1628: Johannes Junius “will never see you more”

On this date in 1628 was burned in Bamberg (former) Burgomaster Johannes Junius, a civic official caught up in the frenetic witch-hunts of Bavaria in the Thirty Years’ War.

Fellow townspeople under torture accused him; Junius eventually did the same, copping to the stock stuff witch trials knew just how to use:

there had come to him a woman like a grass-maid … And thereafter this wench had changed into the form of a goat, which bleated and said, “Now you see with whom you have had to do. You must be mine or I will forthwith break your neck”. Thereupon he had been frightened, and trembled all over for fear. Than the transformed spirit had seized him by the throat, and demanded that he should renounce God Almighty, whereupon Junius said, “God help me”, and thereupon the spirit vanquished through the power of these words. Yet it came straightway back, brought more people with it, and persistently demanded of him that he renounce God in Heaven and all the heavenly host, by which terrible threatening he was obliged to speak this formula: “I renounce God in Heaven and his host, and will henceforward recognize the Devil as my God”.

After the renunciation he was so far persuaded by those present and by the evil spirit that he suffered himself to be baptized by the devil in the evil spirit’s name. The Morhauptin had given him a ducat as dower-gold, which afterward became only a potsherd.

He was then named Krix. His succubus was called Vixen (Füchsin). Those present had congratulated him in Beelzebub’s name and said that they were now all alike.


What survives of him among the thousands of similar unfortunates is the illicit letter in his own hand describing those tortures in detail … a reminder (regrettably current) of the reality of crippled limbs and ripped flesh and the meager limits of human hardiness that surround a word like “torture”.

July 24, 1628

Many hundred thousand good-nights, dearly beloved daughter Veronica. Innocent have I come into prison, innocent have I been tortured, innocent must I die. For whoever comes into the witch prison must become a witch or be tortured until he invents something out of his head and – God pity him – bethinks him of something.

I will tell you how it has gone with me.

When I was the first time put to the torture, my brother-in-law, Dr. Braun, Dr. Kotzendorffer, and two strange doctors were there. Then Dr. Braun asks me; “Kinsman, how come you are here?” I answer, “Through falsehood and through misfortune”. “Hear, you,” he retorts, “you are a witch. Will you confess it voluntarily? If not, we’ll bring in witnesses and the executioner for you”. I said, “I am no witch; I have a pure conscience in the matter. If there are a thousand witnesses, I am not anxious, but I’ll gladly hear them”.

Then the Chancellor’s son was set before me, who said he had seen me. I asked that he be sworn and legally examined, but Dr. Braun refused it. Then the Chancellor, Dr. George Haan, was brought, who said the same as his son. Afterward Höppfen Ellse. She had seen me dance on Hauptsmorwald, but they refused to swear her in. I said: “I have never renounced God, and will never do it – God graciously keep me from it. I’ll rather bear whatever I must”.

And then came also – God in highest Heaven have mercy – the executioner, and put the thumbscrews on me, both hands bound together, so that the blood spurted from the nails and everywhere, so that for four weeks I could not use my hands, as you can see from the writing.

Thereafter they stripped me, bound my hands behind me, and drew me up on the ladder. Then I thought heaven and earth were at an end. Eight times did they draw me up and let me fall again, so that I suffered terrible agony. I said to Dr. Braun, “God forgive you for thus misusing an innocent and honorable man”. He replied, “You are a knave”.

And this happened on Friday, June 30, and with God’s help I had to bear the torture. When at last the executioner led me back into the cell, he said to me, “Sir, I beg you, for God’s sake, confess something, whether it be true or not. Invent something, for you cannot endure the torture which you will be put to; and, even if you bear it all, yet you will not escape, not even if you were an earl, but one torture will follow another until you say you are a witch. Not before that,” he said, “will they let you go, as you may see by all their trials, for one is just like another”.

Then came George Haan, who said the commissioners had said the Prince-Bishop wished to make such an example of me, that everybody would be astonished.

And so I begged, since I was in wretched plight, to be given one day for thought and a priest. The priest was refused me, but the time for thought was given. Now, my dearest child, see in what hazard I stood and still stand. I must say that I am a witch, though I am not – must now renounce God, though I have never done it before. Day and night I was deeply troubled, but at last there came to me a new idea. I would not be anxious, but, since I had been given no priest with whom I could take counsel, I would myself think of something and say it. It were surely better that I just say it with mouth and words, even though I had not really done it; and afterwards I could confess it to the priest, and let those answer for it who compel me to do it . . . And so I made my confession, as follows; but it was all a lie.

Now follows, dear child, what I confessed in order to escape the great anguish and bitter torture, which it was impossible for me longer to bear.

Then I had to tell what people I had seen (at the witch sabbat). I said that I had not recognized them. “You old knave, I must put the torturer at your throat. Say – was not the Chancellor there?” So I said yes. “Who besides?” I had not recognized anybody. So he said: “Take one street after another. Begin at the market, go out on one street and back on the next”. I had to name several persons there. Then came the long street (die lange Gasse). I knew nobody. Had to name eight persons there. Then the Zinkenwert – one person more. Then over the upper bridge to the Georgthor, on both sides. Knew nobody again. Did I know nobody in the castle – whoever it might be, I should speak without fear. And thus continuously they asked me on all the streets, though I could not and would not say more. So they gave me to the torturer, told him to strip me, shave me all over, and put me to the torture. “The rascal knows one on the market-place, is with him daily, and yet won’t name him”. By this they meant Burgomaster Dietmeyer: so I had to name him too.

Then I had to tell what crimes I had committed. I said nothing. . . “Hoist the knave up!” So I said that I was to kill my children, but I had killed a horse instead. It did not help. I had also taken a sacred wafer, and had buried it. When I had said this, they left me in peace.

Now, dearest child, here you have all my acts and confession, for which I must die. And they are sheer lies and inventions, so help me God. For all this I was forced to say through dread of the torture beyond what I had already endured. For they never leave off with the torture till one confesses something; be he ever so pious, he must be a witch. Nobody escapes, though he were an earl. If God send no means of bringing the truth to light, our whole kindred will be burned. God in heaven knows that I know not the slightest thing. I die innocent and as a martyr.

Dear child, keep this letter secret, so that people do not find it, else I shall be tortured most piteously and the jailers will be beheaded. So strictly is it forbidden. . . . Dear child, pay this man a thaler. . . . I have taken several days to write this: my hands are both crippled. I am in a sad plight. . . .

Good night, for your father Johannes Junius will never see you more.

Junius adds, in the margin, a touching gesture towards posthumous healing by asking no bitterness be kept against his false accusers.

Dear child, six have confessed against me at once: the Chancellor, his son, Neudecker, Zaner, Hoffmaisters Ursel, and Hoppfens Elsse–all false, through compulsion, as they have all told me, and begged my forgiveness in God’s name before they were executed. . . . They know nothing but good of me. They were forced to say it, just as I myself was. . . .

Haan, Junius’s accuser, was also burned at the stake.

Their mutual inquisitor, Dr. Braun, was arrested in 1629 — tortured — confessed — and burned as well. (Source)

On this day..

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