Famous Reprieves and Stays of Execution Part 3

About a variety of people who were given reprieves or stays of execution from capital punishment including Feodor Dostoevsky.


ANONYMOUS (?-?), honest thief.

Once when Prussian King Frederick the Great visited Potsdam Prison, every convict he spoke to claimed to be innocent. Finally he came across one man under sentence of death for stealing who simply said, "Your Majesty, I am guilty and richly deserving of punishment." Frederick turned to the prison governor and said, "Free this rascal and get him out of our prison, before he corrupts all the noble innocent people in here."

FEDOR DOSTOEVSKI (1821-1881), Russian novelist.

When he was 28, he became heavily committed to a group of political idealists in St. Petersburg and was arrested for subversive activities. Six, including Dostoevski, were sentenced to death by firing squad. On the morning of Dec. 22, 1849, they were led to Seminionovsky Square. They were bound and told they would be shot in two groups of three. Dostoevski was in the second group. The first three were led out and bound to pillars. As the order to fire was being given, a reprieve arrived from His Imperial Majesty Czar Nicholas I. Instead of being shot, the six men were to be deported to Siberia, where they would serve four years in a labor camp. The following day Dostoevski wrote to his brother, Mikhail, saying, "I remembered you, brother, and all yours; during the last minute you, you alone, were in my mind; only then I realized how I love you, dear brother mine!"

ANONYMOUS (?-?), Russian prisoner.

Alexander III personally wrote the death sentence of a prisoner with the following words: "Pardon impossible, to be sent to Siberia." His wife Dagmar (daughter of Christian IX, king of Denmark) believed the man innocent. She saved his life by transposing the comma. The sentence then read: "Pardon, impossible to be sent to Siberia."


On Feb. 17, 1941, Maximilian Kolbe, Polish priest and founder of the world's largest monastery, Niepokalanow, was arrested by German troops and sent to Auschwitz. Late in July, 1941, a prisoner escaped, and the camp commandant ordered that 10 men from a cell block of 600 be put to death as a reprisal. The group, chosen at random, included a Polish sergeant named Franciszek Gajowniczek. At this point Kolbe stepped forward and said he wanted to take the place of his friend Gajowniczek. He explained that he was an unmarried priest while Gajowniczek had a wife and childen. The stunned commandant agreed. The 10 men were put naked into a tiny cell and left to starve to death. After two weeks all were dead except Kolbe, who was finally killed on Aug. 14 with an injection of carbolic acid. On Oct. 17, 1971, 8,000 Polish men and women attended the ceremony of beatification of Father Kolbe at the altar of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Amongst the solemn congregation stood the reprieved Gajowniczek and his wife.

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