Should the Guillotine that was used to behead Hans and Sophie Sholl be exhibited?

A killing machine rouses German emotions. A Guillotine is found in a museum depot last January. It was used during the Third Reich and ended the lifes of many German resistance fighters, most notably Hans and Sophie Scholl’s. They were beheaded in February 1943, 61 years ago, only 4 days after their housekeeper told the authorities they were spreading anti-nazi leaflets. An art-historian found their executioner-device among medieval torture-object in a Bayern-museum. They plan to show the object, but a public outcry rallied the opposition to this plan.

The Guillotine – a common killing device in nazi-Germany

Standing 2 meters high, the Guillotine is typical in its art. It was a commonly used killing-method during the nazi-era, thought of as a humane way to end ones life. An adjustment indicates that this particular machine was used by the Munich- executioner Johann Reinhart. He wanted to speed up the killing process, so he removed the strap-ons. Rather than chaining up the captive, two henchmen held the victim as the blade fell down – a process that only took seconds, instead of minutes. This modification makes it likely that the guillotine was used to kill Hans and Sophie Scholl, as well as the other members of the non-violent, intellectual Weisse Rose-movement, as Reinhart was their executioner.

The only reason to exhibit this object is some macabre fascination

Why should this machine be exhibited? Surely, it wont explain anything we don’t know already. Moreover, an exhibition will focus on the Guillotine as the ‘Sholl’-killing machine, although many others died by its blade. In Germany, this topic is debated by politicians and historians alike. A commission is installed to investigate the matter further, but no conclusions has been made to this point. Some argue that the Guillotine is only a singular object that shows us how the nazis committed their cruelties (about 16,500 death-sentences were carried out by Guillotines). Others state that this subject is still too sensible to handle. Even more so, the Guillotine could be regarded as a humane aspect of the otherwise brutal nazi-regime. No medieval torture-chambers, but a ‘clean’ and quick death.

The Guillotine used to kill Hans and Sophie Scholl
The Guillotine that was used to kill Hans and Sophie Scholl

The Guillotine as symbol of a humane nazi-Germany should be avoided. The Guillotine was a privilege for Germans or befriended people. They were the only ones that were entitled to a court process in the first place. Jews, Russians, Poles, they could expect no process, nor the quick flash of the Guillotine-blade. There seems to be no reason to exhibit this object, other than some macabre fascination.






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