Guillotine: 10 facts about the deadly device

Guillotine and guillotine

The decapitation apparatus is named after the French physician, professor of anatomy, Joseph Ignace Guillotin. Contrary to popular belief, he was not the inventor of this device - a similar method was used before, in Scotland, Ireland and other countries.

Moreover, Guillotin generally opposed the death penalty. As a member of the constituent assembly, in 1789 he proposed such a machine as a more humane method of execution compared to hanging, quartering and burning at the stake, which were popular in France at that time. In addition, the decapitation machine was supposed to equalize the rights to a more worthy execution of the nobles (who were executed by beheading with a sword or ax) and everyone else.


Another common myth is that Joseph Ignace Guillotin was allegedly guillotined, but the French doctor died a natural death in 1814. Guillotin's relatives were unhappy that the lethal machine was named after them, and more than once asked to change the name, but not having achieved the desired result, they eventually had to change their surname themselves. The last time the guillotine was used as a means of execution in France was not so long ago - in 1977, against a convicted murderer.


"Not spectacular enough"

Such a verdict was made by the disappointed French guillotine as soon as it appeared. "Bring back the wooden gallows!" - chanted the disgruntled Parisians in April 1792, when the first convict was executed with the help of the guillotine.

Indeed, an instantly severed head, which was quickly removed into a wicker basket, could hardly compete, say, with the screams of people burning alive at the stake. But despite the protests of the townspeople, the authorities appreciated the effectiveness of the device: it helped to increase "productivity". So, with the help of the guillotine, one executioner could execute 12 sentenced to death in just 13 minutes, or 300 people in 3 days.



Before putting anything into operation, you need to properly test this “something”. The guillotine is no exception. First, it was tested on live sheep and calves, then, in 1792, on human bodies. The latter had to meet certain criteria: for example, at the time of death, they had to be in good enough physical shape.




Initially, the purpose of the experiments was to determine the accuracy of the guillotine, but soon the doctors developed a professional interest, in particular, with the help of the guillotine, they tried to establish the degree of importance for the life of certain organs. At the very least, cutting off the head testified to the critical role of the brain for the functioning of the human nervous system.



Vietnam used the guillotine as part of a terror campaign in 1955 against members of the Resistance War. Ngo Dinh Diem, President of the Republic of Vietnam, in an attempt to maintain his own power, introduced the harshest laws that prescribed the death penalty or life imprisonment for those who disagree.

To do this, he used mobile military tribunals and a mobile guillotine to pass sentences and carry them out across the country, even in the most remote villages. Hundreds of thousands of South Vietnamese residents were beheaded within a few years.

Second youth

The guillotine experienced its second youth during the heyday of Nazi Germany. About 40 thousand people were executed by guillotine between 1933 and 1945. If Guillotin proposed such a machine, among other things, to unify the means of execution of the death sentence, getting rid of the "noble" and "ignoble" methods of execution, then in Hitler's Germany the guillotine was just considered an execution for the "unworthy", as opposed to being shot. Therefore, it was mainly the participants in the resistance that were guillotined. Among those executed were the Russian princess Vera Obolenskaya, the Czech writer Julius Fucik, and the Tatar poet Musa Jalil.


Life of the head after being cut off

Myth or Reality? After decapitation, the body of a chicken is able not only to move, but even to run. There is a lot of evidence that tells about the manifestation of signs of life of the human head, after its separation from the body.

Perhaps these stories are based on the fears of the executioners, who see that their victim is trying to make contact. However, the results of a study published in 2002 in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine state that brain cells can remain active even several weeks after a person's death.


Guillotine in North America

The death penalty in the United States is still relevant today, being a legal punishment in 31 states. But the guillotine as a means of enforcing capital punishment was used only once: in 1889, to execute a fisherman who killed an acquaintance in a drunken brawl. The introduction of the guillotine has been lobbied more than once: for example, in the 1990s, there was an idea that guillotine would benefit those in need of donor organs.

However, the electric chair is still the most popular method of execution in the United States. In addition, execution by hanging, gas chamber, lethal injection and firing squad are used.


Family business

The executioner profession in France was often inherited. True, not because it was prestigious. On the contrary, the executioners were shunned, shunned, and usually had to live outside the city walls. Moreover, they were officially allowed to marry cousins.

Not surprisingly, it was difficult for the children of the executioners to find another use for themselves in life, except to continue the work of their fathers, creating whole dynasties of executioners. France's most famous executioner is Charles-Henri Sanson, who executed hundreds of people during the French Revolution, including the king and queen. He was accustomed to the craft from childhood, starting his career with quartering. In total, during his seniority, he carried out 2918 death sentences.


Eugene Weidman

The last person to be publicly executed in France. A serial killer, originally from Germany, was operating in France in 1937. The high-profile case, which ended with an arrest, trial and death sentence, provoked a stir: the audience gathered in the evening near the square in Versailles, where the criminal was supposed to be executed. Depleting the stocks of liquor in the surrounding bars, people thirsted for the spectacle.

As a result, the execution time was postponed several times, difficulties arose with the installation of the guillotine - the audience refused to leave the square, the National Guard had to be involved to equip the place of execution. After the sentence was carried out, many rushed to the guillotine to soak a handkerchief in Eugene Weidmann's blood. All these riots led to a complete ban on public executions in France.


"Dry guillotine"

That was not the name of the head-cutting machine, but ... French Guiana! The French lands in the northeast of South America received a harsh nickname due to the fact that in the 18th-20th centuries they were a traditional place for exile for political prisoners. The tropical climate and frequent fevers made this place unsuitable for life, and a trip to Guiana was equated with the death penalty.


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