Düsseldorf City Hall refuses to rehabilitate women burned as witches

The last witch trial in Western Germany took place in Gerresheim in 1738, which has been incorporated into Düsseldorf as a district. Two women, Helena Curtens, 16, and Agnes Olmans, 47, were burned at the stake. The City Council was discussing the issue of rehabilitating the two women, supported by the Social Democratic (SPD) and Green Parties.

The city councillor in charge of cultural affairs, from the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) said that City Hall would not be able to grant that request, as it had been a lawful verdict at the time. He said that the court had deliberated for a long time to arrive at its verdict, and the Düsseldorf City Council could not be regarded as a successor to that court. He had sought the expertise of a theologian and proclaimed that it was beyond doubt that the two women were “engaged in superstitious acts”.

This is idiotic on so many levels. Hiding behind legalistic justifications, the good councillor ignores the fact that many other city councils have actually done such a thing. The most outrageous aspect of this farce is that he relied on the advice of a theologian about whether the women in question were burned at the stake for witchcraft correctly. Anyone who has ever studied the history of witch hunts in Europe, it is quite clear that torture was routinely used in interrogations to arrive at confessions (though I do not know the details of the present case).

He did say that naming a street in Gerresheim after the two women would be the best the city could do, though he didn’t sound too enthusiastic about naming a street after heretics either. One would have thought that Düsseldorf, the state capital of the most populous German state, had more class!


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