German village rehabilitates witch trial victims centuries later | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 01.04.2011
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German village rehabilitates witch trial victims centuries later

The village of Rüthen has rehabilitated scores of men, woman and children executed for witchcraft centuries ago. The rehabilitation is a first in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

silhouette of witch with fire in background

Scores of people were executed for being witches

The small village of Rüthen has become the first municipality in North Rhine-Westphalia to rehabilitate scores of innocent people executed for witchcraft in the 17th century, according to historians.

Students from the Friedrich-Spee-Gymnasium had submitted a petition to Rüthen's city council asking that the 169 men, women and children executed between 1573 and 1660 be officially declared innocent. The city council unanimously approved the petition.

The students, who had been studying witch trials in class, wrote in their petition that when a woman or a man was accused of being a witch or sorcerer, they had virtually no chance of surviving.

"If Rüthen would rehabilitate the victims, then they would regain their human dignity," the students argued in their petition.


During the 16th and 17th centuries, witch trials were often used as a way to find scapegoats for periods of famine and natural catastrophes. The Jesuit priest Friedrich Spee, namesake of the students' school, fought to defend those accused by their fellow villagers of being witches.

According to Rüthen's mayor, Peter Weiken, the city council's decision to rehabilitate the victims of witch trials was about more than restoring the honor of the dead. Weiken said it was also important to learn the lessons of history, so that others are not wrongly denounced today.

Author: Spencer Kimball (KNA, dpa)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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