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Beheadings in the Third Reich

Discussions on the Holocaust and 20th Century War Crimes. Note that Holocaust denial is not allowed.
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Beheadings in the Third Reich

Postby mty on 04 Nov 2003 17:07

I just finished a great war novel by Svel Hassel titled 'Gestapo'. It was a fictional story about a liuetenant who was sentenced to death. He was beheaded in the prison yard. But it was in the 1940's. Officially beheadings in Germany ended in 1938 by Hitler's order. The execution in the novel was carried out like a ceremony - so it wasn't any sort of "secret method".

The executioner was a skilled professional, named Röttger (Roettger). http://www.dsha.k12.wi.us/harnack3.htm <- this document mentions an individual named Roettger who carried out the execution - is this only a coincidence or did Hassel use a real character in his novel? Any information available of this person (his military rank etc)?

Was that kind of execution in the early 40's only a product of top author Hassel's imagination or is there some historical proof showing that despite of Hitler's specific order the decapitation method was still used?

Any notable book covering the history of WWII or Germany doesn't mention these beheadings.
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Postby Marcus Wendel on 04 Nov 2003 20:21

I'm not sure if this what you are looking for, but members of the White Rose were executed by guillotine in 1943.

/Marcus
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Postby PolAntek on 04 Nov 2003 21:57

mty:

I recently finished reading “ I am First a Human Being” – a compilation of the prison letters of Krystyna Wituska – a young Polish resistance member who was captured by the Germans and executed by guillotine. A recommended book.
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Postby Peter H on 04 Nov 2003 22:16

From 1871 German law stated that all condemned criminals must be decapitated but allowed both the axe and the guillotine. The guillotine was also used in Greece, Switzerland and Sweden. Sweden used the guillotine once, in 1910, when Alfred Ander was executed for armed robbery. It was to be Sweden's last execution. During the Nazi period, 1933-1945, 20 guillotines were used in Germany and Austria (from 1938). Hitler considered it a demeaning form of punishment and used it for political executions. 20,000 had a date with Madame la Guillotine in 1942 and 1943.

It has been estimated that 16.000 persons, maybe as many as 20.000, were guillotined by the Nazis, more than were killed by the guillotine in France during the revolution. After the war, the guillotine was last used in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (West Germany) on May 11, 1949, when the murderer Berthold Wehmeyer was beheaded.

East Germany continued to use the guillotine for a few more years afterwards.


http://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/2275.html
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Postby Peter H on 04 Nov 2003 22:27

And its use at Plötzensee:

http://www.gedenkstaette-ploetzensee.de/02_e.html

On only one night, on 14 September 1943, 186 humans in Ploetzensee, Berlin, by the drop hatchet were executed. For the individual execution hardly more than 10 seconds time was stressed.

http://www.todesstrafe.de/inhalt/geschi ... seite5.htm
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Postby R.M. Schultz on 05 Nov 2003 03:49

…20 guillotines were used in Germany and Austria (from 1938). Hitler considered it a demeaning form of punishment and used it for political executions.


This is ironic as beheading is the aristocratic method of execution as it saves one from the "indignity" of hanging. The French Republic adopted the guillotine as an egalitarian measure, that is, to raise up the execution of all to the aristocratic form. Prussia (actually Brandenburg), having never had serfs, performed all executions by beheading. This became general throughout the Reich following the consolidation of the German Empire. The military form of execution, firing squad, also saves on from the "indignity," thus, if I remember correctly, the Generals convicted in complicity in the July 1944 Plot, were first expelled from the Army, and then hung, albeit from meat-hooks (which I doubt produced the "indignity").

Moulded wrote:And its use at Plötzensee: On only one night, on 14 September 1943, 186 humans in Ploetzensee, Berlin, by the drop hatchet were executed. For the individual execution hardly more than 10 seconds time was stressed.


I have seen footage of a Nazi-era guillotine. They are spring-loaded rather than gravity powered, and thus probably had a very fast action.
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Rottger, executioner

Postby fredric on 04 Dec 2004 04:20

Wilhelm (Willi) Freidrich Rottger served as the official executioner (scharfrichter) in Berlin. He was appointed to this post in 1943 when the Reich Ministry of Justice was increasing the number of state executioners (they had to pass examinations) throughout the Reich in order to meet the rapidly increased number of death sentences. I have been researching Rottger for years but have discovered only a few facts about him. He lived in the Moabit section of Berlin on the Waldstrasse, where he had a wagon repairshop and was considered a successful man. He was well-known in his roll as executioner and for his black sense of humor. He wore a three-quarter length coat or a jerkin, smoked constantly (a supply of cigarettes and brandy were provided to him) and was warned by the Reich Ministry to adopt more formal top hat and tails prescribed for executioners. He was paid 3000 marks per year and 80 marks per victim. Pastor Polchau ( in De Letzen Stunden) reports that Rottger performed 1399 executions in 1944 (Rottger's closest "competitor" was Johann Reichart of Munich who came in at 774) so would have made a considerable amount of money.I have not found a photograph of him and do not know what happened to him following the fall of Berlin. He executed the July 20th conspirators and many others. References to him can be seen in the Deutches Widerstand website/Plotzensee documents (see Brigit Oleschinski's Plotzensee Memorial Center booklet. I also believe an article titled "Rottger the Henker of 20th July" appeared in a magazine and continue to search for it. The fictional description of Rottger by author Paul West in West's book The Very Rich Life of Count Von Stauffenberg probably can be traced to one of his sources, Peter Hoffman, author of the book on resistance where Hoffman reports the observations of Sass, a cameraman who filmed Rottger in action during the July 20th executions. Rottger also is referenced in Richard Evan's landmark work, Rituals of Retribution and in Gostomski/Loch Der Tod Von Plotzensee.

As a hisorian focusing on the history of Nazi Germany's executioners and their craft, I have looked for Rottger's home or shop on the Waldstrasse to no avail and wonder if he left any legacy of his cruel work. Anyone having information about Rottger or other state executioners working during the NZ era is asked to please contact me.[/u]
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guillotine

Postby fredric on 04 Dec 2004 04:22

I am interested in the footage of the guillotine reported in this forum. Do you have any information or can you describe it? Why do you feel the guillotine was "spring-loaded"...a very interesting observation.
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beneadings

Postby fredric on 04 Dec 2004 04:31

Beheading was not ended in 1938 by Hitler. Decapitation by can be traced back centuries in Germany where the sword, hand axe and the guillotine were employed. In the 1936 Reich Minister of Justice Gurtner, acting upon Hitler's direction, ordered that the guillotine be the official method for all civil executions throughout Germany, replacing the the hand axe in states where it had been used. Additional guillotines (20) were built. The guillotine continued to be used until 1949 in West German and into the 1960's in the Eastern section.
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Postby fredric on 04 Dec 2004 04:43

The guillotinings reported for the night of Sept. 14, 1944 may be an error. 186 prisoners being held in Plotzensee were hanged on the night of Sept. 7, 1944. The guillotine had been damaged (burned) in air raid bombings by the British on the night of Sept. 3-4 so it was not in operation on Sept. 14 and Haus III (death house) section of Plotzensee was also damaged. To make room in the prison, the public prosecutor urged that the condemned be immediately executed either at Brandenburg-Gorden prison or hanged at Plotzensee. They were hanged at Plotzensee by executioner Reindel, not Rottger, and several prisoners were mistakenly put to death in this hasty action.
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Postby WalterS on 04 Dec 2004 06:17

According to Frederick Taylor, beheadings took place in Dresden as late as Feb 8 1945 (5 days before the (in)famous Dresden raid) when Dr. Margarete Blank, a former Communist who had been denounced in 1944 by a patient for making "demoralizing remarks," was executed by guillotine.

Taylor, "Dresden: Tuesday February 13 1945," p. 160
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Postby fredric on 04 Dec 2004 06:42

Yes, the Dresden beheadings are proof the guillotine was still in use near the war's end. In fact beheadings took place in Plotzensee-Berlin and in Brandenburg up to the fall of Berlin. A group of prisoners was beheaded at Brandenburg on Hitler's birthday, April 20, 1945 and the guillotine was operated by the prison staff. State executioners were either heading for the hills or still speeding around, making "house calls" at area prisons. Reichart, the most prolific Nazi executioner in terms of persons he killed, claims to have dumped his portable guillotine into the Danube during this time.
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Postby john h on 05 Dec 2004 22:08

to fredric go to http://www.geocities.com/epjacobs4/ns.htm this is the only picture of the guillotine used by the germans i have seen whether it is spring loaded or not i do not know
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Postby fredric on 06 Dec 2004 01:08

John, thanks for the reference.

The photo shown on the site you identified is a German version of Richard Clark's excellent site (http://www.richard.clark32binternet.co.uk) and well known to me because I identified the site of this photo for Mr. Clark and supplied him with some information. The photo shows the guillotine (fallbeil) at Prague's Pancraz (Pancras) Prison, an important picture because it documents clearly the mechanism and a Nazi execution chamber (note the hooks for hanging and the step-stool for the executioner). I understand the fallbeil is still on display at the prison. It was operated by Johann Baptist Reichart, NZ state executioner based in Munchen, who regularly travelled into Poland to carry out executions.

The fallbeil shown definately is not "spring-loaded". It worked much like the bigger, French guillotines but used a heavier blade and different release mechanism...the Nazi's improved the French design in the interest of speed and "mass production" beheading. Note that the fallbeil has no "bascule"...the hinged tip-board...in Nazi beheadings the victim was often just lifted or flung on the board, either face up or down.

I have heard about the Nazis using spring-loaded and an electrically-powered guillotines but have not found enough evidence to confirm what may fall into that vast tub of conjecture and hipe surrounding the Reich.
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exections by guillotine

Postby steve248 on 06 Dec 2004 19:00

Many of the Rote Kapelle captives were executed "durch das Fallbeil" (guillotine) at Strafgefängnis Plötzensee:

22 Dec 1942: 7 victims within 73 minutes including Libertas Schulze-Boysen; her husband Harro was hanged in the same prison an hour before her;
10 Feb 1943: one victim (Erwin Gehrts) ;
16 Feb 1943: one victim (Mildred Harnack);
13 May 1943: 12 victims (within 33 minutes)
5 Aug 1943: 16 victims (within 45 minutes)

Guillotine executions is queried for other victims at -
Zuchthaus Halle, one victim, 29 Oct 1943
ditto, one victim, 4 Feb 1944
Zuchthaus Brandenburg/Havel, one victim, 15 Nov 1943

source: Regina Griebel, Marlies Coburger, Heinrich Scheel, "Erfasst? Das Gestapo-Album zur Roten Kapelle. Eine Foto-Dokumentation", publ in association with the Gedenekstätte Deutscher Widerstand, audioscop,
Rendsburg/Germany, 1992 (pre ISBN). Still available secondhand from many German booksellers.
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