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duke ludwig
family relatives
ordinary lives
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Witches In My Family
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Witches In My Family

As part of the research into my own family genealogy, I found that my great-grandmother(x7), Anna Maria Ludwig, was the last person accused of witchcraft in the village of Kleinheubach am Main, Germany. I wrote my very first novel as a semi-fiction built around her and found that many people, even non-family members, were intrigued by her and her ordeal. I decided to go to this little village in the fall of 2011 and see what else I could find. I found there was much, much more to the story.

How did Witch persecution arise?

Most of the hundreds of thousands of witch executions throughout Europe were due to the prompting of the Holy Roman Church which promoted the ancient passage from Exodus, "Though shalt not suffer a witch to live." The individual villages were usually owned by royalty and for the village of my ancestors, this was Duke Ludwig Erbach. He was also known as Ludwig der ritter. (Ludwig the knight) In this case, it was Duke Ludwig who allowed his citizens to be persecuted.

Who was accused?

No one was immune from accusation. People who still followed the old religions, midwives, herbalists, habitual drinkers, etc. were accused of being under the influence of Satan. People who became wealthy were accused by their neighbours because of jealousy. Often, the church, which was always hungry for money, would accuse someone of wealth simply to acquire their possessions. Once a person was accused, usually their family, relatives and friends came under suspicion. After all, “they must have known!” The victims were ordinary people living ordinary lives.

The Trials

Different countries had different standards regarding the trial and punishment of accused witches. I will use the example of Germany. The trial or interrogation was conducted in accordance with the Constitio Criminalis Carolina which meant that the guilt of the accused could only be proven by confession.

The Torture

The extraction of confession was a well-established art by the 17th century and never a problem. There were a huge variety of obscenely painful instruments available to the torturer. No one could withstand that kind of pain. People made up fanciful stories to please the torturer and sometimes incriminated family and friends in the delirium of pain.

The Punishment

While some countries burned their witches alive, my ancestors were taken to the execution grounds, beheaded and their bodies burned to ashes. In a secluded glen outside the village of Kleinheubach, I was able to stand on the very spot were at least ten of my ancestors were beheaded and burned.

Why my family?

The persecutions started with my great-grandmother's brother George Ludwig. (Not to confuse George Ludwig with Duke Ludwig Erbach) One day, while passing the execution site, George saw a pile of smoldering bones and had a premonition that he too would be executed and burned there. Unfortunately, he must have relayed this to someone who passed it on to the wrong ears. George's ordeal and execution became part of German lore and he is referred to as Der Freischütz. (The Freeshooter or The Marksman) This lore was immortalized in Carl Maria von Weber's 1821 opera "Der Freischütz." After George’s execution, the persecution spread and his parents, siblings and even in-laws were rounded up, tortured and executed.

My great-grandmother's survival

After Anna Maria's brother George's execution the 18th June 1629, generations of the family were wiped out. Anna Maria was tortured (while pregnant) with leg screws and scheduled to die the same day as her mother Maria and her other brother Stefan. She escaped from prison, fled across the Main River and into another principality. Unfortunately, she was captured by soldiers of that principality and jailed in Frankfurt. The citizens of Frankfurt negotiated her return to Duke Ludwig. Anna Maria was returned and due to executed but finally released instead. Anna Maria, my great-great (x7) grandmother, was the last person in Kleinheubach to be accused of witchcraft. An article cannot suffice to tell the whole story.

Witchcraft and the SS

All of the records pertaining to the Erbach witch trials were contained in the Erbach archives in Michelstadt, the Duke’s primary castle. During the second world war, they were moved to Darmstadt for safe keeping. Unfortunately, on Sept. 11th, 1944, an allied bomb fell directly on these archives, destroying them. This left only the writings of a Kleinheubach parish priest to tell of the persecutions and by a quirk of fate, it was Heinrich Himmler of the SS who would provide most of the information on the victims. Before the records were destroyed, he had the witch victim’s vital data transcribed, as he intended to blame the persecutions on the Jews.

Her Descendants

Anna Maria's children, who were already grown when she was accused, stayed in Kleinheubach. Anna Maria died alone in Michelstadt. Her grandson Lorentz, along with his family, boarded the British ship Murdoch and arrived at Halifax in September of 1751 as settlers. From there Anna Maria’s bloodline, "the Blood of the Witches", spread to all reaches of North America and beyond.


Street Talk

I have just read you article and found it very interesting. I would like to encourage you to write more articles on this subject because I think may people might not be well aware of it. Thank you very much

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Thank you Geoffrey. They were very harsh times. It was very creepy and depressing standing on the very spot where so many of my family were executed. Today, it is a beautiful little glen in the forest complete with children's play equipment. A pretty little park. Only the stone monument erected from the blocks of the original gallows and a small plaque that mentions the Erbach witch persecutions tell what the place really is. I have written two books on it so far. One a semi-fiction and a non-fiction. Thanks for your kind words and perhaps I will add a little more to the story in the form of an article. Regards

Reply
  about 8 years ago

welcome

  
  about 8 years ago

Thanks, Lewis. We all have our sinner and saints.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Fascinating family history, Dave. We were able to trace our family back to the 1400's. We had lots of ministers and a couple of theives.

Reply
  about 8 years ago

Thanks much, William. It was a rather long article but there is so much to it that it was hard to choose what to omit. What area did your ancestors in the 1800's live?

Reply
  about 8 years ago
William6  

Outstanding article, Dave. It held my interest the entire time.Wow...I don't know if I had any witches or warlocks in my family. I had a lot of soldiers, a midwife, and a preacher in there. Unfortunately I can only trace the family back to the early 1800's. I have been looking for my great great grandfather's family for several years now. If I find the key to unlock the mystery surrounding his birth, I will be able to go back farther. Once again, great article.

Reply
  about 8 years ago
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