1947: Ernst Kundt, Sudeten German

Add comment February 15th, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Ernst Kundt was hanged in Prague’s Pankrac Prison.


Kundt (right) is honored at Prague Castle by Hans Frank. (Frank was hanged through the Nuremberg Trial.)

Kundt co-founded the Sudeten German Party, a nationalist-fascist party that would play a leading role as one of Nazi Germany’s stalking-horses as the latter maneuvered in the 1930s towards the takeover of Czechoslovakia.

The leaders of this movement were amply rewarded by Czechoslovakia’s new masters; for Kundt, this meant a transition from an MP in Prague to a seat in the Reichstag, a gig in the Luftwaffe, and various state posts around the Third Reich.

And of course, many of these Sudeten big wheels collected a different sort of reward after 1945. He was arrested in Czechoslovakia after the war and tried with a number of other Sudeten German leaders.

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1989: Vladimir Lulek, the last Czech executed

Add comment February 2nd, 2014 Headsman

On this date in 1989, the then-united Czechoslovakia hanged Vladimir Lulek for slaughtering his wife and four children. (Czech link, as are the others in this post.)

Lulek, who died at Prague’s Pankrac Prison, has the distinction of being the last person executed in what now constitutes the present-day Czech Republic. (A Slovak man named Stefan Svitek was put to death later that same year in Bratislava; Svitek holds that same distinction for both present-day Slovakia and for the former Czechoslovakia as a whole.)

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1961: Marie Fikacková, Beast of Sušice

Add comment April 13th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1961, Czechoslovakian maternity ward nurse Marie Fikackova was hanged at Prague’s Pankrac Prison for murdering newborns in her care.

Fickakova, nee Schmidlova, was a well-liked 24-year-old with a failed marriage already at her back when she was arrested in February 1960 after two infants died of brain injuries the same night during her shift at the Sušice hospital.

Under lengthy interrogation, Fikackova finally confessed to having developed the habit of relieving the agitation of her menses (her story, not mine!) by permanently silencing newborns who bawled too much. We all have our personality quirks, but if hers was “homicidally enraged by crying babies” then it’s safe to say she was in the wrong line of work.

“When I was pressing little Prosserová’s head, I could feel my fingers sinking into it,” she described. “I did not feel any skull cracking at that time. I was just pressing the little head and my fingers got deeper and deeper. My anger faded away after a while and I could continue working.”

Fikackova proceeded to cop to ten-plus additional therapeutic attacks on children, but police had a very difficult time substantiating them relative to documented injuries and the nurses’ shift calendar. In the end, the courts hung her with the original two.

We have seen, in these pages, better-balanced subjects issue more outlandish auto-denunciations under less police pressure, so while we’re in no position to assert anything with certainty, we’re inclined to take the absence of corroborating evidence from an institution that ought to have plenty of it for the asking to suggest the strong possibility that Fikackova’s confessions tended to the fantastical.

Nevertheless, the public has been inclined to take the woman at her claim of double-digit homicides, and magnified Fikackova into a legendary mass murderer and the authoress of every neonatal abnormality in town. Even now she’s sometimes mentioned as Czechoslovakia’s most prolific serial killer, or blamed for the infirmities of any and all folks born in late-Fifties Sušice. (Both links in this paragraph are in Czech.)



For this staged demonstration of her baby-slaying technique, authorities even let Marie Fikackova put on the nurse outfit. (Source of the images)

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1975: Olga Hepnarova, tram spotter

Add comment March 12th, 2012 Headsman

On this date in 1975, 23-year-old Olga Hepnarova was hanged at Prague’s Pankrac Prison.

On July 19, 1973, a splenetic Hepnarova had lived out the road rager’s fantasy by barreling her three-ton Praga RN lorry into a tram stop* — killing eight elderly commuters.

Caught on the scene where her Truck of Death came to rest, Hepnarova’s authorship was not in question — only her culpability.

Three days after the bloodbath, she was telling police about her hatred of and alienation from her “brutal” fellow-beings, of beatings from her father and every form of humiliation and disrespect among her peers. This had been a lifelong theme with Hepnarova; the wounds of the world pierced her deeply, and she had spent time in a psychiatric institution after a teenage suicide attempt. In her short working life, she’d been unable to hold down any job for long. Truck-driving, tragically, was only her latest (and last) gig.

About the same time the tormented Hepnarova was owning her actions to the authorities, editors at two newspapers received nearly-identical letters she had posted before she made herself famous, touching much the same themes.

I am a loner. A destroyed person. A person destroyed by people… I therefore have a choice – to kill myself or to kill others. I choose – TO AVENGE MY PERSECUTORS. It would be too easy to leave this world as an unknown suicide. Society is too indifferent, rightly so. My verdict is: I, Olga Hepnarová, the victim of your bestiality, sentence you to the death penalty.

Doctors who examined her did not find her sufficiently off her rocker to have not known what she was doing, and the remorseless Hepnarova accepted the court’s verdict and sentence with equanimity. There are reports, however, that by the last day her placidity had crumbled and that she fought the execution team and had to be dragged, swooning, to the noose.

For this documentary, have your Czech handy. (And the same — or the online translator of your choice — for this Czech website about Olga Hepnarova’s life and legal case.)

Hepnarova was the last woman ever hanged in Czechoslovakia. (Or either of its death penalty-less successor states, if you want to count it that way.)

* The street where this shocking scene was enacted is today named for Milada Horakova, who preceded Hepnarova on Pankrac’s gallows.

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1957: Václav Mrázek, Czech serial killer

1 comment December 30th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1957, postwar Czechoslovakia’s most prolific serial killer was put to death at Prague’s Pankrac Prison.

Other than the mandatory Wikipedia entry, most information on Mrazek available online is in Czech.

But there’s little enough nuance to grasp. He was convicted of seven murders (and suspected in several others) to satiate his necrophiliac desires. In all over 100 crimes of sexual abuse and theft were laid at his door.

It was more pedestrian criminality that did him in; the serial killer was at work from 1951 to 1956, but somehow never caught. (This Czech site attributes it to the police force’s postwar prioritization of ideological reliability over investigative professionalism.)

Mrazek was nabbed by accident, rifling jacket pockets (more Czech) at a spa where he worked at an attendant: the subsequent search of his place turned up the evidence of far more villainous behavior, and led Mrazek to confess.

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1946: Karl Hermann Frank

33 comments May 22nd, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1946, the Sudeten German whose fifth column had paved the way for the Nazi conquest of Czechoslovakia expiated his war crimes at Prague’s Pankrac Prison.

Karl Hermann Frank (English Wikipedia page | German) had been a prewar mover and shaker in the Sudeten German Party, increasingly the Reich’s stalking-horse as it bluffed European rivals into acceding to Czechoslovakia’s dismemberment.

The onetime Czechoslovakian MP did well by the Anschluss, gaining the rank of Obergruppenführer and becoming one Bohemia and Moravia’s top evildoers.

Notably, he helped orchestrate (though the orders for it came from above) the notorious massacre of Lidice in revenge for the assassination of Reich Protector Reinhard Heydrich.

The Lidice operation formed a war crimes charge against Herr Frank after the war, and Frank’s own lasting badge of infamy: the systematic destruction of the entire male population of an arbitrarily chosen village remains the emblematic crime of the Nazi occupation to this day.

(Source of the video)

Thousands of spectators came to see the former “Protector of Bohemia and Moravia” executed in Prague’s Pankrac Prison by the Austro-Hungarian “pole hanging” method, as depicted in the film above.

Those of Lidice’s widows who were able to come — and widows of some of the 30,000 other Czechs for whose executions Frank had been adjudged indirectly responsible — occupied the second row of seats. …

Not the slightest gleam of compassion could be seen in that long row of unforgiving eyes as Frank, garbed in a ragged Nazi Elite Guard uniform, walked quietly between two guards. …

As the noose was adjusted about his neck, Frank muttered: “Deutschland wird leben auch wenn wir nicht leben” (“Germany will live even if we do not live.”)

The spectators, admitted by special cards, watched quietly in the bright sunshine. (New York Times)

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1950: Milada Horáková, democrat and feminist

7 comments June 27th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1950, Milada Horakova was hanged with three others in Prague’s Pankrac Prison as a spy and traitor to the Communist Czechoslovakian government.

Not (yet) as internationally recognizable as Rudolf Slansky,* the Communist General Secretary in Horakova’s time who would run afoul of Stalin and die on the same gallows two years later, Horakova (English Wikipedia page | Czech | the detailed French) is a potent symbol domestically of her country’s Cold War nightmare.

Lawyer, social democrat, and a prominent feminist in the interwar and postwar periods — her life’s work, rather overshadowed by an end that was memorable for different reasons — Horakova survived Nazi imprisonment and was a member of parliament when the Communists seized power in 1948.

She spurned counsel to flee the country, and found herself the headline attraction at a show trial for a supposed plot to overthrow the government. In a hopeless scenario, she distinguished herself with off-script defiance despite having broken under torture and signed a confession; Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt all pleaded in vain for clemency.

Photo of Milada Horakova defending herself at trial.

Horakova left the world clear in her purpose. In a letter to her teenage daughter awaiting execution, she justified her own dangerous choices:

The reason was not that I loved you little; I love you just as purely and fervently as other mothers love their children. But I understood that my task here in the world was to do you good … by seeing to it that life becomes better, and that all children can live well. … Don’t be frightened and sad because I am not coming back any more. Learn, my child, to look at life early as a serious matter. Life is hard, it does not pamper anybody, and for every time it strokes you it gives you ten blows. Become accustomed to that soon, but don’t let it defeat you. Decide to fight.

Hours before her hanging, she wrote a few last words for her loved ones:

I go with my head held high. One also has to know how to lose. That is no disgrace. An enemy also does not lose honor if he is truthful and honorable. One falls in battle; what is life other than struggle? (Both excerpts cited here)

The only woman among Czechoslovakia’s postwar political executions was abortively rehabilitated during the 1968 Prague Spring. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, her resistance to both Naziism and Communism — worthy of an opera (topical interview) and a forthcoming film — have elevated her into her country’s official pantheon.

As a result, this date is “Commemoration day for the victims of the Communist regime” in the Czech Republic.

Meanwhile, Horakova’s now-octogenerian prosecutor Ludmila Brozova-Polednova, whose repulsive legal barbs at trial (“Don’t break her neck on the noose. Suffocate the bitch — and the others too.”) were probably the consequence of the foregone conclusion more than the cause, was convicted late last year for her role in the trial. That verdict has kept in the news these past several months — most recently, the Czech Supreme Court returned it for retrial after an appeals court overturned the sentence — a tangible symbol of the challenges inherent to confronting the past. (Brozova-Polednova, for her part, is unapologetic.)

* One of the goons who tortured confessions out of the conspirators in Horakova’s “terrorist center,” Karel Svab, was among those later hanged with Slansky.

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1952: Rudolf Slansky and 10 “conspirators”

6 comments December 3rd, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1952, eleven high-ranking Czechoslovakian politicians were hanged at Prague’s Pankrac Prison two weeks after a show trial purging unreliable elements from the Communist party.

One of the most infamous show trials in Czechoslovakia saw 14 high-ranking Communists — eleven of them Jews — railroaded for a “Trotskyite-Titoist-Zionist activities in the service of American imperialism”. Three received life sentences. The other eleven went to the gallows.

While the roots of the persecution, especially the undertones of anti-Semitism, sink into the id of the Stalinist Eastern bloc, the most evident proximate cause was the USSR’s assertion of control over its satellite states at a time when Josip Tito was successfully charting a course of independent communism. Purges in Poland, Bulgaria and Hungary had taken place in the years before.

The Soviet agents rounding up suspects for Stalin did not trifle with small game. Rudolf Slansky was General Secretary of the Communist Party and therefore the second-most powerful man in the country; by the time he was tried, after a year in prison under torture, he was publicly denouncing himself.

Otto Sling, whose name became synonymous with forbidden heterodoxy, did likewise — “I was a treacherous enemy within the Communist Party … I am justly an object of contempt and deserve the maximum and the hardest punishment.”

And Vladimir Clementis, the Slovak Minister of Foreign Affairs, was erased from a photo taken with the Czechoslovakian President, a circumstance Milan Kundera reflected upon in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting:

In February 1948, the Communist leader Klement Gottwald stepped out on the balcony of a Baroque palace to harangue hundreds of thousands of citizens massed in Old Town Square … Gottwald was flanked by his comrades, with Clementis standing close to him.

The propaganda section made hundreds of thousands of copies of the photograph taken on the balcony where Gottwald, in a fur hat and surrounded by his comrades, spoke to the people. On that balcony the history of Communist Bohemia began. Every child knew that photograph, from seeing it on posters and in schoolbooks and museums.

Four years later, Clementis was charged with treason and hanged. The propaganda section immediately made him vanish from history and, of course, from all photographs. Ever since, Gottwald has been alone on the balcony. Where Clementis stood, there is only the bare palace wall.

The hanged were rehabilitated in 1963.

Artur London, who received a life sentence and was released after rehabilitation, wrote about his experiences in The Confession, subsequently a 1970 Costa-Gavras film. The wife and son of Deputy Minister of Foreign Trade (and Auschwitz survivor) Rudolf Margolius have also both written memoirs covering the trial.

The younger Margolius in particular, who has staunchly defended his father as an essentially apolitical man and not a Communist apparatchik, has been in the thick of present-day disputes in Czechoslovakia’s successor states over whom is due sympathy and recognition for bygone political crimes.

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