The last public execution by Guillotine.

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Eugen Weidmann (February 5, 1908 – June 17, 1939) was a German criminal who was executed by guillotine in France, the last public execution in that country

On June 17, 1939, Weidmann was beheaded outside the prison Saint-Pierre in Versailles. The “hysterical behaviour” by spectators was so scandalous that French president Albert Lebrun immediately banned all future public executions. Unknown to authorities, film of the execution was shot from a private apartment adjacent to the prison. British actor Christopher Lee – who was 17 at the time – witnessed the event.

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He would later go on to play headsman Charles-Henri Sanson in a French TV drama about the French Revolution, in which his character made prolific use of the device.

Beginning with the botched kidnapping of an American tourist, the inspiring dancer Jean de Koven, Eugène Weidmann murdered two women and four men in the Paris area in 1937. His other victims included a woman lured by the false offer of a position as a governess; a chauffeur; a publicity agent; a real estate broker; and a man Weidmann had met as an inmate in a German prison. On the surface, his crimes seemed in most cases to have had a profit motive, but they generally brought him very small winnings. Born in Frankfurt-am-Main in 1908, Weidmann early showed himself to be an incorrigible criminal. He had been sent to a juvenile detention facility and then served prison terms for theft and burglary in Canada and Germany prior to his arrival in Paris in 1937.

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Last public execution by guillotine, France, 1939 2

After a sensational and much-covered trial, Weidmann was sentenced to death. On the morning of June 17, 1939, Weidmann was taken out in front of the Prison Saint-Pierre, where a guillotine and a clamoring, whistling crowd awaited him. Among the attendees was future acting legend Christopher Lee, then 17 years old. Weidmann was placed into the guillotine, and France’s chief executioner Jules-Henri Desfourneaux let the blade fall without delay.

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Rather then react with solemn observance, the crowd behaved rowdily, using handkerchiefs to dab up Weidmann’s blood as souvenirs. Paris-Soir denounced the crowd as “disgusting”, “unruly”, “jostling, clamoring, whistling”. The unruly crowd delayed the execution beyond the usual twilight hour of dawn, enabling clear photographs and one short film to be taken.

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After the event the authorities finally came to believe that “far from serving as a deterrent and having salutary effects on the crowds” the public execution “promoted baser instincts of human nature and encouraged general rowdiness and bad behavior”. The “hysterical behavior” by spectators was so scandalous that French president Albert Lebrun immediately banned all future public executions.

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Last public execution by guillotine, France, 1939 4

Guillotine was the only mean of execution that the French republic had ever known, the device was in service from 1792 to 1977. For almost 200 years the guillotine executed tens of thousands of culprits (or not) without ever failing to deliver a quick and painless death.

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While it is easy to see the guillotine as barbaric, it is actually a lot less gruesome than it looks. Capital punishment was very common in pre-revolutionary France. For nobles, the typical method of execution was beheading; for commoners, it was usually hanging, but less common and crueler sentences were also practiced. When Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin proposed the new method of execution to the National Assembly, it was meant to be more humane than previous capital punishments and also to be an equal method of death for all criminals regardless of rank.

Compared to many forms of capital punishment practiced to this day, the guillotine remains one of the best if we are judging based on pain and “cleanness”. In fact, the guillotine was developed with the idea of creating the most humane way to execute people. The condemned don’t feel pain, death is almost instantaneous and there are very few ways for things to be botched. The head of the victim remains alive for about 10-13 seconds, depending on the glucose and blood levels in his brain at the time. However, the head is believed to be more than likely knocked unconscious by the force of the blow and blood loss.

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The execution of Ferenc Szalasi

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Ferenc Szálasi was the leader and all-powerful head of the fascist Arrow Cross movement, the regime that came to power in Hungary with the armed assistance of the Nazi Germany on October 15-16, 1944. After that date, the fate of hundreds of thousands of Jews was in his hands. During his brief rule, Szálasi’s men murdered 10,000–15,000 Jews.

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Szálasi’s Government of National Unity turned the Kingdom of Hungary into a client state of Nazi Germany formed on 16 October 1944 after RegentMiklós Horthy was removed from power during Operation Panzerfaust (Unternehmen Eisenfaust).

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The Hungarian parliament approved the formation of a Council of Regency of three. On 4 November, Szálasi was sworn as Leader of the Nation He formed a government of sixteen ministers, half of which were members of the Arrow Cross Party. While the Horthy regency had come to an end, the Hungarian monarchy was not abolished by the Szálasi regime, as government newspapers kept referring to the country as the Kingdom of Hungary (Magyar Királyság, also abbreviated as m.kir.), although Magyarország (Hungary) was frequently used as an alternative.

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Szálasi’s hatred of the Jews was a pillar of his Weltanschauung. He seriously believed in the theory of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy. In June 1943, he declared that the Jews, de facto and de jure, ruled the word: “Plutocracy, freemasonry, the liberal democracy, parliamentarism, and the Marxism are all but instruments in the hands of Jews so that they can hang onto their power and control over the world”. Firmly believing himself to be a good Christian and a Catholic, Szálasi argued that anti-Semitism was taught in the Bible itself. Unlike Hitler or Alfred Reosenberg, Szalasi was merely an anti-Semite. He knew no inferior and superior races; he merely hated the Jews.

On 19 November 1944, Szálasi was in the Hungarian capital when Soviet and Romanian forces began encircling Budapest. By the time the city was encircled he was gone. The “Leader of the Nation” (Nemzetvezető) fled to Szombathely on 9 December. By March 1945, Szálasi was in Vienna. Later, he fled to Munich.

The Arrow Cross Party’s cabinet, which had fled Hungary, was dissolved on 7 May 1945, a day before Germany’s surrender. Szálasi was captured by American troops in Mattsee on 6 May and returned to Hungary on 3 October. He was tried by the People’s Tribunal in Budapest in open sessions began in February 1946, and sentenced to death for war crimes and high treason. Szálasi was hanged on 12 March 1946 in Budapest, along with two of his former ministers, Gábor Vajna, Károly Beregfy and the party ideologist József Gera. Some photographs of the execution are on display in the Holocaust Room of the Budapest Jewish Museum.

On 13 March 1946, the day after Szálasi’s death, The National Council of People’s Tribunals discussed the convicted politicians’ plea for mercy and recommended its refusal to Justice Minister István Ries, when Szálasi and his ministers were already executed. Ries forwarded the decision to President Zoltán Tildy, who subsequently approved the death sentence and execution on 15 March 1946.

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Anguish, defiance, stoicism, acceptance and fear.

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Bloody Sunday was a series of killings of members of the German minority that took place at the beginning of World War II. On September 3, 1939, two days after the beginning of the German invasion of Poland, highly controversial killings occurred in and around Bydgoszcz (German: Bromberg), a Polish city with a sizable German minority. The number of casualties and other details of the incident are disputed among historians.

The sequence started with an attack of German Selbstschutz snipers on retreating Polish troops and then was followed by a Polish reaction and then the final retaliatory execution of Polish hostages by the Wehrmacht and Selbstschutz, after the fall of the city. All these events resulted in the deaths of both German and Polish civilians. The Polish Institute of National Remembrance found and confirmed 254 Lutheran victims, assumed to be German victims, and 86 Catholic victims, assumed to be Polish civilians, as well as 20 Polish soldiers. Approximately 600–800 Polish hostages were shot in a mass execution in the aftermath of the fall of the city.

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The Nazis exploited the deaths as grounds for a massacre of Polish inhabitants after the Wehrmacht captured the town. In an act of retaliation for the killings on Bloody Sunday, a number of Polish civilians were executed by German military units of the Einsatzgruppen, Waffen SS, and Wehrmacht.

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According to German historian Christian Raitz von Frentz, 876 Poles were tried by German tribunal for involvement in the events of Bloody Sunday before the end of 1939. 87 men and 13 women were sentenced without the right to appeal. Polish historian Czesław Madajczyk notes 120 executions in relation to Bloody Sunday, and the execution of 20 hostages after a German soldier was allegedly attacked by a Polish sniper.

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One picture of the executions gives the whole range of attitudes and emotions that went through the minds of those facing the firing squad. It’s interesting to see the range of emotions displayed by these men. Anguish, defiance, stoicism, acceptance and fear, the third one from the left is even smiling.

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April/May strike- Death Penalty

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On 29 April 1943, Wehrmachtbefehlshaber (Wehrmacht Commander) General Friedrich Christiansen announced that Dutch soldiers who had fought against the invading Germans in May 1940 would again be taken as prisoners of war and sent to Germany to work in factories and on the land.

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A wave of anger engulfed the country. A spontaneous protest strike broke out in the Stork Machinery Factory in Hengelo. This was followed by the so-called April-May Strikes that swept the rest of the country, except for some cities in the west of the Netherlands. SS and Police leader Hans Rauter tried to stop the action using violence: he instituted martial law.

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Twenty-year-old Jochum van Zwol from the village of Leens, who hadn’t even gone on strike himself, was the first to be summarily executed.

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He was shot in front of a firing squad on 1 May 1943 in Groningen and buried somewhere in an unmarked grave. When his worried father cycled to the city of Groningen a day later to look for his missing son, he encountered a group of men standing around this placard: an official announcement that his son had been executed by the German occupier.

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This massive act of resistance in the Netherlands ultimately resulted in 175 deaths.

 

Source: Stichting Oorlogs- en Verzetscentrum Groningen

The execution of Hermann Fegelein-Eva Braun’s Brother in law.

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Hans Otto Georg Hermann Fegelein (30 October 1906 – 28 April 1945) was a high-ranking commander in the Waffen-SS in Nazi Germany. He was a member of Adolf Hitler’s entourage and brother-in-law to Eva Braun through his marriage to her sister, Gretl.

Fegelein joined a cavalry regiment of the Reichswehr in 1925 and transferred to the SS on 10 April 1933. He became a leader of an SS equestrian group, and was in charge of preparation for the equestrian events of the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. He tried out for the Olympic equestrian team himself, but was eliminated in the qualifying rounds.

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In September 1939, after the Invasion of Poland, Fegelein commanded the SS Totenkopf Reiterstandarte (Death’s-Head Horse Regiment). They were garrisoned in Warsaw until December. In May and June 1940, he participated in the Battle of Belgium and France as a member of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (later renamed the Waffen-SS). Units under his command on the Eastern Front in 1941 were responsible for the deaths of over 17,000 civilians during the Pripyat swamps punitive operation in the Byelorussian SSR. As commander of the 8th SS Cavalry Division Florian Geyer in 1943, he was involved in operations against partisans as well as defensive operations against the Red Army.

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Fegelein was seriously wounded in September 1943, and was reassigned by Heinrich Himmler to Hitler’s headquarters staff as his liaison officer and representative of the SS. Fegelein was present at the failed attempt on Hitler’s life on 20 July 1944. He was on duty at Hitler’s Führerbunker in Berlin in the closing months of the war.

By early 1945, Germany’s military situation was on the verge of total collapse. Hitler, presiding over a rapidly disintegrating Third Reich, retreated to his Führerbunker in Berlin on 16 January 1945. To the Nazi leadership, it was clear that the battle for Berlin would be the final battle of the war.Berlin was bombarded by Soviet artillery for the first time on 20 April 1945 (Hitler’s birthday). By the evening of 21 April, Red Army tanks reached the outskirts of the city.By 27 April, Berlin was cut off from the rest of Germany.

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On 27 April 1945, Reichssicherheitsdienst (RSD) deputy commander SS-Obersturmbannführer Peter Högl was sent out from the Reich Chancellery

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to find Fegelein who had abandoned his post at the Führerbunker after deciding he did not want to “join a suicide pact”.Fegelein was caught by the RSD squad in his Berlin apartment, wearing civilian clothes and preparing to flee to Sweden or Switzerland. He was carrying cash—German and foreign—and jewellery, some of which belonged to Braun. Högl also uncovered a briefcase containing documents with evidence of Himmler’s attempted peace negotiations with the Western Allies.According to most accounts, he was intoxicated when arrested and brought back to the Führerbunker.He was kept in a makeshift cell until the evening of 28 April. That night, Hitler was informed of the BBC broadcast of a Reuters news report about Himmler’s attempted negotiations with the western Allies via Count Bernadotte.

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Hitler flew into a rage about this apparent betrayal and ordered Himmler’s arrest.Sensing a connection between Fegelein’s disappearance and Himmler’s betrayal, Hitler ordered SS-Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller to interrogate Fegelein as to what he knew of Himmler’s plans.Thereafter, according to Otto Günsche (Hitler’s personal adjutant), Hitler ordered that Fegelein be stripped of all rank and to be transferred to Kampfgruppe “Mohnke” to prove his loyalty in combat. Günsche and Bormann expressed their concern to Hitler that Fegelein would only desert again. Hitler then ordered Fegelein court-martialed.

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Fegelein’s wife was then in the late stages of pregnancy (the baby was born in early May). Hitler considered releasing him without punishment or assigning him to Mohnke’s troops. Junge—an eye-witness to bunker events—stated that Braun pleaded with Hitler to spare her brother-in-law and tried to justify Fegelein’s actions. He was taken to the garden of the Reich Chancellery on 28 April, and was “shot like a dog”

 

The 9th of April 1945 Executions

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The 9th of April 1945 was picked by the Nazi’s to get rid of some those they had considered to be traitors. In fact some of these men were actually heroes, since they all had been part in one way or another(or at least were convicted of that)of trying to kill Adolf Hitler during Operation Valkyrie or the 20 July plot.

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The executions by way of hanging all took place in Flossenbürg concentration camp.

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Dietrich Bonhoeffer  4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German pastor, theologian, spy, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has become a modern classic.

Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews.He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years.

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Later he was transferred to a Nazi concentration camp. After being associated with the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried, along with other accused plotters, including former members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office), and then executed by hanging on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing.

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/05/26/dietrich-bonhoeffer-the-good-german/

Wilhelm Franz Canaris (1 January 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a German admiral and chief of the Abwehr, the German military intelligence service, from 1935 to 1944. Initially a supporter of Adolf Hitler, he later turned against the Nazis as he felt Germany would lose another major war. During the Second World War he was among the military officers involved in the clandestine opposition to the Nazi regime. He was executed in Flossenbürg concentration camp for high treason.

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Canaris was arrested on 23 July 1944 on the basis of the interrogation of his successor at Military Intelligence, Georg Hansen.Schellenberg respected Canaris and was convinced of his loyalty to the Nazi regime, even though he had been arrested.Hansen admitted his role in the 20 July plot but accused Canaris of being its “spiritual instigator”. No direct evidence of his involvement in the plot was discovered, but his close association with many of the plotters and certain documents written by him that were considered subversive led to the gradual assumption of his guilt. Two of the men under suspicion as conspirators who were known in Canaris’ circle shot themselves which incited activity from the Gestapo to prove he was, at the very least, privy to the plan against Hitler

Ludwig Gehre (5 October 1895 – 9 April 1945) was an officer and resistance fighter involved in the preparation of an assassination attempt against Hitler.

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At the beginning of the Second World War Gehre was active as a Captain in the Abwehr (Military Intelligence) under Admiral Wilhelm Canaris. By 1939 a group in the Abwehr had formed to remove the Nazi regime and end the War. This circle included Admiral Canaris, General Ludwig Beck, Hans von Dohnanyi, Hans Oster, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as well as Gehre.

By March 1943 Gehre was privy to the Military Opposition’s preparations under Henning von Tresckow to assassinate Hitler. In January 1944 Helmuth James Graf von Moltke was arrested, and in March 1944 Gehre was also taken by the Gestapo. Gehre, however, was soon able to flee and disappeared.

After the failed 20 July 1944 assassination attempt to kill Hitler, the search for Gehre intensified. Gehre, together with his wife, kept himself hidden for several more weeks. Further shelter was procured by the brothers Hans and Otto John. When Gehre realized that he was about to be discovered by the Gestapo on 1944 November 2, he shot his wife and then directed the gun toward himself. Although he was badly hurt, he survived.

Hans Paul Oster (9 August 1887 – 9 April 1945) was a general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany who was also a leading figure of the German resistance from 1938 to 1943. As deputy head of the counter-espionage bureau in the Abwehr (German military intelligence), Oster was in a strong position to conduct resistance operations under the guise of intelligence work; he was dismissed for helping Jews to avoid arrest.

Hans Oster

He was a key planner of the Oster Conspiracy of September 1938. Oster was arrested in 1943 on suspicion of helping Abwehr officers caught helping Jews escape Germany. After the failed 1944 July Plot on Hitler’s life, the Gestapo seized the diaries of Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of the Abwehr, in which Oster’s long term anti-Nazi activities were revealed. In April 1945, he was hanged with Canaris and Dietrich Bonhoeffer at Flossenbürg concentration camp.

Karl Sack (born June 9, 1896 in Bosenheim (now Bad Kreuznach), executed April 9, 1945 in Flossenbürg concentration camp) was a German jurist and member of the resistance movement during World War II.

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Karl Sack studied law in Heidelberg where he joined a Burschenschaft (Burschenschaft Vineta) and after a time in legal practice became a judge in Hesse. He married Wilhelmine Weber and had two sons. In 1934, Sack joined the newly established Reichskriegsgericht (Reich Military Court) where he quickly rose to a senior position. He was able to delay proceedings against Army Commander-in-Chief Werner von Fritsch who had been falsely accused of homosexuality by the Gestapo in an attempt to discredit him for his opposition to Hitler’s attempts to subjugate the German armed forces. In the fall of 1942, Karl Sack became Judge Advocate General of the Army.

During World War II, Sack maintained contacts within the resistance circles in the military, including Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, Major General Hans Oster and Hans von Dohnanyi, as well as with others within the Abwehr (German military intelligence). He was part of the attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944 and after that failed attempt he was arrested on August 9, 1944. In the very last days of the war, he was brought before an SS drumhead court-martial presided over by Otto Thorbeck. He was sentenced to death and hanged 2 days later. Sack had been slated for the role of Justice Minister within a planned post-coup civilian government.

In 1984, Sack’s role as a member of the resistance was remembered with a bronze plaque placed in the former Reichskriegsgericht in Berlin-Charlottenburg. There was some opposition to this honour as Sack favoured a far-reaching interpretation of what constituted desertion, which must have led to more than a few death sentences.

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Theodor Strünck (7 April 1895, Pries – 9 April 1945, Flossenbürg concentration camp) was a German lawyer and resistance worker, involved in the July 20 plot.

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Theodor Strünck studied legal science, graduating at the University of Rostock in 1924, and became a lawyer (later a director) at an insurance company. Initially sympathising with National Socialism, he then turned to opposing the regime on their seizure of power and the subsequent decline in the rule of law. In 1937 he became a Hauptmann in Germany’s reserve forces, working in the Wehrmacht section of the Amt Ausland/Abwehr under Hans Oster. He came into contact with Carl Goerdeler and organised meetings of German Resistance members in his own home.

For his participation in the 20 July 1944 plot, Theodor Strünck was arrested on 1 August, dishonourably discharged from the army on 24 August as part of the “Ehrenhof” (so that the Reichskriegsgericht or Reich Courts Martial would no longer have control of his sentencing), and on 10 October condemned to death by the People’s Court under its president Roland Freisler. He was then imprisoned in Flossenbürg concentration camp, where he was executed together by hanging on 9 April 1945.

The Germans were busy on the 9th of April because additionally to the 6 men mentioned above they also executed Georg Elser by hanging in the Dachau concentration camp.

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Johann Georg Elser (4 January 1903 – 9 April 1945) was a German worker who planned and carried out an elaborate assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking Nazi leaders on 8 November 1939 at the Bürgerbräukeller in Munich.A time bomb that Elser constructed and placed near the speaking platform failed to kill Hitler, who left earlier than expected, but killed eight people and injured over sixty-two others. Elser was held as a prisoner for over five years until executed at the Dachau concentration camp.

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/10/19/what-if-the-assassination-attempts-on-hitler/

https://dirkdeklein.net/2016/02/27/forgotten-history-german-resistance/

Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865

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Lincoln was the third American president to die in office, and the first to be murdered.An unsuccessful attempt had been made on Andrew Jackson 30 years prior, in 1835, and Lincoln had himself been the subject of an earlier assassination attempt by an unknown assailant in August 1864. The assassination of Lincoln was planned and carried out by the well-known stage actor John Wilkes Booth, as part of a larger conspiracy in a bid to revive the Confederate cause.

Booth’s co-conspirators were Lewis Powell and David Herold, who were assigned to kill Secretary of State William H. Seward, and George Atzerodt, who was tasked with killing Vice President Andrew Johnson. By simultaneously eliminating the top three people in the administration, Booth and his co-conspirators hoped to disrupt the United States government.

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In the turmoil that followed the assassination, scores of suspected accomplices were arrested and thrown into prison. Anyone discovered to have had anything to do with the assassination or even the slightest contact with Booth or Herold on their flight were put behind bars. Among the imprisoned were Louis J. Weichmann, a boarder in Mrs. Surratt’s house; Booth’s brother Junius (playing in Cincinnati at the time of the assassination); theater owner John T. Ford, who was incarcerated for 40 days; James Pumphrey, the Washington livery stable owner from whom Booth hired his horse; John M. Lloyd, the innkeeper who rented Mrs. Surratt’s Maryland tavern and gave Booth and Herold carbines, rope, and whiskey the night of April 14; and Samuel Cox and Thomas A. Jones, who helped Booth and Herold escape across the Potomac.

All of those listed above and more were rounded up, imprisoned, and released. Ultimately, the suspects were narrowed down to just eight prisoners (seven men and one woman): Samuel Arnold, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Mudd, Michael O’Laughlen, Lewis Powell, Edmund Spangler (a Ford’s stagehand who had given Booth’s horse to “Peanuts” Burroughs to hold), and Mary Surratt.

This set of pictures below  from 1865 showing the hanging execution of the four Lincoln conspirators: David Herold, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt and Mary Surratt. Their deaths were a culmination of sorts of a nation ravaged by war, bitter conflict, and the death of the nation’s commander-in-chief, Abraham Lincoln. Scottish photographer Alexander Gardner captured the macabre scene, including pictures of the condemned seen moments before they walked to the 12-foot gallows, specially constructed for the executions. It was hot that day, reportedly a hundred degrees (38 degree Celsius). Sweat surely dripped down the accused’s faces as they passed by the cheap pine coffins and shallow graves that had been dug for them.

Construction of the gallows for the hanging of the conspirators began immediately on July 5 after the execution order was signed.Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 2

The death warrant for the four is being read aloud by General John F. Hartranft.Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 3

On June 29, 1865, the Military Commission met in secret session to begin its review of the evidence in the seven-week long trial. A guilty verdict could come with a majority vote of the nine-member commission; death sentences required the votes of six members. The next day, it reached its verdicts. The Commission found seven of the prisoners guilty of at least one of the conspiracy charges. Four of the prisoners: Mary Surratt, Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, and David Herold were sentenced “to be hanged by the neck until he [or she] be dead”. Samuel Arnold, Dr. Samuel Mudd and Michael O’Laughlen were sentenced to “hard labor for life, at such place at the President shall direct”, Edman Spangler received a six-year sentence. The next day General Hartrandft informed the prisoners of their sentences. He told the four condemned prisoners that they would hang the next day.

The four condemned conspirators: David Herold, Lewis Powell, Mary Surratt and George Atzerodt (from left to right).

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David Herold — An impressionable and dull-witted pharmacy clerk, Herold accompanied Booth to the home of Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set Booth’s injured leg. The two men then continued their escape through Maryland and into Virginia, and Herold remained with Booth until the authorities cornered them in a barn. Herold surrendered but Booth was shot and died a few hours later.

Lewis Powell — Powell was a former Confederate prisoner of war. Tall and strong, he was recruited to provide the muscle for the kidnapping plot. When that plan failed, Booth assigned Powell to kill Secretary of State William Seward. He entered the Seward home and severely injured Seward, Seward’s son, and a bodyguard.

Mary Surratt — Surratt owned a boarding house in Washington where the conspirators met. Sentenced to death, she was hanged, becoming the first woman executed by the United States federal government.

George Azterodt — German-born Azterodt was a carriage painter and boatman who had secretly ferried Confederate spies across Southern Maryland waterways during the war. Recruited by Booth into the conspiracy, he was assigned to kill Vice President Andrew Johnson, but lost his nerve and stayed in a hotel bar, drinking, instead.

Adjusting the ropes for hanging the conspirators. White cloth was used to bind their arms to their sides, and their ankles and thighs together.Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 4

A white bag was placed over the head of each prisoner after the noose was put in place.Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 5

Shortly after the afternoon of July 7, 1865, the four condemned conspirators were forced to climb the hastily built gallows that they had heard being tested the night before from their prison cells. More than 1,000 people—including government officials, members of the U.S. armed forces, friends and family of the accused, official witnesses, and reporters—had come with their exclusive tickets to see this execution. Nooses were placed around the accused’s necks and hoods placed over their heads. Ever since the sentences had been handed down a week ago, Surratt’s lawyers and her daughter Anna had been fighting and pleading for her death sentence to be changed. In fact, many in attendance thought that Surratt would be saved from the gallows at the last-minute. It was not to be.

The conspirators stood on the drop for about 10 seconds, and then Captain Rath clapped his hands. Four soldiers knocked out the supports holding the drops in place, and the condemned fell.Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 6

The bodies continued to hang and swing for another 25 minutes before they were cut down.Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 7

After last rites and shortly after 1:30 PM, the trap door was opened and all four fell. It was reported that Atzerodt yelled at this very last moment: “May we meet in another world”. Within minutes, they were all dead. The bodies continued to hang and swing for another 25 minutes before they were cut down.

The scaffold in use and the crowd in the yard seen from the roof of the Washington Arsenal.Execution of the Lincoln conspirators, 1865 8

Over the years, critics have attacked the verdicts, sentences, and procedures of the 1865 Military Commission. These critics have called the sentences unduly harsh, and criticized the rule allowing the death penalty to be imposed with a two-thirds vote of Commission members. The hanging of Mary Surratt, the first woman ever executed by the United States, has been a particular focus of criticism. Critics also have complained about the standard of proof, the lack of opportunity for defense counsel to adequately prepare for the trial, the withholding of potentially exculpatory evidence, and the Commission’s rule forbidding the prisoners from testifying on their own behalf.

(courtesy Library of Congress)

The execution of Rudolf Hoess-Auschwitz Commandant

Rudolf Hoess the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, is hanged next to the crematorium at the camp, 1947 (1)

Rudolf Hoess (Rudolf Höss) was the architect and commandant of the largest killing center ever created, the death camp Auschwitz, whose name has come to symbolize humanity’s ultimate descent into evil.

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Höss joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and the SS in 1934. From 4 May 1940 to November 1943, and again from 8 May 1944 to 18 January 1945, he was in charge of Auschwitz where more than a million people were killed before the defeat of Germany. He was hanged in 1947 following a trial in Warsaw.

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On 1 May 1940, Hoess was appointed commandant of a prison camp in western Poland. The camp was built around an old Austro-Hungarian (and later Polish) army barracks near the town of Oswiecim; its German name was Auschwitz. Hoess commanded the camp for three and a half years, during which he expanded the original facility into a sprawling complex known as Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

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After visiting Treblinka extermination camp to study its methods of human extermination, Hoess, beginning on 3 September 1941, tested and perfected the techniques of mass killing that made Auschwitz the most efficiently murderous instrument of the Final Solution. He improved on the methods at Treblinka by building his gas chambers ten times larger, so that they could kill 2,000 people at once rather than 200. He commented: “still another improvement we made over Treblinka was that at Treblinka the victims almost always knew that they were to be exterminated and at Auschwitz we endeavored to fool the victims into thinking that they were to go through a delousing process”.

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Hoess experimented with various methods of gassing. According to Eichmann’s trial testimony in 1961, Hoess told him that he used cotton filters soaked in sulfuric acid in early killings. He later introduced hydrogen cyanide (prussic acid), produced from the pesticide Zyklon B. With Zyklon B, he said that it took 3–15 minutes for the victims to die and that “we knew when the people were dead because they stopped screaming”.

In the last days of the war, Hoess was advised by Himmler to disguise himself among German Navy personnel. He evaded arrest for nearly a year. When he was captured by British troops on 11 March 1946, he was disguised as a farmer and called himself Franz Lang. His wife had told the British where he could be found, fearing that her son, Klaus, would be shipped off to the Soviet Union, where she feared he would be imprisoned or be tortured. After being questioned and beaten (Hoess’s captors were well aware of his crimes), Hoess confessed his real identity.

During his trial in Poland, while never denying that he had committed crimes, he contended that he had only been following orders. He had no illusions about the fate that awaited him. To the end, Hoess contended that, at the most, a million and a half people had died at Auschwitz, not 5 or 6 million. At the end of the trial, he requested the court’s permission to send his wedding ring to his wife. Hoess was sentenced to death by hanging on 2 April 1947. The sentence was carried out on 16 April immediately adjacent to the crematorium of the former Auschwitz I concentration camp. The gallows constructed specifically for that purpose, at the location of the camp Gestapo.

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Rudolf Hoess was led out punctually at 10 a.m. He was calm. With energetic steps, almost strutting, he walked along the main camp street. Since his hands were handcuffed behind his back, the executioners had to help him climb onto the stool placed above the trapdoor. A priest, whose presence had been requested by the condemned man, approached the gallows. A prosecutor read out the sentence. The hangman placed the noose on Hoess’s neck, and Hoess adjusted it with a movement of his head. When the hangman pulled the stool from under the former commandant, his body struck the trapdoor, which opened, leaving Hoess hanging.

Rudolf Hoess the commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp, is hanged next to the crematorium at the camp, 1947 (2)

The priest began to recite the prayer for the dying. It was 10:08 a.m. A physician pronounced Hoess dead at 10:21. His remains were probably cremated.

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The execution of deserter Eddie Slovik

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On January 31, 1945, Eddie Slovik became the only American soldier since the Civil War to be executed for desertion — the only one of the 40,000 American soldiers who deserted during World War II, the only one of the few thousand who were court-martialed for deserting, the only one of the 49 whose death sentences for deserting were approved.

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Pvt. Eddie Slovik was a draftee. Originally classified 4-F because of a prison record (grand theft auto), he was reclassified 1-A when draft standards were lowered to meet growing personnel needs. In January 1944, he was trained to be a rifleman, which was not to his liking, as he hated guns.

In August of the same year, Slovik was shipped to France to fight with the 28th Infantry Division, which had already suffered massive casualties in France and Germany. Slovik was a replacement, a class of soldier not particular respected by officers. As he and a companion were on the way to the front lines, they became lost in the chaos of battle and stumbled upon a Canadian unit that took them in..

Slovik stayed on with the Canadians until October 5, when they turned him and his buddy over to the American military police. They were reunited with the 28th Division, which had been moved to Elsenborn, Belgium. No charges were brought, as replacements getting lost early on in their tours of duty were not unusual. But exactly one day after Slovik returned to his unit, he claimed he was “too scared and too nervous” to be a rifleman, and threatened to run away if forced into combat. His confession was ignored-and Slovik took off. One day later he returned and signed a confession of desertion, claiming he would run away again if forced to fight, and submitted it to an officer of the 28th. The officer advised Slovik to take the confession back, as the consequences were serious. Slovik refused and was confined to the stockade.

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The 28th Division had many cases of soldiers wounding themselves or deserting in the hopes of a prison sentence that might protect them from the perils of combat. A legal officer of the 28th offered Slovik a deal: dive into combat immediately and avoid the court-martial. Slovik refused. He was tried on November 11 for desertion and was convicted in less than two hours. The nine-officer court-martial panel passed a unanimous sentence of execution, “to be shot to death with musketry.”

Slovik’s appeal failed. It was held that he “directly challenged the authority” of the United States and that “future discipline depends upon a resolute reply to this challenge.” Slovik had to pay for his recalcitrant attitude, and the military made an example of him. One last appeal was made-to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander-but the timing was bad for mercy. The Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes forest was resulting in literally thousands of American casualties, not to mention the second largest surrender of an U.S. Army unit during the war. Eisenhower upheld the death sentence.

His widow said, “the unluckiest poor kid who ever lived.”

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The execution was carried out in France on January 31, 1945. Slovik said, “They’re not shooting me for deserting the United States Army, thousands of guys have done that. They just need to make an example out of somebody and I’m it because I’m an ex-con. I used to steal things when I was a kid, and that’s what they are shooting me for. They’re shooting me for the bread and chewing gum I stole when I was 12 years old.” Soldiers strapped him to a post with belts and the chaplain said to him, “Eddie, when you get up there, say a little prayer for me. Slovik said, “Okay, Father. I’ll pray that you don’t follow me too soon.” And Slovik was slammed with eleven bullets.

Slovik was shot and killed by a 12-man firing squad in eastern France. None of the rifleman even flinched, firmly believing Slovik had gotten what he deserved.

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In 1960, Frank Sinatra announced his plan to produce a movie titled The Execution of Private Slovik, to be written by blacklisted Hollywood 10 screenwriter Albert Maltz. This announcement provoked great outrage, and Sinatra was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. As Sinatra was campaigning for John F. Kennedy for President, the Kennedy camp became concerned, and ultimately persuaded Sinatra to cancel the project.

However, Slovik’s execution was the basis for a 1954 book by William Bradford Huie. In 1974, the book was adapted for a TV movie starring Martin Sheen and also called The Execution of Private Slovik.

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The military service record of Slovik, which is now a public archival record available from the Military Personnel Records Center, provides a detailed account of the actual execution of Slovik which took place in 1945 and it was upon this that most of the film was based. Some dramatic license occurs, including during the execution. There is no evidence, for example, that the priest attending Slovik’s execution shouted “Give it another volley if you like it so much” after the doctor indicated Slovik was still alive.

In addition, the 1963 war film The Victors includes a scene featuring the execution of a deserter clearly inspired by Slovik.

Kurt Vonnegut mentions Slovik’s execution in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five.

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Vonnegut also wrote a companion libretto to Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat (A Soldier’s Tale), which tells Slovik’s story.

Slovik also appears in Nick Arvin’s 2005 novel Articles of War, in which the fictional protagonist, Private George (Heck) Tilson, is one of the members of Slovik’s firing squad.

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Josef Jakobs-German spy and the last person executed in the Tower of London.

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On this day 75 years ago the last person was executed in the famous Tower of London, his name was Josef Jakobs.

Josef Jakobs (30 June 1898 – 15 August 1941) was a German spy and the last person to be executed at the Tower of London. He was captured shortly after parachuting into the United Kingdom during the Second World War. Convicted of espionage under the Treachery Act 1940, Jakobs was shot by a military firing squad. He was not hanged because he had broke his ankle and therefore couldn’t stand, he was therefore sat down to be shot.

Jakobs was an untrained, ill-equipped German spy who was parachuted into Britain in February 1941, apparently charged with sending details of London weather patterns back to the Fatherland. But he broke his ankle in a bungled leap from the plane.

The following morning, Jakobs attracted the attention of two farmers, Charles Baldock and Harry Coulson, by firing his pistol into the air. Baldock and Coulson notified members of the local Home Guard who quickly apprehended Jakobs.

When captured, writhing in agony, at the Huntingdonshire drop point, he was found to have nearly £500 of counterfeit currency, an empty ration book and identity papers that were obviously forged and a German sauasge.

Jakobs was taken to Ramsey Police Station before being transferred to Cannon Row Police Station in London, where he gave a voluntary statement to Major T.A. Robertson of MI5.

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Due to the poor condition of his ankle, Jakobs was transferred to Brixton Prison Infirmary for the night. The following day he was briefly interrogated by Lieutenant Colonel Stephens of MI5 at Camp 020 before being transferred to Dulwich Hospital where he remained for the next two months.

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His war was over and so, effectively, was his life. The 43-year-old father of three was tried by a court martial, found guilty of treason and at 7.12am on 15 August 1941 was taken to the practice range at the Tower where, blindfolded and with a white marker over his heart, he was shot by eight soldiers from the Scots Guards.

Jakobs, who was a German citizen, was born in Luxembourg in 1898. During the First World War, he served in the German infantry, rising to the rank of Lieutenant, in the 4th Foot Guards. In June 1940, ten months after the outbreak of the Second World War, Jakobs was drafted into the Wehrmacht as a First lieutenant. However, when it was discovered that he had been imprisoned in Switzerland from 1934–37 for selling counterfeit gold, he was forced to resign his commission in the Wehrmacht.Jakobs was demoted to a noncommissioned officer and placed in the Meteorologischen Dienst (meteorological service) of the German Army. Shortly afterwards, he also began working for the Abwehr, the intelligence department of the German Army.

Jakobs’ court martial took place in front of a military tribunal at Duke of York’s Headquarters in Chelsea, London SW3, on 4–5 August 1941. The trial held was in camera because the German agent had been apprehended in a highly classified intelligence operation known as the Double Cross System. The British were aware that Jakobs was coming because his arrival information had been passed on to MI5 by the Welsh nationalist and Abwehr double agent Arthur Owens.

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After a two-day trial which involved hearing the testimony of eight witnesses, Jakobs was found guilty of spying and sentenced to death.

Jakobs’s execution took place at the miniature rifle range in the grounds of the Tower of London on 15 August 1941. He was seated blindfolded in a brown Windsor chair. Eight soldiers from the Holding battalion of the Scots Guards, armed with .303 Lee–Enfields, took aim at a white cotton target (the approximate size of a matchbook) pinned over Jakobs’ heart. The squad fired in unison at 7:12 a.m. after being given a silent signal from Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Gerard (Deputy Provost Marshal for London District). Jakobs died instantly. A postmortem examination found that one bullet had hit Jakobs in the head and the other seven had been on or around the marked target area.

Following the execution, Jakobs’ body was buried in an unmarked grave at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery, Kensal Green, London. The location used for Jakobs’ grave has since been re-used so the original grave site is difficult to find.

All other German spies condemned to death in the UK during the Second World War were executed by hanging at either Wandsworth or Pentonville prisons in London. Jakobs was the last person to be executed at the Tower of London.