1726: The Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt

Add comment November 14th, 2009 Headsman

On November 14 and 15, 1726, more than 20 Gypsy outlaws of Hesse-Darmstadt were executed en masse.

Detail view (click for full image) of the execution of the Gypsies at Giessen.

Gypsies in Europe still suffer ample discrimination today, so it’s little surprise to find early modern Europe thick with anti-Gypsy legislation.

No surprise, Angus Fraser writes in The Gypsies, this sort of thing

did in the end produce enormous changes in the life of the Gypsies in Europe. To survive, they had to adapt; they also had to make the most of the loopholes in a system which expressly sought, by denying them food and shelter, to make honest living impossible. Some found a degree of security in inaccessible waste-lands and forests. Some exploited differences in jurisdiction and the spasmodic nature of the authorities’ activity, by making a home in frontier regions … Many broke up into small groups when it was necessary to avoid attention; conversely, others gathered into larger bands to facilitate self-protection … sometimes resorting to violence. Certain Gypsy brigands gained notoriety in eighteenth-century Germany, large tracts of which were overrun with robber companies of mixed and varying origins. Some of these had a strong Gypsy element: numbering perhaps 50 or 100, armed and defiant, they stole for their sustenance and skirmished with the soldier-police sent to confine them.

“The poor Gypsies,” one poor Gypsy lamented to a contemporary German author,* “also want to have the right to live.”

Like the Gypsies’ other necessities, that right went as far as they themselves could secure it … and when secured by brigandage, it eventually brought down an overwhelming response.

The German author in question, J.B. Weissenbruch, relates the tale of a particularly notorious pack of Gypsy outlaws under the leadership of rough characters names of Antoine la Grave, aka “der Grosse Galantho” or “the Great Gallant”, and Johannes la Fortun, aka “Hemperla”.

These were no romantic Johnny Depp-esque Gypsies, at least according to Weissenbruch. Besides “their disposition to wandering, to idleness, to theft, to polygamy, or rather promiscuous license” — well, okay, sort of romantic — these went toe to toe with soldiery dispatched to corral them and had the chops to “take military possession” of a village for the purpose of exacting some corporal revenge.

We know where this ends up.

Though the Great Gallant escaped punishment,† Hemperla and 20-plus of his band (different sources quote slightly different figures) enjoyed the pleasures of the thumbscrew and the Spanish boot to secure confessions necessary to license their sentences. Some were hanged, others (including women) beheaded, and Hemperla and a few comrades were broken on the wheel.

* Cited here; regrettably, I have not been able to locate a browsable original of the Weissenbruch text.

** Same story in yet another Google books freebie.

This German book says his rank got him off the hook, but he lost his head just the same in 1733.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Beheaded,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Germany,Gruesome Methods,Hanged,History,Holy Roman Empire,Mass Executions,Outlaws,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Theft,Torture,Women

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1924: Daisuke Namba, for the Toranomon Incident

1 comment November 15th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1924, just two days after his sentencing, Japanese student Namba Daisuke was hanged for attempting to assassinate the the future emperor Hirohito.

Namba (or Nanba) was a 24-year-old Communist and son of a Japanese parliamentarian.* Inflamed by reports of Japanese atrocities in Korea and by the execution years earlier of leftist agitator Shusui Kotoku, Namba fired a pistol at the 22-year-old Prince Regent in a Tokyo intersection.**

It was a pretty simple case: no doubt he’d done it, and no sympathy for the assailant. The act shook Japan so deeply that Namba’s prosecutors stuck to the story that the offender must be deranged — even though he clearly was not. Under the circumstances, that wouldn’t cut enough ice to mitigate the sentence anyway.

In the words of the judge who sentenced him:

Daisuke has made a blot upon Japanese history. He believed in violence and had determined to kill the Prince Regent. He committed a great crime in attempting to injure the imperial family, which has never oppressed the poor.

To which Daisuke had a direct reply:

Long live the Communist Party of Japan!

As is often the case, the gesture of violence against the established order provoked a still more repressive crackdown. The Prime Minister resigned for the security lapse, to be replaced a more conservative government that pushed through the radical-hunting measures of the Peace Preservation Law.

And the award goes to …

Simple enough as far as the assassin goes.

Let’s take a sideways turn into a digression from the blog’s macabre daily fare to ponder a strangely pleasant ripple effect of this young man’s shot.

According to Ben-Ami Shillony’s Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, the incident forced the resignation of a senior police official charged with keeping an eye on subversives.

You’re welcome, Ichiro. (The Major League superstar won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award twice during his Japanese professional career, in 1994 and 1995.)

This gentleman, Matsutaro Shoriki, transitioned into a career as a media mogul, building up one of the country’s most prominent papers. In that capacity, he took to promoting baseball in Japan.

Though this imported sport had an existing — and growing — popularity from the first decades of the century, Shoriki became the father of Japanese baseball by sponsoring American all-star teams to play on Japanese tours and creating the country’s first professional baseball team.

Shoriki even survived an assassination attempt of his own, at the hands of a nationalist who thought bringing Babe Ruth to the Land of the Rising Sun was treasonable.

Today, he’s remembered generously and his name adorns one of Japanese baseball’s major awards. But if not for Daisuke Namba’s shot, he might have served those years moving paper in the tokko, trying to ferret out dangerous elements.

* The father had to resign his seat in the Diet, of course; not only his immediate family but his former schoolmasters and his whole hometown were put under the pall. According to Time, Namba’s relatives were formally released from their debt of shame by Hirohito in 1926, and took the unblemished name Kurokawa.

** Hirohito did not become Emperor until his father’s death in 1926.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Japan,Notable for their Victims,Notable Participants,Revolutionaries,Treason

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1922: Six Greek former ministers of state

13 comments November 28th, 2007 Headsman

On this date in 1922,* on the morning after a revolutionary tribunal held them liable for treason in the catastrophic Greek loss of Smyrna, six former high-ranking political and military officials of the Greek government were shot in Athens.

The long-running national conflict between liberals and monarchists had boiled over during World War I, setting the stage for increasingly bitter internecine conflict played out against the backdrop of a misbegotten foreign adventure.

Greece’s territorial aspirations after World War I.

As the Ottoman Empire — Greece’s neighbor and historical rival — collapsed in the aftermath of the world war, Athens under liberal colossus Eleftherios Venizelos set her sights on a vast pan-Hellenic domain spanning Constantinople, western Anatolia, and the Black Sea coast.

In 1919, backed — even pushed — by the British, Greece occupied Smyrna, a multiethnic economic hub in Asia Minor. But cruelty towards the Turkish population sparked immediate resistance which soon blended insensibly into the burgeoning Turkish National Movement, already on the path towards its destiny of forging the modern state of Turkey.

As the Greek army pressed outwards from Smyrna, it became drawn into full-fledged war. In 1920, the Greek government turned over (as it was often wont to do) and under the ascendant monarchists whose irredentism was not to be upstaged “fantasy began to direct Greek policy” — like a quixotic scheme to march on Constantinople rather than hold a defensible position. Greece’s European allies and sponsors began to cut bait.

September 14, 1922: Smyrna burns.

Far from threatening Constantinople, the Greeks suffered one of their greatest disasters — the “Catastrophe of Asia Minor”, when Ataturk drove them back to, and then out of, Smyrna, emptying the once-cosmopolitan city of thousands of Greek (and Armenian) refugees fleeing a sectarian carnage. Some swam out of the burning city only to be refused aid by ships of nations unwilling to be drawn into the affair politically.

In the dismayed Greek capital, anti-monarchist officers who had been purged by the new government revolted and rounded up the opposition’s leadership. “The Six” who faced public trial for treason included three former Prime Ministers:

With two other ministers of state and a general, they comprised all but one member of the offending monarchist government, a bloody thoroughness the New York Times compared to Robespierre. Western governments temporarily broke off relations.

After the day’s bloody deeds, Venizelos returned from exile to conclude the war on Turkish terms, including “population exchange” — fragrant euphemism — to solidify each government’s demarcation as a nation-state and ratify the destruction of Smyrna (renamed Izmir) as a multiconfessional melting pot.

Today, Smyrna is largely forgotten by those to whom it is not intensely remembered — and among the latter, its meaning is ferociously contested. To Turks, a chapter in their founding expulsion of foreign occupation; to Greeks, the calamitous end of the ancient Hellenic presence in Asia Minor; to each, a touchstone for one another’s atrocities; to others of a less parochial frame of mind, a parable of the perfidy of an entire enemy faith, or a subplot in the great game for Ottoman oil, or as Henry Miller conceived it writing in the antechamber of the second World War, the avatar of a stunted and cynical moral sense among European powers that would lead them to their next great reckoning:

Even the most ignorant yokel knows that the name Attila is associated with untold horrors and vandalism. But the Smyrna affair, which far outweighs the horrors of the first World War or even the present one, has been somehow soft-pedalled and almost expunged from the memory of present day man. The peculiar horror which clings to this catastrophe is due not alone to the savagery and barbarism of the Turks but to the disgraceful, supine acquiescence of the big powers.

Smyrna, like the Boxer Rebellion and other incidents too numerous to mention, was a premonitory example of the fate which lay in store for European nations, the fate which they were slowly accumulating by their diplomatic intrigues, their petty horse-trading, their cultivated neutrality and indifference in the face of obvious wrongs and injustices.

*Greece did not adopt the Gregorian calendar until 1923, the last European country to do so — so the date in Greece on the day of the execution was actually November 15.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Greece,Heads of State,Mass Executions,Notable Jurisprudence,Politicians,Power,Shot,Treason,Wartime Executions,Wrongful Executions

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