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Today in History: June 17th, 1939

Photo Credit: STF / AFP / Getty Images
Photo Credit: STF / AFP / Getty Images

The Last Public Guillotining in France

On this day, June 17, 1939, France witnessed its last public guillotining, marking the end of a gruesome chapter in its judicial history. The execution of Eugen Weidmann, a German criminal, drew significant attention and ultimately led to the abolition of public executions in the country.

Eugen Weidmann, born in Frankfurt, Germany, had a history of criminal activity. In the late 1930s, he and his accomplices committed a series of kidnappings and murders in France, including the killing of American dancer Jean de Koven. His crimes shocked the nation and led to his arrest in December 1937. Weidmann’s trial, held in Versailles in March 1939, was a media spectacle, drawing widespread attention. He was found guilty of multiple murders and sentenced to death.

Portrait of Eugen Weidmann.
Eugen Weidmann on trial for the kidnap of tourists. He was the last person to be publicly executed in France on June 17th, 1939. (Photo Credit: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

The execution took place early in the morning on June 17, outside the Saint-Pierre prison in Versailles. A large crowd gathered to witness the event, turning it into a morbid spectacle. As the guillotine blade fell, the behavior of the onlookers, who appeared to revel in the gruesome scene, sparked outrage. The media coverage, including photographs and newsreel footage, further highlighted the disturbing nature of public executions.

In the aftermath of Weidmann’s execution, public and official reactions were swift. The unruly and celebratory behavior of the crowd led to widespread criticism. French President Albert Lebrun responded by decreeing that all future executions would be conducted privately within prison walls, away from public view. This decision marked a significant shift in the country’s approach to capital punishment.

More from us: From The Saxophone To The Guillotine: How Famous Names Became Common Nouns

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The significance of June 17, 1939, extends beyond the end of public executions. It was a turning point that paved the way for further changes in the French justice system. Eventually, France abolished the death penalty entirely, with the last execution by guillotine occurring in 1977 and the death penalty being officially abolished in 1981. This day stands as a reminder of the evolution of societal attitudes towards capital punishment and the importance of maintaining human dignity in the justice system.

TVN News Poster

TVN News Poster is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News