French guillotine exhibition opens 33 years after the last head fell





Beneath the grey veil used to cloak her awful secrets from the public gaze, "the widow" stands 14ft tall and the blade hangs menacingly over a hole designed for a neck. "One can have a certain indifference on the death penalty," read Victor Hugo's famous words nearby, "as long as one has not seen a guillotine with one's own eyes."

When France put an end to capital punishment in 1981, it also bid a not-so-fond farewell to the instrument of death that had taken the lives of thousands. But today, at the request of the crusading abolitionist who consigned it to history, one of the last guillotines in France was put on display for all the world to see.

For Robert Badinter, the former justice minister who succeeded in outlawing the death penalty during the first year of François Mitterrand's presidency, its appearance at a new exhibition at the Musée d'Orsay in Paris is a reason to celebrate....

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