The Tragedy Of Hans Eisenbeiß

translated by:
Gertrud Wilhelm
Irmgard von Schmeling
Agnes T Sauer
Robert Saavedra
Fall 1997

There are four accounts of this event.

Version #1, English: From 900 years Eliasbrunn, 1071-1971, pages 15-17, section V.

The history of Eliasbrunn's multiple murder, as seen in the light of the law.

Without a doubt the most dreadful deed of a farmer belongs to Hans Eisenbeiss from the town of Eliasbrunn who, on the 28th of April 1606, killed his whole family and his maid, in the most shocking event experienced in the history of the Highlands.

Through a contemporary report, the public learns the awful deed and the detailed circumstances surrounding the perpetrator's lawful punishment and subsequent execution. Unfortunately, this description was aimed more at satisfying the people's desire for sensationalism than dealing carefully with the deed, the guilty party and his condemnation.

First, the history itself:

On Monday, 28 April 1606, around 10.00 O'Clock in the morning, the 42 year old farmer Hans Eisenbeiss took an ax and killed his six children, his still pregnant wife and his maid, all shortly one after another.

His servant who was in the field at the time, escaped the killing and could later pinpoint Eisenbeiss hiding place in a nearby forest called Geschwandholtz. Eisenbeiss was later arrested in that forest.

He could not deny the deed he had done, when the arrest was made, because he was still holding the murder weapon and his clothes were soaked in blood.

During the interrogation, Eisenbeiss remained silent. When he was taken to be tortured, he could give no other motive for his dreadful deed, other than the sight of his wife and children living in poverty, had overcome him.

On 30 April 1606 Eisenbeiss was taken to Eliasbrunn. There, he had to touch the corpses prior to their burial, as this was the local custom. On 5th of May 1606, early at 8.00 O'Clock, the judgment was read to him in Lobenstein. Later, Eisenbeiss was taken to Eliasbrunn where the judgment was executed.

After his hands were chopped off, his thighs were crushed with heavy wheels and his heart was ripped out of his body. Then, he was decapitated and the remainder of his body quartered. His heart and guts were burned. The House in which Eisenbeiss lived, was torn down, and the Court ordered nothing to be ever build in that place again.

Now, a short statement from the ghastly Story.

If we want to legally explore the cruel happening, we must separate the person from the perpetrator and his presumed motive for his awful deed. The farmer Hans Eisenbeiss is marked in the contemporary description by respected citizens, as a pious and God-fearing individual. It was understood, that Eisenbeiss had altogether no real motive for his deed, and the allegations that his wife wanted to control him, was only the product of a cruel torture he suffered.

When there is, however, no logical motives, the deed could have only been committed in mental derangement, that means, the perpetrator at that time was not in full possession of his mental sanity. This concept becomes even stronger through his own statement when he said "it came over me". He had personally no logical explanation for his deed.

While today a perpetrator, who has acted in mental derangement, is deprived from a normal lifestyle by spending time in a Sanitarium, this crime was committed during the Middle Ages, when mental derangement cases where punished especially hard.

The gruesome deed was committed twelve years before the beginning of the thirty-year War, at a time when Witch-Burning was an everyday occurrence and Justice was ignorant of the existence of clinical insanity but they saw those deeds as the work of the Devil, which had to be expelled with "fire and sword".

In reports, it is often spoken of the devil being incarnated in a perpetrator's body. Other times the killer had a devilish-face. In the Russian Countries, there was talk about a throat-cutting Justice Committee, which originated from the time of Karl the 5th.

Excerpts from declarations revealed that the high Court dealt only with the deed itself. The motives to the deed was within their jurisdiction only in so far as interpretation of the law, which should confirm the judgment. By no means, however, mitigating circumstances could be brought forward, especially if by interpretation of the law, the perpetrator had to be absolved.

According to the law, only through the perpetrator's death, the deed could be repaid. That is to say, the judgment had to be executed in full force, so that whoever committed the deeds had to repay his crime only through his own suffering.

So, the maximum penalty was applied to the perpetrator at each place by where he had killed a person, by ripping flesh from his body with glowing hot tongs. The hand-cutting represented a punishment of the limbs, with which these deeds were committed. The burning of the inner intestines and heart [symbolized with fire and sword] represented the expulsion of the devil form the body, which had taken possession of the person.

By the dull reaction of the delinquent, at the time when the judgment was executed, there was nothing further known about Eisenbeiss's level of intelligence that could have explained the situation. It is surely to assume that through the due process of the Justice System, the perpetrator received a judgment, which was felt to be just.

The order to tear down his house and leave the grounds without a structure, was quickly interpreted by the superstitious, as a mark of the place where the Devil lives.

In summary, the Law of 1606 was formed, aside from the pure pardon principle, from the laws of the Inquisition.

Version #2, English: From "A Tragedy in the House Eisenbeiss in the Year 1606":

From further testimonies , it is written that in the year 1606, he extinguished his whole family during a Blood-rush. This deed found a cruel atone, in the book "Ausgeburten des Menschenwahnes im Spiegel der Hexenprozesse und Autodafees"; (1893) from B. E. Konig it is cited:

In Eliasbrunn, a village not far from Lobenstein in the Voigtlande, at the beginning of the 17th Century lived Hans Eisenbeiss, a wealthy landowner, happy spouse, father and a Christian man. His household was formed by his wife, six children, a servant and a maid.

One day, on 28 April, 1606 early in the morning, Eisenbeiss was already showing signs of anxiety which became increasingly severe as the day unfolded to finally ending in complete insanity near the end of the day. The ill-starred Eisenbeiss, with ax in hand, stormed into the Living Room where his ten-year-old son, who just arrived back from School, was sitting at the Table. The deranged father inflicted such a severe blow on his Son's head, that his brain was splattered on to the wall. Then, the crazy man went to the chamber where he killed his three children, one of them was still a baby. Then he grabbed his six-year-old daughter under the staircase, where he choked her. Then he stormed out to the courtyard and with his bloody ax, killed his twelve-year son who was tending after the Cows.

By this time the lunatic was running towards the Garden, where he struck down his pregnant thirty year old Wife and shortly after, his eighteen year old Maid.

So, the lunatic had murdered his entire Household in less than ten minutes, with the exception of the servant. Immediately after this eight-fold murder, Eisenbeiss fled towards the nearest forest to look for the Servant. Before he could locate him, concerned people were already running after Eisenbeiss, who was then apprehended and turned over to the authorities.

All questions directed at him, the lunatic answered with a dull smile, and only once, when he probably had a clear moment, he said that the murder happened, because his family and his Sense wanted him to lower himself form Landlord to Servant.

He was severely tortured and given a chance to indicate still another motive for his insane deed. Whatever he stated under this senseless torture had no importance, however the judges took great interest and the record shows that the Protocol did not remain without influence.

This judgment gives a sad testimony of the inhumanity; for it is from judicial blindness, unyielding minds and fanaticism that this act of vengeance was put together.

On May 23rd, the lunatic was picked-up from a tower or dungeon in the Lobensteiner Castle, was put in irons, forced into a wagon and brought to Eliasbrunn. Here, he was dropped-off, tied with a with a Cowhide-covered noose and then forcibly led back to his farm. While in the garden where Eisenbeiss committed the killings, he was burned eight times on the chest with glowing hot tongs.

The unbearable pain made him scream, but other times he would turn to the jurors with a foolish smirk on this face, while the people of the town were watching. Then, in that place, his hands were cut-off, his thighs were beaten with heavy wheels and while his body was still alive, his heart and guts were ripped from his chest and burnt. The remainder of his body was cut in four chunks, and each part was stabbed through four different spears before raising them up along local streets.

In the Garden where Eisenbeiss killed his Woman, a column was erected with the wheel used during the execution. The delinquent's head was used as the hub, and his hands were nailed on the column. Up to the moment when the hangman tore his heart from the chest, the lunatic would shout the name "Jesus", and then he would laughed again or he would begin to scream.

He would also gaze several times studying the bleeding arm stumps and the horrible wounds left by the hot tongs and would raise the thighs crushed by the wheels.

The day after the execution, his house was torn down and a stone column was erected in its place. The gruesome deed was engraved on this column in horrid rhymes, which told the way the court sought equity in this case.

Version #3, English: From "The city of Gera and The princely house Reussï", pages 280-281:

On 28 April, Hans Eisenbeiss a wealthy farmer in Eliasbrunn, near Lobenstein, committed an eight count murder. He killed his whole Family.

After working side by side with his servant that morning, he started to have a horrible outlook around 10:00 am. First of all he killed his pregnant Wife with a hoe. His Wife was also in the field working as she had a bundle of Grass still tied to her back.

Then he struck down his maid by hitting her about the head and face with an ax, who was getting an armload of firewood from the Wood shack.

Third he murdered his nine year old son in the garden. The child was likewise at work and was carrying a small bundle grass and had a stick in his hand.

Fourth, his a smallest son, who was laying in his cradle near the cow stable where the other family members were laying on the ground dead.

Further, his daughter by the bedroom.

Sixth, his ten year old son, who was hiding in the living room behind the table clutching his notepad pen and ink. Then a son of five years and finally his son of six or seven-years-old: both killed in the bedroom. All had succumbed to the ax.

Then the murderer hurried out to the field where the servant tilled still, with the intent, to kill him in a moment of carelessness. But the servant saw the blood on the footwear of the raging murderer, figured out his intent, "dropped everything" took his whip and hurried towards Lobenstein where he pressed charges. The Mayor gathered town people together and with the information the servant gave, they left to a nearby forest where Eisenbeiss was hiding. Eisenbeiss was captured there.

In none of the interrogations, the murderer spoke a single word. Even when, on Wednesday, 30 April, Eisenbeiss was taken to Eliasbrunn to see and allowed to touch the corpse of his wife, his children and the maid, who were laid out in seven coffins, not a single word was uttered from his lips.

At the funeral in Eliasbrunn, many spiritual, noble and worldly personalities participated. The Chancellor D. Johann Hofmann from Gera and the Notary of Public, also attended.

Around 23 May the execution took place in Todesstrasse. After the judgment was opened in Lobenstein, Eisenbeiss was taken by wagon to Eliasbrunn. In the wagon there was a kettle with hot coals, fire, tongs and a Cowhide.

At Eliasbrunn at the place he had killed his relatives and before the villagers, Eisenbeiss was placed on the cowhide and stretched by his hands with his own two Oxen, where he was sliced. Then he was skin was ripped open with hot thongs. At the ninth grip of the thong, Eisenbeiss mumbled "Mr. Jesus, take me!"

On the way to the scaffold, he prayed with the ministers. Once on the scaffold, his hands were cut off and his legs mashed with heavy wheels. After this, he was put on a cross, and it is written that the actions mirrored the state of being of that time - and his heart was pulled out from the body and whacked him around the mouth three times. Finally he was decapitated, his body quartered and each quarters hung up in spear, the insides however were burnt.

The house of the Eisenbeiss was torn down and in its place a landmark erected, "at it, as everything you loose, you find".

The winter in the year 1606 was so bad, cold and wet, that nobody could remember to have had such an experience. From Johannis on, it rained 10 straight weeks. Grains and fruit did not arrive at the proper time. Everything was expensive. (Felbrig)

The dreadful incident is therefore mentioned here, because the province of Lobenstein, was closely tied with Gera, which was a model in terms of the jurisprudence, punishment and forms of executing murderers at the time. Also as a culture scene, the incident and its earthly atonement touched the interest of people and is still alive today in the memory of the population of the Lobenstein province.

Version #4, English: From the Tale book "Voigtlandes" , from Robert Eisel, Gera, 1871, page 55:

No. 132. In the house of Eisenbeiss in Lothra, you can hear the Gremlins throughout the night. They are rattling the pails and lines are cut and the cattle have been restless. This nightly occurrence would make neighbors uneasy. One neighbor said that the Gremlins needed a new pair of shoes, so that they can try them and walk away. So they did.

* And what was the benefit? The neighbors meager cattle started to gained weight visibly. On the Ruppitzer Courtyard, the people saw in the snow that the little Gremlins, who were taken care of all the heard, did not have any shoes. Immediately, a pair was provided to him, that one however said: "Aha, now they know it, and I have to go away!" The people themselves had to work there but the outcome was only backwards.

** A similar role appeared as the Heugütel in Reichenbach i. V. to play. Children, who make small footprints are kindly called Heugütel; one must baptize quickly, so that if you die soon you, won't become a Heugüteln.

The following images of one of the documents made available with thanks from Lutz Eisenbeiss: "Page 1",. "Page 2",. "Page 3",. "Page 4",. "Page 5",. "Page 6",.

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