Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The Dynamite Club by John Merriman
At precisely 4 a.m., the silence on the square was broken by the sound of the interior gate opening beyond the prison door, followed by the roll of drums and the rifles of the soldiers snapping into position. Deibler led Emile, his chest largely uncovered, toward the guillotine. With his hands folded in front of his stomach, he was being pulled more rapidly than his shackled legs could move. In the first light of the new dawn he could see spectators perched on the roofs and a photographer pointing his camera in the direction of the apparatus. He saw the mounted calvary of the Republican Guard, and the gendarmes, with sabers drawn, in a semi-circle.
Someone said, "poor lad! You wouldn't think him more than fifteen years old". Another witness remembered how incredibly calm his face looked. Conversations stopped and hats came off, as if a religious service were about to begin. The chaplain was two steps behind Emile, with nothing to do. Emile looked quickly right and left, as if looking for someone he knew in the crowd.
He had been contemplating his final moments for three weeks and wanted to project a noble image. Twenty steps from the guillotine, his face became paler. After a few more steps, he stopped and shouted what everyone expected to hear: "Courage, comrades! Long live anarchy!"
As he reached the scaffold, he repeated, "Long live anarchy!" Deibler's aides then grabbed him, pushed him brutally against the plank so that he lay flat, and shoved his head through the little window, which resembled the porthole of a ship.
Twenty seconds later, the dull sound of the guillotine reaching the end of its rapid descent could be heard. Emile's head fell to the ground and was quickly tossed into the awaiting basket just as casually as one would throw a large wad of paper into a small bin. An almost inaudible gasp of horror rippled through the crowd; some people turned rapidly on their heels and moved rapidly away. Two assistants pushed the body into a waiting box and then carried it quickly to the executioner's wagon.
The politician and journalist Georges Clemenceau left place de la Roquette horrified by the "crude vengeance" of French society that he had just witnessed. Emile's terribly pale face disturbed him: he saw the young man as a tormented Christ, "trying to impose his intellectual pride upon his child's body..let those for the death penalty go, if they dare, to smell the blood of La Roquette. We'll talk about it after"