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Executions in 2006 in some countries, according to Amnesty International
Number of executions in the United States, 1608-2009

An execution is the intentional killing of a contained in the power of Hinrich Tenden captured people, mostly as a prison by the judiciary of a country's outspoken condemnation of the death penalty . If people are unlawfully killed by government agencies, they are extrajudicial executions . The term is also used in a broader sense for the killing of a person by persons, groups or organizations not authorized by the government , for example in connection with terrorism or crime .

Types of execution

The modes of execution or death should not be confused with the mode or cause of death . For example, drowning leads to drowning.

The following methods were or are used for execution:


To the knowledge of Amnesty International, the following methods of execution have been used to carry out the death penalty since 2000 :


A condemned Chinese man kneeling in front of his grave waits to be beheaded by the Japanese executioner (Tientsin, China, 1901)
Execution of the four Lincoln conspirators on the gallows (1865)
Execution with the Garrotte in Bilibid Prison in Manila, Philippines (1901)

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  • Damnatio ad bestias (in the Roman Empire) and other types of execution using animals as a means:
  • Damnatio ad ferrum
    • Hopeless struggle of the convicts against each other until the death of all delinquents
    • futile fight of the convicted person against a regular gladiator ( damnatio ad gladium )

Symbolic execution

In some cases the spectacle of a public execution is performed without actually killing anyone:

  • If the victim is already dead (posthumous execution), it happened, for example, with the English politician Oliver Cromwell .
  • If the victim was not in the power of the state institutions, heretics who had fled the Spanish Inquisition were often burned in effigy , i.e. in the form of a straw doll. Even today, at radicalized political rallies, the burning or hanging of dolls depicting particularly hated people can sometimes be observed. Another example of this is the nubble burning in the Rhenish carnival .

Apparently, in such cases, the propaganda effect of the execution, i.e. the drastic representation of the displeasure of the executing party towards the executed person, is still present as a deterrent or unifying community experience.

See also: Mock execution


Occidental development

In the course of history, some of many methods of executing the death penalty have prevailed over the long term, have succeeded one another, or have been and are being practiced in parallel. In the ancient Orient , stoning was mostly common, which was carried out by a collective - usually the clan or the tribe. Prosecutors were later asked to throw the first stones at the victim in order to underline their legitimate charges and to make perjury more difficult in the trial. In Iran, stoning for adultery is still partially practiced by the state today.

The Roman Empire replaced collective family law with a state law. Here the crucifixion was the usual form of execution for runaway slaves, criminals without Roman citizenship and insurgents. Enemies of the state or high traitors were often strangled or (less often) beheaded in the Carcer Tullianus of the city of Rome, then, as at the crucifixion, publicly displayed on the Gemonian Staircase , dragged through the city and thrown into the Tiber .

The European Middle Ages did not keep the crucifixion because of the Christian belief in the crucified Jesus Christ , but invented many new methods for it. For particularly serious crimes, hanging, strangling with a rope or wheels were common. " Heretics " were often burned alive at the stake, usually choking on the smoke before they burned. Initially, this punishment was strictly limited by law and therefore rare, but was used excessively in some countries and times, for example during the Spanish Inquisition and above all in the persecution of witches from the end of the 15th century. Decapitation by the sword was reserved for nobles or other privileged convicts.

At that time executions were carried out by a single official appointed for this purpose, the executioner or executioner . This - also known as "Master Hans" - was outlawed along with his family in many cultures. Contact with him was avoided and he was at the lowest social level, although the frequent death sentences were publicly celebrated as a regular popular spectacle.

Modern processes followed technical progress. In France, the guillotine was introduced as a mechanical form of beheading in 1792 and spread from there to Europe. Since the invention of firearms, there has also been shooting. Since around 1890, the strand also prevailed. In the 20th century the gas chamber, the electric chair and, more recently, lethal injection (lethal lethal injection) were added.

Modern states often distribute the execution among several people and thus hide the individual responsibility for it, for example through the automatic triggering of a guillotine, a shooting peloton or a random generator as in the execution chambers of the USA: two or three executors operate different switches, only one of them one lets the deadly poison flow into the veins of the condemned. So the killing cannot be attributed to any individual. During the First World War , the number of executions of civilians increased significantly. In eastern and south-eastern Europe in particular, thousands of civilians accused of espionage or treason were executed without trial. Only recently have these events been studied historically.


1771 leaflet about an execution

In the Middle Ages , forms of torture were also used that eventually led to death .

The individual methods of execution are mostly assigned to specific offenses, occasionally in the form of mirror sentences . Mere pleasure in cruelty probably played a significantly smaller role than the unbiased, modern view of the legal practice of the Middle Ages pretends. Death sentences were often carried out in public less cruelly than they actually were. Narcotics were used in torture, divine judgment and so-called exacerbated execution. The Retentum , a mitigation that was inserted in the form of a secret clause in the sentence could, for example, determine that the addition Directing was to strangle secretly before the wheels of the witch should hanged or before burning a bag of gunpowder around the neck of the The person to be executed will be given an anesthetic. A "tumbling cup" as an act of grace is already mentioned in the Bible book Proverbs (31, 6 f.) And at Christ's crucifixion (myrrh or bile wine) ( Lexicon of the Middle Ages, Vol. 1, Col. 2083).

The last known example of the method of execution of beating the limbs with iron clubs is described in the Hanoverian of October 10, 1828. In retaliation for the greed-committed murder of his father and sister, Andreas Christoph Beinhorn from Grone was dragged on a cow skin to the place of execution and there, on the Leineberg in Göttingen , publicly whacked up from below - as a contemporary leaflet says - "with clubs smashed and then braided his body on the bike ”(if only for a day).

The last public execution in the city of Würzburg took place on November 2, 1850. The 30-year-old robbery murderer Heinrich Schuhmann from Hofstetten was beheaded with a sword “in front of a countless crowd” . Since 1851, public execution has been repealed in all German states. The last two public executions took place on October 14, 1864 in Marburg and on October 21, 1864 in Greiz .

In the German Reich the execution took place in an enclosed room. Two persons from the court of first instance, a clerk, a prison officer and a representative of the public prosecutor were required to attend . The place where the execution took place was able to park twelve honorable citizens who could voluntarily attend the execution. These were supposed to represent the public that used to be common, but which was accompanied by many unpleasant side effects. The defense attorney and other persons ( clergy , relatives) could also attend the execution upon request. A protocol was always to be taken of the process. The body of the executed man was to be handed over to the relatives, who had to bury it without any major ceremony.

In order to be able to carry out executions secretly and in large numbers, central execution sites were set up in the Third Reich from 1937 onwards, which existed at specially selected execution locations in the form of a multi-room execution wing with a fixed guillotine until 1945.

On February 18, 1949, the 28-year-old robbery murderer Richard Schuh was executed with the guillotine in Tübingen . This was the penultimate execution ordered by a West German court. Then on May 9, 1949, the two murderers Robert Amelung and Peter Steinhauer were beheaded in Hamburg. Two weeks later, on May 23, 1949, the death penalty was abolished in West Germany with the promulgation of the Basic Law .

The last death sentence in West Berlin was carried out on May 11, 1949 against the 24-year-old robbery murderer Berthold Wehmeyer . Since the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany did not extend to West Berlin until 1990, a separate law to abolish the death penalty was required here, which came into force on January 20, 1951.

Regardless of this, other executions were carried out on West German soil, most of them by the German executioner Johann Reichhart , who was in the service of the US occupation authorities. In the Landsberg War Crimes Prison , under US orders from 1946 to 1958, a total of 285 of a total of 308 war criminals sentenced to death were hanged from 1945 to 1951 , the last seven on June 7, 1951, including Oswald Pohl , Otto Ohlendorf and Werner Braune .

The last non-military death sentence in the GDR was carried out on September 15, 1972 against child murderer Erwin Hagedorn from Eberswalde .

Probably the last execution in Germany took place on June 26, 1981 in the GDR in the execution site in the prison on Alfred-Kästner-Straße in Leipzig : The 39-year-old Stasi captain Werner Teske , who was accused of fooling around with files Wanting to sell the West ( espionage offense ) was executed by the "unexpected close-range shot". Here the public prosecutor announced the two sentences to the completely unsuspecting: “ The pardon has been rejected. Your execution is imminent . ”Thereupon the last German executioner, Hermann Lorenz , stepped up unnoticed from behind and without further ado shot Teske in the back of the head with an army pistol. Lorenz carried out about twenty executions in this way and was later promoted to major .


Executions in Austria were carried out into the 19th century with the aim of deterring the public. The people, however, experienced this event as a change in everyday life. The last public execution after due process in Vienna took place on May 30, 1868, when the 23-year-old robbery murderer Georg Ratkay , who had received his conviction on May 28, 1868, came to the gallows . At the place of execution at the spinner on the cross, a grandstand collapsed. Since this public execution also ended with fights and drunks, all other executions in Vienna were carried out in the "Galgenhof" of the regional court . From 1870 at the latest, the choking algae was used there as a state-approved execution device. The executions later in the First World War 1914–1918 by the military were civil .

The death penalty was abolished in Austria between 1918 and 1933, but was reintroduced during the corporate state on November 11, 1933 via martial law. The choking algae again served as the execution device . Between 1933 and the "Anschluss" to the German Reich in 1938, over 40 people were executed in Austria .

Even in the first years after the re-establishment of the republic in 1945, people were sentenced to death and executed. The death penalty could be imposed by Austrian courts as well as courts of the occupying powers . There were separate people's courts for sentencing crimes under the War Crimes Act and the Prohibition Act , which passed a total of 43 death sentences, of which 30 were carried out. The last execution took place under Austrian law on March 24, 1950: On this day, the murderer was Johann Trnka in the Regional Court Vienna Criminal hanged. The last execution after a death sentence by the Allied occupation authorities took place in Austria in February 1955.


In civil criminal law in Switzerland , beheading by the sword has been the common method of execution since early modern times. From 1798, the guillotine was also used, with individual cantons giving the convicts the choice between guillotine and sword. The last beheadings by the sword were carried out on July 6, 1867 in Lucerne to Niklaus Emmenegger and on January 10, 1868 in Moudon to Héli Freymond .

The last person sentenced to death in a civil criminal trial was the 32-year-old three-time murderer Hans Vollenweider who died under the guillotine in Sarnen ( Canton Obwalden ) on October 18, 1940 .

Swiss military criminal law continued to provide for the death penalty for treason during wartime. On this basis, 30 people were sentenced to death in World War II ; 17 of them were executed by shooting by the end of the war. A case of such an execution is the subject of the film The Shooting of the Traitor Ernst S. On March 20, 1992, this article of the law was abolished by the Federal Assembly following a parliamentary initiative by National Councilor Massimo Pini of the Free Democratic Party ( Canton Ticino ).

Social evaluation

Different methods of execution are valued differently by society. While some should deliberately humiliate the convict, others such as shooting in the military are considered honorable. Such terms of honor are also behind the voluntary suicides of those sentenced to death, for example as Seppuku (better known under the colloquial but incorrect term “Harakiri”) in ancient Japan. Because of this symbolic link between the mode of death and the final judgment of the executioner, the law almost always prescribes which execution method stands for which crime and how a death sentence must be carried out. The prevailing idea here is to retaliate a “minor” crime with a “minor” form of execution, a crime that is considered less serious with a supposedly “dignified” type of killing. Where such a differentiation is made, the state law on the death penalty is usually assumed without reservation.

In Germany , beheading for executions had been a legal requirement since the 19th century. It was carried out in the individual states by either the guillotine or the hand ax. Only capital crimes were punishable by shooting. It was not until the time of National Socialism that certain crimes were hanged as a particularly dishonorable type of execution, for example for concentration camp prisoners, "traitors" and conspirators such as the assassins of July 20, 1944 .

Execution as a phrase

Especially in the current usage of the media , the saying has established itself that someone has been “downright executed”. The meaning , changed to the opposite, says that the victim was not convicted and killed as a result of a legal and at best constitutional procedure, but that the type of killing shows a certain external similarity to the execution, especially with regard to the defenselessness of the victim.

See also


  • Richard J. Evans : Publicity and Authority. On the history of executions in Germany from general land law to the Third Reich. In: Heinz Reif (Ed.): Robbers, People and Authorities. Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt 1984, ISBN 3-518-28053-8 , pp. 185 ff.
  • Jost Auler (Ed.): Place of execution archeology . Archaeotopos, Dormagen 2008, ISBN 978-3-938473-07-8 .
  • Anton Holzer : The executioner's smile. The unknown war against the civilian population 1914–1918. With numerous previously unpublished photographs. Primus Verlag, Darmstadt 2008, ISBN 978-3-89678-338-7 .
  • Thomas Waltenbacher: Central execution sites . The execution of the death penalty in Germany from 1937–1945. Executioner in the Third Reich. Zwilling-Berlin, Berlin 2008, ISBN 978-3-00-024265-6 .
  • Matthias Blazek: About criminal justice in Lüneburg in the second half of the 19th century. In: Journal of legal contemporary history , issue 2/2010, ed. v. Thomas Vormbaum. De Gruyter, Hagen 2010, ISSN  1863-9984 , p. 67 ff.
  • Matthias Blazek: His Majesty's executioners beheaded far more people than expected - New justifications for the death penalty / findings from the files of the Public Prosecutor's Office in the Lower Saxony State Archives. In: Journal of legal contemporary history , issue 3/2010, ed. v. Thomas Vormbaum, De Gruyter, Hagen 2010, ISSN  1863-9984 , p. 118 ff.

Web links

Wiktionary: execution  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Executions  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Amnesty International: http://www.amnesty.org/ (English).
  2. Der Spiegel , number 20/2009, p. 142.
  3. Der Spiegel , number 20/2009, p. 142.
  4. www.todesstrafe.de: Matzzatello .
  5. ^ Roasting: Punishments in Russia on lexikus.de and punishment of privateers from "History of the defection of the Netherlands by the Spanish government".
  6. ^ Roland Villeneuve: Cruelty and Sexuality. Rixdorfer Verlagsanstalt, Berlin 1988, page 46.
  7. ^ Friedrich Merzbacher : The witch trials in Franconia. 1957 (= series of publications on Bavarian national history. Volume 56); 2nd, extended edition: CH Beck, Munich 1970, ISBN 3-406-01982-X , p. 108.
  8. ↑ In detail: Matthias Blazek: Executioners in Prussia and in the German Empire 1866–1945. Ibidem, Stuttgart 2010, ISBN 978-3-8382-0107-8 , p. 111 ff.
  9. ↑ In detail: Matthias Blazek: The practice of crushing limbs with iron clubs was still used in this country until 1828. In: Südniedersachsen - Journal for Regional Research and Home Care , Volume 38, 3 / September 2010, p. 72 ff.
  10. Oberpfälzisches Zeitblatt, Wednesday, November 6, 1850. See Sybille Grübel: Timeline for the history of the city from 1814–2006. In: Ulrich Wagner (Hrsg.): History of the city of Würzburg. 4 volumes, Volume I-III / 2, Theiss, Stuttgart 2001-2007; III / 1–2: From the transition to Bavaria to the 21st century. Volume 2, 2007, ISBN 978-3-8062-1478-9 , pp. 1225-1247; here: p. 1228.
  11. Blazek: About criminal justice. P. 67. Matthias Blazek: Murder and Atonement - The trial of the shoemaker Ludwig Hilberg , who was executed in front of a large audience in 1864 . Ibidem, Stuttgart 2017, ISBN 978-3-8382-1147-3 .
  12. Matthias Blazek: "70 years ago one of the last death sentences in West Germany was carried out in Tübingen" , MyHeimat.de, accessed on April 14, 2019.
  13. Olaf Wunder: "These are the last hamburgers that ended up on the guillotine" , Hamburger Morgenpost , March 24, 2019.
  14. ^ Friedrich Scholz: Berlin and its justice. The history of the higher court district from 1945 to 1980 . Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1988 ISBN 978-3-11-090213-6 , p. 88 (accessed via De Gruyter Online).
  15. ^ Thomas Raithel: Landsberg am Lech prison. in the Historical Lexicon of Bavaria .
  16. “The longer the executions dragged on, the louder the voices calling for an end to the executions became. There was a broad political alliance for requests for clemency. In November 1950, all parties in the town and district of Landsberg published a resolution asking for mercy for the war criminals. ”“ On January 7, 1951, the members of the Bundestag spoke with Dr. Richard Jäger (CSU) and Dr. Seelos (BP) and members of the state parliament from both parties at a rally on Landsberger Hauptplatz. Several thousand people attended this demonstration. The rally ended in scandal when Jewish DPs from the Lechfeld camp held a counter-demonstration in memory of the victims. Despite all the sympathy of the population for the perpetrators, there were no efforts to help the victims of National Socialism. On January 31, 1951, John McCloy, the American High Commissioner, and General Thomas T. Handy, the Commander in Chief of the American Forces in Europe, decided on the appeals for clemency. [...] A number of prominent prisoners - for example Alfried Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach and Wilhelm Speidel - [were] released on mercy as early as 1951. "
  17. ^ The course of an execution in Austria .
  18. wien.gv.at .
  19. ^ Trials: People's Courts . On: www.nachkriegsjustiz.at .
  20. ^ Peter Noll : traitor to the country. 17 CVs and death sentences 1942–1944 . ISBN 978-3-7193-0681-6 .