1868: Georg Ratkay, the last public hanging in Vienna

Add comment May 30th, 2019 Headsman

Vienna’s last public execution was the raucous May 30, 1868 hanging of Georg Ratkay.

The 23-year-old Hungarian proletarian had migrated to the bustling capital where he found accommodation as a “bedwalker”, literally renting hours in a bed shared by shifts with others. In January of 1868, he bludgeoned a carpenter’s wife to death in the course of robbing her.

For a few months that year it was the outrage on the lips of every Viennese and when the day came lips and limbs and leering eyes thronged as one into the square surrounding the Spinnerin am Kreuz tower, where the execution was to take place. By report of the Neue Freie Presse, the plaza was already bustling with early campers by 2 in the morning although the hanging wouldn’t go off until the evening. Roofs of adjacent taverns and factories made their owners a tidy profit charging gawkers for the vantage point, as did custodians of improvised grandstands hastily thrown up on the scene.

There were many reports of the indecencies of this bawdy and bloodthirsty gaggle, making merry for the “unusually pleasurable spectacle” and lubricated on beer served by vendors who also plied their trade here. Essayist Friedrich Schlögl gave voice to the disdain of respectable Vienna, in a piece quoted from Unruly Masses: The Other Side of Fin-de-siecle Vienna:

These were the habitues of the gallows, of both sexes — pinched faces, regular customers of the noisiest bars, inmates of the dirtiest cellars of poverty and squalor, a composite mixture of the many-headed company of knaves … All who had not been detained in prisons, asylums, and other Imperial establishments for improvement had come out for crude pleasure. Right through until dawn, the mob made the most appalling nuisance; then when day eventually broke and the food sellers came around hawking their “criminal sausages,” “poor sinner pretzels,” “gallows sandwiches,” etc., all hell broke loose and thousands upon thousands became as frenzied as was the fashion at the Brigittenauer Kirtag in days long past.

Only with difficulty (and rifle butts) could the hussars escorting the death party actually force their way through the mob to bring the star attraction to the post for his Austrian-style “pole hanging”.*

Then the “poor sinner” arrived and the official procedure took its undisturbed course. Was the crowd enraged? Was it shocked by the frightful sin? A jubilant cheer echoed through the air when, at the moment the executioner adjusted the candidate’s head, a pole broke and hundreds of curious spectators pressed forward. The joyous cries of at least a thousand throats went on to reward the clever trick of a man who knocked a coachman’s hat off because he “thoughtlessly” kept it on when the priest began his prayer.

The Emperor Franz Joseph I, who was already commuting most of the empire’s death sentences as a matter of policy** and had lost his own brother to a firing squad the year before, was so disgusted by the commotion that he never again permitted such a scene in Vienna. Ratkay’s hanging is commonly described as the last public execution in all of Austria, although according to the Austrian State Archive there were actually six more, all lower-key affairs away from the imperial center, before 1873 legislation formally moved all executions behind prison walls.

* For images of this distinctive execution method, see photos of Italian nationalist Cesare Battisti or video of World War II war criminal Karl Hermann Frank undergoing the punishment.

** The Austrian State Archive page linked above claims that of 559 death sentences from 1868 to 1876, only 14 came to actual execution.

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1536: Michael Seifensieder, Hieronymus Kals and Hans Oberecker, incriminating abstention

Add comment March 31st, 2019 Headsman

From The Mennonite encyclopedia: a comprehensive reference work on the Anabaptist-Mennonite movement, Volume 1:

The earliest Anabaptist confession, The Seven Articles of Schleitheim (1527), forbade in Article 4 the patronage of drinking places. Capito, the reformer of Strasbourg, states in a contemporary letter that the Anabaptists had undertaken to refrain, among other things, from drinking (“zu meiden das üppige Spielen, Saufen, Fressen, Ehebrechen, Kriegen, Totschlagen”). Bullinger, Zwingli‘s successor in Zürich, in his 1560 work against the Anabaptists (Von der Wiedertaufferen Ursprung) states that they drank only unfermented sweet cider (Süssmost) and water. Anabaptists were often identified as such because they refused in the inns to drink alcoholic liquors to the health of other guests, whereupon they were arrested and executed. An illustration of this is Michael Seifensieder, a preacher of the Hutterites, who with two associates [Hieronymus Kals and Hans Oberecker -ed.] was arrested on Jan. 8, 1536, in an inn in Vienna for the above reason,* having been discovered by his refusal to drink, and was finally burned at the stake on March 31, 1536.

* The episode as described in the Martyrs Mirror runs thus:

While they were eating supper, the people tried to ascertain their character by drinking to their health; but when they perceived that they would not respond, the host had some paper brought, and wrote a letter in Latin, which, among other things, read as follows, “Here are three persons who appear to me to be Anabaptists.” But he did not know that Brother Jerome [Hieronymus Kals] understood Latin. Then said Jerome to the other brethren, they would watch together, let things go as the dear Lord should please. Two hours afterwards the constables came and brought them bound before the judge, and when they had been examined they were put in prison.

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1795: Franz Hebenstreit, Wiener Jakobiner

Add comment January 8th, 2019 Headsman

Vienna utopian Franz Hebenstreit, the world’s first communist, was publicly hanged on this date in 1795.

Philosophy student turned cavalry officer and sometime poet, Hebenstreit along with Andreas von Riedel became in the wake of the French Revolution the foremost proponents of constitutional monarchy within the Habsburg empire.

As these visionaries trended, with France, ever more republican they became in like proportion ever more odious to Emperor Franz II. Finally in 1794 the “Wiener Jakobiner” types were arrested; Hebenstreit caught a death sentence for treason via a show trial designed to exaggerate the group’s threat. (Riedel would be imprisoned, and freed from his dungeons by Napoleon.)

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1683: Two lynched during the Ottoman siege of Vienna

Add comment July 14th, 2018 Headsman

Our “execution” this date is of the mob justice variety — said mob being panicked Viennese bracing for Ottoman investiture.

As is generally the case one has many ways to read this particular lynching; at least one victim has even been situated as a trans martyr. John Stoye in his The Siege of Vienna: The Last Great Trial between Cross & Crescent gives us the thread of causation, and it turns out that these two unfortunates owed their death to Vienna’s urban planning.

The military architecture of this period was designed to keep the besieger at a distance as long as possible. The ground in front of the main defences would be cleared of buildings, and even levelled — this was the ‘glacis’; along the outer rim or ‘counterscarp’ of the moat a well-protected walk, the covered way, was constructed — usually of timber spars and palisades — from which detachments of the garrison could command with their fire the open ground in front of them; and the covered way had to be laid out so that they could command it from a number of angles … Attackers on the glacis, those who reached the counterscarp, those even who got as far as the main wall, were all exposed to fire from artillery and marksmen on the bastions …

Clamped within the walls but expanding in numbers, the citizens of Vienna had tried to build upwards. They added an extra storey to some 400 out of 1,100 houses in little more than a century. But inevitably the suburbs also grew, spreading out into the countryside — and in towards the city. By 1680 there were large settlements in Leopoldstadt on the Prater island, by the right bank of the Wien on the east, round the hamlets of Wieden and St Ulrich south and south-west, and on the western side. Particularly here the new building approached very close to the fortifications. The government had over and over again ordered the demolition of dwellings within a given distance of the walls, but to little effect. If a maximum estimate of Vienna’s total population brings it to nearly 100,000 people, a sizeable proportion must have lived in these suburbs, which would in due course give accommodation and protection to a besieging army.

The foremost Ottoman raiders now appeared, and in the distance the smoke of burning villages in the neighbourhood rose skywards. [Vienna military governor Count Ernst Rudiger von] Starhemberg did not dare delay in performing one of his most disagreeable duties: the speedy and forcible clearing of the glacis. Since earlier demolition orders had not been obeyed, he began — on 13 July — to burn down everything in the area outside the counterscarp which would obviously hamper the garrison. Most of all he wanted to clear the ground west of the city, where suburbs came closest to the moat. More smoke rose skywards. The sparks flew. They flew over the walls as far as the roof of the Schotten monastery by the Schottengate, where a fire broke out in the afternoon of Wednesday, the 14th; and it almost altered the course of history. The wind blew sparks against the neighbouring buildings, an inn, and from the inn to a wall of the Arsenal, where supplies of every kind were stored, including 1,800 barrels of powder. Nearby, other powder magazines adjoined the New-gate. If the defence-works here were seriously damaged by explosion, or the stores lost, resistance to the Turks was hardly thinkable. The flames moved along a wooden gallery into the Arsenal. Townsmen and soldiers gathered, there was a muddle about keys which could not be found, but soldiers broke through a door and cleared the points of greatest danger. A hysterical mob, looking on, smelt treason at once and lynched two suspects, a poor lunatic and a boy wearing woman’s clothes. It also destroyed the baggage which an inoffensive mining official from Hungary, then in Vienna, was trying to get out of a second inn near the Arsenal; and it panicked at the sight of a flag flying unaccountably from a roof close to the fire, fearing some kind of a signal to the enemy. More effectively, the wind then veered. Flames swept towards and into aristocratic properties on the other side, away from the Arsenal, and proceeded to burn out the Auersperg palace where the ruins went on smouldering for days. The crisis had passed before the arrival of the Turks; but the danger of yet more fires, set off by Turkish bombs or by traitors and spies inside the walls, was to be a constant nightmare in Vienna later on.

Despite the nightmare, Vienna — scorched glacis, crazed mobs, and all — withstood the siege. It was indeed the siege’s Turkish military commander who was executed for his command failure before the year was out, after failing to complete the conquest.

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1524: Caspar Tauber, Protestant protomartyr of Vienna

Add comment September 17th, 2017 Hermann Fick

(Thanks to Lutheran Pastor C.J. Hermann Fick for the guest post on the Protestant protomartyr of Austria, who was beheaded on September 17, 1524. It was originally published in Fick’s Die Märtyrer der Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche. -ed.)

“And if I still had eighty thousand souls, they would all be supplied today through my faith in God.”

-Tauber against the Roman priests.

Caspar Tauber was a highly respected, wealthy citizen of Vienna, Austria, and had a beautiful wife and several children. He had everything that people highly desire. But he left everything and denied himself; he took up his cross, and followed the Lord Jesus as a faithful disciple through shame, prison, sword and fire.

After he had championed Christian liberty often and much with words and works as a true Christian against the Antichrist, he was at last taken in solely by the Word of God in 1524. When he had for some time patiently suffered imprisonment, the Bishop of Vienna, Johann von Revellis, and his assessors spent much time secretly in prison with him in order to prevent him from making his Christian separation. But in vain. The blessed martyr chose the better part and stayed with the Word of God, fought gallantly and fearlessly, and persisted until the end. As he was taught by the Spirit of God, he was persuaded neither by threats nor by flattery and sweet words to a defection from the Gospel.

Then the servants of Antichrist tried other means. They printed a retraction that Tauber should read publicly. In it they imputed to him out of malice the error that because Christ is a spirit, his true body and blood cannot be present in Lord’s Supper. Furthermore in it is indicated that he said that he was both a priest, as an other ordained priest, that the keys of the church together belonged to all Christians, men and women. Also he had rejected the intercession of the saints, purgatory, auricular confession, and the superstition that the things blest by the priest expelled the devil. All this he should revoke and publicly renounce the Lutheran doctrine.

Now on the day appointed a high pulpit was erected in the churchyard of St. Stephen, which Tauber had to climb. Beside him, on another pulpit, was the choral master, and around them was a considerable crowd in tense anticipation. Tauber alone remained quiet and patient in the deepest silence. Then spoke the choral master: “Tauber, you are conscious why our prince and lord, Lord Ferdinand, has put there to you to recant without doubt the articles that thus lie here before you; now then you would do enough and follow.”

Then the devout Christian lifted his eyes towards heaven to God, and answered, “Dear beloved in Christ, God Almighty does not want people to be laid with heavy burdens, as He indicates in Matthew 23. Therefore is my plea to all you gathered here, and pray for the sake of God’s love, to pray an Our Father, therewith the almighty everlasting God this, so to be in the right true Christian faith, to stay and remain steadfast, but these who are not illuminated, thus are yet enlightened in Christ Jesus our dear Lord.”

But the choral master fell on his speech: “Tauber, you are not to preach but to recant what was previously stated.” With gentle heart he replied: “My lord, I have listened to you, so listen to me a little.” But the choral master angrily shouted: “You are not commanded to say such, but speak and read off what is set before you!” Then said Tauber to the people: “Dearly beloved, one has sent me a writing that I should make a revocation, particularly the first article of the sacrament of the altar, which they have invented and set at their pleasure. They scold me as a heretic and deceiver, and yet have not overcome me by the Holy Scriptures. I appeal publicly here to the Holy Roman Empire, that they choose me as their judge. I will then overcome by the Holy Scriptures, or be found unjust, so will I suffer over what set me right.” And again he said: “I testify here before everyone that I revoke absolutely nothing.” But he was ordered to descend, where he lamented, “My enemies have compassed me about, and I may never speak.” Then he was returned to prison, and the people followed him.

Then on September 10, the final judgment was made on Tauber. Early in the morning at 7 clock he was placed before the court in the Augustinian monastery. “Revoke, revoke, or you will die as a heretic!” shouted the popish clergy to him. But Tauber remained steadfast. Whereupon the official read in Latin the court’s judgment, declaring him to be a public damned heretic and condemned him to death.

But the martyr said to the assembled citizens: “Dear friends, I beg you, for God’s sake, will ye be also my witnesses, not only here, but also by the almighty God, that they have so falsely and secretly condemned me; neither I, nor you, have all understood their words and actions. For this ye also well see that they have not presented any articles to me. It would have been easy for me to answer, by God’s grace, from divine Scriptures. Unconquered, and even without a hearing, I must be condemned.

“If there were eighty thousand of their Doctors, so could or would they not get anything of me, because the Word of God is on my side. In the dark have they played with me. They are ashamed of their actions, so they hate the light. On the Word will I persevere, die and be healed. They want to force me, and set me up with falsehoods which I have not spoken. I have thought they should make heretics Christians, so they would make of me Christian from a heretic over my will and without all my confessions of a heretic. So God has taught me, so I must die.”

After such a long struggle God wanted to reveal his glory and Tauber’s faith. Once again the tyrants tried to persuade him to revoke. Many men and a great crowd gathered, eager to all learn if he would recant. But the pious Christian was not weaker but stronger and more joyful through so much pain and shame. He desired not to withdraw, but only to die.

On September 17, 1524 he won the martyr’s crown. Early in the morning at 6 o’clock he was taken to be executed on a cart. Before him was a Roman Catholic priest who reproached him with a little board painted with a crucifix and the image of the Virgin Mary; behind him sat the executioner, beside him were seven servants of the mayor and four henchmen. So the train went secretly behind the town wall by the exchange gate out on the gravel. Arriving at the place of execution, he went joyfully from the carriage and asked all those present that they should not be bad-tempered nor enemies towards those who would be so responsible for his death, for thus it would please God.

Then spoke the papal priest: “Tauber, will you not confess?” The martyr replied: “Arise, my idleness, createth your cause. I have confessed God, my heavenly Father.” The priest replied, “You should see to it that your soul is supplied.” Tauber said, “I have already supplied my soul; and if I still had eighty thousand souls, they would all be supplied today through my faith in God.”

Having said this, he looked up to heaven, and said, “O Lord Jesus Christ, you who have died for our sake and for us, I give Thee thanks that you chose me, unworthy, and hast made me worthy to die for the sake of thy divine Word.” Then he made a cross with his right foot upon the earth and knelt down joyfully on it.

As now the executioner took off his red cap, the dear martyr spoke to him: “Dear Master, take it and carry it from me!” Then the executioner tore the shirt off his neck. Tauber however, very willing and eager to die, wound his hands one over the other, raised his eyes to heaven and said three times with a loud voice, and joyful, fervent heart. “Lord Jesus Christ, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

And immediately his head fell, from which his body was dragged to a large pyre and burned. Thus he fell asleep in the Lord.


The martyred heretic’s name now decorates Vienna’s Taubergasse.

A 16th century German pamphlet celebrating Tauber is available free on Google books; you’ll need to bring along your proficiency in deciphering sumptuous Gothic blackletter.

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1934: Otto Planetta and Franz Holzweber, for the Juliputsch

Add comment July 31st, 2017 Headsman

German-Austria must return to the great German mother country, and not because of any economic considerations. No, and again no: even if such a union were unimportant from an economic point of view; yes, even if it were harmful, it must nevertheless take place. One blood demands one Reich. Never will the German nation possess the moral right to engage in colonial politics until, at least, it embraces its own sons within a single state …

The elemental cry of the German-Austrian people for union with the German mother country, that arose in the days when the Habsburg state was collapsing, was the result of a longing that slumbered in the heart of the entire people — a longing to return to the never-forgotten ancestral home. But this would be inexplicable if the historical education of the individual German-Austrian had not given rise to so general a longing. In it lies a well which never grows dry; which, especially in times of forgetfulness, transcends all momentary prosperity and by constant reminders of the past whispers softly of a new future

-Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

On this date in 1934, two Nazis were hanged for their part in a failed Austrian coup.

From his political ascent in 1933 — and well before, as the quote above indicates — the Reich’s unification with his native land of Austria had been a cherished goal for Adolf Hitler. To that end, Berlin had fostered a clandestine network of Austrian Nazis branded as “SS Standarte 89” and allowed exiles to broadcast seditious propaganda from German soil.

Their “July Putsch” (English Wikipedia entry | German) was a year or so in the making, and commenced when four truckloads of SS Standarte 89 men in military attire suddenly stormed the federal chancellery in Vienna, murdering chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in the process.

“Hitler received the tidings while listening to a performance of Das Rheingold at the annal Wagner Festival at Bayreuth,” Shirer noted in The Rise And Fall Of The Third Reich — and Wagner’s granddaughter, also in attendance, could not help observing his “excitement” and “delight” and simultaneous anxiety to feign uninvolvement.

The last of these impulses showed the emerging tyrant’s wisdom, for the coup swiftly collapsed — exposing, to Hitler’s fury, the inept organization of the plot. Basically no other coordinated actions took place to complete the coup and the Austrian army remained loyal to the existing government, leaving to the lonely SS Standarte 89 nothing but a feeble surrender.

The first targets of the resulting courts-martial were Otto Planetta (cursory English Wikipedia entry | more detailed German), who actually pulled the trigger to kill the chancellor, and Franz Holzweber, the apparent leader of the attack on the chancellery. They would be tried and condemned in a two-day hearing July 30-31 and hanged within three hours of conviction. In time, both the Planetta and the Holzweber name would adorn many city streets in the Third Reich as patriot-martyrs.

Both prisoners, when asked whether they had anything to say before hearing their sentences, addressed the Court. Planetta said: —

I do not know how many hours I have to live. But one thing I would like to say, I am no cowardly murderer. It was not my intention to kill. One thing more. As a human being I am sorry for my deed, and I beg the wife of the late Chancellor to forgive me.

Holzweber said: —

I was assured that there would be no bloodshed. I was told also that I should find Herr Rintelen at the Chancery,, that the new Government was already formed. Not meeting the leader of the operation at the Chancery, I disclosed myself at once to Major Fey. I told him, here I stand, and I do not know what I should do. More or less spontaneously I took over the responsibility for our men because no one was there to take charge of the matter.

Holzweber, who was executed first, cried out on the gallows: “We die for Germany. Heil Hitler.” Planetta said simply, “Heil Hitler.”

London Times, Aug. 1, 1934

The time was not yet ripe — and Hitler, no matter how heiled by his would-be subjects, was required by the diplomatic blowback to forswear ambitions on unifying with Austria.

But the Fuhrer’s soft whispers of a new future would grow ever more insistent in the months to come, and not four years later the Reich accomplished the Anschluss.

That July 25, in 1938, in a Vienna now successfully absorbed to greater Germany,

the fourth anniversary [of the Juliputsch] was celebrated as an heroic act comparable with the Rathenau and Erzberger murders. The survivors of ‘SS Standarte 89’ marched to the federal Austrian Chancellery, which had been renamed the Reichstatthalterei. Here the bereaved families of thirteen men were addressed by Rudolf Hess. A tablet was unveiled which proclaimed that:

154 German men of the 89th SS Standarte stood up here for Germany on 25 July, 1934. Seven found death at the hands of the hangman.

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1408: Konrad Vorlauf, Vienna Burgermeister

1 comment July 11th, 2017 Headsman

Konrad Vorlauf, late the mayor of Vienna, was beheaded on this date in 1408 with two other councillors.

The patrician Burgermeister was a casualty of the dynastic civil war between brothers Leopold IV and Ernest the Iron, which manifested in Vienna — a rising city on the brink of becoming (in 1440) the Habsburgs’ permanent residence — as a conflict between the city’s merchant oligarchs (allied to Ernest) and her artisan craftsmen (allied to Leopold).

It was a violent conflict even within city walls: in January of 1408, Vorlauf had seized five Leopold-friendly guild leaders and had them beheaded on the Hohenmarkt. (See this public-domain history of Vienna, in German)

During a subsequent truce, Vorlauf along with fellow Vienna grandees Hans Rock, Rudolf Angerfelder, Stephan Poll, Friedrich von Dorffen, Wolfhardt Schebnitzer, Niklas Untermhimmel and Niklas Flusthart went to a confabulation called by Leopold under his safe conduct, only to be seized on their return by knights allied to his cause and held to ransom.

Vienna duly paid it up but perhaps might have done better to keep the cash. Somewhere around this time Leopold imposed himself in Vienna itself, and when the artisan class caused a ruckus over new taxes, the prince was pressured to seize Vorlauf along with the aforementioned Hans Rock and another councillor named Konrad Rampersdorfer. Their beheading — in the city’s Pig Market, for added disgrace — proceeded under no color of law. The aged Rampersdorfer asserted his seniority for the privilege of dying first, saying

I have hitherto been a precursor to all others, and I have not earned the death penalty, but I have stood always for the natural rights of my prince. Therefore I offer to my fellows my own example, not to fear a righteous death, but to submit to it voluntarily.

With the childless death of Leopold a few years later Ernest became the uncontested chief of the Leopoldian line, and his martyred Viennese compatriots celebrated as municipal patriots — eventually exhumed from their graves and reburied with honor in St. Stephen’s Cathedral. They were fortuitously allied, as events would transpire, to the imperial glory conquered by Ernest’s descendants in what became the chief Habsburg dynastic line (the mighty Maximilian I was Ernest’s grandson).

Today, the place of the mayor’s execution is called Lobkowitzplatz; it’s marked by a plaque paying tribute to the men who bled there in 1408.


Commemorative plaque honoring Vorlauf and the others beheaded with him.

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1950: Johann Trnka, the last executed in Austria

2 comments March 24th, 2015 Headsman

Austria’s last execution took place on this date in 1950. Johann Trnka, murderer of a 51-year-old widow and her maid — the late Hermine Kolle’s apartment became popularly notorious as the Grauen Haus (“horror house”) after Trnka had finished with it* — holds the distinction.

Austria abolished the death penalty for ordinary civilian crimes on June 30 of that same year, and for all crimes in 1968. It’s gone, but naturally not forgotten; German speakers might enjoy this short pdf survey of the annals of Austrian executioners.

* Or maybe not. See comments.

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1583: Elisabeth Plainacher, Vienna’s only witchcraft execution

Add comment September 27th, 2013 Headsman

The city of Vienna only has one documented execution for witchcraft to its illustrious history. It occurred on this date in 1583.

Elisabeth Plainacher (English Wikipedia entry | German) was a miller’s daughter from Mank who had lived most of her 70 or so years during the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, that social conflict so productive of witchcraft accusations.

It would factor very specifically in Elsa’s case, since she herself was a Protestant in a very Catholic place.

Elsa’s daughter Margaret died in childbirth, and Elsa took all four of the surviving children into her own care while Margaret’s widower went his own way. Three of these children would die in her care; the fourth became an epileptic in her teens, finally leading Margaret’s (Catholic) former husband to accuse his mother-in-law of bewitching everybody.

The accusation was ill-timed for the “witch”: Jesuit zealot Georg Scherer got hold of the case and put the epileptic teenager through a gantlet of exorcisms that he claimed expunged 12,652 infernal spirits. Scherer’s accounting must have been as rigorous as his faith.

“Scholars and men of understanding know that devils have neither flesh nor limbs, but are spirits, and therefore need no place or space as do our bodies,” Scherer later wrote by way of explaining the crowded tenancy. “A hundred thousand legions of spirits could all be collected together on the point of a needle.” Scherer preached, and later published, a sermon this holy combat, titled “A Christian remembrance of the most recent deliverance of a young woman who was possessed by 12,652 devils.”

This was a relentlessness which Elsa Plainacher was not formed to resist. She was a humble miller with some family drama, and then suddenly she was under torture (German link) in the imperial capital with the day’s headline pulpit-basher at her throat. She soon admitted whatever devilries her torturers demanded of her: giving the epileptic over to the devil, desecrating the Host, all that sort of thing.

On September 27, 1583, she was drug by a horse to an open field where she was burned at the stake. Her ashes were consigned to the Danube. Plainacherin even persisted (more German) in the local vernacular for a time as a dirty word.

Posterity’s apology for this horrible fate comes in the form of a small Vienna street, Elsa-Plainacher-Gasse, named after her. (There’s also a Plainachergasse in her native Mank.)

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1421: The last Viennese Jews

1 comment March 12th, 2013 Headsman

On this date in 1421, a months-long campaign to purge Vienna of her Jews culminated with over 200 burned — and the rest of the once-thriving community either driven into exile or forced to convert.

Vienna had had a Jewish presence for centuries, centered on the Judenplatz.

The religious wars unleashed between Catholics and followers of the Czech reformer Jan Hus complicated the Jewish position. While not an unblemished relationship, Hussites were generally seen to be more sympathetic to Jews, and vice versa. Fellow-victims of Catholic persecution, Hussites recast the Biblical Antichrist with Papist rather than Jewish associations. Hussites openly looked to the Torah and Jewish divines like Rabbi Avigdor Kara for inspiration.*

That’s all well and good, but Vienna was emerging as one of the principal cities of the very Catholic Habsburg empire. (It was not yet the official seat: that would come later in the 15th century.)

To the perceived Hussite-Jewish alliance one must add consideration of Duke Albert V — later the Holy Roman Emperor Albert II — and his considerable debts, no small part of them held by Vienna’s Jewish moneylenders.

On Easter 1420, Albert pumped up a rumor that Jews had desecrated the Eucharist and ordered mass-arrests and -expulsions of Jews, complete with handy asset forfeiture. This was the onset of the Wiener Gesera, the Viennese persecution — as it was remembered later by remnants of the shattered Jewish community scattered abroad.

Pogroms attacking the Jews in Vienna (and elsewhere in Austria) ensued, culminating with the dramatic three-day siege of Vienna’s Or-Saura synagogue. That ended Masada-style when 300 trapped denizens committed suicide to escape forced baptism, and the last living among them torched the building from the inside. Its blasted remains were razed to the ground by the besiegers.**

Albert at that point finished off Vienna’s Jews by sending its final hardy (or foolhardy) members — 120 men and 92 women, it says here; different figures in the same neighborhood can be had elsewhere — to the stake.

“As the waters of the River Jordan cleansed the souls of the baptized, so did the flames which rose up in the year 1421 rid the city of all injustice,” read a Latin plaque erected on the site.

Jews were not permitted to return to Austria for centuries.

* “The Hussites pioneered a uniquely Czech form of philo-Semitism … the fascination, among a persecuted, dissident group, with the Jewish people and religion,” writes Eli Valley. “The Hussites were perhaps the first religious group in Christian European history to argue against the ban on Jews in craftsmaking and farming” and “unlike Martin Luther’s similar program in the sixteenth century, the Hussite movement did not predicate its kindness to Jews on the condition that they would be baptized.”

** The synagogue’s foundations have been only recently rediscovered, as part of the excavation for a Museum Judenplatz at the site. That museum has not necessarily been welcomed by the Viennese Jewish community it’s supposed to represent.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 15th Century,Austria,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Execution,Habsburg Realm,History,Jews,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Power,Public Executions

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