1953: Erna Dorn, June 17 rising patsy

Add comment October 1st, 2020 Headsman

Erna Dorn was executed in secret in Dresden, East Germany on this date in 1953.

Dorn (English Wikipedia entry | German) had been a typist in Gestapo headquarters — real banality of evil stuff — before going to work at Ravensbruck, which was a bit less banal. This is the setup to a fair few executions of Nazi personnel but Frau Dorn got there by a very unusual path.

After the war she was able to pass for several years as a concentration camp survivor rather than a camp staffer, but her cover persona fell apart by the end of the 1940s resulting in her divorce, her expulsion from the Communist party, and her prosecution — first for theft and eventually for the Nazi stuff. However, her sentence was a term of years, not death.

Virtually everything known about her comes from her interrogations over this period and Erna Dorn was your basic unreliable narrator. You’ve got her opportunistically evolving cover stories, and then her swinging into possibly exaggerated claims of responsibility for great abuses, all intermediated by the Stasi with its own interests. “It turns out that everything from Dorn is a fabrication, with zero correlation to truth,” a frustrated interrogator noted after following her tales down one too many blind alleys.

Dorn might have served out her 15 years and been released to take her shifting secrets to an obscure grave. But the June 17, 1953 protests against the East German government threw open the doors of the Halle detention center where she was held, allowing some 250 prisoners a very brief escape (in Dorn’s case, she was out for a single day) before Soviet intervention crushed the rebellion.

As goes the June 17 uprising Dorn was merely a bystander swept into events: it might as well have been the weather that popped open her cell door, and what would anyone do but walk right out?

Save that in the crackdown that followed there was a keen interest in painting the whole embarrassing affair in the scarlet colors of Hitlerism. The camp guard liberated by anti-government protesters made a perfect foil and the unbalanced Dorn was entirely willing to play along at her subsequent snap show trial by doubtfully claiming to have addressed the Halle protesters with an anti-German Democratic Republic harangue.

Dorn was condemned to death as a fascist ringleader by June 22, just five days after her unexpected furlough. The sentence was overturned in the 1990s by the post-GDR, reunified Germany.

* She had to carefully duck a summons to testify at trials of Ravensbruck guards, lest her true role at the camp be dramatically unveiled.

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1943: Julius Fučík, Notes from the Gallows

Add comment September 8th, 2020 Headsman

Czechoslovakian journalist Julius Fučík was executed by the Third Reich on this date in 1943.

Nephew of a great composer of the same name, our Julius Fučík was an 18-year-old left-wing activist when the Social Democrat party he was a part of founded the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Fučík and his pen grew up in this world, together generating a substantial corpus of essays and analysis on pregnant years.

Hitler’s occupation of Czechoslovakia drove his party and his work underground, which eventually resulted in his arrest.

He’d eventually be deported to Germany and hanged at Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison, but Fučík made his lasting fame to posterity through the clandestine diary notes, bursting with anticipation for a bright Communist future, that he scribbled during his initial detention at Prague’s Pankrác Prison from 1942-1943.

After the war, these would be published as Notes from the Gallows — a text so scriptural in Communist Czechoslovakia that it weighed like manacles.

In Milan Kundera‘s The Joke, one of the characters standing trial is browbeaten by a prosecutor using Fučík’s words, while Fučík’s “fervent, pure” portrait gazes in judgment. (Consonant with the stature of Notes from the Gallows, its author was saluted via many street names, public monuments, and so forth. Quite few still remain today, in Germany as well as the former Czechoslovakia.)

“‘Death, you have been long in coming. And yet it was my hope to postpone our meeting until many years hence. To go on living the life of a free man, to work more, love more, sing more, and wander the world over …'” I recognized Fucik’s Notes from the Gallows.

“‘I loved life, and for the sake of its beauty I went to war. I loved you, good people, rejoicing when you returned my love, suffering when you failed to understand me …'”

That text, written clandestinely in prison, then published after the war in a million copies, broadcast over the radio, studied in schools as required reading, was the sacred book of the era. Zemanek read out the most famous passages, the ones everyone knew by heart.

“‘Let sadness never be linked with my name. That is my testament to you, Papa, Mama, and sisters, to you, my Gustina, to you, Comrades, to everyone I have loved …'” The drawing of Fucik on the wall was a reproduction of the famous sketch by Max Svabinsky, the old Jugendstil painter, the virtuoso of allegories, plump women, butterflies, and everything delightful; after the war, or so the story goes, Svabinsky had a visit from the Comrades, who asked him to do a portrait of Fucik from a photograph, and Svabinsky had drawn him (in profile) in graceful lines in accord with his own taste: almost girlish, fervent, pure, and so handsome that people who had known him personally preferred Svabinsky’s sublime drawing to their memories of the living face.

Fučík, and the idealized Max Švabinský portrait of him — one of several times it’s been used on postage stamps.

Meanwhile Zemanek read on, everyone in the hall silent and attentive and the fat girl at the table unable to tear her eyes away from him; suddenly his voice grew firm, almost menacing; he had come to the passage about Mirek the traitor: “‘And to think that he was no coward, a man who did not take flight when bullets rained down on him at the Spanish front, who did not knuckle under when he ran the gauntlet of cruelties in a concentration camp in France. Now he pales under the club of a Gestapo agent and turns informer to save his skin. How superficial was his bravery if so few blows could shake it. As superficial as his convictions … He lost everything the moment he began to think of himself. To save his own life, he sacrificed the lives of his friends. He succumbed to cowardice and through cowardice betrayed them …'” Fucik’s handsome face hung on the wall as it hung in a thousand other public places in our country, and it was so handsome, with the radiant expression of a young girl in love, that when I looked at it I felt inferior not just because of my guilt, but because of my appearance as well. And Zemanek read on: “‘They can take our lives, can’t they, Gustina, but they cannot take our honor and love. Can you imagine, good people, the life we might have led if we had met again after all this suffering, met again in a free life, a life made beautiful by freedom and creation? The life we shall lead when we finally achieve everything we’ve longed for and fought for and I now die for?'” After the pathos of these last sentences Zemanek was silent.

In the post-Communist era Fučík has had a critical re-examination, with an updated version of Notes published now including for the first time the bits his widow had judiciously excised, wherein Fučík admits to breaking under torture — although he also records that he “confessed” only inaccurate information that would not endanger comrades. He’s also been knocked for failing to use his firearms on either his captors or himself at the time of his arrest.

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1936: Saburo Aizawa, incidentally

Add comment July 3rd, 2020 Headsman

Lieutenant Colonel Saburo Aizawa was shot on this date in 1936.

The Aizawa Incident — an assassination — emerged from the conflict between the Kodoha (“Imperial Way”) and Toseiha (“Control”) factions of the Imperial Japanese Army.

Both these philosophies were authoritarian, militaristic, and aggressively imperialist.

However, Kodoha officers — disproportionately younger junior officers — were more radically right-wing. Their leading light, General Sadao Araki, who had been War Minister in the early 1930s, espoused a philosophy that “linked the Emperor, the people, land, and morality as one indivisible entity, and which emphasized State Shintoism.”

Toseiha is described as the more moderate faction which in practice meant that they were a bit less totalizing and a bit more institutionally accommodating: in a word, it was just the mainline outlook of the army brass. According to Leonard Humphreys, Toseiha “was not really a faction … it really consisted only of officers who opposed the Kodoha.”*

Our day’s principal accused Toseiha bigwig Tetsuzan Nagata of putting the army “in the paws of high finance” when he forced out a Kodoha ally and Araki protege in 1935, following a failed Kodoha coup d’etat. And in revenge for this perceived betrayal, Aizawa dramatically murdered Nagata with a sword in his office on August 12, 1935.

However boldly struck, this blow bespoke the dwindling prestige of the ultras.

In the months while Aizawa’s sure fate was arranged through the proper channels, the desperate Kodoha faction again attempted to seize power — and was sidelined for good when it again failed. Aizawa had the displeasure of going to his death amid the ruin of his cause.

* fn 24 on page 206 of The Way of the Heavenly Sword: The Japanese Army in the 1920’s, citing several other scholars with the same view — and noting that the names for these tendencies were both conferred by Kodoha propagandists, so nobody self-identified using the pejorative “Toseiha”.

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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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1939: Javier Bueno, Asturian socialist newsman

Add comment September 26th, 2019 Headsman

Socialist journalist Javier Bueno was garotted by the fascists on this date in 1939.

Bueno (Spanish Wikipedia entry | Asturian), “instigator of the revolution,” was a newsman who became the editor of the newspaper Avance in the Asturian city of Gijon.

Through “the professional zeal and personal militancy of its director” (quoth historian David Ruiz) this paper emerged as an essential organ of the rising Asturian working class in the fraught years running up to the Spanish Civil War. Repeated bannings (of the newspaper) and imprisonments (of Bueno) only enhanced his stature; “you attract the pyrotechnic rays of our enemies,” Indalecio Prieto wrote him admiringly.

The revolutionaries freed him in 1936, two years deep in a life sentence, and Bueno went back to agitation in the pages of Avance before taking to the front lines himself. Franco’s victory in 1939 found him in Madrid, working at another radical paper, Claridad. Bueno faced a snap military tribunal with no more than a pro forma pretense of defense.

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1943: Amos Pampaloni, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin inspiration

Add comment September 21st, 2019 Headsman

Italian artillerist Amos Pampaloni, the real-life model for the title character of the novel and film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, miraculously survived execution on this date in 1943.

It occurred at the outset of the Cephalonia Massacre on September 21, 1943, which began a dayslong slaughter on that Greek island by German soldiers of their former Italian comrades. With some 5,000 victims, it’s one of the largest POW massacres of the Second World War.

Captain Pampaloni was among 500-odd officers deployed with the 12,000-strong Acqui Infantry Division. This formation had been part of fascist Italy’s invasion of Greece in 1940-41; after victory in that campaign, the Acqui Division occupied several Greek islands over the succeeding years, where German troops were also stationed.

The Pact of Steel uniting these powers melted abruptly in early September of 1943, when the Allies forced Italy into an armistice. For Italian forces standing in the field cheek-by-fascist epaulette, this forced a sudden and dangerous reckoning. Some units had barely even heard of the new situation before they were under German guns; in a best-case scenario, they had to decide within a few hours or days between radically different attitudes towards their up-to-now comrades-in-arms.

The Acqui on the Ionian island of Cephalonia (Kefalonia) was a case in point. In the days following the Italian armistice, the much larger German force presented its commanders an ultimatum to decide among three alternatives:

  1. Continue fighting alongside the Germans
  2. Fight against the Germans
  3. Surrender, disarm, and repatriate

While the last of these might seem the obvious course, disarming was contrary to the Italian high command’s ambiguous order neither to initiate hostilities with Germans, nor to cooperate with them. Moreover, the Cephalonia division got some reports in those confused days that the Germans weren’t always repatriating units that surrendered. The soldiery was polled on the options, and went for resistance.

Unfortunately the Italians were thoroughly outgunned in this fight, and the Allies refused to permit dispatching reinforcements from Italy that might easily be captured by the Germans. Within days the Acqui had been roughly brought to heel.

Outnumbered and suffering under accurate mortar fire, Pampaloni decided to surrender. The captain protested that it was against the rules of war when his men were systematically robbed of their wallets and watches, only to be told by the German commanding officer that those rules applied to prisoners, not to traitors.

The officer then shot the captain through the back of the neck, and the rest of his men, including the wounded, were mown down with machine gun fire. Miraculously still alive, Pampaloni remained conscious as a German soldier removed his own watch from his apparently lifeless body.

Captain Pampaloni was not, in fact, the only soldier from his company to survive. “The mule handlers were spared, because every mule responds best to his own master,” he said. “Ten minutes after the massacre the German soldiers left, singing.”

Captain Pampaloni went on to fight for a year with the Greek resistance on the mainland. Having witnessed the brutality of the conflict on Cephalonia, he was still shocked by the sight of partisans slitting the throats of German prisoners with their daggers — ammunition was too precious to be wasted on executions.

Cefalonia – crimine di guerra 1 from Va.Le. Cinematografica 78 on Vimeo.

Cefalonia – crimine di guerra 2 from Va.Le. Cinematografica 78 on Vimeo.

Numerous summary executions disgraced the German victory. (There’s a monument to the victims in Verona.) Our man Amos Pampaloni faced his on the first day of the general massacre; according to a 2001 profile in the Guardian,

Outnumbered and suffering under accurate mortar fire, Pampaloni decided to surrender. The captain protested that it was against the rules of war when his men were systematically robbed of their wallets and watches, only to be told by the German commanding officer that those rules applied to prisoners, not to traitors.*

The officer then shot the captain through the back of the neck, and the rest of his men, including the wounded, were mown down with machine gun fire. Miraculously still alive, Pampaloni remained conscious as a German soldier removed his own watch from his apparently lifeless body.

Captain Pampaloni was not, in fact, the only soldier from his company to survive. “The mule handlers were spared, because every mule responds best to his own master,” he said. “Ten minutes after the massacre the German soldiers left, singing.”

Captain Pampaloni went on to fight for a year with the Greek resistance on the mainland. Having witnessed the brutality of the conflict on Cephalonia, he was still shocked by the sight of partisans slitting the throats of German prisoners with their daggers — ammunition was too precious to be wasted on executions.

In the novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Pampaloni’s fictional imitator survives thanks to a noble comrade who hurls his body in front of the fusillade.

Pampaloni didn’t appreciate Mandolin all that much, owing to its hostile depiction of the Communist partisan movement that he joined after surviving his execution. For those seeking alternative literatures, there’s also a 1960s novelization of the Greek resistance on Cephalonia by Marcello Venturi; written in Italian (as Bandiera bianca a Cefalonia), it’s long out of print in English as The White Flag.

* Prior to the Italian armistice, the Italian forces on the island were working on an arrangement to obey German command structures; hence, the brutal treatment of Italian prisoners who could be conceived as not merely prisoners of war, but traitors or rebels unprotected by any law of war. A German directive had explicitly demanded as much: “because of the perfidious and treacherous behaviour on Kefalonia, no prisoners are to be taken.”

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1941: Alexandru Bessarab, fascist artist

1 comment July 8th, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1941, the fascist artist Alexandru Bassarab was killed in World War II — generally believed to be among captured Romanian prisoners of war summarily executed by Soviet troops.

A woodcut/linocut specialist — as evidenced by his gaunt self-portrait to the right — Bassarab was an early adherent of the Iron Guard and became one of its outstanding propagandists.

His very Deus Vult-vibing work Arhangel, for example, was used by the Guard as a banner at the 1940 state funeral it threw for far-right martyr Corneliu Codreanu. (The Iron Guard was shorthand nomenclature for an organ formally named the Legion of the Archangel Michael — and its members hence known as Legionnaires.)

But the Iron Guard’s moment at the political apex was a brief one, and when it was sidelined by a different right-wing strongman, Ian Antonescu, Bessarab found himself arrested and forced into a front-line army unit recapturing (appropriately) Bessarabia. He disappeared into presumed Soviet custody and execution near Tiganca, in present-day Moldova.

His work, including apolitical pieces, was taboo in postwar Communist Romania, but has enjoyed a bit of rediscovery since the end of the Cold War

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1942: Ewald Schlitt, performative cruelty

Add comment April 2nd, 2019 Headsman

From Hitler’s Prisons: Legal Terror in Nazi Germany:

Despite the unprecedented legal terror [inside Germany], he [Hitler] continued to attack the legal apparatus as slow and formalistic, comparing it unfavourably with the unrestrained actions of the police. … In the autumn of 1941, he complained repeatedly in his private circle that the German judges passed too lenient sentences … In May 1941, he complained to Goebbels that inmates could emerge from prison ‘fresh and unused’, ready to act once more against the state — a statement which showed Hitler’s disregard for the brutal realities inside penal institutions. He had made a similar point a few months earlier to Himmler, telling him that criminals knew that inside penitentiaries ‘everything is nice, hygienic, nobody will do one any harm, the Minister of Justice vouches for that’.

Hitler’s simmering hostility towards the legal system blew up in spectacular fashion in the spring of 1941. The spark was yet another supposedly lenient court sentence. On 14 March 1942, the district court in Oldenburg found the engineer Ewald Schlitt guilty of having abused his wife so badly that she eventually died. However, the judges decided that Schlitt had not acted in cold blood but was liable to sudden violent fits of temper. Rather than condemning him to death as a ‘violent criminal’, the court sentenced Schlitt to five years in a penitentiary. When Hitler heard about this case, he exploded with rage. Ignorant of the details, he demanded that Schlitt be executed and took the court’s sentence as confirmation of the impotence of the judiciary. If there were any more such sentences, Hitler fumed in his private circle on Sunday 22 March 1942, he would ‘send the Justice Ministry to hell through a Reichstag law’. Hitler made no secret of his fury. On the very same day, he berated the acting Minister of Justice Schlegelberger on the telephone. Highly agitated, Hitler exclaimed that he could not understand why criminals were treated so leniently at a time when the ‘best’ German soldiers were dying at the front. Hitler threatened Schlegelberger with very serious consequences should the legal system fail to change.

The Reich Ministry of Justice immediately engaged in damage limitation, following Hitler’s outburst. Two days after his phone call, Schlegelberger wrote to Hitler to reassure him about the ruthlessness of the legal system: ‘My Fuhrer, I share your desire for the harshest punishment of criminal elements with the greatest conviction.’ To prove his point, Schlegelberger informed Hitler that the Schlitt case would be taken up by the Reich Court. The court duly delivered the desired result. On 31 March 1942, it quashed the original sentence against Schlitt and instead sentenced him to death, a decision which was immediately relayed to Hitler. Ewald Schlitt was guillotined two days later. Schlegelberger did not let the case rest here. He was concerned enough to inform the general state prosecutors, in a meeting on the day of Schlitt’s retrial, about Hitler’s threats. …

In previous protests by Hitler against court sentence he considered too ‘mild’, the file had been closed after the execution of the offender. But not this time. One of the reasons why Hitler did not let matters rest was his growing concern about the home front. In March 1942, the Nazi leadership knew that rations would have to be cut and evidently feared a backlash among the population … The Nazi leaders were convinced that the legal system would be unable to deal with any unrest. Thus, after Hitler had discussed the forthcoming cuts in rations with Goebbels on 19 March 1942, the two men went on to complain about the failures of the judiciary and to talk about the need for tougher measures on the home front. It was at this point that Hitler floated the idea of convening the Reichstag to give himself special powers against ‘evil-doers’, an idea he returned to after the Schlitt case. The cut in rations, the most serious during the entire war, was finally introduced on 6 April 1942, and caused great disquiet. Hitler’s apparent concern about this was betrayed in an extraordinary outburst at dinner on the very next day. Inevitably, his thoughts circled around the 1918 revolution and, with unprecedented ferocity, he vented his homicidal determination to prevent another ‘stab in the back’:

If a mutiny broke out somewhere in the Reich today, then he would answer it with immediate measures. To start with, he would:

a) have all leading men of an oppositional tendency … arrested at home and executed, on the day of the first report;

b) he would have all inmates in concentration camps shot dead within three days;

c) he would also have all criminal elements rounded up for execution within three days on the basis of the available lists, irrespective of whether they were in prison or at liberty at the time.

The shooting of this scum, which comprised a few hundred thousand people, would make other measures appear unnecessary, as the mutiny would break down by itself due to a lack of mutinous elements and fellow-travellers.

Only two weeks later, Hitler rang Goebbels and instructed him to take the very unusual step of summoning the Reichstag.

I also expect that the German jurisprudence understands that the nation is not there for them but they for the nation. That not the entire world is allowed to perish, in which also Germany is included, so that there is a formal right, but that Germany has to live, notwithstanding the formal interpretation of justice.

I have no understanding for it, just to mention an example, that for instance a criminal who married in 1937 and then mistreated his wife that she became mentally deranged and who then died of the results of his last mistreatment, is sentenced to 5 years of hard labor in a moment when 10,000 brave German men have to die in order to save the homeland from Bolshevism, that means to protect their wives and children.

I will take a hand in these cases from now on and direct the order to the judges that they recognize that as right what I order.

What German soldiers, German workers, peasants, our women in city and country and millions of our middle-class etc. do and sacrifice all only with the one thought of victory in their minds, then one can ask a congenial attitude for them who have been called by the people themselves to take care of their interests.

At present there are no self-styled saints with well-earned rights, but we all are only obedient servants in the interests of our people.

-From Hitler’s April 26, 1942 address to the Reichstag

On 26 April 1942, the Reichstag deputies assembled in Berlin, curious as to the purpose of the meeting. … The legal system, Hitler warned [in his address], must have only one thought: German victory. It was high time, he continued, that the legal system realised that it did not exist for its own sake, but for the nation. As an illustration of the inane approach of the judiciary, Hitler pointed to the Schlitt case. … The deputies cheered loudly, broke into chants of ‘Heil’ and then passed a resolution that explicitly exempted Hitler from ‘existing statutes of law’, giving him the right to remove from office and punish anyone ‘failing their duties’. Hitler was officially above the law.

Hitler’s attack in the Reichstag on 26 April 1942 received a mixed reception from the German public. Many Germans, it seems, supported Hitler’s views. But conservatives and members of the bourgeoisie started to voice some concerns about the threat to the rule of law. The German legal officials themselves were stunned … One senior judge exclaimed in private: ‘Out of shame, each judge has to hide his face from the public’. The officials feared that the attack would destroy public confidence int he independence of the judiciary and provide further incentives for the police to interfere in the legal process. To discuss measures which would increase Hitler’s confidence in the judiciary, the Reich Ministry of Justice held two meetings with senior regional officials in early May 1942 in Berlin. The meeting on 6 May was chaired by State Secretary Freisler. Hitler’s speech, he acknowledged, had hit the legal system like a ‘thunderstorm’. Freisler reminded the officials of the lessons which needed to be drawn: the legal officials had to become harder, focusing even more on retribution …

Hitler continued to complain in private about the weakness of the legal system. On 22 July, for example, he once more ranted at length about the judiciary, concluding that nobody resembled the jurist more closely than the criminal.

The Nazi leaders made sure that legal officials knew that Hitler was still unhappy. On the same day as Hitler’s latest private outburst, on 22 July 1942, Goebbels made an explicit speech to the officials at the People’s Courtk outlining the Nazi leaders’ criticism of the judiciary. Goebbels’s comments had special significance because, as he informed his listeners, Hitler had personally approved them. Goebbels began by complaining that many judges still had the wrong attitude, derived in large measure from their legalistic training. After referring in detail to several ‘unbearable’ sentences, Goebbels made crystal clear what was required from the judiciary. During the war, it was not important whether a judgment was fair or unfair; rather, it had to protect the state by eradicating the ‘inner enemies’: ‘The starting point is not the law, but the decision [that] this man has to disappear’.

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1926: Anteo Zamboni, Mussolini near-assassin, lynched

Add comment October 31st, 2018 Headsman

Halloween of 1926 was a festival of triumph for the Italian fascists … and they crowned it in a festival of blood.

The occasion marked (not exactly to the day) the fourth anniversary of Benito Mussolini‘s bloodless coup via the October 1922 March on Rome. And as a gift for himself and his populace, Benito Mussolini on that date inaugurated Bologna’s Stadio Littoriale by riding a charger into the arena and delivering a harangue.


Fascist-built and still in service, it’s now known as the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara and it’s home to Bologna F.C. 1909. (cc) image by Udb.

After another address to a medical conference later that afternoon, Mussolini was motorcading down via Rizzoli in an Alfa Romeo when a gunshot whizzed through his collar.*

It had been fired by a 15-year-old anarchist named Anteo Zamboni, vainly and sacrificially hoping to turn history’s tide with a well-placed bullet.

Instead, his act would offer Il Duce a Reichstag Fire-like pretext — there was always bound to be one, sooner or later — for a raft of repressive legislation including the creation of a nasty secret police, the dissolution of political opposition, and (of interest to this here site) reintroduction of the death penalty.**

But Anteo Zamboni would see his penalty delivered summarily after the crowd seized him.†

Zamboni was done to death with blows and blades by Mussolini’s fascist admirers right on the spot. In a turn of heart, Bologna — by tradition a leftist stronghold — now has a street named for the young would-be assassin. (Here is the source for the ghastly Mature Content images below of Zamboni’s brutalized corpse.)

The incident is the subject of the 1978 film Gli Ultimi Tre Giorni.

* Zamboni’s was only one of three assassination attempts on Mussolini in 1926 alone.

** Just days afterwards during the post-Zamboni repressive pall, the great Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci was tossed into prison, never to emerge. Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks issued out of his dungeon, before his health succumbed in 1937 to the intentional neglect of his captors.

† It’s reportedly cavalry officer Carlo Alberto Pasolini who first detained the youth: the father of postwar film director Pier Paolo Pasolini.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Assassins,Attempted Murder,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Children,History,Italy,Lynching,Martyrs,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Notable for their Victims,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Revolutionaries,Summary Executions,Torture

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1944: Werner Seelenbinder, communist grappler

Add comment October 24th, 2018 Headsman

Left-wing athlete Werner Seelenbinder was executed by the Third Reich on this date in 1944.

An Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler, Seelenbinder’s plan to scandalize patriots by refusing to make the Nazi salute from the podium at the 1936 Berlin games was scratched when he came in fourth in the event.

Nevertheless, Seelenbinder (English Wikipedia entry | German) had already by then given more material aid to Hitler’s foes by using his sportsman’s travel itinerary as cover to act the courier for the banned Communist party.

Arrested in 1942 during the smash-up of the Robert Uhrig resistance ring, Seelenbinder was tortured horrifically in prison but died with courage — as he had pledged in a last letter to his father.

The time has now come for me to say goodbye. In the time of my imprisonment I must have gone through every type of torture a man can possibly endure. Ill health and physical and mental agony, I have been spared nothing. I would have liked to have experienced the delights and comforts of life, which I now appreciate twice as much, with you all, with my friends and fellow sportsmen, after the war. The times I had with you were great, and I lived on them during my incarceration, and wished back that wonderful time. Sadly fate has now decided differently, after a long time of suffering. But I know that I have found a place in all your hearts and in the hearts of many sports followers, a place where I will always hold my ground. This knowledge makes me proud and strong and will not let me be weak in my last moments.

As a visible public person who died in resistance to fascism, Seelenbinder made for ready national-icon material in postwar Germany … but because of his red affiliations he was honored in this fashion mostly in East Germany. (Indeed, even a sports club that had been named for him weeks after the war’s end, in the American-occupied sector, stripped his name right off a few years later to keep with the times. The stadium was reverted to its Seelenbinder christening in 2004.)


East Berlin’s Werner-Seelenbinder-Halle was demolished in 1993 and replaced by the Velodrom.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Athletes,Beheaded,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Entertainers,Execution,Germany,History,Martyrs,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wartime Executions

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