- Halsman murder case
The Halsman murder case was a major political and social affair in
Austria, when Philippe Halsmanwas accused of patricidein 1928 and sentenced in a controversial trial in Innsbruck. It showed widespread Anti-Semitismin rural Austria in the time between the World Wars.
September 10 1928, Latvian Jewish dentistMorduch Max Halsman was murdered while on hikingtour in the ZillerValley in Tyrol. The only other person present at the crime scene was his son, Philippe Halsman, then a 21-year-old student of Engineering at Dresden. Philippe said he was walking some steps ahead of his father, then heard a cry and saw him falling down to the precipice [Marin Pollack: Anklage Vatermord. Der Fall Philipp Halsmann. Fischer, Frankfurt, 2004 (german)] .
He climbed down to help his father and pulled his body out of the water. Then he cried for help and met a peasant women and a shepherd. The shepherd followed him to the place where the father´s body lied, while the women ran to a nearby mountain
inn, the Breitlahner, to call the Police. The police, accompanied by some local people, a doctor and the innkeeper from Breitlahner Josef Eder, arrived and investigated the scene. Philippe called it a tragic accident, but the others very soon considered the possibility of a murder and saw the son of the victim as their main suspect [Marin Pollack: Anklage Vatermord. Der Fall Philipp Halsmann. Fischer, Frankfurt, 2004 (german)] . . He was brought to Breitlahner and formally arrested there. The next day the corpseof Morduch Max Halsmann was recovered and autopsied. Soon after, Philippe was brought to Innsbruck.
Trial began on
December 13, 1928at the Innsbruck state court. Many relatives and friends from the Halsman family´s hometown Rigacame to support Philippe, but his position was critical right from the start. He was a stranger, he behaved arrogantly in court and made contradictory statements about how his father could have died, still claiming it an accident, which was merely impossible [Marin Pollack: Anklage Vatermord. Der Fall Philipp Halsmann. Fischer, Frankfurt, 2004 (german)] . Evidenceagainst him came mostly from witnesses who found his behavior at the crime scene and at Breitlahner quite suspicious and from circumstantial evidence. A stone had been found at the crime scene, with which Morduch Max Halsman had been hit several times, the victim´s blood and hair was found on it. But the crucial point for the defense was that the prosecutor was not able to provide the jurywith any motivefor the crime. After four days of trial, Philippe Halsman was found guilty and sentenced to ten years of imprisonment by the jury on a 9-3 majority.
The correctness of that judgement was immediate challenged by journalists and law scholars all over
Austriaand Germany. The Supreme Courtof Austria reversed the verdict and sent the case back to Innsbruck. At the second trial on October 19, 1929, Halsman was found guilty of manslaughterand sentenced to four years of imprisonment [http://www.jm-hohenems.at/mat/602_AFJHM_Newsletter_9_1.pdf] .
Observers of the trial noted the widespread
Anti-Semitismin Tyroland the public condemnation of Halsman in advance. Leading intellectuals of the time, among them Sigmund Freud, Albert Einsteinand Thomas Manncampaigned for Philippe Halsman´s release. Finally, on October 1, 1930the President of Austria Wilhelm Miklaspardoned him but he was ordered to leave Austria and never return there [http://www.jm-hohenems.at/mat/602_AFJHM_Newsletter_9_1.pdf] .
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