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Showing posts from May, 2014

Book Review - Shot in the Tower by Leonard Sellers (1997)

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The Book
Shot in the Tower: The Story of the Spies executed in the Tower of London during the First World War, Leonard Sellers. Leo Cooper, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, 1997.

Review
Eleven German spies were executed in the Tower of London during World War I. Their stories are ably recounted by Sellers in this book. Drawing on several books published in the 1920s and the declassified MI5 files, Sellers paints touching portraits of each of the erstwhile spies. Some were courageous, some were cowards. The espionage activities of some where comical while others were more accomplished.

Tucked at the end of the book is a brief appendix which mentions Josef Jakobs. While not executed during World War I, Jakobs was the last person executed in the Tower. While the MI5 files on Jakobs had not yet been declassified, the information provided by Sellers is accurate.Josef Jakobs was the only spy to be executed in the Tower of London in the Second World War. At 8:20 am on Saturday, 1 February, 1941, t…

A Plea for Mercy from Josef Jakobs to King George VI

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On Tuesday 5 August, 1941, Josef Jakobs was condemned to death for espionage by a General Court
Martial. There was no possibility of filing an appeal, so Jakobs wrote a plea for mercy to His Majesty King George VI.
Jakobs wrote his petition out by hand, and in German, probably on 6 August. The military chaplain assigned to Jakobs, Fr. Edward Jackson, probably helped him with the letter.


Since it was unlikely that King George VI could read German, the original letter was translated into English and typed out, most probably by Lt. Col. Hinchley-Cooke. During this process, the wording of the original letter was altered. Most of the alterations simply brought added clarity to Jakobs' situation, and in the end, Jakobs signed the typed English version, so clearly he approved the alterations. The final letter read:
The humble petition by Josef Jakobs, a prisoner under sentence of death.

To His Majesty the King.

May it please Your Majesty,

A most unhappy man makes this appeal for mercy at…

Facing Death (Part 2) - Courage vs. Cowardice - Karel Richter & Josef Jakobs

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When Josef Jakobs was executed on 15 August, 1941, his fellow spy, Karel Richter was told that Jakobs had died "a brave man". As his impending appointment with the hangman's noose approached, Richter wrote a letter to his interrogator's stating that:
"You will see, and you can rely upon it that I shall not be less brave than Jakobs; I too will know how to die, yet not as a Nazi spy on your gallows, but as a man." Karel Richter had a specific idea in his mind of what "brave" meant and it looked like this.

Karel Richard Richter - Executed 10 December 1941 
"On the preceding afternoon Albert Pierrepoint, the hangman detailed to carry out the execution, arrived at the prison [Wandsworth]. As was the usual practice before executions, he was allowed to view the prisoner, without himself being seen. This was to assess Richter's physical characteristics--build, thickness of neck, etc. to be assessed together with his height and weight …

Facing Death (Part 1) - Courage vs. Cowardice - Germans Spies of World War I

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Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light. (Dylan Thomas)
Courage in the Face of Death
How does one "rage, rage against the dying of the light"? Is it an external raging or an internal? …

Tower Bridge Mortuary and Josef Jakobs

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On 30 June 1894, four years before Josef Jakobs was born, the Prince of Wales (soon to be King Edward VII) officially opened Tower Bridge. Since then the bridge has become an iconic symbol of London. A marvelous feat of engineering, the bridge also has some hidden features which played a part in the saga of Josef Jakobs.

Dead Man's Hole
During construction of the bridge, planners thoughtfully incorporated a mortuary into the north pier of the bridge. Due to tidal currents in the river, bodies that ended up in that part of the Thames River due to accident, suicide or convenient disposal, tended to congregate along that part of the riverbank. The mortuary came to be known as Dead Man's Hole.Post-Mortem of Jakobs
On Friday 15 August, 1941, after Jakobs' execution at the Tower of London, his body was transferred to the Tower Bridge Mortuary. Sir Bernard Spilsbury and East District Coroner W.R.H. Heddy performed the post-mortem on Jakobs. Jakobs' body may have been stored…

Article Review - Jerusalem Post - Hitler's Jewish Agents - 9 April 1999

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There are many snippets of articles about Josef Jakobs on the internet. Most limit themselves to the now familiar question: "Who was the last person executed in the Tower of London?". Some, however, delve into his past with a bit more detail and are worthy of a closer look.
On 9 April, 1999, the Jerusalem Post published an article entitled Hitler's Jewish Agents, written by Bernard Wasserstein. The article was written shortly after the release of some MI5 documents to the National Archives and mentions Josef Jakobs. One of the strangest cases of an enemy agent captured by the British during the war was that of Josef Jakobs, a Luxembourger of partly Jewish origin. He was parachuted into Huntingdonshire in the heart of the English countryside in February 1941 and was immediately arrested with incriminating espionage equipment on his person.

At his trial he claimed that he had helped German Jews emigrate in the late 1930s, that he had been arrested by the Nazis as a Jew and s…