(Thanks to Meaghan Good of the Charley Project for the guest post. -ed.)
On this day in 1943, a retired transport worker known only as Wilhelm H. was executed for high treason. He was seventy-four years old and had no prior criminal history.
His crime? Writing messages in a public toilet. The story of the events that lead to his death is recorded in Tom Lampert’s work of documentary history, One Life, which is the sole source for this account. Unfortunately Mr. Lampert did not disclose Wilhelm’s last name.
The story begins in August 1942, when Wilhelm wrote the following inscription in a public toilet in Berlin:
Hitler, you mass murderer, you must be murdered, then the war will be over.
Good citizens who saw the graffito promptly reported it to the authorities and it was erased. However, the exact same message appeared in the same location twice more over the next eight weeks.
Nazis and graffiti: still a going couple. (cc) image from kejoli.
On October 28, 1942, a local resident finally caught Wilhelm H. red-handed writing the subversive message on the wall, and made a citizen’s arrest.
Wilhelm initially denied having written anything and the police couldn’t find any writing implement on his person, so they were forced to let him go for lack of evidence. Two weeks later, however, when questioned again by authorities, Wilhelm admitted he had written the message. When asked why, he replied that wartime inflation had reduced his pension to a pittance. He and his wife got only 78.80 reichsmarks a month and had to pay 34.05 of that in rent.
Wilhelm held Adolf Hitler responsible for the war and hence his own privations, and as he felt incapable of action himself he resolved to call other people to rise against the Führer. He said he believed things would be better if the Führer wasn’t there anymore.
The senior district attorney turned his case over to the People’s Court, saying, “Even if the seventy-three-year-old accused does not otherwise appear to have ever engaged in harmful political activities, the suspicion that a crime has been committed here according to paragraphs 80ff. of the Penal Code [conspiracy to commit high treason] cannot be dismissed.”
During the pretrial investigation it waslearned that Wilhelm was born in Klein-Reitz in 1869. He had an elementary school education and worked as a farm laborer until the age of twenty, after which he did military service for three years. Once his term of service ended he moved to Berlin and worked for the next thirty-five years as a transport laborer. He retired on a disability pension. He had never been politically active and his neighbors described him as quiet and reclusive.
In January 1943, Wilhelm was indicted on three counts:
calling for the Fuhrer to be killed;
treasonously attempting to alter the constitution of the German Reich through violence, whereby the crime was aimed at influencing the masses by means of the written word; and,
aiding and abetting the enemy during a war against the Reich and harming the military powers of the Reich.
A physician at the Plötzensee Prison certified that Wilhelm was mentally and medically fit for trial. The trial itself, on March 8, 1943, lasted only an hour. Wilhelm was convicted of all charges and sentenced to death. The court stated:
The wording of the inscription … is clear. There is nothing about the sentence or its meaning to quibble over. Given H.’s selection of a public location, the inscription must be regarded as a call on the populace to kill the Führer of the German Reich. Nor can there be any doubt about the seriousness of H.’s intentions here … as his repeated writing on the inscription demonstrates beyond any doubt.
Since H. wrote his demand quite legibly in crayon on the wall, it could be read by all German comrades visiting the toilets, and this in a neighborhood made up primarily of manual laborers. In addition, the designation of the Führer as a mass murderer and the claim that the war would be over if the Führer were dead both created the appearance of oppositional movements in the Reich and stirred up visitors of the public toilets against the Führer and his Nazi regime, inciting them to acts of violence…
And all of this because H. desired greater buying power for his pension and because he himself wanted to lead an “adequate and contented” life. H.’s old Marxist views — evident in his past votes for the Social Democratic Party — resurfaced at the moment when he believed National Socialism didn’t offer him enough for his personal needs. He has placed the life of the Führer and the fate of the entire German people at risk in a reckless and wanton manner, and all this merely for his own personal well-being. In so doing, H. has expelled himself from the community of German people, who share a common destiny, and thus passed sentence on himself. He deserves to die … The People’s Court has thus sentenced H. to death, a punishment which, given the heinousness of the crime, also takes into account popular German sentiment.
Joseph Goebbels himself, Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, voiced his support for the death sentence. Wilhelm H. was calm and did not resist when he was taken to the guillotine on May 20, 1943.
On this day..
- 1527: Hans Hergot, immovable type - 2020
- 1952: Jan Bula, Czechoslovakian priest - 2019
- Feast Day of St. Baudilus - 2018
- 1622: Sultan Osman II - 2017
- 1691: Mark Baggot, Jacobite spy - 2016
- 1799: Simon Taylor, for indulging in drunkenness - 2015
- 1795: Ignac Martinovics and the Magyar Jacobins - 2014
- 2001: An adult actress stoned to death in Evin prison - 2013
- 1881: Po'olua, "darkened in my mind" - 2012
- 1987: Edward Earl Johnson, "I guess nobody is going to call" - 2010
- 2001: Zhang Jun and his gang - 2009
- 1820: Karl Ludwig Sand, a curious strand of German history - 2008