Author's Note: Readers, please view the photographs in the slideshow but be cautioned, the content is emotionally powerful.
Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island were the only states in which it didn't occur. Most instances took place in what used to be called the Confederate States of America, especially Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas and Louisiana.
With the surrender of Robert E. Lee's forces to the future eighteenth president of the United States, General Ulysses S. Grant, at Appomattox, the War of Southern Independence came to an end. The government of the rebellion, headed by Jefferson Davis, fell as did slavery, a process that had been set in motion by President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation.
Now while it is true slavery ended and was forever forbidden in the United States by passage of the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution, a form of mob violence and putative justice, better known as lynching, arose which resulted in thousands of illegal hangings of black men between 1882 and 1968.
As sickening and horrifying as this persecution of freed slaves and their descendants was, it bore little resemblance to Hitler's war against the Jews, as did slavery to the Holocaust.
The Nazis proved themselves second to none in matters of organized murder.
The infamous Einsatzgruppen A,B, C, and D accompanied the regular German Wehrmacht combat troops following the German invasion of the Soviet Union on the 22nd of June 1941 into the interior of the Soviet Union. They were not only cold-blooded murderers but tormentors, sadists and thieves whose Pyrrhic victories against unarmed civilians: men, women and children who could not even look to the local authorities for protection, raised sadistic cruelty and victim degradation to previously unimaginable heights.
The hideous implementation of the Final Solution, a "war" policy undertaken by a single nation to exterminate an entire people, required an unprecedented "industrial" organization on a scale heretofore unimaginable. Its only product was death and, as we can imagine, not all methods of killing are equally productive.
Death by hanging could not be a genocidal killing method due to its slow, clumsy and, at times, black theatrical nature. Unsuitable as hanging was for their war of annihilation against the Jews does not mean there were no gallows in their camps, occupied cites such as Minsk or that Jews did not die on them.
For the purpose of this article, I am not concerned so much with the practice of hanging as a form of execution. "Legal" hangings which follow the nation’s laws in force at the time have been lawfully carried out in many countries for centuries.
The Torah does not forbid hanging as is abundantly clear from Parashat Ki Seitzei, verses 22 and 23. Although there were four other Torah-sanctioned forms of the death penalty, the history of ancient Jewish jurisprudence shows an early tendency to temper strict justice with mercy.
Forbidden is the practice of leaving a body hanging after death. Jewish law requires that a felon, executed by hanging, must be cut down and buried before nightfall.
The Nazis, like others before them, deliberately left the bodies hanging for several days as a grim reminder to others. In cold weather, they were sometimes left hanging for a week while in summer they would be taken down sooner, perhaps two to three hours after the hanging. Such a spectacle became an instrument of psychological terror aimed at those who might have considered joining the partisans.
It really is quite remarkable that a code of Jewish law should concern itself with the dignity of the human body to the degree Jewish law does, unlike any other ancient or contemporary legal code.The difference is what Jews have been propounding since the Sinai experience when Moses received the whole of Torah Law from G-d. Torah-based law is divine in origin. Therefore, whatever is dear to Him must be so for them as well whom He created.
Anyone who has ever volunteered for the Jewish Sacred Society or other like organizations such as the Chevra Kadisha or Jewish Burial Society, is well aware of the respectful and dignified manner with which a dead body is treated while it is being washed, dressed in a pocket-less burial garment and lifted into a casket.
The Case of Masha Bruskina
Only seventeen years old at the time of her death, Masha Bruskina was one of several young Jewish women who took up arms against Nazi savagery in the city of Minsk. Executed October 26, 1941 along with two other male comrades, she struggled mightily as she died from asphyxiation. Her killers left her lifeless body hanging for three days. Taken down by local Jewish leaders, one account claims her body was given a tahara (ritual washing and dressing) before burial.
Jewish courage, such as that shown by Masha Bruskina in the face of unspeakable evil, should encourage the rest of us to be of strong mind and heart, and just maybe this year, we'll set aside some time (it doesn't have to be long) to thank G-d for having placed such sterling mentors in our midst so that like Masha, we will know and be ready to give, should ever the need arise, as President Lincoln so memorably called it, our "last full measure of devotion".
A healthy and happy 5774 to one and all.