Retired pastor calls for pardons for witches executed in early modern Europe

Hartmut Hegeler
Hartmut Hegeler
(Hegeler, CC BY-SA 4.0)

A retired pastor has called on European countries to pardon tens of thousands of people who were convicted of witchcraft and executed from the 1400s to the 1700s.

Hartmut Hegeler, 73, is a long-time campaigner for the rehabilitation of witches in Germans and has inspired towns like Cologne, Leipzig and Würzburg to erect plaques and memorials, The Times reports.

In an interview with the British newspaper, he said: “The trials were conducted by secular courts. Often, the initiative didn’t come from the authorities but from locals who were scared for example that their crops were failing and who told the Bürgermeister or lord ‘why are witches being prosecuted everywhere else but not here?’

“Then authorities realised that witch trials were a great instrument for eliminating and silencing all kinds of people, sometimes for making money and also to strengthen their grip on power by identifying a common enemy.”

In “big towns and small villages”, men, women and children were charged and convicted of offences such as flying on a broom, participating in the witches’ sabbath, conducting evil sorcery or fornicating with the devil, he said.

Mr Hegeler added: “It would be nice if more people not just in Germany but also in other countries took action.”