And the name of its most well-known building, “The Witch Mayor’s House”, can give a clue.
The name is a reference to a witch hunter who lived in the region in the 17th century and oversaw the last three successive waves of witch trials.
In a period of about 50 years that began in 1628, more than 200 women (in addition to five men) were burned at the stake in Lemgo alone.
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Margarete Krevetsiek’s name comes up in the midst of this hundreds of deaths.
Krevetsiek was arrested and accused of witchcraft and trying to teach a young girl her tricks in the summer of 1653.
She confessed to witchcraft under torture and was burned on a Sunday, August 10 of the same year. As a “concession”, the authorities allowed her to be beheaded first.
And that was all there was in the Krevetsiek story for a long time.
But that story has recently changed, all thanks to one of his descendants.
A retired police officer and amateur genealogist, Bernd Krammer discovered that his wife, Ulla, was related to Margarete Krevetsiek while researching his family tree.
“When we found out that we had a supposed ‘witch’ among our ancestors, I was immediately thrilled. Things like this are a highlight in my family’s research,” Krammer told the BBC.
“My wife immediately thought: ‘poor woman!’ But we were not afraid because, since school, we knew that many injustices had happened in Europe during those years. ”
Krammers believe that injustices, especially if committed by the Church or the State, need to be corrected. – Photo: Krammers via BBC
Krevetsiek was charged by her stepson six years after she punished him with a beating.
The Krammers, who live in Bremerhaven, a three-hour drive north of Lemgo, believed that the distant relative deserved justice, regardless of how much time had passed.
So, several centuries later, in 2012, they made a formal request to the city council asking that Krevetsiek be acquitted.
Five years later, his name and the names of all victims of the witchcraft trials in the city were rehabilitated.
“We think it was important to clear her name because injustice, especially if done by the state or the church, must be corrected, even after a long time,” said Krammer.
“Each case that is brought up prevents [essas injustiças] fall into oblivion. ”
The great witch hunt
The Salem trials in Massachusetts in the 17th century are well known around the world, but Europe was actually the scene of an incomparably bigger witch hunt.
In Salem, 200 people were accused of witchcraft and 20 people lost their lives.
In present-day Germany, it is estimated that the number of executions occurred is around 25 thousand.
In the territory where today is Switzerland, for example, entire villages have been decimated.
It is estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 people were sentenced to death in Europe between the end of the 16th century and the end of the 17th century.
Hartmut Hegeler is a Protestant pastor from the city of Unna, an hour’s drive from Cologne. Since 2010, he has helped to “acquit” a few hundred victims of the German witch hunt.
The children were also found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to death at the stake. – Photo: Getty Images via BBC
“For me, it is a question of the credibility of my belief. Jesus Christ himself was accused, tortured and killed, and we Christians say that he was innocent,” Father Hegeler told the BBC.
“These witch hunt victims had to go through the same things, being accused, tortured and murdered even though they were innocent.”
But he says the fight is not just for the past – it is also against “violence and marginalization” that still occurs in the world today.
A ‘witch’ at nine
Father Hegeler tells a case that impressed him: Christine Teipel, a nine-year-old girl, was accused of witchcraft and executed in May 1630, in the village of Oberkirchen, in the north.
Christine started telling people that she was a witch and had participated in a sabbat – a night dance with the devil – along with 15 other people: eight men, six women and another young woman, Grete Halman.
Historians speculate that Christine’s story suggests a link to child abuse or other trauma.
Authorities arrested her and 15 other people reported by the girl. They were tortured. The prisoners then accused other people. There were seven trials over a three-month period.
In the end, 58 people were burned at the stake – including Christine, her stepmother, Grete and her parents.
“There is nothing about the possible torture of this girl, but you can imagine that a nine-year-old girl would be very scared just to see instruments of torture,” said Father Hegeler.
It was common practice to show the suspects the instruments of torture during an initial “friendly” interrogation.
Brutal forms of corporal punishment, which included physical torture and keeping someone awake for days, would be used in subsequent interrogations.
A commonly used technique was called diving, when a person accused of witchcraft was tied to a chair and dipped in water.
If they floated, they would be considered wizards who used their magic to stay alive. Then they were burned at the stake.
If they sank, they would be considered innocent who “died involuntarily”.
Although men were also tried and executed for witchcraft, the vast majority of victims – 85% or more – were women.
They were often accused of “sexual acts with the devil”.
The Malleus Maleficarum, a 15th-century witch hunt manual, placed great emphasis on women’s “insatiable” sexual appetite, describing them as creatures without “moderation in kindness or addiction.”
Claire Mitchell, a lawyer who is leading a campaign recently launched in Scotland, says the misogyny of that time remains very recognizable to this day.
“What is very modern is that witchcraft is still used as a method of social control and harassment of women and children today,” she told the BBC.
His campaign is demanding forgiveness, an apology and a memorial dedicated to those convicted under the Scottish Witchcraft Act, which went into effect in 1563 and remained in effect until 1736.
The group recently campaigned for three signs that were discovered on a coastal heritage trail around the historic village of Culross.
The monument honors 380 women from local communities who were arrested, tortured, hanged and burned.
Last year, plans were revealed for a national memorial at the cemetery of Lilias Adie, a woman who died in custody in 1704, while being forced to confess that she had had sex with the devil.
Adie’s face was recreated with the help of computers by a team of researchers led by forensic scientist Christopher Rynn of the University of Dundee.
“When the reconstruction gets to the skin layer, it’s a bit like meeting someone and they start to remind you of people you know,” said Rynn.
“There was nothing in Lilias’ story to suggest that today she would be considered anything other than a victim of horrible circumstances.”
Scotland’s “satanic panic” began after King James VI, who considered himself an expert and even wrote a book on the occult, faced a particularly stormy ocean crossing on his return home from Denmark.
He blamed witchcraft for bad weather and ordered an extensive witch hunt.
Almost 4,000 people were charged and 2,600 executed.
Mitchell recalls a particular case that shocked her: a woman on the Orkney Islands, off the northeast coast of Scotland, who had fallen out with a fisherman in her village.
One day he was at sea when a storm hit.
“He said that when he went out to sea, he saw a seal. And he believed the seal was looking at him, and he thought the seal was that woman, like a witch,” says Mitchell.
“They then believed that she had the ability to transform into different animals. And that was enough: she was executed.”
But rewriting history is not easy, even in the face of evident injustice.
In Germany, Father Hegeler says that some local authorities have refused to grant forgiveness for fear that the history of witches will tarnish the reputation of the place and harm tourism.
German religious leaders have expressed sympathy for their cause, but say the Church must focus on current problems, such as the refugee crisis and poverty.
Activists in Ireland continue to defend a plaque to honor the victims of witch trials in the country.
But Mitchell said that the recent moves to bring down the statues of people linked to slavery are “a powerful sign that people care about history”.
“They are concerned with being adequately represented in modern days and do not want a story from a different time to be forgotten.”
For Krammers, learning about their ancestor’s fate rekindled some of the quests that began when Bernd turned 15.
“My grandmother was Jewish and was very lucky to survive her time. My great-grandparents were not so lucky,” he says.
He spent five years looking for the place where his grandfather’s remains were.
In 2001, almost six decades after his grandfather’s death, he found a mass grave near Berlin. The experience marked him deeply.
“I spent two hours there, looking at his grave. Even while I was looking for him, I was thinking about things [horríveis] that people can do to others. ”
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