At the risk of perpetuating a myth, the 13th did indeed prove unlucky for today’s unsavoury individual.
There was once an unwritten rule that if you cheated death during execution in earlier centuries, then you walked free. Not so in the 20th century and certainly not in the case of Amon Leopold Göth, who hit the gallows on this day in 1946, in one of the most protracted deaths on our site.
Just the mere mention of his name is enough to spark dread in anyone with an ounce of compassion. Let’s not forget how he redefined depravity with his sadistic methods fuelled by his appointment as commandant of one of Poland’s most gruesome concentration camps – Płaszów, in Krakow.
Göth was a monster, plain and simple. With no sense of humanity, he wielded the power vested in him as leader of his labour camp, and used it to obliterate literally thousands of inmates.
Indeed, he was about as hands-on as they got, responsible for pulling the trigger on around 9,000 innocent Jews himself, shrouded in his genocidal blood-lust.
This is perfectly illustrated by Ralph Fiennes’s Oscar-nominated1 portrayal in Steve Spielberg’s Oscar-winning ‘Schindler’s List’, which famously brought Göth into present-day consciousness. Who can forget the scene where Fiennes takes a carefree pot-shot at one of the camp’s inmates from his balcony?
Not only was Göth hell-bent on exterminating Jews, it was clear he was in it to get rich after he was found caught up in a web of black-market activity.
He was deeply entrenched in a complex embezzlement scam, along with fellow commandant Karl Otto Koch, who was 1st Commandant initially of a German camp in Buchenwald and later of Madjanek in Lublin, Poland.
Along with others, they were guilty of a varying mix of forgery, insubordination, mismanagement of camps, and, above all, siphoning off riches, especially those confiscated from Jews.
With twisted logic, the Third Reich branded the men thieves, because all goods commandeered through whatever means immediately became state-owned by the Nazis.
Koch on the block
Damning evidence emerged and Koch’s neck was first to go on the block after the syphilitic man was found guilty of double murder. He was dumped in front of a firing squad before the close of the war on 5 April 1945, according to ‘The Third Reich, a Revolution of Ideological Inhumanity, Volume II’, by Everette Lemons.
So Göth would have stood trial had he not dodged his first date with death. For the Allies were blowing the Germans out of the water in what has turned out to be the bloodiest war ever to have broken out in modern times.
In the midst of such a shattering defeat, the Nazis hurriedly dismissed all charges and Göth was released only to be caught again, this time by the Allies and forced to face trial for his more heinous war crimes.
Naturally he was found guilty and, fittingly, he was to be executed not far from the very site where he had killed and authorised the mass extermination of countless innocents.
But his was not a quick exit. The executioner tasked with stringing him up miscalculated the length of rope needed to dispatch him…twice.
So, in a long and protracted process, Göth took centre stage three times as they attempted to hang him. On the last attempt the executioners were successful, and Göth expired, aged 37.
Other Nazis met a similar fate during the early days of the Nuremberg Trials, including Anton Mussert and Adolf Eichman.
However, many key Nazis followed and they too were sentenced to death. In terms of who was best equipped to carry out those consequent hangings, there was only one man for the job.
Albert Pierrepoint was chief executioner in a mass post-war dispatch. He made quick work of the likes of the Beast of Belsen and 22-year-old Irma Grese, all with consummate ease. Watch out for their stories later in the year.
It’s widely understood that Pierrepoint was of the opinion that anyone who had paid this ultimate price had atoned for their crimes and should be respected in death. Yet, in these particular cases, the Nazis we describe never exhibited any such humanity with regard to others’ lives or deaths.
1 Ralph didn’t win his particular Oscar though because the Hollywood glitterati thought Tommy Lee Jones was better in ‘The Fugitive’. Which could almost have featured in our Top 10 Movie Executions list if it wasn’t for the fact that Harrison Ford’s character (Dr Richard Kimble) solved his wife’s murder before the sentence of death (by lethal injection) was administered. But we listed ‘Schindler’s List’ so, hopefully, this makes Ralph feel better.
Also on this day
13 September 1806 – James Stockton
13 September 1823 – Edward Clarke
13 September 1924 – Howard Henson
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