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4/04/2002                                                                                       View Comments

Torture of the Pappenheimers from 'Bamberger Halsgerichtordnung' (1508)

The hapless family were pulled from their slumber and taken to jail. Ten-year-old Hänsel was left behind with the Pappenheimer's landlords. The next day, not knowing what else to do with him, the landlords took little Hänsel to the jail to be with his parents.

The Pappenheimers were kept in the custody of a man by the name of Alexander von Haslang zu Haslangsreut, Grosshausen und Reid. Haslang had the responsibility of turning the Pappenheimer family into an example of extreme justice. After their capture, Haslang arranged for the interrogation and torture of the Pappenheimers. He accused the family of multiple crimes and of practicing witchcraft in league with the Devil. Although the Pappenheimers declared their innocence of crime and of witchcraft at first, a bit of carefully used torture made them change their plea.

Fundamentally, Haslang was not terribly interested in the case, and thought that an accusation of witchcraft would remove the Pappenheimers from his custody. His assumption proved correct, and the Pappenheimers were shipped off to Falcon Tower in Munich (Kunze 15-16).



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Falcon Tower
In Falcon Tower, the family were tortured repeatedly. The strappado, squassation, rope burns, and torch burnings were used against them. Hänsel was beaten with a cane, as that was the typical torture imposed upon children. At first, all pleaded innocence, but after repeated torture sessions and leading questions, the Pappenheimers weakened.

After intense torture sessions, all but Hänsel revealed the following about their Satanic indoctrination: on seperate occasions, after succumbing to sexual intercourse with the Devil, they promised to aid the Devil in return for money and worldly possessions. They gave to the Devil hair from their head, from their armpit, and their private parts--from the left side, in every case. "Also a piece of nail from the big toe" of their left foot, "and powder of children's hands." Then the Devil scratched them on their left side, drawing blood, "which he collected in a little box; took out a sheet of paper, which he placed on his knee; and put a pen into" their hand, so they could sign the pact. Because they were illiterate, the Devil guided their hands as they wrote. "Then he wrapped up in the paper all the things that" they "had given him, and took them with him (Kunze 221)"

After prolonged torture, the Pappenheimers had been forced to admit to a ridiculous amount of crimes. They claimed to have committed almost every unsolved major and minor crime of the last decade. Over four hundred other people were implicated by the Pappenheimers, including people who did not appear to exist.

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The Trial
When the trial was finally conducted, the official charges went as follows:

"Of Paulus Gämperl is was said that he had 'crippled and slain one hundred young children and ten old people by dint of vile sorcery.' The crowd also heard how 'he had entered the cellars of innkeepers and other folk, shamelessly devouring such victuals and drink as he might lay his hands on.' He had further confessed to having 'committed ten robberies from churches, violently slain forty-four persons by his hand alone, set fire to homes or barns eight times, broken into houses by night fourteen times, pillaging and robbing the tenants, robbed wayfarers on the highway five times, and committed four other thefts'" (Kunze 399).
"In like manner, his wife...Anna Gämperl, being sixty years of age, has assailed one hundred infants and nineteen old people with her spells, crippling them and killing them in godless fashion; she has entered cellars on eight occasions, has committed one murder by her own hand, set fire twice to the homes of others, has caused four gales and hailstorms, and has poisoned meadows and afflicted cattle so often that she herself cannot tell the number" (Kunze 399).
"The elder of her two sons, called Gumpprecht,...has caused the death of thirty children and adults by means of sorcery: has entered cellars on twelve occasions, burgled and robbed nine churches, committed twenty-four murders, set fire to nine homes, broken in by night and robbed fold six times. He has four times committed highway robbery, poisoned and ruined fields and cattle without number, and caused strife between God-fearing spouses on four occasions" (Kunze 400).
"The other, her son Jacob, aged twenty-one years, has slain sixty-five infants and five adults by sorcery, has ten times entered cellars, has committed five thefts from churches, has put to death and murdered thirty-three persons by his own hand, set five fires, broken in five times by night, committed four other thefts, caused ten gales and hailstorms, poisoned fields and beasts twenty-six times" (Kunze 400).

Hänsel Pämb was to be a spectator to his family's execution.

Two other men were tried at the same time on similar charges. Ulrich Schölz and Georg Schmälz, a farmer and a tailor, were also to be murdered in the name of justice.


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The Tearing of Flesh
After the official charges were read out, the Pappenheimers were taken to their final place of torture and of their execution. Commissioner Wangereck instructed that Hänsel was to watch his family's execution. Somehow, this was to have a salutary effect on the little boy.

When the prisoners were taken out of Falcon Tower, Hänsel was handed over to the sheriff of Munich. The sheriff put the boy onto his horse and rode off to the marketplace. There, he mingled with the crowd, all the while paying strict attention to Hänsel's behaviour. The sheriff was under orders to note everything Hänsel said.

For a long time, Hänsel did not say anything. He did not even appear to be upset; "on the contrary, in the sheriff's opinion, he appeared 'lively enough'" (Kunze 406).

Soon, the final torments began.

The executioner took a pair of red-hot pincers from the brazier and approached Paulus Pappenheimer. Six gaping wounds were torn in Paulus's arms and body, and he screamed in agony.

Next, the executioner had moved to Gumpprecht with a new set of tongs where he issued the same terrible punishment. One by one, each of the men were ripped in the same way.

Then the executioner made his way to Anna and cut off her breasts.

This harsh and repulsive punishment imposed on women was obviously intended to degrade the victim. At that time it was rarely carried out. In the most comprehensive manual of the itme, which deals with all the customary 'punishments to life and limb,' it is mentioned only as a historical item--a form of torture practiced in the days when Christians were being persecuted. 'Anatomists unanimously agree that the female breasts are extremely sensitive, on account of the refinement of the veins, of which the heathen tyrants duly took note in their persecution of Christians, inflicting agonizing wounds to the breast of those females that did stand by their Christian faith, ripping and tearing the same, and in the end even cutting them off.' In Duke Maximilian's Bavaria, this punishment seems nevertheless not to have been altogether unusual. The regulations for the duke's executioner, drafted by Georg Hund in 1601, provide for it.

According to the reports of the chroniclers, Anna's severed breasts were rubbed around her mouth and around the mouths of Gumpprecht and Michel (Kunze 407). This was a savage parody of breastfeeding. The brutal irony could hardly be missed by the spectators.


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A Brief Respite

The Pappenheimers and the other condemned prisoners were put in two carts and taken away in the midst of a procession. Anna, Gummprecht, and Michel were in the first cart, and Paulus Pappenheimer, Ulrich Schölz, and Georg Schmälz were in the other. The prisoners sat on planks which had been nailed onto the carts. Two priests sat with the prisoners on the planks (Kunze 407).

Hänsel and the sheriff rode up to just behind the dignitaries at the rear of the procession. Just as they reached the Fair Tower, where most of the spectators had gathered, Hänsel exclaimed happily to the sheriff, "Look, look! What a grand wedding for my father and mother! They've got so many men-at-arms--the duke doesn't have as many himself!"

The sheriff was horrified. However, instead of regarding the words as those of a much-abused child in shock, he saw them as the work of the Devil, and as highly suspect. He noted Hänsel's words for inclusion in the report he later filed (Kunze 409).

While this was taking place, the prisoners were taken to a cross by the Neuhaus gate. "On the righthand wall of the gateway hung a wooden cross adorned with flowers. According to ancient custom, criminals being led to the place of execution were supposed to say a prayer in front of the cross." The condemned were led to the cross, and "on their way back to the carts, the party was delayed, in keeping with ancient custom, by two municipal officials, who offered the chained prisoners wine from capacious bottles. The poor wretches presumably gulped it down eagerly" (Kunze 409).


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The Wheel and Worse
The prisoners were finally transported to their place of execution. "A shout of 'Silence! Silence!' rang out over the place of execution. The tumult of the crowd, the shoutingk singing, laughing, murmering died down, and the attention of everyone present was focused on the summit of the gallows hill, which could be seen clearly from all sides. Christoph Neuchinger moved away from the group of horsemen waiting to the right of the stakes and guided his horse to the center of the hill. 'I order the executioner to carry out his duty,' he called in a voice that reached the very outskirts of the crowd, 'and I warrant him peace and safe conduct, whatever may befall him!' With these words he placed the executioner under the protection of the court, in case he were to commit some blunder in carrying out the execution. It had been known for the frenzied spectators of a bungled execution to lynch the executioner. It was to forestall this kind of thing that the assurance of safe conduct was given" (Kunze 411).

"'Look! Now they're bringing my father!' cried Hänsel to the folk standing around the sheriff's horse. The executioner and one of his assistants dragged Paulus Pappenheimer to the wooden grating, laid him on it, and bound his arms and legs. Then the executioner took up the wheel with his brawny arms and let it fall, first on the right arm, and then on the left arm of the condemned man. The bones snapped with a loud crack, and the victim groaned aloud. 'Look how they're thumping my father's arms!' cried the horrified child on the sheriff's horse" (Kunze 411).

"The other criminals suffered the same treatment. Although in some regions, women were broken upon the wheel, for reasons that lie buried deep in the mystic symbolism of penal practices, Anna was spared this punishment. Possibly this punishment, which was usually continued until the battered victim died, was thought too cruel to be inflicted on the weaker sex. 'Here in Germany,' ran the general opinion, breaking on the wheel 'is, apart from burning alive, the worst and most dreadful penalty, being imposed on murderers and highwaymen..., those who steal from churches and all who aid and abet them..., those who slay their parents or children..., assassins or hired killers..., witches and ogres, such as have committed barbaric crimes.' In our case, in fact, the breaking on the wheel was not carried through to the end, for there was a risk that the victims might expire in the process when they were supposed to suffer to the bitter end the whole catalogue of penalties embodied in the sentence. The tearing of their flesh with red-hot pincers had already weakened the condemned criminals--full-scale breaking on the wheel would have put a premature end to their sufferings" (Kunze 411-412).

"The executioner had been instructed to proceed with moderation. In order to set a sensational, terrifying example, the agony was piled on carefully to the utmost limit of what could be done to men without killing them outright. In the case of Paulus Pappenheimer, who was seen in some sense as the instigator and ringleader of the gang, they had thought of something even more appalling: impalement. This was one of the most revolting punishments ever devised by the human imagination and even in those days was hardly ever used. The penal code of Charles V did not make provision for it. In the manual Punishments of Life and Limb..., we find the following: 'In barbaric regions, particularly in Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, and Salee, where inveterate pirates dwell, if a man is thought guilty of treason, he is impaled. This is done by inserting a sharply pointed stake into his posterior, which then is forced through his body, emerging through the head, sometimes through the throat. This stake is then inverted and planted in the ground, so that the wretched victims, as we may well imagine, live on in agony for some days before expiring. . . . It is said that nowadays not so much trouble is taken with impalement as once the case, but such crimnals simply have a short spit thrust into their anus and are left to crawl thus upon the earth until they die.' We may well imagine that such a barbaric punishment was calculated to arouse sympathy for the tormented victim among the spectators of an execution. This was no doubt the reason it was not generally employed. But Paulus Pappenheimer was forced to suffer it--apparently the authorities could think of no other way of enhancing the brutality of the proceedings (Kunze 412).


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The Execution
"Two brawny retainers seized the victim as he writhed groaning on the ground and dragged him up the wooden planks that formed the ramp leading up to one of the central stakes. There they left him bound on top of the heap of brushwood. Then Anna was pulled up onto the pile alongside and tied to a wooden chair that had been secured among the bundles of faggots. Gumpprecht, Michel, Schölz, and the tailor were thrust onto the four other heaps of brushwood, where they were chained to the wooden stakes. Then the executioner's assistants dragged the gangways off the pyres. Pitch torches were lighted and thrust rapidly, one after the other, into the dry brushwood. Flames crackled and darted up to catch twigs and branches. Acrid smoke rolled up, blinding the victims, snatching their breath. The spectators' view of the culprits was increasingly obscured by smoke and leaping flames. The poor wretches could be dimly glimpsed, choking and writhing in the heat, as far as their bonds permitted. Hänsel, on the sheriff's horse, burst into heart-rending cries. 'My mother is squirming!' he cried in despair" (Kunze 412, 413).

"Because it was such an uncommonly cruel punishment, burning alive was rare. The screams of the suffocating victims, their appalling death agonies, had on similar occasions led to expressions of anger among the onlookers and to violent threats to the executioner. That is why William V's instructions regarding witchcraft recommended in cases of 'execution by fire' that the poor sinner should 'first be put to death by the rope, and then burned, unless there be special, momentous, and weighty reasons why the judges see fit to have the culprit punished and executed by burning alive, as an example and deterrent to others.' This was precisely the reason in the case we are dealing with" (Kunze 413).


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Aftermath
After the execution, Hänsel was taken by the sheriff back to his cell. On November 26, 1600, he was burned to death at the stake (Kunze 414).

Of all the crimes accused of the Pappenheimers,

the court was never to find a single convincing proof of these alleged crimes, in spite of an intensive search for evidence--not even in terms of the legal theory current at the time, which...required that a confession of guilt should be supported by some circumstance that could be known only to the criminal. For example, the discovery of the body of a person hitherto missing, in a location stated by the author of the confession, or the discovery of a stolen object in a hiding place named by the thief. Such proofs were totally lacking in the case brought against our vagrants. Everything they confessed to could have been a matter of common knowledge: that someone had been murdered, that someone else had been robbed, that a church had been plundered here, a farm set on fire there (Kunze 153).

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