The Polish Word – August 2nd, 1999


Incredible stories.

He peddled human flesh as meat in Wrocław.  He said it was pork.

The Cannibal from Ziębice.

Karl Denke, a devout, peaceful, generally respected citizen of Ziębice, turned out to be a cannibal who killed 40 people.  He pickled their flesh in jars and sold it on the Wrocław market as… “pork.”  It all came to light after Christmas of 1924.  In Ziębice’s Museum of Household Goods, they decided it was quite an appetizing story and dedicated a little corner of the museum to him.  On the table, are, among others things, bloody knives and axes, and a meat grinder is attached to the table as well. 

The story of the Cannibal of Ziębice was resurrected by Lucyna Biały, the curator of the archive of old printed materials in the University Library at Piasek in Wrocław.  She came across the story by accident while preparing a catalog of the Silesian press.  She presented it in Ziębice during a scientific conference.  The title of her report was Casus Denke- The Ziębice Cannibal.  The first to mention the cannibal from Ziębice was the Ząbkowice-Ziębice Journal Frankestein- Murnsterberger Zeitung (for the less informed Frankestein was the name of Silesian Ząbkowice before the war).  The information appeared on December 25th, 1924.  A more thorough account was provided by Ziębice’s newspaper, published tri-weekly, Munsterberger Zeitung.  From it, one could infer that this person, who carried the cross at funerals of the Evangelist commune, and helped beggars and people in need, was a monster.  It is hard to believe, but it happened…  Karl Denke was born August 12, 1870.  His family was quite wealthy; they were farmers.  Karl was a hard child to raise.  He ran away from home at the young age of 12.  When he graduated from elementary school, he started apprenticing with a gardener.  He started life on his own at the age of 25.  It was then that his father died, the farm was taken over by his older brother, and he himself bought a piece of land with the money from his inheritance.  However, farming did not go well for him, so he sold his land.  He bought himself a little house on present Stawowa Street in Ziębice.  Unfortunately, his savings were devoured by the uncontrollable inflation of his time.  He had to sell his house, but he did not move out.  He still lived in a little apartment on the right side of the ground floor of the house.  And he still occupied the shop standing next to the house.

It was Sunday, December 21st, 1924, when a man covered in blood ran into a police station.  He swore by all things holy that it was Denke, who did this to him.  The policemen could not believe it possible that poor, nice Karl, enjoying unimpeachable opinion in a town of eight thousand, would do such a thing to this bloodied wretch of a beggar. 

However, Vincenz Olivier would not change his testimony.  Denke was arrested.  The very same night, when a guard looked into his cell, he was dead.  He had hanged himself.  How desperate he must have been to do it with a noose made from… a handkerchief.

After the corpse was returned to the family, the policemen went to his house.  It was Christmas of 1924, the happy day, on which the Lord of the Universe was born.  But, the Christmas Eve of 1924 was a sorrowful one.  The economical crisis abound, money was losing its value from one day to the next, and a regular family could not afford to put anything decent on their table.  The policemen were saddened even more.  What they saw in Denke’s shop, could have caused even the most formidable policeman, who had served the longest in the law enforcement profession, to tremble in fear. 


In the closet hanged many blood stained clothes


including one skirt.  On the window seal, lay various kinds of documents with the names of people released from prisons or hospitals.  Jars of pickled meat (the laboratory analysis showed quickly, that it was of human origin), human bones prepared for thermal processing, instruments for the production of belts, leather straps, and other products from human skin were found.  Denke even processed human hair, using it to make shoe laces.  He would sell it all door to door, the permission for which he received from city officials.  The meat, with the permission of Wrocław butchers, he sold in Wrocław.  It was a time of crisis and every gram of meat would find a buyer… The policemen were able to identify the names of 20 victims of the Ziębice Cannibal.  It is believed however, that he pickled in his manufacturing shop about 40 residents. 

For now, the local cannibal has only a small place in a museum in Ziębice.  However, it is not impossible that he will be granted even a bigger exhibit.  After all, not all towns can boast their own cannibal!



Bloody knives and axes… items on display at the exhibit.