Tag Archives: executions

Balkan Tragedy

The map below shows World War One casualties [civilian and military] as a percentage of a country’s population.  The darker the colour the higher the percentage. The country with the highest national casualty rate was Serbia.  France lost 16.8%, Germany 15.4%, Russia 11.5%,  Italy 10.3% and USA 0.13%.

Serbia lost 27% of its overall population and 60% of its male population. A total of more than 1,100,000 people.

The nation responsible for these losses was the Hapsburg state of Austria-Hungary.

World War 1 deaths as % of pre-war population

Austria-Hungary was not only responsible for the Serbian losses but, in the minds of many historians, for starting the First World War.  Germany may have been a wiling accomplice but Austria-Hungary was the instigator [see Watson, A., 2014. Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary at War, 1914-1918, London: Allen Lane.]. Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia [after giving them an ultimatum that they knew the Serbs could not accept]. Russia moved to assist Serbia and, thanks to a series of existing treaties France, Britain, Germany and Italy were dragged into the conflict.

AlliancesAustria-Hungary invaded Serbia. As well as being swine they were also incompetent and initially they suffered heavy losses. However, Austria-Hungary had more men and guns and in time they were able to defeat the Serbian Army so completely that about 155,000 survivors had to be evacuated to Greece by British ships.

WW1 Serbians executed by Austro-Hungarians

Serbians POWs being executed by Austro-Hungarians

WW1 Serbians executed by Austro-Hungarians 02

That left the Serbian population at the mercy of the Austro-Hungarians who carried out numerous atrocities. Concentration camps were set up, there were mass hangings, crops were destroyed and wells poisoned. In addition to all this Serbia suffered a severe typhoid epidemic.

WW1 Serbians executed by Austro-Hungarians 03

WW1 Serbians executed by Austro-Hungarians 01In 1915 Bulgaria also invaded Serbia and carried out its own series of atrocities, including the massacre at Surdulica.

At the end of WW2 some war criminals were executed. Things were different after the First World War. Count Berchtold, the Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister, who was more responsible than any other for the start of WW1 was allowed to retire to his estates in Hungary where he lived  until 1942.



Von Hotzendorf was Chief of the Hapsburg General Staff and a war criminal. He was allowed to make a fortune from his memoirs and lived comfortably in the German spa town of Bad Mergentheim.



Only a few minor war criminals stood trial and none were executed.


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Lynching was employed as a means of social control in the South of the United States.  Approximately 3,500 blacks and 1,300 whites were lynched between 1882 and 1968, most of them  from 1882 to 1920.  [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law].

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Selection and Retribution


Two trains from Hungary have arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp and selection is taking place. Sometimes those capable of working are separated  and sent to one of the many satellite work camps. The rest, most women, the old and children, are sent for immediate gassing. At other times everybody on a train is gassed.


Walking to the gas chamber

Clearing up afterwards. A crematorium chimney is visible in the background.

What a happy group.

Auschwitz guards at a rest centre.


Stutthof concentration camp was located in the north of Poland, near Danzig. Some 85,ooo prisoners died in the camp. The Russians and Poles held four trials of former guards and kapos , charging them with  crimes against humanity. The first trial was held against 30 ex-officials and kapos.  Eleven of them, including five female guards, were sentenced to death. The executions were carried out at Biskupia Górka on the 4th July 1946.

Both Steinhoff and Barkmann were reported as being involved in the selection of women and children for gassing.

The above Stutthof guard photographs are from this page.

Albert Pierrepoint, the British executioner, hung a total of 202 German war criminals  between 1945 and 1949, including Irma Grese for crimes at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and Auschwitz (aged 22), Elisabeth Volkenrath (Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz), and Juana Bormann (Auschwitz). The execution of Grese and some other war criminals was portrayed in the 2006 film Pierrepoint.

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The Guillotine in Nazi Germany

We associate the guillotine with France and particularly with the French Revolution. However Germany also used the guillotine and Nazi Germany used it a lot, decapitating thousands of people.

From 1928 to 1932 there were no more than  two or three executions a year in Germany. The rise of the National Socialist party in 1933 produced  a sudden increase in executions. Before 1933, only murder and high treason were capital crimes and in Berlin, beheading (with the axe) was the only lawful method of execution. (Other states used beheading with the axe or the guillotine).

When Hitler came to total power, he decided that criminals and enemies of the state should be executed by either guillotining [or hanging from 1942] and he ordered the construction of 20 guillotines. There were 64 executions  in 1933, 79 in 1934, 94 in 1935 and 68 in 1936.  Between 1933 and 1944, a total of 13,405 death sentences were passed. Of these, 11,881 were carried out.

Between 1943 and 1945, the People’s Courts sentenced around 7,000 people to death. In the first few months of 1945, some 800 people were executed, over 400 of them being German citizens.

Many executions were carried out in Berlin’s Plötzensee Prison. Between 1933 and 1945, some 2,891 people were decapitated or hanged in Plötzensee.  Some of them had belonged to Communist resistance groups, others to the Harnack/Schulze-Boysen Organization (the Red Orchestra), and still others to the Kreisau Circle. On the 20th of July 1944, an attempt was made on Hitler’s life by a group of army officers led by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg. The attempt failed, and between the 8th of August 1944 and the 9th of April 1945, a total of 90 people were executed in Plötzensee for their parts in the conspiracy.

Plötzensee’s guillotine was delivered on the 17th of February 1937 from Bruchsal prison in Baden. In late 1942, a steel gallows beam was erected in the existing execution chamber, and five, later eight hooks, for attachment of nooses.  The two execution areas were separated by curtains.  Condemned prisoners  spent their final hours shackled in special cells on the ground floor of a building which was known as the  ”house of the dead,” before being led across a small courtyard to the execution chamber.

Plotzensee Prison execution room

The executioners receive an annual salary of 3,000 Reichsmarks and a special bonus of 60 Reichsmarks for each execution, which was later raised to 65 Reichsmarks. The families of the executed prisoners had to pay an “invoice of expenses.”  The public prosecutor charged 1.50 Reichsmarks for every day of custody in Plötzensee, 300 Reichsmarks for the execution, and 12 Pfennigs to cover the postage for the “invoice of expenses.”

Initially Roettger, the Plötzensee executioner,  came twice a week and carried out his work in the early evenings. Guillotinings could be carried out at three minute intervals.  Hangings involved slow strangulation, not the more merciful neck breaking drop used in the UK and other countries.  The prisoner was led in with their hands tied behind them and made to get up onto the two step step-up, the executioner following them and placing the thin cord slip knot around their neck. They were not hooded or blindfolded. The executioner got down and simply pulled the step-up from under them leaving them suspended with little or no drop. Subsequent prisoners had to witness the struggles of the earlier victims before it was their turn.

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Executions in pre revolutionary china – part 2

The condemned man is standing on a pile of stones or planks. Each day one is removed. He can postpone death by standing on tiptoe but eventually he can no longer support his weight and he will suffocate.


After the revolution.

Public execution of a Qing Dynasty official after the Xinhai Revolution, c1911.

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Executions in pre revolutionary China

An executioner, his sword and the results of his days work in a Canton prison.

Another executioner shows the result of his work.

After the executioner left.

This photograph supposedly shows the execution of some female students found guilty of anti state activity.

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Ludwigsburg Prison Museum

This is the first of two posts about the prison museum in Ludwigsburg,  a small town north of Stuttgart. A  building has been converted to a museum with two floors of exhibits. There are two guillotines and a number of other exhibits relating to capital punishment. The second post will cover exhibits relating to corporal punishment.

I do not read German so I am not sure if this guillotine was actually used at Ludwigsburg.

The rear of the guillotine, showing the splash guard and the tray for heads

A more basic guillotine from Moabit prison in Berlin

A list of executions

Print of an earlier method of decapitation

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