Six spies die in electric chair (8-8-42)

Reading Eagle (August 8, 1942)

Seventh gets life; eighth thirty years

Electrocuted in DC jail, starting at noon, White House announces

Death ends trail of these saboteurs


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Washington (UP) –
Six of the eight Nazi wreckers who came here by U-boat under German High Command orders to sabotage the American war effort were executed today – beginning at noon – in the electric chair at the District of Columbia jail.

The White House announced the executions in a statement which disclosed that two of the Nazis were spared death:

…because of their assistance to the government of the United States in the apprehension and conviction of the others.

The special military commission which tried the saboteurs found all eight guilty and recommended the death penalty for all. It transmitted to the President, however, a unanimous recommendation that the sentences of Ernst Peter Burger, and George John Dasch be commuted.

The President directed that Burger’s sentence be commuted to life imprisonment at hard labor, and Dasch’s to confinement at hard labor for 30 years.

18-year-old chair

The others were executed in an 18-year-old electric chair on the fourth floor of the forbidding and bleakly designed District jail.

They were:

  • Herbert Hans Haupt, 22, and the youngest, formerly of Chicago;
  • Edward John Kerling, 33, leader of the four Nazis who landed on a Florida beach the night of June 17;
  • Heinrich Harm Heinck, 35;
  • Richard Quirin, 34;
  • Werner Thiel, 35;
  • Hermann Neubauer, 32.

The Nazis, trained in a German High Command school near Berlin, came here equipped to blast and burn vital American war factories, communications, and railway lines and bridges.

Landed in June

One group of four landed at Ponte Vedra Beach, near Jacksonville, Florida, the night of June 17. The other, led by Dasch, landed neat Amagansett, Long Island, the night of June 12. Their capture was announced June 27.

The White House announcement, issued by White House Secretary Stephen T. Early, was held up until sentences had been executed.

Since 6:30 a.m., it had been apparent that the case was approaching its climax at the District jail. Brig. Gen. Albert L. Cox, provost marshal pf the Washington Military District, charged by the President with carrying out the commission’s verdict, entered the jail at that time.

Clergyman enters jail

About 10:15 a.m., a clergyman – either Catholic or Episcopalian – was admitted to the jail. He was not identified by reporters and he refused to answer any questions.

Brig. Gen. Cox, charged with carrying out the as-yet-officially-secret sentences, arrived at the early hour of 6:30 a.m. He was accompanied by his assistant, Maj. Thomas M. Rives.

Rain streaked across the jail entrance as two Army sedans and an Army scout car rolled up a little later. At least one officer was in each vehicle.

At 8:30, Cox Rives and two other Army officers met in a corridor on the first floor. They conversed briefly and Cox was overheard to say in a firm tone:

All right.

Then they entered an elevator which goes to the fourth floor, where the death chamber is located. The two officers soon drove away, but returned at 9:27 a.m.

Supt. John Green, of the District jail, arrived at 8:20, and at 9:40, he entered the elevator. A group of soldiers then came down their stairs.

Shortly before 10 a.m., Cox came down to the first floor again. He refused to say anything.

Reporters are admitted

Some reporters were permitted inside the jail and at least 25 more stood outside.

As far as could be learned, no one except the military had seen the saboteurs today. They have been held in a separate wing of the building from which civilian officials have been barred.

At 10:35 a.m., White House Secretary Stephen T. Early made this statement:

Regarding the eight prisoners in the District jail, there is as yet no news for you.

All lights on the first floor of the jail except those in the vestibule and over the telephone switchboard were turned off at 11:10 a.m. Reporters had been watching for a telltale dimming of lights which might mean that the current had been thrown through the 18-year-old electric chair.

At 11:32 a.m., Dr. A. Magruder MacDonald, District coroner, entered the jail. He would not discuss the purpose of his visit.

There has been no official indication of the fate awaiting the saboteurs or the method, time or place any sentence imposed will be carried out, but District officials were preparing the electric chair and execution chamber at the jail if that method of punishment is decreed.

Jailer had no instructions

Supt. Green said he was absolutely without any official instructions concerning execution of the saboteurs. From one authoritative quarter, it was understood the eight men would be given their breakfast as usual at 7 a.m.

But reports said authorities, on their own initiative, have already made preparations for use of the death chamber. It was said that while there are usually only five witness chairs in the execution chamber, prison attendants have set up 20 more because officials believe more witnesses would be on hand for electrocution of the saboteurs.

The verdict of the military commission reached Mr. Roosevelt last Monday. On Tuesday, he said he expected to finish his review in “two or three days.” The third day – Friday – passed, however, without announcement of sentence.

In addition to Dasch, the saboteurs are:

  • Ernst Peter Burger, who has been mentioned unofficially as a possible recipient of clemency along with Dasch;
  • Herbert Hans Haupt, a former Chicagoan;
  • Henry Harm Heinck
  • Edward John Kerling
  • Hermann Neubauer
  • Richard Quirin
  • Werner Thiel.

Norman, thanks for posting this. It’s an absolutely fascinating story and a great read regarding the legal grounds for the execution.

It’s my understanding the US Supreme Court chose not to weigh in on the matter and slow the process, allowing a US President to act quickly in time of war.

The belligerents, not wearing uniforms, were in violation of the rules of war, clearly outside access to the US legal system and were tried by a military tribunal. The sentences where intended to message the Reich that such malice would be dealt with swiftly.


Here’s that decision:


Great stuff, thank you again for consistently posting important and interesting material as WW2 unfolds.


Reading Eagle (August 9, 1942)

Escape chair

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Dasch… 30 years in jail

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Burger… life imprisonment

Executions shake Nazis

Former Berlin reporter believes leniency idea dispelled in Reich
By Pierre J. Huss

New York (INS) – (Aug. 8)
Any Nazi complacency about American inclinations toward leniency even to spies and traitors has been effectively shattered by the execution today of six of the eight condemned Nazi saboteurs.

From my own knowledge of Nazi Germany, I feel certain that the manner in which the military trial was conducted and the swiftness with which justice was meted out once a verdict had been reached and handed to the President for his approval will cause serious setbacks on Hitler’s planned fifth column and sabotage activities in the United States.

We can expect the Axis prophets of distortion – led by the little Nazi propaganda fiend Joseph Goebbels – to drum up a pained outcry about “Yankee brutality.”

They will seek, no doubt, to camouflage and distort the bare facts in Berlin, Rome and Tokyo, but there is scarcely an Axis individual of even mediocre intelligence to whom the blow will not strike home regardless of the officially-inspired propaganda.

Clear-cut warning

I know that in Naziland, the average German will read the regimented morning newspapers and listen to the government radio without enthusiasm; inside, where the Gestapo cannot look, he will be aware that the electric switch thrown in Washington District of Columbia jail today is a clear-cut warning to all the world that a similar fate awaits every saboteur, spy or traitor caught in the United States.

Death to persons accused of such crimes in the Nazi Reich is a foregone conclusion. But the important difference is that in Naziland, there is no such thing as a fair trial. Hitler is not interested in due process of law. The accused is “railroaded” to death by a rubber-stamp tribunal known as “the People’s Court” and in many instances even this formality is dispensed with.

We in America have shown to the world that even in a time of dire crisis we can preserve those tenets of justice which form part of the principles for which we are fighting this war.

Each and every one of the saboteurs was given every opportunity to defend himself and expert military counsel was assigned them by the President with explicit orders to give them every defense justified by the facts.

Paid penalty

But once the decision was reached after careful and honorable weighing of testimony, nothing was allowed to interfere with making the saboteurs pay fully for the crimes of which they were found guilty.

This will ring a bell not only in Nazi Germany, but in a different and equally dramatic way in the oppressed Nazi-occupied lands which have had a taste of the Nazi brand of justice.

There will be no suppressing the fact from either Germany or the conquered lands. The radio broadcasts emanating from Britain and America will take care of that. These are listened to secretly by enough people throughout Europe to spread the word eventually to everybody by word of mouth.

The average German will have occasion to compare the American brand of justice with what he has witnesses almost daily in his own country. And the average patriot in the conquered countries will feel somewhat repaid for the bitter penalties inflicted on him and his fellow victims in Europe by the Nazi tyrants.

Hitler himself will study this report with incredulous eyes and frown at the new complications that come with it. His first step, in view of this unexpected turn in the land of “the Yankees,” will be to order Propaganda Minister Goebbels to prepare a version for public consumption doctored to fit the measure of Nazi propaganda.

No admissions

Naturally, there can be no admission in Berlin of the fact that these men were saboteurs trained in Berlin and shipped over to America by U-boat. The Nazi cry more than likely will endeavor to pin the mantle of martyrdom on “persecuted and innocent victims of German blood,” who died:

…on the field of battle like any soldier and consequently will be remembered and mourned as such by all Germans.

That has been the method resorted to by the Nazis in washing their hands of all responsibility in similar cases since the outbreak of war.

But it goes without saying that the Washington executions will seriously “blitz” the Nazi sabotage and spy schools and interfere with the recruiting of adaptable candidates for such hazardous jobs.

Hitherto, as far as could be learned in Berlin, these schools made much of the fact that non-Axis lands ordinarily deal leniently with individuals convicted of being on Hitler’s payroll. It was presumably pointed out that in the lands of the Western Hemisphere especially, there was little to risk except perhaps a prison sentence, usually commuted at the end of the war. That was something not to be underestimated in persuading prospective candidates to enroll in the secret schools.

Harsh examples

The Nazis themselves have always been their own harshest example to spies, saboteurs and traitors.

The Gestapo or German military counterespionage service picks up a man or woman suspected of espionage, sabotage. Or treason and says nothing about the case. There is no announcement until after the special Nazi tribunal known as “the People’s Court” has pronounced and carried out the death penalty.

The public becomes aware of the case when the blood-red notices appear on public bulletin boards giving in bold-face type the name of the person executed and the charges. In Berlin, I used to see as many as six to eight of these death notices each morning.

News of Haupt’s death is kept from parents

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Chicago, Illinois (INS) – (Aug. 8)
U.S. Marshal William McDonald tonight said that the parents of Herbert Haupt, one of the six Nazi saboteurs executed in Washington today, will not be told of his electrocution – at least for the time being.

Mr. and Mrs. Hans Max Haupt, the dead youth’s father and mother, are in the Cook County jail awaiting action on charges they aided their son when he returned to Chicago from Germany where he had taken special schooling in sabotage.

The marshal said, however, that the elder Haupts might possibly learn of the death of their son through the jail’s “grapevine.”


Reminds me of “You Nazty Spies” from the 3 stooges. Any resemblence to actual characters is a miracle! They look smarter than the real ones anyway! Morons for Moronica!!

You Nazty Spy! full movie - YouTube


The Pittsburgh Press (October 14, 1942)

Executed Nazi agents lie in unmarked graves

Washington (UP) –
The bodies of the six Nazi agents executed here Aug. 8 are buried in the Potter’s Field with wooden headboards bearing numbers instead of names. They are separated from paupers’ graves by a wire fence.

The bodies were unclaimed by relatives, although two of the saboteurs had wives in the United States. They were buried after lying unclaimed about a week at Walter Reed Hospital.

The numbers on the headboards range from 276 to 281, and mark the graves of Herbert Hans Haupt, Richard Quirin, Edward John Kerling, Werner Thiel, Hermann Neubauer and Heinrich Heinck, who were landed on the East Coast from submarines.


Well, they paid with their lives, but the last revenge was to bury them in graves with only numbers. And would a firing squad be more appropriate for someone convicted at a miltary court?

Have you seen the movie “The last hangman”?

Pierrepoint dont want to know what the Germans had done. “They are humans being and they are goind to die, that is all I need to know” and he got furious because one day they are missing a coffin.

I have a little of mixed feeling about this whole story, because the SOE dropped weapoms to civilians and asked them to fight, and they were executed as saboteurs when caught. So did the allies also set the scene for this scenario where military and civilian warfare got mixed up?

And should there be a difference between a spy and a saboteur which in some cases could come close to commando warfare? In the battle for the heavy water in Norway it was also “official” soldiers in civilian clothing that did the job. So - what do You Think? - where is the red line between military and civilian warfare?


Good question Finn, there some interesting symposiums on YouTube of legal experts discussing the Geneva Convention in its many iterations over the last 100 yrs. Also what adopted laws came out of Nuremberg post war. These experts spend the time to define the difference between a legal-illegal combatant, what is an act of war by an individual and what access those actors have to due process, IE courts, both civilian and military when caught.

Interesting material of which not all is intuitive- I find it very interesting to digest.



It depends but there was resistance in World War 1 and when the deportations started a lot of people needed places to hide. The people hiding them needed food, sometimes the civil registry was bombed to deny the Nazi’s information on Jews and unwelcome ideologies. Also the resistance was spying for the Allies and had their own Secret Army.

Militarily it made sense.

Forwarding to the standard of today, well early 2000s (not trying to open up a can of worms here but a legal framework).

There is such a thing as “illegal combatants”. Instead of killing them they were locked up and got a 'Unlawful Combatant Status tribunal reviews" Similar to are they still “Prisoner of War without a state to send them to or a peace treaty”. Today it is still evolving.

The Wall Street Journal has some good analyses. I am not saying it is right or wrong but picking up non-state actors in failed states? What should they have done?

The Truth About Guantanamo - WSJ

I took a course at Uni in Jus in Bello and Human right and the more you dive into it the more harder it gets.


The Pittsburgh Press (October 26, 1942)

Accused German spy aides begin court fight for life

Jury selection opens trial of relatives and friends of executed Nazi saboteur, Herbert Haupt

Chicago, Illinois (UP) –
Three men in manacles and their wives, German-born naturalized U.S. citizens charged with the highest crime against their adopted land, filed into a tiny courtroom today to go on trial for alleged treasonable aid to a Nazi sabotage mission.

The scene – a tightly-packed federal court chamber accommodating 100 persons, including FBI guards – was another in the Gestapo-planned fiasco which began last June with the landing of eight saboteurs by submarine from Germany.

The indictment, which Judge William J. Campbell read to the accused, asking each to stand and identify himself for the benefit of the 50 prospective jurors in the first venire, specifically charged the defendants with helping Herbert Hans Haupt, former Chicago schoolboy and one of the six executed as a member of the sabotage mission.

Jury panel questioned

J. Albert Woll, U.S. District Attorney, immediately began questioning a panel of 12 veniremen in the jury box. He asked for positive answers to these questions:

Do you believe every citizen should do his utmost for his country in time of war?

Do you think every citizen should do everything against his country’s enemies in time of war?

The first four jurors to answer were natives of small Illinois towns, to housewives, a paint and varnish businessman and a laborer, all born in the United States. They answered Mr. Woll in the affirmative and said they had no prejudices against German nationals and had never held memberships in any German-American organization.

Mrs. Haupt depressed

The 50 veniremen, entirely filling the small space allotted to the public in the small chamber, were two-thirds women and Mr. Woll said this ratio would hold for the other 100 veniremen on call.

Mrs. Hans Max Haupt appeared more depressed than the other defendants. It was her first public appearance since she learned that her son, Herbert, the convicted saboteur, had been electrocuted. She wore black.

The other defendants were her husband, Hans Max Haupt; Mr. and Mrs. Walter Fröhling, aunt and uncle of Herbert Haupt; and Mr. and Mrs. Otto Richard Wergin, friends and neighbors of Herbert and his parents.

Variety of charges

The indictment said the defendants gave Haupt shelter, fed and transported him, gave false information to government agents, secreted “large sums” of money for him and purchased him an auto:

…in full knowledge of his mission against the United States and for the German Reich.

U.S. District Judge William J. Campbell will preside at the trial, expected to last a month or more.

More than 140 witnesses will testify against the six defendants. They will include federal agents, one of the two saboteurs not sentenced to death, and Mrs. Gerda Melind, widow, who was Haupt’s fiancée. Mrs. Melind testified against Haupt during his trial in Washington.

Spy to testify

Ernst Peter Burger, Nazi agent sentenced to life imprisonment after he reportedly testified for the government during the Washington trial, will be brought here for the trial. It was understood the government would not offer testimony of George John Dasch, the other saboteur who escaped death.

The prosecution staff will attempt to prove the defendants knew the younger Haupt had returned from Berlin on a sabotage mission. If convicted, they face a maximum sentence of death and a minimum sentence of five years’ imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.


The Pittsburgh Press (October 28, 1942)

Nazi spy testifies –
Sabotage plot wrecked early

Seen by Coast Guard; they are arrested next day

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Chicago, Illinois (UP) –
Ernst Peter Burger, convicted Nazi saboteur, testified today that the German sabotage invasion of the United States, carefully planned by the Gestapo, was thrown off schedule within a few minutes after he and three companions landed by submarine off Long Island, New York.

Burger, resuming the hitherto secret story of the eight-man sabotage mission, told a federal court jury the first slip of the blueprint for wrecking the U.S. aluminum and transportation industries was caused by a U.S. Coast Guardsman (John J. Cullen).

Burger said he and three companion saboteurs were rowed to shore off Long Island from a German submarine between midnight and 1 a.m. last June 13. They were wearing uniforms of the German naval infantry to ensure treatment as war prisoners, should they have been captured while still aboard the U-boat.

This sabotage group, one of two which landed on the East Coast last June, was under strict instructions to change into civilian clothes, once ashore, and to return their uniforms to the submarine. But before they could send their uniforms back to the sub, the group was surprised by the Coast Guardsman, Burger said:

When I saw the Coast Guard, I took my seabag and carried it back to my waiting friends and we buried them with the small spades we had brought with us. We buried our explosives and uniforms together.

Burger said he and the leader of his group, John Dasch, both talked to the Coast Guardsman, but he couldn’t recall the conversation.

Arrested next day

Burger related:

Then we went to a railroad station at Amagansett and took a train for Jamaica, where we bought clothes and changed again because ours were soaking wet. In Jamaica, we split up and Dasch and I went to a hotel in New York where we stayed until the FBI arrested us the next day.

Earlier, Burger had given a detailed account of the activities of the eight spies during their sabotage instruction at a Brandenburg, Germany, school, their vacation trip to Berlin and Paris, and their journey to Lorient, France, for embarkation to the United States.

He said the two groups of four made a pact before the second group boarded its submarine for Jacksonville, Florida, vowing that they would “find an opportunity to see each other again” in the United States. The eight did meet, after their arrest by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Burger said that before embarkation from Lorient, the saboteurs were instructed to arrange their general meeting in the United States at Cincinnati, on the Fourth of July.

Under cross-examination, Burger said the second group of saboteurs, headed by Edward Kerling, and including Herbert Haupt, both of whom were executed, was instructed to set up headquarters in New York City. Kerling was to establish a “front” near New York City by setting up a small farm.

Defense Attorney Paul Warnholtz said he would spend “hours” in cross-examination in an effort to “completely dissociate" Burger and his confederates from the six defendants on trial for “treasonable” aid to young Haupt.

Government’s first witness

Burger, whose testimony before a military court in Washington helped bring death sentences to six of his companions, was the first witness in the trial of the parents, the uncle and aunt and two friends of Herbert Hans Haupt. 22, one of the executed saboteurs.

Burger told in thick German accents how he, Haupt and the others took an 18-day course in sabotage in Germany, before departing from Berlin May 22 with eight boxes of explosives and incendiary devices with which they plotted to damage plants of the Aluminum Company of America.

He testified:

Our assignment was to damage and harm the Aluminum Company of America. We all received the assignment. Part of our assignment was to damage railroad plants connecting the aluminum plants with the manufacturing plants of the refined product.

To use explosives

District Attorney J. Albert Woll asked:

How were you to destroy them?

By placing certain explosives for which we received the formula, close to the tracks, attaching a battery or timing device, and slowing it up.

Burger revealed that Haupt had disobeyed instructions given by Lt. Walter Kappe, former editor of a Chicago German-language newspaper, who was in charge of the eight men, not to visit his parents in Chicago after his arrival over here, to get employment in the optical industry, and third, to register as soon as possible for the Army.

Haupt enlisted aid

The government contends Haupt got in touch with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Hans Max Haupt, June 19, after first contacting his aunt and uncle, Mr. and Mrs. Otto Fröhling, shortly after landing by submarine on the Florida coast.

Subsequently, the government charges, Haupt explained his mission to his parents, the Fröhlings and their neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Wergin, and enlisted their aid. He made an effort to become reemployed at the Simpson Optical Co., where he had worked before and which was engaged last summer in manufacturing parts for the Norden bombsight, one of the nation’s most closely-guarded military secrets.

To divide U.S.

Following their instruction at the school, Burger said the eight men visited plants in Germany, including an aluminum plant and railroad yards. He said they studied all vulnerable spots and how to approach them. Then came final instructions by Kappe. He told them they were to divide the United States in two parts.

Burger testified:

We had considered Chicago as the dividing line, at the northern part. Chicago, and the imaginary line going straight south.

Haupt was assigned to the eastern division with three others. Burger said he and the other three had the western part.

Given false draft cards

Burger continued:

We were given false draft registration and Social Security cards without names on them.

…and explained the cards were to be used as false identifications after landing in America.

Mr. Woll explained that Burger’s testimony, admitted over the objections of defense attorneys, was for the purpose of showing that Haupt was an enemy of the United States and that any aid given him by the six defendants was treasonable.

Indictment holds girlfriend of spy

New York (UP) –
Hedwig Engemann, 34-year-old grocery clerk, was indicted yesterday for having knowledge of the treasonable activities of Edward John Kerling, one of the six Nazi saboteurs executed in Washington.

Miss Engemann, described by the government as Kerling’s girlfriend, was accused of having been told by Kerling of his arrival in a U-boat and of his plan to commit sabotage in the United States. If convicted, she could be sentenced to seven years in prison.

She was arrested with Kerling’s wife, Marie, when they tried to meet Kerling at a midtown center.