Philip Halsmann Pardoned and Released As Final Act of Retiring Austrian Cabinet
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Philip Halsmann Pardoned and Released As Final Act of Retiring Austrian Cabinet

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A not unexpected but nevertheless pleasant Yom Kippur eve surprise was given to Philip Halsmann, young Latvian Jew, who has been in prison under a four-year sentence for patricide, when he was pardoned and released today by the Austrian government as the last act of the outgoing Schober cabinet. Ten days ago the Austrian press bureau reported that Halsmann had been pardoned and released. This was later denied but the press bureau insisted that the pardon had been signed, only the publication of it having been postponed.

The Halsmann case, which dates back to the Summer of 1928, has created such wide-spread interest that it has been called the Austrian Dreyfus case. Halsmann and his father, Max, a wealthy Latvian dentist had come for an excursion to the Tyrol Mountains, where the elder Halsmann was later found dead in a ravine. Chiefly on the evidence of a Tyrolean shepherd boy, Philip Halsmann was found guilty of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. With young Halsmann protesting his innocence, it was generally believed that the verdict of guilty was traceable to the anti-Semitism of the Innsbruck jury which tried him.

In view of this widespread feeling, strengthened by the fact that those guilty of murder usually receive more rigorous punishment than was given Halsmann, the Austrian Supreme Court, following appeals from prominent jurists, professors and international pro-Halsmann committees, annulled the sentence and granted a new trial, denying the petitioners’ appeal to transfer the new trial from Innsbruck, a hot-bed of anti-Semitism, to Vienna.


Careful preparation was made for the new trial, considerable new evidence being accumulated by counsel for the defense. Since the decision of the Supreme Court, granting a re-trial, was viewed as a recognition on the part of the bench of the public sentiment as expressed in the press, that the Innsbruck jury had sentenced Halsmann on slim evidence, having been swayed by anti-Jewish prejudice, the second trial was expected to result in an acquittal.

The second trial again resulted in a conviction, Halsmann being sentenced to four years’ imprisonment at hard labor. The jury voted eight to four for conviction. As during the first trial the anti-Semitic journals played up the case, while Halsmann’s defenders marshalled their forces from all quarters.

Since the second trial, strenuous efforts had been made to obtain a third trial. Public opinion in Austria, Germany and Latvia was aroused at what was believed to be a tragic miscarriage of justice. Protest meetings were held throughout Austria. Editors who deplored the resentencing of Halsmann were fined. The League of Human Rights interested itself in the case and it became an affaire celebre with anti-Semitism in the foreground.


Halsmann himself had rejected the pleas of his relatives, who had staunchly stood by him, to ask for a pardon, saying, “I do not want to be pardoned, even if I have to serve 20 years in prison. I would not want the world to see a patricide pardoned. I did not kill my father. I loved him.” The fact that patricide among Jews is rare lent an additional mystery to the case. Leading Liberal figures in Germany and Austria, among them Jacob Wasserman, began to show an interest in Halsmann’s fate.

While a fund was being raised to finance the lodging of another appeal to the Supreme Court, Halsmann went on a hunger strike and later developed tuberculosis. The Supreme Court eventually denied his appeal. The reported confession of the real murderer gave him renewed hope but nothing came of it. Guarded by soldiers and accompanied by a rabbi, Halsmann was permitted to visit his father’s grave on the first anniversary of the latter’s death to say the prayer for the dead. Young Halsmann’s mother, sister and other relatives who accompanied him, again tearfully protested his innocence.

A number of appeals to President Miklas had been made to have him pardon Halsmann. The present action of the out-going Schober cabinet is the direct result of these appeals from many influential persons.

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