entirely fictitious — to poison the tyrannical young Earl of Orkney, with some misshapen blob of wax appearing as evidence of her communion with the infernal.

She was tortured, but she denied the charges.

Her 81-year-old husband was tortured in front of her, but she denied the charges.

Her son’s feet were crushed in front of her, but she denied the charges.

When at last her seven-year-old daughter was put to thumbscrews in front of her, she broke down and “confessed.”

Before her execution, she renounced her confession in heartbreaking words to be read in the original records:

sche … declarit and tuik upoun hir saull and conscience, as sche wald ansuer att the day of judgement … that sche wes als innocent and wald die als innocent on ony point of Wichcraft as ane barne new borne … the tyme of hir first Depositioun sche wes tortourit diverse and severall tymes in the Caschielawis, and sindrie tymis takin out of thame deid,* … as lykewyis hir guidman being in the stokis, hir sone tortourit in the Buitis, and hir dochtir put in the Pilliewinkis, quhairwith sche and thay wer swa vexit and tormentit, that pairtlie to eschew ane gretar torment and pwneischement, and upoun promeis of hir lyffe, and guid deid be the said Personne, falslie, aganis hir saull and conscience, sche maid that Confessioun, and na uthirwyis.

Just two years later, another supposed perpetrator of this same plot was acquitted in Edinburgh — the evidence of Balfour’s case thrown out as unreliably obtained under torture.

* “taken out of them dead” — i.e., unconscious

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous Last Words,Innocent Bystanders,Notable Jurisprudence,Notable Sleuthing,Public Executions,Scotland,Torture,Witchcraft,Women,Wrongful Executions

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