1942: Valentin Feldman, “Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”

Add comment July 27th, 2020 Headsman

Marxist philosopher and French Resistance figure Valentin Feldman was shot on this date in 1942, but he went out with an epic own of his firing squad: “Imbéciles, c’est pour vous que je meurs!” (“Imbeciles, it is for you that I die!”).

A Jewish emigre from the Soviet Union, Feldman (English Wikipedia entry | the more detailed French) matriculated at Paris’s prestigious Lycee Henri-IV alongside such luminaries as Simone Weil and Maurice Schumann. He mobilized during the “Phoney War” run-up ahead of Germany’s blitz on France, publishing a short Journal de guerre about his experiences.

He was excluded from his teaching work by anti-Semitic laws, leaving him plenty of time for anti-occupation subversion until he was caught sabotaging a factory.

Feldman’s last words were so unsurpassably revolutionary and modern and French that Jean-Luc Godard built a 1988 short film, Le Dernier Mot, around them.

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1943: The hanging of the twelve

Add comment July 19th, 2020 Headsman

This testimonial refers to an incident at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Those hanged were Poles from a forced-labor detail suffering collective punishment for the escape of other inmates from the same group; Janusz Skrzetuski was the man who kicked out his own stool.

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1942: Wenceslao Vinzons

Add comment July 15th, 2020 Headsman

Filipino politician/guerrilla/national hero Wenceslao Vinzons was executed by the occupying Japanese on this date in 1942.

He gained prominence as a Manila university activist under U.S. administration for Malaysian-Indonesian-Philippines unification, then went on to co-found the Young Philippines party and become a delegate – at the tender age of 24 — to the 1935 Constitutional Convention that set the framework for his homeland’s independence. He’s the youngest signer of that constitution.

Subsequently governor of Camarines Norte and then a legislator in the National Assembly, Vinzons found his political trajectory interrupted by Japan’s December 1941-January 1942 takeover. Vinzons wasted no time trying to work within the system: he immediately began organizing armed resistance, building a guerrilla army some 2,800 strong over the course of the next months.

An informer betrayed him to the occupiers and after refusing every blandishment to collaborate, Vinzons was bayoneted to death at a Japanese garrison at Daet on July 15, 1942. Several of his family members also executed afterwards, although other surviving descendants have remained fixtures of public life down to the present day.

His hometown — formerly “Indan” — is now named “Vinzons” in his honor, and he’s renowned as the “Father of Student Activism in the Philippines”. A number of buildings and institutions connected to education are named for him.

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1945: Harold Pringle, the last Canadian military execution

Add comment July 5th, 2020 Headsman

The only Canadian soldier to be executed during (… actually well after!) World War II, Harold Pringle, caught a fusillade in Italy on this date in 1945.

A 16-year-old — he fibbed about his age — enlistee from small-town Ontario, Pringle joined the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

Pringle and a mate in the Hasty P’s name of “Lucky” MacGillivray linked up with some British deserters to form a black market outfit in conquered Rome. The “Sailor Gang”* enjoyed several weeks of picaresque living in the lawless city. Unsurprisingly, as Allied military authorities got control of the place they were eager to make examples of these minor gangsters. (Major gangsters were a different matter.)

The shooting death of that mate MacGillivray gave military prosecutors the means to sink the Sailors. One of their number was induced by a sweetheart deal to finger Pringle as for murdering him. Pringle and his comrades all contended that “Lucky” had been shot by mischance during one of the outlaws’ frequent drunken bouts, and having died en route to the hospital, Pringle shot him up posthumously in hopes of making the body look like it had been prey to a gang hit.

Despite all the trouble taken to secure a very dubious conviction, the execution itself was carried out in great secrecy by a tiny rump contingent of Canadians — all their fellows had already been withdrawn from Italy — who were not to speak of it afterwards.

According to Andrew Clark, the author whose research revealed the event to the wider public in A Keen Soldier: The Execution of Second World War Private Harold Pringle, it all came down a political balancing act. Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King faced a June 1945 election (followed by formation of a coalition government) that a controversial execution might complicate.

However, the British had executed two of their guys in the Sailor Gang case, and reciprocity was expected on a diplomatic level. So the solution was to do it as quietly as possible, and cover it with an official secret designation. Even Pringle himself didn’t find out his sentence was confirmed until the morning of the execution.

Book CoverBook Cover
Left: The classic antiwar novel inspired by the Pringle case, which was the only novel published by Colin McDougall. Right: The 2002 nonfiction treatment that brought the affair to the public eye. Below: A 1955 episode of Four Star Playhouse also seems to be based on the Pringle case, and Colin McDougall is credited with the story.**

There’s a riveting audio interview here with a member of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment who had guard duty on the condemned youth on the last night of his life. “Just as brave as could be,” Orville Marshall reports.

* There’s another infamous troupe of deserter-gangsters operating in Rome in this same period, the Lane Gang. The said “Lane” — whose real name was Werner Schmiedel — was hanged by American authorities in June 1945.

** McDougall served in Italy up to the end of Canada’s involvement there, and that is surely how he came to know about the secret execution in a general sense; any more specific vector of information appears to be unknown. However discovered, Pringle clearly haunted McDougall: he took several years to write his magnum opus, and also published a short story in McLean’s in the early 1950s called “The Firing Squad”.

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1951: The Einsatzgruppen Trial war criminals

Add comment June 7th, 2020 Headsman

A batch of Nazi war criminals highlighted by four condemned at the Einsatzgruppen trial hanged at Germany’s Landsberg Prison on this date in 1951.

Formed initially to decapitate Polish intelligentsia when Germany invaded that country in 1939, these notorious paramilitaries were deployed by Reinhard Heydrich behind the advancing German line of battle to pacify occupied territory. “Pacify” in the event meant slaying Communists, partisans, and of course, the Reich’s innumerable racial inferiors. Einsatzgruppen authored many mass executions like the massacre of Jews at Babi Yar outside Kiev, each local atrocity a self-conscious contribution to the wholesale genocide. All told these units might have killed upwards of 2 million human beings; they were also used to gather Eastern European Jews into urban ghettos, which subsequently became the staging points for deportations to the camps.

Postwar, the big Nuremberg war crimes tribunal against the major names in the German hierarchy unfolded from late 1945 in a multinational courtroom: American, British, French, and Russian judges and prosecutors working jointly.

But the emerging superpower rivalry soon narrowed the window for similar cooperation in successor trials, leading the rival powers to try cases on their own.* Accordingly, United States military tribunals unfolded 12 additional mass trials, known as the subsequent Nuremberg trials — each exploring particular nodes of the Nazi project — such as the Doctors’ trial and the IG Farben trial.

The Einsatzgruppen trial was one of these — 24 Einsatzgruppen officers prosecuted at the Palace of Justice from September 29, 1947 to April 10, 1948.

Twenty-two of the 24 were convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and 14 sentenced to death. However, ten of the fourteen prospective hangings were commuted, and all surviving prisoners had been released by 1958. The four who actually went to the gallows at Landsburg Prison on June 7, 1951 were:

    Out of the total number of the persons designated for the execution, 15 men were led in each case to the brink of the mass grave where they had to kneel down, their faces turned toward the grave. At that time, clothes and valuables were not yet collected. Later on this was changed …

    When the men were ready for the execution one of my leaders who was in charge of this execution squad gave the order to shoot. Since they were kneeling on the brink of the mass grave, the victims fell, as a rule, at once into the mass grave.

    I have always used rather large execution squads, since I declined to use men who were specialists for shots in the neck (Genickschusspezialisten). Each squad shot for about one hour and was then replaced. The persons which still had to be shot were assembled near the place of execution, and were guarded by members of those squads, which at that moment did not take part in the executions.

    -Paul Blobel on his mass-execution process

  • Otto Ohlendorf, an economist tapped as commander of Einsatzgruppe D (educated and ideologically reliable administrator were intentionally sought for leadership positions in these gangs). Together with Ukrainian and Romanian auxiliaries, this unit killed 90,000 people in southern Ukraine and Crimea which the good functionary strove to render “military in character and humane under the circumstances.”
  • Werner Braune, a former Gestapo man who became chief of one of Einsatzgruppe D’s units, called Einsatzkommando 11b.
  • Erich Naumann, a former brownshirt turned commander of Einsatzgruppe B who frankly acknowledged to the tribunal that “I was ordered to Heydrich and I received clear orders from him for Russia. Now, first of all, I received the Fuehrer-Order concerning the killing of Jews, Gypsies and Soviet officials” and “considered the decree to be right because it was part of our aim of the war and, therefore, it was necessary.”
  • Paul Blobel, a World War I veteran become architect who was into his late forties when he helped organize the Babi Yar massacre. Afterwards, he had charge of Sonderaktion 1005, a 1942-1944 project to destroy evidence of such massacres by, e.g., digging up mass graves to pulverize and dynamite the remains into unrecognizability. “The mission was constituted after it first became apparent that Germany would not be able to hold all the territory occupied in the East and it was considered necessary to remove all traces of the criminal executions that had been committed,” according to Adolf Eichmann aide Dieter Wisliceny. Blobel “gave a lecture before Eichmann’s staff of specialists on the Jewish question from the occupied territories. He spoke of the special incinerators he had personally constructed for use in the work of Kommando 1005. It was their particular assignment to open the graves and remove and cremate the bodies of persons who had been previously executed. Kommando 1005 operated in Russia, Poland and through the Baltic area.”

In a concession to efficiency or spectacle, they were joined by the three other condemned men from other installments of the Nuremberg trials, the , against the directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps.

  • Oswald Pohl, the head of he directorate that ran Germany’s concentration camps. He was the only person executed from his own particular installment of the war crimes trials, called thePohl trial
  • Georg Schallermair, an SS sergeant convicted for murders he’d personally committed at Dachau.
  • Hans Schmidt, the former adjutant of the Buchenwald concentration camp who carried his implausible insistence of ignorance as to the camp’s deaths all the way to the end. Schmidt’s name in the news might have inspired an American wrestling promoter to assign it in 1951, along with a boffo Nazi persona, to one of pro wrestling’s great heels.

* Here’s some information about Soviet war crimes trials.

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1920: Four denunciators of Laon

Add comment May 15th, 2020 Alphonse Lemonon

(Thanks to Alphonse Lemonon for the guest post, which originally appeared under the title “Civilization’s Thin Veneer: War Shows the Seamy Side of Human Nature” in The Overland Monthly (July 1920). As noted in the foreword paragraph, it’s substantially an English translation of reporting from May 16, 1920 edition of Le Petit Journal. These were the unlucky half of eight people convicted in a trial touching 44 Frenchmen and -women from the northern regions occupied by Germany at some point during the late war, who were accused of collaborating with those Germans and denouncing their patriotic countrymen. There’s much more about this case (in French) including more pictures (in grainy black and white) in this police magazine. -ed.)

[Almost at the moment when Joan of Arc was being canonized with all the clerical ceremonies at Rome [this occurred on May 16, 1920 -ed.], four political prisoners — one a woman — were tied to stakes and shot according to military and civic ceremony near Paris. The tragic and instructive narrative is here told in a translation from the most popular Paris Newspaper — Le Petit Journal, May 16, 1920.]

FOUR of the condemned informers of Laon, of which affair one has not forgotten the dolorous echo, Georges Toque, Moise Lemoine, Leander Herbert and the woman Alice Aubert were shot yesterday morning, at Vincennes, and if it were an affecting execution, it assuredly was to them. Two of them fell while swearing to their innocence and crying “Viva la France!”

The Last Awakening.

All four were awakened at 4 a.m. Some instants before the officers charged with the transfer of the condemned to execution had presented themselves at several prisons; some at the prison de la Sante where Toque and Lemoine were confined, others at Cherchi-Midi where Herbert was detained, and a third group at the prison de Saint-Lazare, where one other, Alice Aubert, condemned of the same affair, was held. She occupied a cell with Helen Favre, who had been reprieved.

The lawyers of the four condemned were on hand to assist their clients until the last moment. Maitres Delmont and Campinchi arrives at the prison La Sante about the same time as lieutenant-colonel Beyle, commissioner of the government. All were shown together to the cells and Toque was called. He was seated and dressing himself. The usual words on such occasions having been pronounced by the commissioner of the government, the condemned man moved towards the foot of his bed and finished his dressing — never ceasing meantime to protest his innocence.

Maitre Delmont handed the prisoner his shoes which he took with a gesture of indifference and while putting them on remarked: “I go to make the journey to eternity and have no need.” Having completed his dressing he wrote two letters, which he intrusted to Maitre Delmont for delivery. One he addressed to his wife, the other to the minister of Justice. It follows:

Monsieur le Ministre de la Justice.

At the moment of dying, I affirm solemnly my innocence and of you demand vengeance.

I swear that i have never belonged to the spy service of Germany. I swear to have never rendered them any service, nor to have informed on anybody. I swear that Waegele has odiously lied.

Georges Toque.

At that moment the prisoner Lemoine who had been awakened about the same time as Toque passed in the corridor of the prison, and seeing his associate, called out to him:

“Let us go Toque, have courage.”

After the formal entry on the prison register, the two condemned men appeared in the court of the prison, their heads bare but their demeanor calm.

They were placed in the same automobile, seated opposite each other, the prison abbe and a gendarme accompanying them. The journey to the execution grounds began for them. Meantime painful scenes were being enacted at the prisons containing the two other doomed persons, Leandre Herbert the soldier and Alice Aubert. The soldier appeared demented. His lawyer could not calm him and called the prisoner’s attention to the automobile in company with two religienotice of the civilian doctor, Socquet, demanding a reprieve.

The doctor refused declaring that the wards Vincennes. prisoner enjoyed all his faculties.

“You are going to shoot an insane man. I leave the responsibility with you” concluded the lawyer.

Herbert was placed in a voiture and arrived at the scene of execution at Vincennes some minutes after Toque and Lemoine.

The three condemned men were subjected to an atrocious delay of three-quarters of an hour till the third voiture containing Alice Aubert appeared.

To allay the mental sufferings of the delay, when minutes seemed hours, it was proposed to the prisoners to alight from the voitures and walk in the court of the donjon at Vincennes, but Lemoine refused, as being too cold.

At Saint-Lazare.

While the three condemned men awaited death at Vincennes, a touching scene took place at the prison Saint-Lazare, where the condemned woman Aubert shared a cell with Helene Favre, condemned at the same time but commuted. The Favre woman thought she was the one about to be taken to execution and fell in a terrible nervous crisis.

On the contrary Alice Aubert had good control of herself, listened to the official orders without evincing any emotion; but her eyes filled and she cried silently some minutes. Then she began to dress herself, a figure sad and resigned. She said to her lawyer who tried to comfort her:

“If I am sad — if I cry — it is not for me, it is for my sister, it is for my child. It is also for the others condemned.”

She put on her yellow silk hose and patent-leather shoes which contrasted with her simple petticoat and mantle, and all the time she repeated: “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven”; “Providing that I can go to heaven.” These words she used till she alighted at the execution ground at Vincennes.

Before quitting the prison Saint-Lazare the condemned woman wished to hear mass, and it was not until she had received communion that she mounted the automobile in company with two religieuses who assisted her until the last moments. The automobile then sped towards Vincennes.

At La Caponniere.

At five hours and a half (5:30 a.m.) an order rang out upon the ground of la Caponniere: “Garde a vous!” (Attention). The voitures containing the condemned advanced upon the road. The soldiers of the 13th artillery, the 23rd dragoons, and the 26th chasseurs, who formed the square, presented arms; the trumpets sounded “Aux champs!” the firing squads rectified their position before the four stakes placed in line at a distance of ten metres from one another.

Slowly the autos came to a a [sic] stop, and from the one at the head descended Toque and Lemoine, absolutely livid but calm.

The abbe Geispitz embraced the two condemned men and they in turn embraced their lawyers, and then Toque addressed his lawyer:

You have seen my memoranda and you know that I am innocent. Preserve well all the pieces show that I am not culpable. After my death — long time after — when calm will be returned to the consciences, make clear my innocence. Rehabillitate my memory, I pray you.

He directed again the attention of his lawyer to certain leaves of his memoranda that were not in their order, nor did he forget any detail.

And that man who came to die insisted again that in the future he be not misrepresented, that he be not disparagingly spoken of as “Toque the traitor”.

The painful and prolonged scene wore out the patience of Lemoine who tugged impatiently on the lapel of his companion’s overcoat and said “Let us go,” and took a step forward. The two condemned men escorted by the gendarmes then began to direct their steps towards the stakes where they were to stand before the firing squads, but were halted as the other two condemned prisoners, had not yet descended from their automobiles.

Turning about, Toque and Lemoine saw Herbert the soldier wearing his blue uniform, his cap turned the wrong way and advancing with long strides. He continued to speak incoherently: “Me also, I wish to say something — say something”. He did not cease to repeat these words and addressing the gendarmes he said: “Do not hold me — do not hold me — You will see — you will see — Ah! ah!”

Behind him came Alice Aubert, without coiffure like Toque and Lemoine and like those marching with firm step.

One moment where she entered the square, by one gesture instinctive of feminine coquetrie, she drew over her light colored dress her manteau of sombre hue.

Toque and Lemoine, who were advancing towards the stakes, turned again to speak the last word to their lawyers, the hands — a dernier au revoir — accompanied by a sign of the hands. And then the four condemned marched in Indian file traversing the square and directing their steps to the stakes at which the gendarmes tied them.

The Execution.

Toque was at the extreme right. Lemoine was at the second stake. Herbert was attached to the third. The fourth stake on the left propped Alice Aubert.

Lemoine and Toque refused the bandage intended to mask the view of the firing squad. Herbert remained mute and let things proceed.

The clerk of the Council of War at this moment appeared between the two firing squads in the centre and read the sentence of death.

All the official details in full had been finished and in the silence impressive the clear and strong voice of Toque elevated itself once more: “I swear that I am innocent; vive la France!”

Also Lemoine, elevating his right hand took the same oath and also cried: “Vive la France!”

As for Herbert, he articulated again the same phrase: “Me also I wish to say something.”

With hand raised Toque again avowed his innocence, until the soldiers of the front rank knelt to fire. All put their pieces to the shoulder. Again Toque cried: “Vive la France!” The officer lowered his sword and the fusil[l]ade crackled. But a frightful rattle, like an appeal for help escaped from the gorge of Toque. He was not dead. The guns had trembled in the hands of the firers.

Maitre Delmont, the lawyer of Toque, cried to an under-officer: “Dispatch him, dispatch him”! The soldier approached the palpitating body, from which escaped continually the heart-rending cries and discharged his revolver twice in the head of the condemned. The rattle ceased but the man still stirred and a third ball found the brain.

Alice Aubert, with her hands clasped upon her breast, and holding in her fingers a crucifix rested upright against the stake. She too received in her turn the coup de grace. Her head fell. Then she became completely erect and sank for the last time to move no more.

The two others also received their coup de grace; but it was unnecessary for Lemoine who had his skull stove in. It was not so with Herbert whose pulse continued to beat and his lips to move at the moment when a doctor examined him.

The civilian doctor Socquet, declared that he was dead, and the body of which one of the legs had been broken by a bullet was placed in a coffin.

After examining the two other cadavers, the doctor Socquet came to certify the death of Alice Aubert. He wished to examine the heart, but the chemise of the woman obstructed. A soldier, by the aid of a knife, cut the shoulder-strap and the doctor plunged his hand which trembled in the gorge of the woman streaming with blood. He drew forth a photograph equally blood-stained — the picture of the child of Alice Aubert. She had placed the photograph on her heart before going to die. It was piteously replaced upon the breast of the dead.

A sonnerie guerriere, resounded then, and to those notes of the trumpets the troops defiled.

All the assistants were paler than the dead.

Some minutes after two wagons, surrounded by dragoons, quitted the scene of execution and proceeded to the cemetery of Vincennes four kilometers distant. In the wagons were four wooden coffins. They contained the stripped bodies of the four executed prisoners.

The bodies not having been reclaimed they have been, after a mock burial, delivered to the faculty of medicine.

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1944: Oskar Kusch, Wehrkraftzersetzung U-boat commander

Add comment May 12th, 2020 Headsman

No assignment in the Third Reich’s war machine, nay not even the fearful eastern front, was as dangerous as service in the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat fleet.

Terrors of English shipping in the early war years, these submersible predators became prey once overwhelming U.S. materiel poured into the theater, and Allied intelligence started cracking German signals. By war’s end, fully three-quarters of the wartime U-boat personnel had sunk into watery graves.

And on top of all the intrinsic perils of fighting a losing war from the inside of a submerged tin of beans, you’d better do it with enthusiasm or you’ve got the prospect of going up against the wall like Oskar Kusch did on May 12, 1944.

A submariner since 1937, Kusch come 1943 stood in command of U-154.

He fulfilled his office creditably — that’s what the official history has come to reflect via a postwar rehabilitation — but was ratted out for Wehrkraftzersetzung, a lethal polysyllable meaning “subversion of the war effort”. This capital crime classed as sedition a wide range of utterances that showed their speaker anything other than relentlessly positive about the war effort: spreading skepticism in official propaganda, showing distaste for Naziism, and most certainly entertaining doubt as to the Reich’s manifestly fading prospects for victory.

In practice, of course, not everybody who cast a gimlet eye on Berlin’s war pronouncements was so handled, but it’s the sort of law to keep everyone nervous. And if, say, one has torpedoed the promotion prospects of one’s second-in-command with a lukewarm performance evaluation, then it’s the sort of thing that First Watch Officer Ulrich Abel can wield for revenge.

Soon enough, Kusch was being informed upon for candidly assessing the Germans’ dire strategic prospects and for seditiously removing the mandatory picture of Hitler to a place less likely to oblige a lot of gratuitous obeisance. He was moreover found to have tuned into foreign radio stations, which was also a crime. The brass decided to make an example of him, overriding an initial prison sentence so that they could stand him in front of a firing squad near the Baltic Sea juncture of the Kiel Canal.


Marker honoring Oskar Kusch, on the present-day street Oskar-Kusch-Straße, near the place Kusch was executed.

For all the mean absurdity of his death, Kusch’s shit luck lay not in being denounced to a kangaroo court but in the mere fact of his enrollment in the Kriegsmarine’s U-boat service. After all, seven weeks after his own execution, his former vessel was sunk off Madeira with all hands lost. And for that matter Kusch’s enemy, Ulrich Abel, predeceased his own victim, having attained through his complaints command of a vessel of his own, his great desideratum which Executed Today hopes that he enjoyed with urgency — for Abel and his own ship were likewise sent to the bottom in April 1944.

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1945: Theo van Gogh, famous name

Add comment March 8th, 2020 Headsman

Theo van Gogh, a Dutch resistance fighter of portentous lineage, was executed by the German occupation on this date in 1945.

This man was the grandson of the famous Theo van Gogh, art dealer and brother to troubled, brilliant painter Vincent van Gogh.

Our Theo was a 23-year-old university student in Amsterdam pulled into anti-Nazi resistance by the imposition of a hated loyalty oath on university personnel and was arrested several times, repeatedly tolling his father for bribes to extract him.

The arrest he couldn’t buy his way out of was a home raid on March 1, 1945 — the very last weeks of the war, while these Germans were in the process of being stranded in the Low Countries. Evidently the collapse of the Reich didn’t dampen their enthusiasm for the cause, because on March 8 the Germans imposed a collective punishment of 100+ executions in revenge for the Dutch resistance’s attempt to assassinate a prominent SS officer.* Theo van Gogh was one of them.

Besides his name-brand ancestry, Theo the World War II resistance figure is also the uncle (quite posthumously — this man wasn’t born until 1957) of film director Theo van Gogh, who’s a far-right martyr in his own right thanks to the vociferous anti-Islamic work that resulted in his 2004 assassination.


Prisoners’ Round (after Gustave Doré) (1890), by Vincent van Gogh.

* That officer, Hanns Albin Rauter, was executed for war crimes in 1949.

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1944: Osmund Brønnum

Add comment March 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Osmund Brønnum — boxer, Communist, and anti-Nazi Resistance martyr — was executed in Quisling Norway on this date in 1944.

Brønnum (English Wikipedia entry | Norwegian) practice the sweet science for still-extant Oslo club Vika IF and later progressed into a municipal sports administrator.

A committed Popular Front advocate who had also studied in Moscow, Brønnum greeted the German occupation of his native soil with a turn to printing underground propaganda for the Norwegian Resistance — until, sensing danger, he attempted to escape to Sweden only to be arrested at the border.

He was shot with six other men (notably ichthyologist Iacob Dybwad Sømme) at the Trandumskogen forest execution site (and, a natural enough double role, mass grave). A granite marker unveiled there in 1954 pays tribute to “173 Norwegians, 15 Soviet subjects, and 6 Britons” executed in the forest over the course of the war.

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1947: Jonas Noreika, “General Storm”

Add comment February 26th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1947, Lithuanian anti-Soviet partisan Jonas Noreika was executed in Moscow.

Memorial plaque honoring Jonas Noreika in Vilnius; it was destroyed in 2019 by an anti-fascist politician. (cc) image from Alma Pater.

Long held as a hero of Lithuanian patriots, “General Storm”* has been headline news in recent years having his legacy complicated.

It all started when author Silvia Foti, Noreika’s granddaughter, took up her late mother’s unfinished project to write a biography of their famous kinsman. At the time, she accepted the received lore that Jonas Noreika had been an anti-Nazi resister during the Second World War, prior to being an anti-Communist resister afterwards — a story facilitated by Noreika’s 1943 arrest and detention in the Stutthof concentration camp among dozens of other high-profile Lithuanians taken as hostages.

But Foti’s understanding of events evolved painfully, as she described in a wrenching 2018 Salon article with the spoiler-alert title “My grandfather wasn’t a Nazi-fighting war hero — he was a brutal collaborator”.

According to Foti’s research in conjunction with the (since-deceased) director of Vilnius’s Sugihara House and Holocaust researcher Grant Gochin, Noreika was a principal of the anti-Soviet June Uprising sparked by the Nazi invasion of the USSR, but preceding the Wehrmacht’s actual arrival; in those days, Lithuanian militia seized control of towns, often massacring Jews (or, which was tantamount to the same thing, preventing their escape to the Soviet Union). Foti believes that Noreika did exactly this in his town of Plungė in the Samogitia region where he was later appointed as a county administrator during the German occupation.

[Sugihara House director Simon] Dovidavičius; was the first to suggest that my grandfather conducted the initial akcija (action) during World War II before the Germans arrived. It coincided with Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia, the same day Lithuania began its uprising with the Germans against the Soviets, marking the start of a Holocaust there, where 95 percent of its 200,000 Jews were murdered, the highest percentage of any country in Europe. (About 3,000 Jews remain in Lithuania today.)

Within three weeks, 2,000 Jew had been killed in Plungė, half the town’s population, and where my grandfather led the uprising. This preceded the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, when Nazi Germany decided to make mass-murder its state policy. Put in more chilling terms, Dovidavičius claimed that my grandfather, as captain, taught his Lithuanian soldiers how to exterminate Jews efficiently: how to sequester them, march them into the woods, force them to dig their own graves and shove them into pits after shooting them. My grandfather was a master educator …

By the end of the trip [to Lithuania] I came to believe that my grandfather must have sanctioned the murders of 2,000 Jews in Plungė, 5,500 Jews in Šiauliai and 7,000 in Telšiai.

Foti’s revelations have been roughly received in a country where the Holocaust complicity of anti-Soviet national heroes remains a very sore subject; there are still monuments to and streets named after her grandfather in Lithuania, and apparently a military academy there even published a prewar antisemitic essay by Noreika in 2016 in a wholly uncritical light.

* Not to be confused with a Philadelphia property repair contractor.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Lithuania,Power,Ripped from the Headlines,Russia,Shot,Soldiers,USSR

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