The law of war regulating the conduct and conditions of warring parties is often forgotten in times of absolute terror. Violation of principles can range from intentionally killing prisoners or civilians to rape and torture. The following list examines key figures in history that committed such acts resulting in the ultimate punishment of death. Though their names may be unfamiliar, their actions will forever resonate in history.
10 Vojtech Tuka
When Jozef Tiso came to power in October 1939 as President of the First Slovak Republic, he did not hesitate to appoint Vojtech Tuka as Prime Minister. Tuka – a lawyer, journalist, and fascist politician – made a name for himself early on by implementing comprehensive domestic anti-Semitic laws. His favorite pastime, however, was overseeing the mass deportation of Slovak Jews to concentration camps. As the years passed and exterminations mounted, Tuka found himself in rapidly declining health. After suffering a stroke late in the war, a wheelchair-bound Tuka immigrated to Austria where he was arrested a short time later and promptly deported back to Slovakia. Throughout his trial by the postwar Czechoslovakian government, Tuka would suffer several more strokes causing partial paralysis. In spite of various severe medical ailments, the fascist Nazi was shown no mercy and rightfully so, having thrown Slovakia into war against the Soviet Union. On August 20, 1946, the 66-year-old condemned war criminal was wheeled in his chair to gallows for the noose that awaited him; quite a charming end for a monster that relished the agony and bereavement of others.
9 Taha Yassin Ramadan
Amid looming conflict between the United States and Iraq in 2002, Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan had an unusual proposal. He believed that in order to avoid war, President George W. Bush and Saddam Hussein should settle their differences with a duel, specifically stating, “A president against a president and vice president against a vice president and a duel takes place. And in this way, we’re saving the American and Iraqi people. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan should referee.” As one could imagine, Bush was not thrilled with the idea and declined the kind offer.
Two years later, Ramadan would be captured by American forces and tried before the Iraqi High Tribunal (IHT) for crimes against humanity. He was ultimately sentenced to life in prison in November 2006; however, the IHT prosecutor saw the punishment as too merciful. Days later, the IHT Appellate Chamber ordered the Trial Chamber to re-sentence Ramadan resulting in his execution by hanging on March 20, 2007, the fourth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.
8 William Joyce
One of the most recognizable broadcasters during WWII, William Joyce – “Lord Haw-Haw” – was an American-born fascist living in Germany in 1939. His knack of public speaking drew the attention of Joseph Goebbels who recruited Joyce for his own radio show with the intention of having a foreign fascist spread Nazi propaganda to Allied countries. By 1940, Joyce had six million regular listeners (eighteen million occasional) tuning in to broadcasts focused on inciting distrust among the British public towards their government. Goebbels was so pleased with Joyce’s popularity that he wrote in his diary, “I tell the Führer about Lord Haw-Haw’s success, which is really astonishing.” By the spring of 1940, Joyce’s rhetoric became direr, threatening Britain with invasion and urging the country to surrender. Lord Haw-Haw’s voice on the airwaves came to an end in May 1945 when he was captured by British forces and transported to England to stand trial. Seeing as Joyce served Nazi Germany during the war, the court concluded that he committed high treason and sentenced him to death. On January 3, 1945, Joyce was hanged at Wandsworth Prison making him the last person to be executed for high treason in the United Kingdom.
7 Carmen Mory
Carmen Mory – ‘The Devil’—was a Swiss native who moved to Berlin in 1933. Soon after she became close to propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels who led the way to her becoming a Gestapo agent. In 1940, Mory was arrested in France following a bungled murder attempt of a newspaper editor. Having originally been sentenced to death, Mory was released on the condition that she would spy for the French. Shortly after, the Gestapo became wary and arrested her for being a double agent. She was sent to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp where she was selected to be a Blockova (one in charge of prisoners in their block). There she relished in her power denied to others, beginning a sadistic path of torture and murder. From daily beatings to administering lethal injections, Mory’s favorite pastime was dousing prisoners of the “lunatic room” with buckets of freezing water. At the end of the war, she was released from Ravensbrück only to be rearrested by Allied authorities after learning of her atrocious activities in Block 10. Having been found guilty on charges of torture and murder, Mory was sentenced to hang but beat the hangman at his own game when she killed herself with a razor on April 9, 1947, one week before her scheduled execution.
6 Julius Streicher
As one of the earliest members of the Nazi party, Julius Streicher was notoriously known for his fierce anti-Semitic rhetoric which undoubtedly endeared him to Hitler. In fact, his personal association with the mad man was so strong that Hitler valued him as his protégé. By May 1945, however, all hope was lost for Streicher finding himself in the captivity of American forces.
Subsequent to the Nuremberg trials of October 1946, Streicher was brought to a small prison gym where he would meet a remarkably agonizing end. As the trapdoor opened, a defiant Streicher plunged out of sight, yet, was far from dead. Seeing as his neck failed to snap, the propagandist Nazi “swung violently and groaned in pain as he struggled for air” for minutes on end. Many believed that the shoddy execution was intentional by hangman Master Sgt. John C. Woods, arguing that Woods did not want to be outshined by Streicher’s infamous flair for the dramatics. Brimming with confidence, the Kansas native boasted to Time magazine about his efficiency in killing following the hanging stating, “I wasn’t nervous. A fellow can’t afford to have nerves in this business.”
5 Champ Ferguson
Known as a “gambling, rowdyish, drinking, fighting, quarrelsome man”, Confederate guerrilla leader Champ Ferguson ranged throughout the Tennessee-Kentucky border leaving a trail of bloodshed throughout. Of the countless victims Ferguson slaughtered—some legitimate acts of combat—most were Union soldiers sought out for personal vendettas. Union men he took prisoner – be it soldiers or civilians – were often found shot or stabbed through the heart with Ferguson’s beloved Bowie knife. In some cases, decapitation was preferred. In 1864, Ferguson’s guerrilla band successfully fought off a Federal cavalry attack. The following day he hunted down the wounded at a hospital where he shot them as they lay helpless, now known as the Saltville Massacre. Ferguson’s four years of carnage came to an end when he was captured on May 26, 1865. Believing he would be paroled as other guerrillas who surrendered, the Federal government singled him out on charges of murder. With his wife and 16-year-old daughter in attendance for the crowded spectacle, the guerrilla leader was led to the gallows and hanged on October 20, a death much more civil than what he granted his victims.
4 Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant
In Southern Africa in October 1899, the Boers declared war on Britain in response to a British raid following the discovery of diamonds and gold in Boer-occupied regions. Being part of the British Empire, Australia provided 16,000 volunteer troops, one of whom being Lieutenant Harry ‘Breaker’ Morant. As the war waged, both sides began using guerilla tactics further mounting the body count. When Morant’s commanding officer became a casualty, the ‘womanizing horse-breaker’ retaliated with a series of revenge killings of Boer civilians and POWs. In August 1901, eight Boers approached Morants camp to surrender. Instead, Morant had them executed on the spot. Shortly after, Morant killed three Boer POWs followed by Reverend Heese – a German missionary – after witnessing the execution of prisoners. Morant was arrested in September 1901 and convicted the following year of murdering 12 prisoners; incidentally, he was acquitted of the Reverend’s murder. On February 27, 1902, Lt. ‘Breaker’ took his last breath before a firing squad. In spite of being a murderer, Australians were shocked that Britain would execute an Aussie without first consulting with the Australian government. To date, Morant remains a folk hero by the Australian public given the controversy surrounding his trial and execution.
3 Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti
In the early hours of January 15, 2007, Saddam Hussein’s half-brother and head of secret police, Barzan Ibrahim Hassan al-Tikriti, was sent to the gallows for his role in the 1982 torture and execution of scores of Shiites. Due to a serious miscalculation by the hangman, a surreal and freakish scene transpired as the gallows trapdoor opened; the separation of Ibrahim’s head from his body. What resulted was an unnerved Maliki government with Sunni Arab loyalists claiming that Ibrahim had been deliberately decapitated as an act of revenge and insult to the Sunni Muslim world. In spite of the readiness to blame the United States, scores of Basra residents took to the streets in celebration honking car horns and waving Iraqi flags. According to an Iraqi staff member, many citizens throughout the country believed that the incident occurred as a result of God’s punishment for Ibrahim’s crimes stating that it was “An expression of what a bad man he was during his life.”
2 Irma Grese
Having been one of the most sadistic Nazi guards in WWII, the name Irma Grese will forever be synonymous with evil. Nicknamed “the Hyena of Auschwitz”, Grese rapidly ascended to the rank of senior SS supervisor where she unleashed her lethal viciousness upon prisoners. From kicking prisoners with her hobnailed jackboots, constant whippings, to having her dog viciously maul the sick and defenseless, Grese had a particularly sick fondness for striking women on their breasts. When it came time to select who was headed for the gas chamber, Grese intentionally selected the beautiful female prisoners out of jealousy and spite. She even went as far as raping countless inmates, all the while forcing Jewish girls to be her lookout. She savored every moment of torture and kept trophies in the form of lampshades made from the skin of three dead prisoners. When Grese was arrested by the British in the spring of 1945, she was charged with numerous war crimes to which she pled not guilty. Due to the testimony of Grese’s surviving victims and witnesses, she was convicted and sentenced to death. On December 13, 1945, Grese became the youngest woman hanged under British law during the 20th century at the age of 22.
1 Edith Cavell
Edith Cavell, one of the most prominent nurses in history, was anything but a criminal. Upon graduating in 1907, she moved from London to Brussels where she trained thousands of nurses until 1914 when Belgium came under German military law. Soon after, Cavell began harboring wounded British and French soldiers – including civilians – smuggling many of them into Holland, a neutral country. After being betrayed by a Frenchman in August 1915, Cavell unapologetically confessed to sheltering and transporting some 60 British soldiers, 15 French soldiers, and 100 French and Belgian citizens. Offering no defense, Cavell was sentenced to death despite the German civil governor’s recommendation for leniency given her humanitarian work. On October 12, 1915, Cavell was executed by a firing squad which sparked disgust amongst the West, incidentally easing America’s entry into WWI in 1917. Today, a statue of Cavell stands in Trafalgar Square in central London with an inscription of the words she told her minister the night before her death; “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness to anyone.”