1285: Tile Kolup, pretender

2 comments July 7th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1285, a pretender to the Holy Roman Empire* throne was burned at the stake in Wetzlar, Germany.

Kolup (English Wikipedia page | German) found room to perpetrate his fraud via the “King in the mountain” legend.

This myth of a past hero who sleeps out of sight, awaiting the opportune moment for return, has a wide cultural currency; King Arthur would be the readiest example for most Anglos.

In Germany from the 13th century, a similar myth attached to Emperor Frederick I “Barbarossa”, who had suddenly drowned during the Third Crusade in 1190 after reigning as Holy Roman Emperor for nearly 40 years. It’s a myth with enough resonance for this poem by 19th century German romantic Friedrich Rückert:

The ancient Barbarossa,
Frederich, the Kaiser great,
Within the castle-cavern
Sits in enchanted state.

He did not die; but ever
Waits in the chamber deep,
Where hidden under the castle
He sat himself to sleep.

The splendor of the Empire
He took with him away,
And back to earth will bring it
When dawns the promised day.

The chair is ivory purest
Whereof he makes his bed;
The table is of marble
Whereon he props his head.

His beard, not flax, but burning
With fierce and fiery glow
Right through the marble table
Beneath his chair does grow.

He nods in dreams and winketh
With dull, half-open eyes,
And once an age he beckons
A page that standeth by.

He bids the boy in slumber:
“O dwarf, go up this hour,
And see if still the ravens
Are flying round the tower.

“And if the ancient ravens
Still wheel above us here,
Then must I sleep enchanted
For many a hundred year.”

(To say nothing of the resonance for the Nazis who codenamed their invasion of the Soviet Union Barbarossa.)

Anyway, by the time we lay our scene late in the 13th century, when the Hohenstaufen line has tragically vanished, a version of this myth — the “Emperor of Peace” (German link) — has attached itself to Barbarossa’s grandson, Frederick II. Like Frederick I, he was a great and long-lived consolidator of the Empire; unfortunately, he’s been dead since 1250. Or has he?!

Tile Kolup appears in 1284 claiming to be this Frederick, who would have been going on 90 years old at this time. The good citizens of Cologne are his first audience, and he totally bombs with them; only their conviction that he’s more madman than usurper gets him run out of town with only a taunting.

But he finds a more receptive crowd in Neuss, and for a time keeps a court there and issues documents on Frederick II’s authority. Rudolph I, King of the Romans and butt of reindeer jokes, eventually nabs him in nearby Wetzlar and tortures him into admitting his imposture.

There are some succinct German biographies of this falsche Friedrich here and here.

* “This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.” -Voltaire. (And the coffee talk lady.)

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 13th Century,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,Heresy,History,Holy Roman Empire,Power,Pretenders to the Throne,Public Executions,Torture,Treason

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1978: Antonina Makarova, Nazi executioner

23 comments August 11th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1978, a young Soviet girl’s desperate collaboration with the Wehrmacht caught up with a 55-year-old mother.

A village girl and the first in her family to go to school, young Antonina Parfenova was dubbed “Makarova” (after her father, Makar) by a teacher when the girl forgot or was too shy to say her surname. This childhood switcheroo would follow her into adulthood and ultimately buy her half a lifetime and a family to mourn her.

At 19, she had moved to Moscow when the German onslaught against the Soviet Union erupted, and like many young people in similar straits, she volunteered to help fight the Nazis. But as the front swept past her, she found herself in enemy territory, and was nabbed by the SS and persuaded to become the Germans’ executioner of Russians at Lokot, a village near the Ukrainian and Belarussian borders for which a short-lived Nazi-controlled “republic” was named.

A 2005 Pravda article (with a somewhat prurient concern over the young woman’s sexual incontinence) delves into her activities:

Usually Antonina Makarova was ordered to execute a group of 27 people, the number of partisans which a local prison could house. Death sentences were carried out on the edge of a pit half a kilometer from the prison. She never knew people whom she executed and they had no notion who the executioner was either. Antonina executed the first group of partisans being absolutely drunk and the girl could hardly realize what she was doing. She often kept clothes of those whom she killed if the things were good; she carefully washed them and heaped them in her room.

In the evenings after work Antonina loved to dress up and enjoy her time dancing with German officers together with other girls who came there as prostitutes. Antonina boasted she used to live in Moscow that is why other girls kept aloof from her.

At dawn, Antonina often came to the prison and peered into the faces of people whom she was to execute in the morning. The woman just did her job when executing people and believed that the war would write her crimes off.*

“Antonina Makarova” was implicated in some 1,500 executions, and formally charged in around 200 cases with identifiable victims. The KGB turned up scores of women of the right age with the right name, but none of them fit the bill: the real Makarova’s passport said “Parfenova.”

Not until 1976 did the case break, when a relative applying for a travel visa named her in a routine list of relatives. Now named Antonina Ginsburg — she had married a veteran and taken his name — she was living quietly in Belarus, but hardly in hiding: the pair attended parades and town functions in the honor accorded World War II survivors.

Viktor Ginsburg would be in for a bit of a shock.

Even 35 years after her spell with the Germans ended, the wounds of the Great Patriotic War were raw enough to spell her death in very quick order in Briansk, the capital of Lokot’s district. She was the last World War II traitor of any note executed in the Soviet Union, and according to this page, the only Soviet woman ever judicially executed by shooting. (I’d take that claim cautiously without more corroboration.)

The Pravda article cited above is about the only original English source readily available online; Russian speakers (or people prepared to grapple with an online translator’s inelegance) can read much more at her Russian Wikipedia page as well as here, here and here.

Update: Courtesy of Executed Today’s own Sonechka, a translation from this Russian story of Makarova’s daughter’s heartbreaking remembrance of a woman she only knew as a mother:

Pain, pain, pain … She spoiled the life of four generations … You would like to know whether I would take her back if she returned? I would. She is my mother after all… I really don’t know how to remember her — as if she’s alive or dead. According to the tacit law, women were not shot. Maybe she’s alive somewhere? And if not, tell me — I’ll finally light a candle for her soul.

(Candles in Orthodox churches are lit for “zdravie” — literally “good health, well being” — or “upokoi” — “peace of a soul.” The former is intended for living beings, the latter for dead ones.)

* This, at least, is what she told her interrogators.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Belarus,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Executioners,Germany,History,Milestones,Notable for their Victims,Notable Sleuthing,Occupation and Colonialism,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,USSR,War Crimes,Women

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1941: Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya

11 comments November 29th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1941, Soviet partisan Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was hanged by the Wehrmacht for sabotaging buildings behind German lines near Moscow.

A statue of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya stands vigil over Moscow’s World War II-era Partizanskaya metro station. Image used with permission.

One of the most famous Soviet war heroines and the first woman decorated as Hero of the Soviet Union during World War II, the 18-year-old had quit school to volunteer for a partisan unit only a few weeks before her hanging as Russia mobilized against Hitler’s race towards Moscow.

Known simply as “Tanya”, the nom de guerre which was the only information she volunteered during two days of torture, the power of the press offered her apotheosis into a propaganda coup for the Kremlin, and a symbol of courage that would long outlive Stalin. Before the public execution, the Nazis paused to photograph the scene; Kosmodemyanskaya availed the lull to harangue the Germans — “you can’t hang all 190 million of us!” — and call on the Russian villagers present to resist occupation.

Her bayoneted, mutilated body hung on the gibbet until the Red Army recaptured the village; witnesses related the tale of her dying heroism to a newsman.

It was only after the story of “Tanya” hit the press in January 1942 that her identity was established … and then promulgated widely. Anonymous and obscure in death, Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya would inspire millions and become the heroic emblem of other women partisans.


Soviet propaganda poster unabashedly modeled on the already-iconic image of Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya’s abused corpse.

Zoya, a 1944 Soviet film, was scored by Dmitri Shostakovich.

Part of the Themed Set: Women Against Fascism.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arson,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Germany,Gibbeted,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Russia,Soldiers,Torture,USSR,Wartime Executions,Women

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1944: Richard Sorge and Hotsumi Ozaki

11 comments November 7th, 2007 Headsman

On the day of the USSR’s October Revolution holiday in 1944, Stalin’s greatest spies were hanged in Japan.

Renowned among espionage aficionados for supposedly forewarning Moscow of the exact date of Germany’s planned surprise attack in 1941, Richard Sorge‘s work in the pregnant years leading up to World War II produced multiple intelligence coups and could lay claim to the uncommon distinction of having materially affected the course of the war.

His signal achievement was establishing, as a foreigner in a highly xenophobic Japan, a spy ring that for years penetrated the highest levels of the Japanese government and the German embassy, giving Moscow an inside look at Axis planning.

Working under the cover of journalism in the German expat community — he had grown up in a mixed German-Russian household in Berlin and won the Iron Cross for his service in the Kaiser’s army in World War I before embracing communism — Sorge struck Hitler from half a world away. His access to the German embassy was untrammeled — indeed, he had an affair with the ambassador’s wife. His lead Japanese collaborator Hotsumi Ozaki was a major public intellectual similarly privy to sensitive information through his contacts.

The two, along with several other Japanese and foreign collaborators, produced a steady diet of top-shelf intelligence, including the (ignored) forecast of Operation Barbarossa. But the ring’s most important coup — arguably a decisive one in the history of the war as a whole — was to inform Moscow in September 1941 that Japan did not intend to attack the Russian Far East. Relieved of the nightmare prospect of a two-front war, Stalin transfered desperately needed Siberian divisions to help throw back the German advance on Moscow.

Japan by 1941 was a dangerous place to operate, however, and the nerve-rattling work — and the alcoholism to which it contributed — were taking its toll on the master spy just as the authorities were closing in. Sorge and his ring were arrested in October 1941.

Sorge’s decisive communique regarding Japanese intentions in the East had not yet borne its fruit. The war had nearly four years yet to run, and Sorge would languish in prison for most of them — long enough to leave fellow detainees with recollections of the captured operative jubilant at Red Army victories. Soviet tanks were at Germany’s doorstep by the time the two went to the gallows, one after the other, with the few minutes’ notice still customary for Japanese hangings to this day.

The spies in history who can say from their graves, the infomation I supplied to my masters, for better or worse, altered the history of our planet, can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Richard Sorge was in that group.

Spy novelist Frederick Forsythe

Sorge’s personal role in the crucible of world-shaping politics have proven a compelling topic for biographers. Among the notable works:

The Soviet government did not officially acknowledge Sorge until 1964, but the case had immediate and widespread interest in Japan. Ozaki inspired an early Kurosawa film, No Regrets for Our Youth:

The espionage ring’s operations were also the subject of a recent multilingual Japanese epic, Spy Sorge:

Part of the Themed Set: Spies.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Famous,Germany,Hanged,History,Japan,Russia,Spies,USSR,Wartime Executions

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