By Matthew Day
Katharina Henot suffered her fiery fate in Cologne in 1627 after being found guilty of practicing black magic. Arrested, and tortured to such an extent that the right-handed woman had to scrawl her last letter of defence with her left hand, she was eventually paraded through the city in an open cart before being tied to a stake and burnt.
Now the panel on the city council whose predecessors found her guilty of witchcraft hundreds of years ago will review the evidence. It is suspected that Henot, head of the city’s post office, fell foul of a deadly game of political intrigue orchestrated by her rivals and detractors.
The fact that Henot’s name has a chance of exoneration is due largely to the efforts of Hartmut Hegeler, an evangelical pastor and religious education teacher, who has championed the woman’s cause in Cologne.
“We were taking about the witch trials in class and my students asked me if whether the judgment against Henot had ever been cancelled, and the answer was ‘no’,” said Mr Hegeler. “Katharina had her own reputation in high esteem; she would want to have it cleared.”
Between 1500 and 1782 at least 25,000 Germans, mostly women but also some men and children, were executed for witchcraft. Many were made scapegoats for natural disasters or faced accusations because of personal vendettas or just because they failed to fit in with the people around them.
In one of the most infamous cases, a three-month burst of bloodletting in the small town of Oberkirchen in 1630 claimed the lives of 58, including those of two children, as accusations of witchcraft spread like wildfire.
Now across Germany towns and villages are beginning to rehabilitate the names of the executed in an attempt to bring a belated form of justice.