1946: Kurt Daluege, Nazi cop

Add comment October 24th, 2017 Headsman

On this date in 1946, former Nazi chief cop Kurt Daluege hanged at Prague’s Pankrac Prison.


Daluege’s postwar detention card.

Daluege, who returned from World War I bearing an Iron Cross and an early affinity for the far-right Freikorps militias, was head of the uniformed police for most of the Third Reich’s evil run. That terminated in 1943 when heart problems saw him pensioned off to Pomerania,* but not before he’d consciously Nazified the entire police force around the perspective of destroying “the consciously asocial enemies of the people.” He wrote a book called National-sozialistischer Kampf gegen das Verbrechertum (National Socialists’ War on Criminality).

With Hitler’s downfall, Daluege was called out of retirement to answer for the villainies that you’d assume a guy in his position would have authored — like mass shootings of Jews on the eastern front and a reprisal order to decorate a Polish town with “the hanging of Polish franc-tireurs from light poles as a visible symbol for the entire population.”

His most notable atrocity, and the reason that his hanging occurred in Czechoslovakia, came via his turn as the de facto successor to that territory’s Reichsprotektor Reinhard Heydrich after the latter’s assassination in 1942.

In this capacity it was Daluege who with Karl Frank ordered the destruction of the village Lidice to retaliate for Heydrich’s murder — one of the standout horrors in a generation thick with them.

Daluege rejected the charges against him to the end, his position a blend of the “superior orders” non-defense and a feigned irrecollection: nothing but the classics. “I am beloved by three million policemen!” he complained.

There’s a bit more information about him in this Axis History Forum thread, wherein appears the author of a hard-to-find German biography, Kurt Daluege — Der Prototyp des loyalen Nationalsozialisten.

* He did retain his seat in the Reichstag all the way to the end, a seat he first won in the November 1932 election.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Czechoslovakia,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,War Crimes

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

1934: Otto Planetta and Franz Holzweber, for the Juliputsch

Add comment July 31st, 2017 Headsman

German-Austria must return to the great German mother country, and not because of any economic considerations. No, and again no: even if such a union were unimportant from an economic point of view; yes, even if it were harmful, it must nevertheless take place. One blood demands one Reich. Never will the German nation possess the moral right to engage in colonial politics until, at least, it embraces its own sons within a single state …

The elemental cry of the German-Austrian people for union with the German mother country, that arose in the days when the Habsburg state was collapsing, was the result of a longing that slumbered in the heart of the entire people — a longing to return to the never-forgotten ancestral home. But this would be inexplicable if the historical education of the individual German-Austrian had not given rise to so general a longing. In it lies a well which never grows dry; which, especially in times of forgetfulness, transcends all momentary prosperity and by constant reminders of the past whispers softly of a new future

-Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On this date in 1934, two Nazis were hanged for their part in a failed Austrian coup.

From his political ascent in 1933 — and well before, as the quote above indicates — the Reich’s unification with his native land of Austria had been a cherished goal for Adolf Hitler. To that end, Berlin had fostered a clandestine network of Austrian Nazis branded as “SS Standarte 89” and allowed exiles to broadcast seditious propaganda from German soil.

Their “July Putsch” (English Wikipedia entry | German) was a year or so in the making, and commenced when four truckloads of SS Standarte 89 men in military attire suddenly stormed the federal chancellery in Vienna, murdering chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in the process.

“Hitler received the tidings while listening to a performance of Das Rheingold at the annal Wagner Festival at Bayreuth,” Shirer noted in The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich — and Wagner’s granddaughter, also in attendance, could not help observing his “excitement” and “delight” and simultaneous anxiety to feign uninvolvement.

The last of these impulses showed the emerging tyrant’s wisdom, for the coup swiftly collapsed — exposing, to Hitler’s fury, the inept organization of the plot. Basically no other coordinated actions took place to complete the coup and the Austrian army remained loyal to the existing government, leaving to the lonely SS Standarte 89 nothing but a feeble surrender.

The first targets of the resulting courts-martial were Otto Planetta (cursory English Wikipedia entry | more detailed German), who actually pulled the trigger to kill the chancellor, and Franz Holzweber, the apparent leader of the attack on the chancellery. They would be tried and condemned in a two-day hearing July 30-31 and hanged within three hours of conviction. In time, both the Planetta and the Holzweber name would adorn many city streets in the Third Reich as patriot-martyrs.

Both prisoners, when asked whether they had anything to say before hearing their sentences, addressed the Court. Planetta said: —

I do not know how many hours I have to live. But one thing I would like to say, I am no cowardly murderer. It was not my intention to kill. One thing more. As a human being I am sorry for my deed, and I beg the wife of the late Chancellor to forgive me.

Holzweber said: —

I was assured that there would be no bloodshed. I was told also that I should find Herr Rintelen at the Chancery,, that the new Government was already formed. Not meeting the leader of the operation at the Chancery, I disclosed myself at once to Major Fey. I told him, here I stand, and I do not know what I should do. More or less spontaneously I took over the responsibility for our men because no one was there to take charge of the matter.

Holzweber, who was executed first, cried out on the gallows: “We die for Germany. Heil Hitler.” Planetta said simply, “Heil Hitler.”

London Times, Aug. 1, 1934

The time was not yet ripe — and Hitler, no matter how heiled by his would-be subjects, was required by the diplomatic blowback to forswear ambitions on unifying with Austria.

But the Fuhrer’s soft whispers of a new future would grow ever more insistent in the months to come, and not four years later the Reich accomplished the Anschluss.

That July 25, in 1938, in a Vienna now successfully absorbed to greater Germany,

the fourth anniversary [of the Juliputsch] was celebrated as an heroic act comparable with the Rathenau and Erzberger murders. The survivors of ‘SS Standarte 89’ marched to the federal Austrian Chancellery, which had been renamed the Reichstatthalterei. Here the bereaved families of thirteen men were addressed by Rudolf Hess. A tablet was unveiled which proclaimed that:

154 German men of the 89th SS Standarte stood up here for Germany on 25 July, 1934. Seven found death at the hands of the hangman.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Austria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Murder,Notable for their Victims,Power,Soldiers,Terrorists,Treason

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

1934: Ernst Roehm, SA chief

1 comment July 2nd, 2011 Headsman

On this date in 1934, in the coda to Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives purge of the Nazi party, the emerging dictator had his longtime ally shot.

Bavarian World War I veteran Ernst Röhm (Roehm) had been a National Socialist brawler of the earliest vintage: after the armistice, he was among the Freikorps paramilitaries to topple the short-lived Munich Soviet. He joined the NSDAP’s predecessor, the German Workers’ Party, before Hitler himself, and he stood trial with the future Fuhrer after helping Hitler attempt the Beer Hall Putsch. They were so tight, Hitler politely ignored Röhm’s open homosexuality.

But most importantly, Röhm was the energetic organizer of the Sturmabteilung, or SA — the party’s private army ready at arms for street battles with Communists, roughing up Jews, Praetorian Guard duty for party brass, and various and sundry other unpleasantries.


An SA brownshirt tosses a book on the pyre at a May 10, 1933 book burning.

Röhm grew the SA like a weed. At well over 4 million men by the time of Hitler’s Chancellorship, it greatly outnumbered the army itself.

This gave Röhm personal designs on absorbing the army into his paramilitary instead of the other way around, and it gave Röhm the literal boots on the ground to manifest his own commitment to the “Socialist” bits of the “National Socialist” project. His noises about the “second revolution” to come after the Nazis had already obtained state power were most unwelcome.

“One often hears voices in the bourgeois camp to the effect that the SA have lost any reason for existence, but I will tell these gentlemen that the old bureaucratic spirit must yet be changed in a gentle or, if need be, an ungentle manner.”

-Röhm, Nov. 5, 1933 (Source)

Well, those gentlemen weren’t about to wait around to be changed in an ungentle manner. Hitler was induced to sacrifice the man who raised him to power in favor of those who could keep him there, personally arrested his old friend and aide-de-camp as the June 30 purge got underway.

A sucker for nostalgia, Hitler didn’t have Röhm killed outright — the fate of many others in those terrible hours — but instead shipped him to Stadelheim Prison in Munich.* After due consideration, though, the treacherous chancellor did what he was always going to do.

Alan Bullock, in Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, described the final scene.

Hitler ordered a revolver to be left in his cell, but Röhm refused to use it: “If I am to be killed, let Adolf do it himself.” According to an eyewitness at the 1957 Munich trial of those involved, he was shot by two S.S. officers who emptied their revolvers into him at point blank range. “Röhm wanted to say something but the S.S. officer told him to shut up. Then Röhm stood at attention — he was stripped to the waist — with his face full of contempt.”

A nice twist of the Long Knife by its wielders: they justified the purge on the grounds of an imminent coup attempt by the dead SA boss,** branding the murders of Röhm and his comrades … the Röhm-putsch.

* The same prison where the White Rose resistance members were later executed.

** Reinhard Heydrich supplied a dossier implausibly alleging Röhm was on the take from the French.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Famous,Germany,History,Homosexuals,Infamous,Language,No Formal Charge,Political Expedience,Politicians,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Terrorists

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1934: Night of the Long Knives

2 comments June 30th, 2011 Headsman

In the dark hours this date in 1934, a bargain with the devil was sealed in blood.

Months before, even mere hours before, it was still possible for longstanding adherents of the National Socialist Workers’ Party to demand the “Socialist” part of the program.

The SA and the SS will not tolerate the German revolution going to sleep and being betrayed at the half-way stage by non-combatants. … It is in fact high time the national revolution stopped and became the National Socialist one. Whether [the bourgeoisie] like it or not, we will continue our struggle — if they understand at last what it is about — with them; if they are unwilling — without them; and if necessary — against them.

Populist, not Bolshevik. (In fact, stridently anti-communist.) Nevertheless, a distinct menace by the have-nots against the haves.*

Especially so because they were the words not of some impotent scribbler but of Ernst Roehm, commander of the the Nazis’ paramilitary brownshirts. And threatening, too, for Adolf Hitler for this same reason: his ascension the previous year to the Chancellorship had entailed terms with a German elite who needed but mistrusted the man’s mass party. Something was going to have to give.

The Communist exile Leon Trotsky’s 1933 analysis of the infant Nazi Germany’s dynamics proved prescient.

The banner of National Socialism was raised by upstarts from the lower and middle commanding ranks of the old army. Decorated with medals for distinguished service, commissioned and noncommissioned officers could not believe that their heroism and sufferings for the Fatherland had not only come to naught, but also gave them no special claims to gratitude. Hence their hatred of the revolution and the proletariat. At the same time, they did not want to reconcile themselves to being sent by the bankers, industrialists, and ministers back to the modest posts of bookkeepers, engineers, postal clerks, and schoolteachers. Hence their “socialism.”

German fascism, like Italian fascism, raised itself to power on the backs of the petty bourgeoisie, which it turned into a battering ram against the organizations of the working class and the institutions of democracy. But fascism in power is least of all the rule of the petty bourgeoisie. On the contrary, it is the most ruthless dictatorship of monopoly capital. … The “socialist” revolution pictured by the petty-bourgeois masses as a necessary supplement to the national revolution is officially liquidated and condemned.

The Night of the Long Knives this date took those blades to the “socialists”, to the men like Roehm whose dreams of redistribution were reckless enough to picture his working-class militia supplanting the German army proper.

As its price of power, the Nazi leadership purged these dangerous elements.

At 2 a.m. this date, Hitler flew to Munich to personally arrest Roehm on the pretext of averting an imminent coup by Roehm’s SA.** Elsewhere in the Reich, coordinated arrests and summary executions destroyed the Nazi party’s “left”, and throughout this date, and continuing into the next, did not scruple to sweep up whatever other conservative elements Hitler considered unreliable.

It was a dangerous but ultimately decisive move. Albert Speer saw Hitler on July 1, and remembered him ebullient at the triumph.

Hitler was extremely excited and, as I believe to this day, inwardly convinced that he had come through a great danger. … Evidently he believed that his personal action had averted a disaster at the last minute: “I alone was able to solve this problem. No one else!”

The final death toll is uncertain. Hitler copped to 77 in a speech to the Reichstag two weeks later which chillingly claimed that “in this hour I was responsible for the fate of the German people, and thereby I became the supreme judge”; it is likely that the true number is much higher. But its effect went far beyond those immediately killed: it tamed the SA’s independence, and permanently subordinated it to the military; and, it brought Adolf Hitler the dictatorial power that would make the succeeding years so fruitful for this blog.

Among those known to have been seized and executed and/or murdered this date:

Roehm himself died on July 2, initially spared for his many good offices for the Nazi cause before Hitler realized he could not leave him alive.

The armed forces, apparently the day’s big winner, would pay a price of their own for the arrangement.

“In making common cause with” the murderous purge, observed William Shirer in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, “the generals were putting themselves in a position in which they could never oppose future acts of Nazi terrorism.” As the quid for the quo, soldiers were soon required to swear “unconditional obedience” to Adolf Hitler, and this oath would give countless Wehrmacht officers sufficient reason or excuse to eschew resistance to their leader until much too late.

Barely a month after the Night of the Long Knives, the ancient German President Hindenburg died in office. Hitler, who now commanded the clear allegiance of his nation’s elites and had savagely mastered his own party besides, succeeded the powers of Hindenburg’s vacant office along with those of his own Chancellorship and became the German Fuehrer.

* When the Nazis were knee high to the Weimar Republic, their party program sought such radical stuff as abolition of rentier income, generous old-age pensions, and nationalizing trusts.

** The historicity of any actual coup plot is generally dismissed, although the event is still known in German by the expedient sobriquet the Nazi leadership gave it, Roehm-putsch.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,History,Homosexuals,Infamous,Innocent Bystanders,Language,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Political Expedience,Politicians,Popular Culture,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Summary Executions,Terrorists,Wrongful Executions

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

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

On this day..

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

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

1948: The condemned from the Doctors’ Trial

2 comments June 2nd, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1948, seven SS men were hanged at Germany’s Landsberg Prison, condemned for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the so-called Doctors Trial.

Four of the hanged were doctors; three were non-physicians who assisted them. Their trial (which included 16 others, variously acquitted or sentenced to prison terms) by an American military tribunal was a conscious attempt to establish criminal responsibility among the medical profession.

As prosecutor Telford Taylor* said in his opening statement.

To kill, to maim, and to torture is criminal under all modern systems of law. These defendants did not kill in hot blood, nor for personal enrichment. Some of them may be sadists who killed and tortured for sport, but they are not all perverts. They are not ignorant men. Most of them are trained physicians and some of them are distinguished scientists. Yet these defendants, all of whom were fully able to comprehend the nature of their acts, and most of whom were exceptionally qualified to form a moral and professional judgment in this respect, are responsible for wholesale murder and unspeakably cruel tortures.

It is our deep obligation to all peoples of the world to show why and how these things happened. It is incumbent upon us to set forth with conspicuous clarity the ideas and motives which moved these defendants to treat their fellow men as less than beasts.

One of several war crimes trials after the big Nuremberg Tribunal (and held in the same courtroom), the Doctors Trial dealt with the Third Reich’s Frankenstein lab of medical experimentation.

Some of this was combat-related. How long can a downed pilot survive in the North Sea? Throw a POW into freezing water and find out.

Some was more conventional medical advancement, shorn of any ethical sense. How can we treat malaria? Inject some untermenschen and start testing.

And some of it was straight from the Nazis’ racial purification theology: euthanizing the disabled, castrating and murdering Jews and Gypsies, that sort of thing. It’s all a rich tapestry.

The doctors hanged this date included

  • Karl Brandt, Hitler’s personal physician and the co-director of the Aktion T4 euthanasia program**
  • SS hygienist Joachim Mrugowsky, for experiments with concentration camp prisoners
  • SS surgeon and German Red Cross head Karl Gebhart, who enjoyed experimenting with operations on unanaesthetized prisoners
  • Waldemar Hoven, chief doctor at Buchenwald

They kept company with three others who didn’t see the “patients” but pushed around the paper for those who did.

Many of this day’s scaffold clientele died unrepentant; Karl Brandt harangued at such length that the hood was put over his head mid-sentence to move proceedings along.

Landsberg Prison was a fitting site for their expiation. As the New York Times reported (June 3, 1948)

The men died on two black gallows erected in the courtyard of the prison where Hitler wrote “Mein Kampf” while confined after his 1923 Munich putsch.

* In 1970, Telford wrote Nuremberg and Vietnam: An American Tragedy, arguing that American officials had committed war crimes in Vietnam because “we failed ourselves to learn the lessons we undertook to teach at Nuremberg.”

Telford died in 1998, so his commentary on the accountability-free torture of the modern war machine is unavailable.

** Karl Brandt was actually condemned to death by a Nazi court in the closing days of the war and only narrowly avoided execution. His crime? Moving his family out of Berlin so that they could surrender to the Americans instead of the Russians.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Crimes Against Humanity,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Germany,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1945: Anton Dostler, gone commando

7 comments December 1st, 2009 Headsman

On December 1, 1945, German General Anton Dostler was shot by the American military at Aversa, Italy, for war crimes.

Gen. Dostler readied for execution, from the U.S. National Archives. Click for larger image, or click here for the post-execution photo.

Specifically, General Dostler was condemned for having ordered the summary execution of American saboteurs who had been taken behind enemy lines.* Dostler was the first German general tried by an American military commission, and the first put to death for war crimes.

And his sentence did not sit well with all.

There had been a group of German saboteurs captured in the United States during the war who had themselves been executed (after becoming the subject of Supreme Court landmark Ex parte Quirin). Here, a mirroring act on the German side brought a death sentence for its (supposed) author.

Dostler’s scenario therefore raised interesting questions of war crimes law, jurisdiction … and politics.

The essential legal difference between the German saboteurs and the OSS men shot at La Spezia was that the latter were found to have been taken in uniform. If uniformed, they were entitled to prisoner of war status; if not, then a summary execution might have been (however repugnant) permissible.

It seems to be generally agreed, and even conceded by Dostler’s defense, that the saboteurs were indeed in uniform, though the notes of the trial are rather vague on the point; there’s an intriguing indication that the defense disputed the notion that the captive saboteurs’ uniform had the necessary “fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance.” (Time said that “they wore no insignia, had turned their field jackets inside out.”)

In a do-over, Dostler’s defense might have dug very deep into what met the Geneva Convention’s definition of a uniform.**

For the Germans, however, the saboteurs’ fate was decided by Hitler’s notorious Commando Order, inflicting immediate death on any enemy personnel (uniformed or not) captured behind German lines.†

Understandably, then, Dostler’s counsel seems to have been much more interested in pursuing the “superior orders” defense, and did so with gusto: in this early landmark trial, it was an as-yet untested strategem even though the Allied Powers had decided as a matter of policy not to protect potential war criminals on that basis. Not only was the Führerbefehl at work in general, but Dostler had kicked this specific decision upstairs to the office of Gen. Albert Kesselring, which had insisted upon the executions (to the point of directly phoning the fortress which held the Americans to ask why they weren’t dead yet).

Dostler defense attorney Col. Claudius Wolfe appeared to strike a chord with the tribunal’s career military officers in his closing summation, impressing upon them the danger to military order or to their own persons of establishing a precedent that subordinates can be held accountable for illegal orders from above.‡

We won the war this time, but no one knows who will win the next time. We might lose and then you gentlemen might find yourselves sitting where this man is now sitting…

If we find this man guilty because of political pressure or because he lost the war and is in our power, we might as well not have won the war. (New York Times, Oct. 12, 1945)

But a more immediate precedent was at stake: the many imminent war crimes trials including the Nuremberg proceedings. Many of those would never get off the ground if a “superior orders” plea could work for someone as high-ranking as a general — or if the first war crimes trial out of the gate resulted in an acquittal.

A son of one of Dostler’s defense team makes a hotly-stated case for the general here; some factual errors (e.g., the “Roosevelt administration”) detract from the piece, but his recollection of the backstage machinations as related by his father are fascinating if true.

Video of Dostler’s execution is available, in its original silent cut.

* A description of the attempted operation, with helpful maps, is here (pdf). Coincidental — but perhaps informative for the Third Reich’s decision-making apparatus — was the fact that the La Spezia saboteurs were captured on March 24, 1944, the very same date as a reprisal mass execution in Rome for a partisan attack the day before that had claimed 33 Germans.

** Here (pdf) is a review of the current legal terrain around the “uniform” issue, significantly shaped by World War II. Executive summary: commanders should give awfully wide latitude to hostiles wearing less-than-standard uniform unless said hostiles are clearly using their wardrobe as a ploy to get the drop on your guys.

† Actually, the text of the Commando order directed that enemy “commandos” should without quarter “be exterminated to the last man, either in combat or in pursuit” (a “no quarter” order being illegal itself, but not relevant here); but, that those who somehow managed to be captured should be handed over to the SS. German officers seem to have understood, probably accurately, that the high command simply wanted them dead and wasn’t fussy about distinguishing the circumstances. Dostler’s guys (per the Oct. 13, 1945 London Times) contended that Hitler’s citation in the Führerbefehl of Allied atrocities made the German policy in reality a Geneva Convention-legal reprisal order.

‡ A German officer down the chain of command, Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten, actually refused to sign the execution order for the Americans because — yes — the order violated the Geneva Conventions. The Wehrmacht sacked him, but did not prosecute him, for his scruples.

Part of the Daily Double: Lesser War Criminals.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Italy,Milestones,Notable Jurisprudence,Occupation and Colonialism,Political Expedience,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Soldiers,U.S. Military,USA,War Crimes,Wrongful 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: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1945: The Belsen war criminals

6 comments December 13th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1945, British hangman Albert Pierrepoint executed eleven guards of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and two other Nazis in occupied Hameln.

Liberated only eight months before these hangings, Belsen provided the to-us-familiar store of Nazi atrocity stories. Forty-five sat in the dock at the Belsen trial under British military authority, including the notorious camp commandante Josef Kramer — better known as the Beast of Belsen — and the “Angel of Death” Irma Grese.

Those two, and nine others less distinctively nicknamed, faced the gallows. (They were hanged together with two other war criminal convicts not connected to the Belsen trial, Georg Otto Sandrock and Ludwig Schweinberger, for a total of 13.)

On December 13, 1945, Pierrepoint hanged Grese; then, Elisabeth Volkenrath; and then, Juana Bormann, each individually. Finally, the men were then dispatched in pairs.

(Other than Kramer, the most notable was Nazi doctor Fritz Klein, who gave this reading of medical ethics when queried while the camps were still operating: “My Hippocratic oath tells me to cut a gangrenous appendix out of the human body. The Jews are the gangrenous appendix of mankind. That’s why I cut them out.”)


Of all this batch, Irma Grese, the “beautiful beast”, enjoys the liveliest afterlife.

If one finds her pretty, then she was a pretty young thing — only 16 when she hitched herself to the SS; turning 22 during her fatal postwar trial.

Stalking the camp with her whip, and (rather conveniently) cited with the ravenous sexual appetite a B-movie screenwriter would give such a character, part of her siren song is plainly the fetishistic magnetism of Nazi women.

But in the numerous discussion threads about Irma Grese, any number of her advocates will emerge.

Can we leave it at the fascination that female war criminals inspire? Certainly few 22-year-old Einsatzgruppen men have the mitigatory evidence of a coming-of-age in farming and retail so lovingly emphasized, the precise measure of complicity in genocide analyzed in such detail (pdf).

Grese, perhaps, strikes as impressionable, in the youthful sense of absorbing one’s place from the world one inhabits. Her hangman wrote that “[s]he seemed as bonny a girl as one could ever wish to meet.” As a camp guard, she wins promotions; to her interrogators, she accepts responsibility equal to Himmler’s; among those condemned at the Belsen trial, she alone is defiant.

In that guise — and whether or not it is rightly attributed to her — she presents back to her interlocutor those timeless questions of personal identity and moral responsibility: where does abnormal psychology leave off into perfectly conventional psychology that just happens to occupy an abnormal world?

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Concentration Camps,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous Last Words,Germany,Hanged,History,Infamous,Mass Executions,Occupation and Colonialism,War Crimes,Women

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

1950: James Corbitt, the hangman’s mate

16 comments November 28th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1950, famed British executioner Albert Pierrepoint carried out his most difficult assignment: hanging his friend.

Though not literally the Isles’ last hangman, Pierrepoint is the last one everyone thinks of, the man who defined the hangman’s job for the 20th century.

Discreet, orderly, and as quiet as he was efficient,* he was the brand-name executioner for stiff-upper-lip England of the waning empire, with over 400** hangings to his name from 1932 until he resigned over a fee dispute in 1956.

Despite his proper avoidance of the spotlight, Pierrepoint’s excellence at his craft would make him a celebrity — especially after the press fixated on his role hanging Nazi war criminals after World War II. The ready-made morality play upon the scaffold boards could hardly be resisted: the English grocer, meting out a dignified and precise measure of justice to the likes of the Beast of Belsen.

Hanging Around

Pierrepoint’s characteristic client wasn’t a war criminal, but a humdrum British murderer, only a handful of which attract especial remembrance today.

Still, in the immediate postwar years, the growing reach of the mass media and burgeoning public controversy over the death penalty would frequently put Pierrepoint in the middle of the era’s highest-profile hangings, including:

Tish and Tosh

Like as not, this day’s affair hit the sturdy hangman harder than any of those.

James Henry Corbitt was a regular at “Help the Poor Struggler”, the piquantly named Oldham pub Pierrepoint bought and managed after World War II. Known as “Tish” to Pierrepont’s “Tosh,” the two had sung a duet of “Danny Boy” on the night that Corbitt went out and murdered his girlfriend in a jealous rage.

Corbitt was not exceptional as a criminal, and he was indisputably guilty; we wouldn’t notice him if not for his acquaintance with the man who put him to death.

But Pierrepoint would remember this one well, as he later wrote in his his autobiography:

I thought if any man had a deterrent to murder poised before him, it was this troubadour whom I called Tish. He was not only aware of the rope, he had the man who handled it beside him singing a duet. The deterrent did not work.

Remarkably, the most prolific executioner in British history had come out against the death penalty, or so it seemed. (He later backed away from a strong anti-death penalty position, though without retracting his original reservations. The death penalty had been a decade off the books by this point, in any case.)

It is I who have faced them last, young lads and girls, working men and grandmothers.

I have been amazed to see the courage with which they walk into the unknown.

It did not deter them then and it had not deterred them when they committed what they were convicted for. All the men and women I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I have done I have not prevented a single murder. And if death does not work to deter one person, it should not be held to deter any … capital punishment, in my view, achieved nothing except revenge.

It’s an open question how much Tish’s hanging this day really contributed to Pierrepoint’s retirement six years later or his apparent change of stance on his trade. But it provides the gut-wrenching dramatic pivot for the film Pierrepoint: The Last Hangman.

Interestingly, while the hangman saw in Corbitt’s fate a troubling indictment of the death penalty, the hanged man’s son to this day still says dad deserved to die.

More on Albert Pierrepoint

For a man so ubiquitously present in the mid-century experience of Great Britain, and who undertook such a dramatic volte-face, it’s no surprise that Pierrepoint has attracted plenty of attention — including this website, and a number of books.

Also of possible interest: Hangmen of England: History of Execution from Jack Ketch to Albert Pierrepoint (we’ve met Jack Ketch here before). More dry factual data about Pierrepoint, the father and uncle who preceded him in the post, and other recent practitioners in Britain’s colorful line of executioners is here.

* The English practice was for Pierrepoint to pinion the prisoner’s arms in the condemned cell, escort him a few steps into a hanging chamber, hood him, and execute the sentence without further ceremony. The whole process took mere seconds — a record fast seven seconds from cell door to trap door in the case of James Inglis — which Pierrepoint seems to have had a gift for dignifying in his (usual) silence with a sort of calming paternal assurance.

Pierrepoint hanged six American soldiers under the auspices of U.S. military forces deployed to England during the Second World War, and confessed to considerable discomfort with that entity’s protracted pre-hanging procedures that had him standing on the scaffold with the condemned man for several minutes.

* And perhaps well over 600 hangings; the figures are disputed.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Hanged,Murder,Notable Participants

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

Previous Posts


Calendar

November 2018
M T W T F S S
« Oct    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

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!