Johannes Junius (1573–1628), the mayor of Bamberg, Germany, was accused of witchcraft during the craze of 1628. Before his tragic execution, Junius wrote a moving letter to his daughter Veronica so that she would understand the charges brought against him and the torture he endured. Amid prayers to keep him in God's care, Junius describes false witnesses brought against him, his sufferings, and the lies that he finally "confessed" to no avail. The transcript of his trial has survived as well and permits a glimpse into the terrifying machinery of the witch-hunts.
A hundred thousand Good Nights, my darling Veronica, my daughter. Innocent have I been imprisoned, innocent have I been tortured, and innocent must I die—for whoever comes into this place must become a witch, or else he will be tortured until he invents something (may God have mercy) and confesses to it. I will tell you everything that has happened to me. The first time I was brought before the court Doctor Braun, Doctor Kötzendorffer, and two other doctors whom I did not know were there [SEVERAL WORDS MISSING] Then Doctor Braun asked me from the gallery, “How did you end up here, brother?" "Bad luck," I answered. "Listen!" he said, "You are a witch! Will you confess it freely? If not, they will put witnesses and the executioner in front of you." I said, "I've been betrayed! My conscience is clean. Even if they bring a thousand witnesses, I'm not worried. I'll gladly listen to their witnesses." Then the Chancellor's son was brought forth. I asked him, "Herr Doctor, what do you know about me? I have never seen you before in all my life, whether for good or for bad." And he gave me in answer, "Friend, I know you from the district court. I asked you for a pardon when I appeared before you in court." "Yes, but so what?" He said nothing. So I asked the Lord Commissioner to question him under oath. Doctor Braun said that "he need not do what he does not wish to do; it is enough that he has stated he saw you. Step down now, Herr Doctor!" I said, "My lords, what kind of evidence is that? If that is how this process goes, then how can you be any more sure it was me [he saw] than some other honest man?" But no one would listen to me. Then the Chancellor came up and said that he too, just like his son, had seen me [at a witch-gathering]. But he knew me only by reputation, nothing more. Then came Hopfen-Else, who said she had seen me dance on the Hauptmoor. "With whom?" I asked. She replied that she didn't know. I then swore on oath to the lord justices that what they had heard was all pure lies, so help me God, and that they should ask these witnesses of theirs to be truthful and honest. But they did not wish to know the truth, or else they would have said so; instead they wanted me to confess freely, or else the executioner would drag it out of me. I answered, "I have never renounced God and will never do so. May God in His grace keep me from such a thing! I would rather suffer anything, than that." And that was when—O God in Highest Heaven have pity! —in came the executioner, who tied my hands together and twisted thumbscrews on them until blood flowed out from my nails and all over; for four weeks I couldn't use my hands, as you can see by my writing. I thought about the five Holy Wounds suffered by God and said, since as far as the name and glory of God was concerned I had not renounced them, I would commend my innocence and all my agony and suffering to His Five Wounds. He would ease my pain, so that I could endure any amount of it. But then they hauled me up, hands bound behind my back, and lifted me in the hanging torture. I thought then that heaven and earth were ending. Six times they hoisted me up in this way, and then let me fall. The pain was horrible.
All of this happened while I was stark naked, since they had stripped me and left me that way. Since no one but Our Lord God could help me, I called out to Him, saying, "Forgive them. O God, for they are hurting an innocent man! They care nothing for my life and soul! They only want to seize my wealth and possessions!" Then Doctor Braun said, "You are a devil!" I answered, "I'm no devil or any such thing. I'm as innocent as any one of you! And if anyone doubts me, then no honest man in all of Bamberg is safe—not you, not me, not anyone else!"
The Doctor then cried out that he would not be challenged by a devil. "Neither will I!" I shouted. "But these false witnesses are the devil, and so is this wretched torture of yours—for it lets no one go free, and no one can endure it."
All of this occurred on Friday, 30 June, when I was forced to endure, with God's help, the torture. Throughout that entire time I was strung up and could not use my hands, but suffered pain upon pain despite my innocence. When the executioner finally led me back to my prison cell he said to me, "I beg you, sir! For God's sake, confess to something, whether it's true or not! Invent something—for you won't be able to survive the torturing they plan for you. Even if you do survive, you'll never go free. Not even if you were an earl. It will just be one torture after another, until you confess and say that you are a witch. Only then will they let you go free. That's how all these trials go, each one just like the other."
Sometime after this, Georg came and told me that the Commissioner had declared he wanted to make such an example of me that people would talk about it for a long time. They had already brought in several more torturers, just for me. Georg too pleaded with me, for God's sake, to confess to something, for even if I were entirely innocent I would never again go free. The candle-maker, the lamplighter, and a few others, too, told me the same thing. Since I was in such a sad plight, I asked to be granted a day to think things over and consult with a priest. They denied me a priest but allowed me some time to think.
So now, dear daughter, what do you think about the danger I was in, and still am in? I have to confess to being a witch even though I am not one, and must do for the first time something that I have never before considered—renounce God. I wrestled with myself day and night over this, until finally an idea came to me one night as I was praying, showing how I need not be troubled: since I was denied a priest, with whom I could take counsel, I would simply invent something and say it. How much better it would be to simply confess something by the words of my mouth even though it was not actually true. I could confess my lie later, and the fault would be on those who had forced me to do it. I could explain that I had asked to see a priest from the Dominican cloister but had been refused. And so, here follows my sworn statement—the entire thing a lie. Dearest child, what follows is the affidavit I made on account of the horrible pain, the cruel torture, I suffered and could endure no longer.
In 1624 or 1625 I had gone on city business to the town of Rottweil, and had to carry about six hundred florins with me in order to conduct some legal affairs on behalf of Doctor Braun and the city—which is why I had taken counsel with so many honest people who had helped me out. Everything that follows appears in my affidavit, but is nothing but a pure lie—a lie I told in light of the horrible, monstrous torture that compelled me, and for which I now must die. In my affidavit it says that I went into my field at Friedrichsbrunnen, and was so troubled that I had to sit down. While I was there a peasant girl approached and asked, "What's wrong, sir? Why are you so sad?" "I don't know," I replied. She drew closer to me and did several things to me that resulted in my lying with her, and no sooner was this done than she turned into a goat and said, "Behold, now you can see who you've been dealing with." Then he grabbed me by the throat and said, "You must be mine now, or else I'll kill you!" "God save me!" I cried. He disappeared suddenly, then just as suddenly he reappeared with two women and two men at his side. I was forced to renounce God, which I did, and at the same time I renounced the Lord of Heaven. After this, he baptized me—and the two women he had brought became my godmothers. Then they gave me a gold coin as a token, but it was really just a potsherd. It seemed to me that I had survived, for they then led me to stand alongside the executioner. Where was I during the dances? I confessed then and there, after giving it some thought, what I had heard from the Chancellor, his son, and Hopfen-Else, and all the elders of the court, the council-room: the Hauptmoor—just as I had heard in the reading of the initial charges against me. So that was the name of the site that I gave.
Next I was told to identify the people I had seen there. I said that I had not recognized anyone. "You devil! I'll put the executioner at your throat! Tell us! Wasn't the Chancellor there?" I said he was. "Who else?" I said I hadn't recognized anyone else. So he said, "Take one street after another; start at the market then go up one street and down the next." I had to name a few people at least. Then came the long street—I had to name at least one person there. Next the Zinkenwörth—one person more. Then over the upper bridge to both sides of the Bergtor. I knew nobody. Did I recognize anyone from the castle, anyone at all? I should speak without fear. They carried on this way for street after street, but there was nothing more I could or would say, so they handed me over to the executioner, saying that he should strip me, cut off all my hair, and start to torture me again. "This devil knows someone in the market, sees him every day, and yet refuses to identify him!" They meant Dietmeyer—so I had to identify him too.
Then they made me tell what evils I had committed. "None," I replied, "the Devil had wanted me to do something, but I had refused, and so he beat me." "Haul the fellow up!" So I said that I was supposed to murder my own children, but I had killed a horse instead. That didn't help, though, [so I said that] I had also taken a piece of the Host and had desecrated it. Once I had said this, they left me in peace.
Dear child, you now have my entire confession and the reasons for which I must die. They are nothing but lies and imaginings, so help me God. I said all these things out of fear of the wretched torture that was threatened beyond what I had already suffered; they never stop with the torturing until one confesses something. No matter how pious a man might be, he will confess to being a witch. No one escapes, not even a lord. If God allows no remedy that would let the light of day shine through, the whole family is done for. One has to denounce other people, even if one knows nothing at all about them, as I have had to do—and God in Heaven knows that I know next to nothing about [the people I accused]. I die an innocent man, like a martyr. Dearest child, I know that you are every bit as devout as I am, but even you have told a few lies in your time, and if I may be permitted to give you some advice: take all the money and letters you have [SEVERAL WORDS MISSING] and devote half a year to a holy pilgrimage, and do everything you can, in that time period, to [SEVERAL WORDS MISSING]. I recommend doing this until it becomes clear that your resources have run out. This way, at least, there will be some honest men and women in Bamberg, both in the church and in the world of business—people who do not know evil and who have clean consciences, as I once was (as you know) before my arrest. Nevertheless, they very well may find themselves in the witch-prison; for all it takes is for a rumor about an individual to go around, no matter if he is honest or not. Herr Neudecker, the Chancellor, his son, the candle-maker, the daughter of Wolff Hoffmeister, and Hopfen-Else have all testified against me, all at the same time. Their testimony was all false, drawn out of them by force, as they all told me later when they begged my forgiveness in God's name before they were executed. Their last words to me were that they knew nothing but good of me. They had been forced to lie, just as I was. I am done for, for sure. That's how it is for many people now, and will be for many more yet to come, if God does not shine a path out of this darkness. I have nothing more to say.
Dear child, hide this letter so that no one ever sees it. Or else I will be tortured yet again, and piteously; more than that, my jailers would be beheaded—so strongly is it forbidden [to smuggle out letters]. Herr Steiner, my cousin, is familiar to you—you can trust him and [SEVERAL WORDS MISSING] him read it. He is a discreet man.
Dear child, pay this man a Reichstaler [SEVERAL WORDS MISSING].
It has taken me several days to write this, since my hands are broken. I am in a wretched state. I beg you, in the light of Judgment Day, to keep this letter safe, and to pray for me, your father, as you would for a true martyr. After my death, do as you wish but be careful not to let anyone see this letter. Please ask Anna Maria also to pray for me. You can swear it on oath that I was not a witch but a martyr, and that I died as such.
A thousand times Good Night. Your father, Johannes Junius, will never see you again. 24 July 1628.