History’s Most Famous Traitors

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Shi Yousan (1891-1940)

Shi Yousan was a Chinese general who betrayed Chinese warlords, Chiang Kai-shek, Nationalist president Wang Jingwei, the Chinese Communist Party, and Japan. Shi intended to defect to Japan but before he could do so, he was captured and killed. Shi is infamous in China as the “Defector General.”

Source: German Federal Archives / Wikimedia Commons

Andrey Vlasov (1901-1946)

Andrey Vlasov has the dubious distinction of leading a Russian military force in the service of Nazi Germany against the Red Army. Vlasov, who distinguished himself by helping stop the German advance on Moscow in 1941, was captured by the Nazis in 1942 while trying to break the siege of Leningrad. He accepted an offer from the Germans to fight the Soviet Union by forming a Russian patriotic army. Vlasov and many of his troops were captured near the Czech city of Pilsen in 1945 and he was executed a year later for treason.

Source: Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Five Eulsa Traitors (c. 1905)

The Five Eulsa Traitors are the Korean officials serving under Emperor Gojong who signed the Eulsa Treaty of 1905 that made Korea a protectorate of Japan. The treaty was signed after the Russo-Japanese War was won by Japan and the document represented the extension of Japan’s hegemony over Korea. Prime Minister Han Gyu-seol and the emperor were against the treaty, but were not effective in opposing the ministers. The Japanese government forced the prime minister to resign. The public was angered by the accord and an assassination group was formed against the Eulsa traitors. Several of them were injured and the house of another was burned.

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Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg (1907-1944)

As turncoats go, Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg is given a pass by history. Von Stauffenberg was a German army officer who became disillusioned with the conduct of the war. As chief of staff to the Reserve Army Command, he had access to conferences attended by Hitler. He placed a briefcase with a bomb underneath a table near Hitler at one conference in East Prussia on July 20, 1944. The briefcase was moved and although the bomb detonated, Hitler survived the assassination attempt. For his involvement in the German resistance, von Stauffenberg was executed by firing squad.

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Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (1918-1953)

At the height of the Cold War in 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed for passing secrets to the Soviet Union. For decades afterward, the debate over the guilt or innocence of the Rosenbergs defined the American right and left. The couple’s defenders claimed the Rosenbergs were victims of anti-communist hysteria and were righteous dissenters standing up for civil rights and freedoms. However, their co-defendant, Morton Sobell, admitted in 2015 that the Rosenbergs were Soviet agents. Sobell confirmed that the Rosenbergs turned over secrets from the Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union as well as data on sonar and radar systems used by the Russians to shoot down U.S. aircraft in the Korean and Vietnam wars.