Reichhart, Johann.

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Reichhart, Johann.

Reichhart, Johann, born 29-04-1893 in Wichenbach near Wörth an der Donau into a family of Bavarian knackers and executioners, including his uncle Franz Xaver Reichhart and brother Michael,

that went back eight generations to the mid-eighteenth century. His father had a small farm on a remote land in Wichenbach near Tiefenthal (Wörth an der Donau) and took on extra work as a master knacker. Reichhart attended the Volks-school and vocational school in Wörth an der Donau, both of which he completed successfully. He then completed an apprenticeship as butcher, and served as a soldier in the First World War.

Johann Reichhart takes over the profession of executioner from his uncle, but as things are getting worse, the death penalty is gradually less used in the 1920s. He then decides to look for his fortune as a greengrocer in The Hague, the Netherlands. His business is thriving; no one knows what his real profession is, but when he is requested to carry out another execution in Germany in 1932, this becomes known and he loses his clients.

In April 1924, Reichhart took over the office of state judicial executioner in the Free State of Bavaria from his uncle Franz Xaver Reichhart (1851-1934), who retired at age 70. For each execution, Reichhart was paid 150 Goldmark plus ten marks for daily expenses, and given a 3rd-class railway ticket. For executions in the Palatinate (Pfalz), he was dispatched by express train.

Executions decreased during 1924–1928, and Reichhart executed only 23 people (only one in 1928), and he had difficulty making a living for his family. He negotiated the right to take on other work domestically and abroad, and was released from the requirement of local residence. His business ventures failed, however; he gave up his wagon transport business in 1925, and in 1926 his inn at Mariahilfplatz. He sold Catholic treatises in Upper Bavaria as a traveling salesman. In 1928, he attempted but failed to resolve his contract with the Bavarian Ministry of Justice. He moved his residence to The Hague and became a successful independent greengrocer.

In the spring of 1931 and in July 1932, Reichhart travelled to Munich to carry out death sentences at Stadelheim Prison. In July 1932, several Dutch newspapers described his “other activities” and revealed his identity, which was normally kept incognito. As a result, Reichhart’s business dwindled, and in the spring of 1933 he returned to Munich, where he considered ending his work as executioner  With Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, Reichhart returned to Germany and joined the Nazi Party four years later. The Nazis proved prolific superiors and Reichhart made so much money as an executioner that in 1942 he bought a private home in the Gleisse Valley, near Deisenhofen, south of Munich.  Reichhart executed 3,165 people, most of them during the period 1939 – 1945 when, according to his own records, he put 2,876 men and women to death.  In this Third Reich era, the executions derived largely from heavy sentences handed down by the Volksgerichtshof (People’s Court) of jurist Roland Freisler, for political crimes such as treason, and included Sophie and Hans Scholl of the German resistance movement White Rose (Reichhart executed them at Munich’s Stadelheim Prison.) Most of these sentences were carried out by Fallbeil (“drop hatchet”), a shorter, largely metal re-designed German version of the French guillotine. Reichhart served as one of four principal executioners in the Third Reich.

Reichhart was very strict in his execution protocol, wearing the traditional German executioners’ attire of black coat, white shirt and gloves,

black bow tie and top hat. He initially served as the Bavarian State Executioner.  His work took him to many parts of occupied Europe, including Poland and Austria. He claimed during questioning that, toward the end of the war, as the allied armies closed in, he supposedly disposed of his mobile guillotine in a river, a claim that seems to be related to almost every guillotine in Germany at the end of the conflict.

Following Victory in Europe Day in 1945, Reichhart, who was a member of the Nazi Party, was arrested for the purposes of denazification, but was not immediately tried for carrying out his duty as one of the primary judicial executioners in the Third Reich. He was subsequently employed by the Occupation Authorities beginning in November 1945, to help execute Nazi war criminals at Landsberg am Lech by hanging. He appears to have worked for the Americans only through May 1946. According to a reliable source, Reichhart spoke to the prison commandant, sometime after hanging seven men on May 29, stating that he was worried that he was executing some innocent men.  He stated that, although he was afraid of repercussions, he would rather face judicial proceedings than continue as the hangman. One source states that one of his sons assisted him at Landsberg in the executions; photographic records can not confirm that. One source credits Reichhart with hanging 42 German war criminals after the war, but it is far more likely that he hanged only 21 condemned men at Landsberg Prison and was not involved in any way with the Nürnberg executions. He cooperated with Allied chief executioner Master Sergeant John Chris “Hangman”. Woods. His work at Landsberg terminated, police arrested Reichhart at his home in May 1947 and took him to an internment camp at Moosburg an der Isar. His court proceedings began on 13-12-1948 at Munich. Johann Reichhart was Germany’s chief executioner at the height of Hitler’s Nazi empire, taking 3,165 lives during his time as the Fuehrer’s headhunter. On  29-11-1949, in a German (probably Bavarian) tribunal, Reichhart was sentenced to strict punishment measures. The court sentenced him to two years confinement in a labor camp and confiscation of 50% of his assets.  He was forbidden from ever holding public office, voting or the right to engage in politics.  Finally, Reichhart was forbidden to own a motor vehicle or possess a driver’s license. He also was ordered to pay 26,000 marks for the cost of the trial.

Financially ruined, his marriage failed, and one son, Hans, committed suicide in 1950 (he was 23.)  In 1963, there were public demands, during a series of taxi driver murders, for the re-introduction of the death penalty in West Germany and Reichhart was vocal in his support for this legislation. He maintained that the preferred method of killing should be the guillotine, as it was the fastest and cleanest method of execution.

Death and burial ground of Reichhart Johann.

Johann Reichhart has had to be hospitalized several times because of psychological problems and died in in a nursing home at Dorfen near Erding, Bavaria, on 26-04-1972. On 02-05-1972, his body was cremated at the crematorium at the Ostfriedhof in Munich. He is buried on the Ostfriedhof in a family grave, Section 47, Row 2, that also contains his two sons and his uncle, Franz Xavier, a prolific executioner in his own right.

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