Nov 2, 2008

Trapdoor in the kitchen

Janina Szczepańska occupies the apartment that once belonged to Karl Denke.

She and her husband bought half of a small house in Ziębice in 1968, when the local authorities decided to sell this social building to particulars. The new owners came from a neighboring village and weren't familiar with the story of the Muensterberg (Ziębice) cannibal.

However some peculiarities of the house attracted their attention from the beginning: meat hooks in the pantry's ceiling and a trapdoor in the kitchen's floor in particular. The meat hooks weren't as unusual for a house in a small village, they told themselves. Maybe a former occupant used to butcher pigs. However the function of the trapdoor (linking directly the kitchen at first floor to the pantry at ground floor) seemed much more mysterious.

The couple renovated the house, bricked up the trapdoor and removed the hooks. Only afterwords they have learned about the infamous previous occupant of their house. Obviously they guessed Denke used to kill his victims in the living room (picture above), then drag them to the kitchen and drop them through the trapdoor. Once in the pantry, the corpses were slaughtered and made into Pökelfleisch.

Today there are no traces of trapdoor in the room once occupied by the Denke's kitchen:

When listening to Mrs. Szczepańska talking about Karl Denke I was surprised to hear how accurately she knew the facts. I would rather expect an amalgam of facts and legends, but there was no legend, just pure, accurate facts, as if taken directly from Dr. Pietrusky's report.

Historian Marek Czapliński, who researched on the region, told me, most of the old legends were lost after 1945 (when nearly all the former German inhabitants of the region were forced to move away). Those Germans who remained in Ziębice and assimilated with the new Polish community weren't eager to tell stories about a German cannibal killer from their village.

The Denke's case reemerged only in the 1950's when a local journalist came across it and wrote about in Tygodnik Ziębicki.

I asked Mrs. Szczepańska if she was comfortable living in the house previously occupied by a cannibal killer. She answered she's OK now but she would sell the house with pleasure. Armin Ruetters, the German researcher once offered to buy the property but never came back afterwords.

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