Another Executed Today entry by me: Robert “Rattlesnake” James, a serial killer who was hanged by the state of California in 1942. James earned his nickname by using rattlesnakes as one of his weapons of murder. The two snakes were presented as evidence during his trial, and one of them actually escaped during the lunch break.
They botched his hanging too.
This Executed Today entry is actually a few days old; I’d forgotten to post about it before: Eddie Leonski, an American serviceman who became known as the Brownout Strangler. He was an American serviceman serving in Australia during World War II, who strangled three women and attacked several others over the course of just a few weeks in the spring of 1942.
Fun fact, not mentioned in the entry: Ivan Chapman, who wrote a book about Leonski, speculated he had leptomeningitis, like Arnold Sodeman, another serial killer in Australia whom I wrote about on ET. Leptomeningitis, a degenerative disease of the brain, goes a long way to explaining Sodeman’s crimes and would fit Leonski’s pattern of behavior as well. But unlike Sodeman, Leonski wasn’t autopsied after his execution, so we’ll never know one way or the other.
…in a single post of mine on Executed Today. It’s another Holocaust one; you know that’s my specialty. All of them were Polish Jews, and hanged in pairs: two from the Sosnowiec Ghetto and two from the Bedzin Ghetto.
The father and son who died in Sosnowiec 71 years ago today have a cameo in Maus, Art Spiegelman’s famous graphic novel about the his father’s journey through the Holocaust. I read Maus for school over ten years ago, but I’ve just about forgotten it. I ought to pick it up again.
I wrote to the woman whose book was the principal source for the info in today’s entry. I told her about the entry, and also told her about an upcoming one that will cite her book as a source and quote from it. Speaking as the administrator as the Charley Project, thank-you notes mean a lot to me. I get them from family members, police officers, and sometimes even just random people who stumble across my site. I get two or three a week on average, I guess. (These communications far outnumber the critical emails I get or the emails from crazy people, but I don’t write about the thank-yous much because it sounds like I’m bragging or just out for my own glory or something, and I don’t think the thank yous are nearly as interesting to write about.) It boosts my spirits to know that my efforts are appreciated and I’m making a positive difference in the world. This isn’t the first time I’ve contacted a scholar to thank them for helping my Executed Today research; I figure they deserve to know they’re appreciated, too.
Also on executed on this day in 1942: Sergeant Anton Schmid, a German soldier who helped save Jews in Lithuania and was later honored as one of the Righteous Among the Nations. He saved hundreds of lives at the cost of his own. My Executed Today entry for him was posted two years ago.
And I’ll repeat last year’s tale of my favorite historical “prank”: Hersh Smolar, Jewish-Communist resistance leader in the Minsk Ghetto, faked his own death on this day 71 years ago to escape the Nazis. This plan would not have worked had the Nazis not been complete morons. This “a bloodstained identity card is good enough for us, we don’t need to see the body” business would not pass muster in a movie or a novel, but it worked flawlessly in real life.
WTG, Master Aryan Race. Snort.
Yesterday: Phillip Coleman in 1943, the last man hanged in Montana. He was executed for a vicious robbery-and-murder spree that left three people dead. Someone who knew more about the case than I said in the comments section that Coleman confessed 23 additional murders, but the confession has been lost and it isn’t known whether what he said was accurate or not.
Today: Meir Berliner and ten others at the Treblinka Extermination Camp in 1942. Berliner, a Jewish prisoner at the camp whose entire family had been gassed, murdered an officer in an act of suicidal revenge. He was killed for it, along with ten other inmates (and 150 more the next day) in the spirit of collective responsibility. But in an indirect a result of Berliner’s actions, a year later the inmates were able to launch a revolt and mass escape from the camp.
Executed today in 1942, commemorated by me: Irene Nemirovsky, a famous Jewish-Catholic Ukrainian-French author who was gassed in Auschwitz in spite of her conversion to Christianity.
Okay, here’s my contribution to April Fool’s Day: last year’s Executed Today entry. On April 1, 1942, the Nazis wanted a certain gentleman by the name of Hersh Smolar, who was hiding in the Minsk Ghetto. He’d been in charge of the resistance movement within the ghetto and had caused some serious annoyance. So the Nazis wanted to make an example of him and were prepared to kill anyone who stood in the way of their goal.
The Judenrat, however, remembered the Biblical story of Joseph and adapted it to modern times: they made up a passport for Smolar, smeared it with blood and took it to the Gestapo. They said they must have gotten him in a random shooting because the passport had been found on a body at the cemetery — a body that was so mutilated as to be completely unrecognizable, so the Germans needn’t bother looking at it.
And the Germans ACTUALLY BOUGHT THIS. Way to go, superior Aryan race!
Hersh Smolar lived to the ripe age of 88.
I had thought of including Jakub Lemberg on the list of two days ago, but decided against it since he was about to be profiled on Executed Today. When Lemberg was ordered to turn over ten Jews to be hanged, he instead produced himself, his wife and their kids. It was Hans Biebow who had them killed.
In 1947, after Biebow was himself hung for war crimes, a Jewish survivor of the Lodz Ghetto (which Biebow had been in charge of) performed the autopsy. Grinning all the while, I’m sure.
Sixty years ago today, five Jews were executed in the town of Sokal, Poland. (Now part of Ukraine.)
An aside: as I noted in the Executed Today entry, the diarist Moshe Maltz who was my source for the entry had his baby daughter killed by Nazis. The story of the baby’s death is worth telling as well: His wife and the baby were hiding in an attic during an Aktion while Nazis and Jewish policemen searched for hidden Jews. A Nazi sent a Jewish policeman up to the attic, who found them, but he came back down and lied and said there was no one there. At this point the baby cried out and the Nazi heard it and sent the Jewish policeman back up to get it. He told Moshe’s wife, “Look, I feel sorry for you, and I’ll let you go, but I’ve got to take that baby, he’s heard it already. You can go with it, or stay. I can say I found the baby abandoned up here.” And Moshe’s wife gave him the baby, and stayed, and lived. Moshe wrote that she had initially wanted to go with the baby, but decided to remain because she had another child to think about.
I wonder how many mothers would have had the courage — or was it cowardice — to remain in the attic. I wonder what decision I would have made, if I had been in her place. I wonder what Moshe thought of it all. He didn’t say.
…one Icchok or Izchok Malmed, a Jew from Bialystok, Poland, was executed for throwing acid in a Nazi’s face. Blinded and in pain, the Nazi reflexively fired his gun, killing one of his comrades. Malmed escaped the scene, but turned himself in after he found out the Germans planned to kill everyone in the ghetto in his place if he didn’t.
I have commemorated his death on Executed Today. It was a botched hanging: the rope broke, and they had to shoot him.