|Monday, 22 February 2010 16:21|
Born: 29 April 1893
Died: 26 April 1972
Cause of Death:
Notable because: Germany's 8th generation executioner who performed 3,165 executions, favoring the guillotine for its effectiveness. His personal life reflected the misery of his office. His son committed suicide and he had an unhappy life. He executed 21 year old Anti Nazi protestor Sophie Scholl.
Johann Reichhart was a German executioner. He kept detailed records of his work which amounted to 3,165 executions.
Johann Reichhart was born in Wichenbach near Wörth an der Donau into a family of executioners going back eight generations to the mid-eighteenth century which included his uncle Franz Xaver and his brother Michael. His career began in 1924 and spanned the time of the Weimar Republic and the Third Reich. Reichhart executed over 3,000 people, most of them during the period 1939 – 1945 when, according to his own records, 2,876 were put to death. In the latter years the executions were largely from heavy sentences handed down by the Volksgerichtshof (the People's Court) for political crimes such as treason, including Sophie and Hans Scholl of the German resistance movement White Rose. Most of these sentences were carried out by Fallbeil (meaning "drop hatchet", also known as the Fallschwert meaning "drop sword"), a shorter, largely metal re-designed German version of the French guillotine.
Despite the enormous workload he was asked to complete, Reichhart was very strict in his execution protocol, wearing the traditional German executioners' attire of black coat, white shirt and gloves, black bow-tie and top-hat (or zylinder). His work took him to many parts of occupied Europe including Poland and Austria. His request to the German government for permission to exceed the national speed limit while on his way to executions was denied.
He claimed during questioning that, toward the end of the war, as the allied armies closed in, he disposed of his mobile fallbeil in a river.
Following VE Day, Reichhart, who was a member of the Nazi Party, was arrested and imprisoned in Landsberg for the purposes of de-nazification but not tried for carrying out his duty of judicial executioner. He was subsequently employed by the Occupation Authorities until the end of May 1946, to help execute 156 Nazi war criminals at Landsberg am Lech by hanging. He cooperated with Allied chief-executioner Master Sergeant John C. Woods in the preparations for further executions of those found guilty and sentenced to death at the Nuremberg Trial.
Reichhart is generally considered to have carried out more executions than any other practitioner; however, this is not the case. The most prolific executioner in all of recorded history was Vasili Blokhin, a Soviet Major General, who executed 7,000 prisoners in twenty-eight days, more than doubling Reichart's lifetime total.
Reichart sought to reduce the time taken during an execution and to make the suffering of the condemned as short as possible. In view of this aim, he was instrumental in removing the tilting body board of the fallbeil and relying on a fixed bench to which the condemned were physically restrained by two or three assistant executioners, thus removing the time consuming act of buckling straps around the condemned's body. This shortened the elapsed time of the decapitation to only three or four seconds.
Reichhart's office made him a lonely and disliked person, even after abolition of the death penalty in West Germany in 1949. His marriage failed, and his son Hans committed suicide in 1950 due to the association with his father's previous profession.
When, in 1963 there were public demands, during a series of taxi driver murders, for the re-introduction of the death penalty in West Germany, Reichhart was vocal in his support for this legislation. He also maintained that the preferred method should be the guillotine as it was the fastest and cleanest method of execution.
Reichhart died in Dorfen near Erding in 1972.
Tod durch das Fallbeil: Der deutsche Scharfrichter Johann Reichhart (1893-1972) (Bayerische Biographien)
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