I recently watched the TV-show "The Americans" where an execution scene was shown in a way that I have never seen before. The show is about spies during the cold war. In the scene the Russians deliver a death sentence and then immediately shoot the prisoner in the back of her head without her even realizing what was coming.

Today I read an article that said that the German Democratic Republic secretly performed "Unexpected Pot-Shots", similar to what can be seen on the show. It was considered to be more humane. However, I could not find any sources that say that other nations, for example Russia, did that too.

So my question is: Did the Germans invent that or did they steal it from somewhere? Maybe Russia? Are there reports about this execution method being performed before? Maybe by someone else?

In German that method is called "Unerwarteter Nahschuss" which literally would be something like "unexpected near shot".

  • 4
    Is the 'pot-shot' phrase yours or from another source? It really doesn't fit here. A 'pot' shot was a poorly aimed shot into a large crowd of targets, usually a large flock of fowl or pigeons, in order to fill the dinner pot.
    – justCal
    Jul 17 '17 at 16:06
  • If this actually happened then there would be some benefit of keeping the process a secret. After all, if it were widely known that you'd be shot immediately after the death sentence was given, it wouldn't be a surprise when it happened. Jul 17 '17 at 16:44
  • I used a dictionary to translate it. "Nahschuss" was translated as "potshot". The German version I took from a newspaper article. It reappears in several German newspapers.
    – doc
    Jul 17 '17 at 17:47
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    I see. Must just be a difference in usage between the two languages then.
    – justCal
    Jul 17 '17 at 18:35
  • This same company doesn't make Hungarian-English phrasebooks, does it?
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 17 '17 at 20:00

The Spiegel mentions in an article from 2007:

Danach wurden Verurteilte nach sowjetischem Vorbild mit einem "unerwarteten Nahschuss in den Hinterkopf" getötet: Beim Betreten des Hinrichtungsraums trat der Henker unvermittelt von hinten an den Verurteilten heran und gab ihm einen Genickschuss.


Afterwards, condemned were killed - as in the soviet model - with an "unexpected close shot in the back head" - : on entering the execution area, the executioner came abruptly from behind to the condemned and gave him a neck shot.

So it seems the Russians/Soviets were earlier,

  • Unless someone comes up with someone who did this before the Russians, I'll accept that answer. Missed the article. Thanks.
    – doc
    Jul 17 '17 at 20:03

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