British Pathe lets the public view horrific images of wartime death row executions for the first time

His hands were sweaty and bound behind his back. His face was covered with blindfold. His body then convulsed as bullets pierced through his torso.

The man was among the Germans killed in a firing squad by forces of the US military just outside the town of Braunschweig, Germany in 1945 for suspicions of being a spy. Two of the alleged spies who were lined up the abandoned quarry were simply members of the Hitler youth. They were just 16 and 17 years old. They were executed by firing squad. Their bodies were then dragged into the coffins which were in the ground nearby.

This scene is one of the several other images that show the horror of the death row during conflict from across the globe. The images were released by British Pathe. According to the film archive, “While Pathe didn’t shy away from screening very real and very harrowing footage of say the Holocaust; films showing someone’s life end by execution were not generally shown to the public.

‘However, on occasion these events were filmed but went straight to archive. ‘Capital punishment has been carried out in almost all societies and although these films of execution may make for shocking viewing, they still provide a raw, unedited account of events from a certain time.” In another one of the images, a scene shows British officers and soldiers escorting General Shampei of the Japanese Army in his final walk to his execution post.

The Japanese general was charged with crimes involving the murder of Australian prisoners of war. The firing squad were composed of volunteers of the Northamptonshire Regiment. In the archives, another footage shows the historical scene of the hanging of Nazi General Kurt Daluege. He was charged and found guilty of war crimes. He was hanged in 1946 at Pankrác prison in Prague before a crowd of people. 

Daluege was a Vice-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia during the Nazi era occupation. He was tasked of carrying out orders including the razing of the village of Licide to the ground and commanding the murder of all the adults in the village of Ležáky. The women and children of the village were transported to Nazi concentration camps.

The Daily Mail reports that another one of the most graphic and harrowing scenes is a clip from 1911 which shows the death row during the Italo-Turkish War. It shows a mass execution where 12 lifeless bodies hanged from the gallows.

The archives did not contain any information of who the men were and what crimes they were supposed to have committed. But during the war, the Italian authorities were known to have adopted many tyrannical methods against the rebels. These included public hangings in retaliation for ambushes.



Siegphyl is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE