Barbara Zdunk

From Infogalactic: the planetary knowledge core
Jump to: navigation, search

Barbara Zdunk, (1769 – August 21, 1811), was an ethnically Polish alleged arsonist and witch who lived in the city of Rößel, now Reszel in Poland but between 1772 and 1945 part of Prussia. She is considered by many to have been the last woman executed for witchcraft in Europe. This is doubtful because witchcraft was not a criminal offense in Prussia at the time.[1] It is thus likely that she was convicted, formally at least and most probably wrongly, of arson.

The case

In 1806, a devastating fire ravaged the city of Rößel, which burnt almost entirely to the ground. Zdunk, who was a maid known for her fondness of magic, was blamed. She was arrested in 1807, and imprisoned in the Rößel castle. With no evidence of substance available, she was still accused and found guilty of causing the fire. Zdunk was executed by burning at stake on a hill outside Rößel in 1811, though she was apparently strangled to death by the executioner before the fire was set. It is believed today that a group of Polish soldiers were the actual arsonists. There is uncertainty as to the true reason for Zdunk's conviction, which was upheld by several appeal courts, up to the king himself. Revenge on Poland on the part of the Prussian authorities or a concession to an outraged public may have played a role, or that she was a 38-year-old woman who had a teenage boyfriend.[2]

Similar to the execution of Anna Göldi in 1782, who is frequently claimed to be the last person to be executed for witchcraft in Europe, it is dubious whether the trial of Barbara Zdunk can be counted as a witch trial in a legal sense.

See also


  1. (German) Haelschner, Hugo: System des Preußischen Strafrechts. Adolph Marcus, Bonn 1868
  2. (Polish) Pożar z czaru, 19 June 2006,
  • Neil Wilson, Tom Parkinson, Richard Watkins: Poland (Lonely Planet Publications)