In Germany, Facing The Cruel Legacy Of Witch Hunts

After piecing together history from nearly 400 years ago, Cologne's city council has identified and "rehabilitated" 38 men, women and children who were tortured and executed in the hysteria of both Catholic and Protestant inquis

Cologne's Roman Catholic cathedral dates back to the 13th century (Latente)
Cologne's Roman Catholic cathedral dates back to the 13th century (Latente)
Claudia Becker

COLOGNE - She was smart, influential, held in high esteem. And she didn't see why she had to put up with the rumors that were circulating about her. People said that Katharina Henot, a Cologne patrician, had made a pact with the devil. She was a loose woman and a trouble maker. Not only had she infested a nunnery with caterpillars, she had made a number of local citizens sick -- and her evil magic could even kill.

The widow Henot, who was the daughter and heiress of imperial postmaster Jakob Henot, wasn't going to take it anymore. In August 1626 she wrote a letter in her own defense to the Cologne Vicar General and Electorate commissioners and warned the nuns at the cloister who were spreading vile things about her, as well as others who had denounced her, that she would take legal steps.

It did no good. A few months later, the city council received a formal complaint: Katharina Henot was now officially accused of being a witch. What followed was appalling. And she stood no chance, because fear and superstition were the enemies she faced, and possibly envy because of her privileged social position.

A woman somewhere between her late forties and late fifties, mother of a grown daughter, Henot was tortured at least three times. The pain inflicted on her must have been unimaginable to finally make her admit to what another woman accused of being a sorceress had -- under torture -- said about her: that she was a witch. On May 19 1627, Henot was publically executed. After being garroted – a form of execution regarded as particularly gruesome – her body was burned.

Three hundred and eighty-five years later, on June 28, 2012, Katharina Henot and 37 other men and women who were victims of witch hunts in the Rhine city, were rehabilitated by the Cologne City Council. The Council was unanimous in its denunciation of "any form of abuse of human dignity and human rights." Its resolution states that "the Council of the City of Cologne condemns the executions that were carried out at the time."

This is not a legal act – no official lifting of the verdicts – because legally the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation disappeared without a legal successor. So this was a symbolic gesture, a saving of honor and recognition of innocence albeit somewhat late in the day for those concerned.

No small number

It was also a way of showing how easy it is to marginalize people, to defame them so that they are no longer even seen as people but as demons to be exterminated. Historians estimate that 25,000 men and women in Germany were executed because they were supposedly in league with the devil.

However, it would not be right to accuse the city of Cologne of not having dealt previously with this unsavory aspect of its history. A school and a street bear Katharina Henot's name, and there is a sculpture of her along with 123 other important historical figures on the Town Hall tower. The local "Bläck Fööss' music group also dedicated a song to her.

The City Council's declaration is important not least because it acknowledges the many other – less prominent – victims. Among the 37 others executed were three men and a boy. An 8-year-old girl was luckier: the alleged child-witch was allowed to keep her life but ordered to leave the city.

The man who made the rehabilitation proposal to Cologne's City Council is a retired Protestant clergyman, Hartmut Hegeler, from the town of Unna, also in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. He has been working for ten years to create awareness of the issue, and views the unanimous decision of the complaints committee on February 13, 2012 to recommend that the Council opt for rehabilitation as a milestone.

Cologne is now the 14th commune in Germany to have taken action to distance itself from this aspect of its past. After the City Council vote, Hegeler said he was "very relieved." But his fight is not over. By way of reparation, he wants not only for a Mass honoring the victims to be celebrated in Cologne Cathedral but for the Cologne church to officially rehabilitate the victims of the Inquisition.

However, it was a secular court that condemned Katharina Henot; she had been declared not guilty by a church court. And witch hunting was no explicitly Catholic phenomenon: it took place in Protestant areas as well. Martin Luther believed in the existence of witches and approved of taking steps against them.

But it was a Dominican monk, Inquisitor Heinrich Kramer, who in 1487 wrote the handbook for witch hunters entitled the "Hexenhammer" which listed what in his view were the tell-tale signs that identified those who had made pacts with the devil. If suspects did not admit to such things as having taken part in a "Witches' Sabbath" then they were to be tortured until such time as they did admit it.

It presently looks as if both Protestant and Catholic churches will soon acknowledge their responsibility for the witch hunts. Committed Protestants have launched an initiative urging the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKD) and established Protestant state churches to rehabilitate the victims of witch hunts no later than the 2017 Reformation anniversary celebrations.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Latente

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The True Horrors Behind 7 Haunted Locations Around The World

With Halloween arriving, we have dug up the would-be ghosts of documented evil and bloodshed from the past.

Inside Poveglia Island's abandoned asylum

Laure Gautherin and Carl-Johan Karlsson

When Hallows Eve was first introduced as a Celtic festival some 2,000 years ago, bonfires and costumes were seen as a legitimate way to ward off ghosts and evil spirits. Today of course, with science and logic being real ghostbusters, spine-chilling tales of haunted forests, abandoned asylums and deserted graveyards have rather become a way to add some mystery and suspense to our lives.

And yet there are still spooky places around the world that have something more than legend attached to them. From Spain to Uzbekistan and Australia, these locations prove that haunting lore is sometimes rooted in very real, and often terrible events.

Shahr-e Gholghola, City of Screams - Afghanistan

photo of  ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola,

The ruins of Shahr-e Gholghola, the City of Screams, in Afghanistan

Dai He/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire

According to locals, ghosts from this ancient royal citadel located in the Valley of Bamyan, 150 miles northwest of Kabul, have been screaming for 800 years. You can hear them from miles away, at twilight, when they relive their massacre.

In the spring 1221, the fortress built by Buddhist Ghorids in the 6th century became the theater of the final battle between Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, last ruler of the Khwarezmian Empire, and the Mongol Horde led by Genghis Khan. It is said that Khan's beloved grandson, Mutakhan, had been killed on his mission to sack Bamyan. To avenge him, the Mongol leader went himself and ordered to kill every living creature in the city, children included.

The ruins today bear the name of Shahr-e Gholghola, meaning City of Screams or City of Sorrows. The archeological site, rich in Afghan history, is open to the public and though its remaining walls stay quiet during the day, locals say that the night brings the echoes of fear and agony. Others claim the place comes back to life eight centuries ago, and one can hear the bustle of the city and people calling each other.

Gettysburg, Civil War battlefield - U.S.

photo of rocks and trees in Gettysburg

View of the battlefields from Little Round Top, Gettysburg, PA, USA


Even ghosts non-believers agree there is something eerie about Gettysbury. The city in the state of Pennsylvania is now one of the most popular destinations in the U.S. for spirits and paranormal activities sight-seeing; and many visitors report they witness exactly what they came for: sounds of drums and gunshots, spooky encounters and camera malfunctions in one specific spot… just to name a few!

The Battle of Gettysburg, for which President Abraham Lincoln wrote his best known public address, is considered a turning point in the Civil War that led to the Union's victory. It lasted three days, from July 1st to July 3rd, 1863, but it accounts for the worst casualties of the entire conflict, with 23,000 on the Union side (3,100 men killed) and 28,000 for the Confederates (including 3,900 deaths). Thousands of soldiers were buried on the battlefield in mass graves - without proper rites, legend says - before being relocated to the National Military Park Cemetery for the Unionists.

Since then, legend has it, their restless souls wander, unaware the war has ended. You can find them everywhere, on the battlefield or in the town's preserved Inns and hotels turned into field hospitals back then.

Belchite, Civil War massacre - Spain

photo of sunset of old Belchite

Old Belchite, Spain

Belchite Town Council

Shy lost souls wandering and briefly appearing in front of visitors, unexplainable forces attracting some to specific places of the town, recorded noises of planes, gunshots and bombs, like forever echoes of a drama which left an open wound in Spanish history…

That wound, still unhealed, is the Spanish Civil War; and at its height in 1937, Belchite village, located in the Zaragoza Province in the northeast of Spain, represented a strategic objective of the Republican forces to take over the nearby capital city of Zaragoza.

Instead of being a simple step in their operation, it became the field of an intense battle opposing the loyalist army and that of General Francisco Franco's. Between August 24 and September 6, more than 5,000 people were killed, including half of Belchite's population. The town was left in rubble. As a way to illustrate the Republicans' violence, Franco decided to leave the old town in ruins and build a new Belchite nearby. All the survivors were relocated there, but they had to wait 15 years for it to be complete.

If nothing particular happens in new Belchite, home to around 1,500 residents, the remains of old Belchite offer their share of chilling ghost stories. Some visitors say they felt a presence, someone watching them, sudden change of temperatures and strange sounds. The ruins of the old village have been used as a film set for Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen - with the crew reporting the apparition of two women dressed in period costumes - and Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth. And in October 1986, members of the television program "Cuarta Dimensión" (the 4th dimension) spent a night in Belchite and came back with some spooky recordings of war sounds.

Gur Emir, a conquerer’s mausoleum - Uzbekistan

photo of Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) i

Gur Emir (Tomb of Timur) in Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Chris Bradley/Design Pics via ZUMA Wire

The news echoed through the streets and bazaars of Samarkand: "The Russian expedition will open the tomb of Tamerlane the Great. It will be our curse!" It was June 1941, and a small team of Soviet researchers began excavations in the Gur-Emir mausoleum in southeastern Uzbekistan.

The aim was to prove that the remains in the tomb did in fact belong to Tamerlane — the infamous 14th-century conqueror and first ruler of the Timurid dynasty who some historians say massacred 1% of the world's population in 1360.

Still, on June 20, despite protests from local residents and Muslim clergy, Tamerlame's tomb was cracked open — marked with the inscription: "When I Rise From the Dead, The World Shall Tremble."

Only two days later, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, with the people of Samarkand linking it to the disturbing of Tamerlane's peace. Amid local protests, the excavation was immediately wrapped up and the remains of the Turkish/Mongol conqueror were sent to Moscow. The turning point in the war came with the victory in the Battle of Stalingrad — only a month after a superstitious Stalin ordered the return of Tamerlane's remains to Samarkand where the former emperor was re-buried with full honors.

Gamla Stan, a royal massacre - Sweden

a photo of The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden

The red house of Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden


After Danish King Kristian II successfully invaded Sweden and was anointed King in November 1520, the new ruler called Swedish leaders to join for festivities at the royal palace in Stockholm. At dusk, after three days of wine, beer and spectacles, Danish soldiers carrying lanterns and torches entered the great hall and imprisoned the gathered nobles who were considered potential opponents of the Danish king. In the days that followed, 92 people were swiftly sentenced to death, and either hanged or beheaded on Stortorget, the main square in Gamla Stan (Old Town).

Until this day, the Stockholm Bloodbath is considered one of the most brutal events in Scandinavian history, and some people have reported visions of blood flowing across the cobblestoned square in early November. A little over a century later, a red house on the square was rebuilt as a monument for the executed — fitted with 92 white stones for each slain man. Legend has it that should one of the stones be removed, the ghost of the represented will rise from the dead and haunt the streets of Stockholm for all eternity.

Port Arthur, gruesome prison - Australia

a photo of ort Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Port Arthur Prison Settlement, Tasmania, Australia

Flickr/Eli Duke

During its 47-year history as a penal settlement, Port Arthur in southern Tasmania earned a reputation as one of the most notorious prisons in the British Empire. The institution — known for a brutal slavery system and punishment of the most hardened criminals sent from the motherland— claimed the lives of more than 1,000 inmates until its closure in 1877.

Since then, documented stories have spanned the paranormal gamut: poltergeist prisoners terrorizing visitors, weeping children roaming the port and tourists running into a weeping 'lady in blue' (apparently the spirit of a woman who died in childbirth). The museum even has an 'incidence form' ready for anyone wanting to report an otherworldly event.

Poveglia Island, plague victims - Italy

a photo of Poveglia Island, Italy

Poveglia Island, Italy

Mirco Toniolo/ROPI via ZUMA Press

Located off the coast of Venice and Lido, Poveglia sadly reunites all the classical elements of a horror movie: plagues, mass burial ground and mental institute (from the 1920's).

During the bubonic plague and other subsequent pandemics, the island served as a quarantine station for the sick and anyone showing any signs of what could be Black Death contamination. Some 160,000 victims are thought to have died there and the seven acres of land became a mass burial ground so full that it is said that human ash makes up more than 50% of Poveglia's soil.

In 1922 a retirement home for the elderly — used as a clandestine mental institution— opened on the island and with it a fair amount of rumors involving torture of patients. The hospital and consequently the whole island was closed in 1968, leaving all the dead trapped off-land.

Poveglia's terrifying past earned it the nickname of 'Island of Ghosts'. Despite being strictly off-limits to visitors, the site has been attracting paranormal activity hunters looking for the apparition of lost and angry souls. The island would be so evil that some locals say that when an evil person dies, he wakes up in Poveglia, another kind of hell.

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