The Hand from the Grave

folk legends from
Germany, Poland, and Switzerland
of Aarne-Thompson type 779
edited and translated by

D. L. Ashliman

© 1999-2000


  1. The Willful Child (Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm).

  2. The Hand on the Grave (J. D. H. Temme).

  3. The Parent Murderer of Salzwedel (J. D. H. Temme).

  4. The Hand in Mellenthin (A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz).

  5. A Hand Grows from the Grave (A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz).

  6. A Hand Grows from the Grave: Three Legends from Mecklenburg (Karl Bartsch).

  7. The Withered Hand in the Church at Bergen (A. Haas).

  8. The Cursed Hand (Karl Haupt).

  9. A Hand Grows from the Grave (Bernhard Baader).

  10. The Hand That Grew from the Grave (J. G. Th. Grässe).

  11. A Child's Hand That Wrongly Attacked a Mother Grows Out of the Grave (Friederich Wagenfeld).

  12. A Mother Disciplines Her Deceased Child (Switzerland, Franz Niderberger).

  13. Links to related sites.

Return to D. L. Ashliman's folktexts, a library of folktales, folklore, fairy tales, and mythology.

The Willful Child

Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm

Once upon a time there was a child who was willful and did not do what his mother wanted. For this reason God was displeased with him and caused him to become ill, and no doctor could help him, and in a short time he lay on his deathbed.

He was lowered into a grave and covered with earth, but his little arm suddenly came forth and reached up, and it didn't help when they put it back in and put fresh earth over it, for the little arm always came out again. So the mother herself had to go to the grave and beat the little arm with a switch, and as soon as she had done that, it withdrew, and the child finally came to rest beneath the earth.

The Hand on the Grave

J. D. H. Temme

In the village church at Groß-Redensleben, one hour from Seehausen, immediately inside the entrance, on the left side of the door hanging on a stone pillar there is a wooden tablet, painted black, and with the following inscription:

Exodus XX

Behold, thou wicked child
What is here displayed:
A hand that does not decay,
For he, whose hand it was,
Was a wayward child,
Such as exist even today.
This son struck his father,
And he has as a reward,
That his hand is hanging here.
Guard thyself from such shame.

On the tablet's edge, encircling the inscription, are the words:

Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.

Beneath the tablet there is an iron chain, about a half yard long, from which is hanging a human hand, which was cut off at its root. Its color is ashen gray; its skin and flesh are totally dry. The following legend is told about it:

Before the Thirty Years' War there lived in Groß-Rebensleben a pious man who had a very wayward son. This son not only ridiculed his father's admonitions, but his belligerence went so far that he abused his own father. Once he even lifted his hand against him as the father was praying to God for his repentance.

And it came to pass that the wayward son suddenly fell dead to the earth, as a visible sign that Heaven would not allow his wickedness to go unpunished.

He was buried the next day, and then an even greater miracle occurred. Suddenly a hand appeared from the grave, the same hand with which he had struck his father, as if it could find no rest beneath the earth.

All who saw this happen fled in terror, and no one dared return to the churchyard, for the hand did not return to beneath the earth. It was a gruesome sight, the way it extended from the grave, stiff, pale, cold, and silent, but still an articulate witness as to how the Lord punishes sin.

At last the authorities ordered that the hand be whipped with switches, in the belief that such a punishment would suffice and would lead to redemption. The order was carried out, and the hand bled until the earth turned red, but it would not return to the grave.

Then they had it chopped off and hung it in the church with the tablet described above so that it could serve as a lesson for future generations.

The Parent Murderer of Salzwedel

J. D. H. Temme

More than two hundred years ago, it was on April 15, 1614, that a horrible murder was committed in the old part of Salzwedel just off the street leading to Saint Ann's Convent, that formerly stood there.

A merchant's servant by the name of Dietrich Schulze stabbed his father and his mother to death. He stabbed the father four times, and when the mother came to the father's aid, he stabbed her three times.

He was sentenced to die, and the sentence was carried out on the fourth of May of the same year. First his right hand, with which he had committed the horrible deed, was cut off. Then he was tortured three times with red-hot pincers, first in the marketplace, second in front of the house where the murder was committed, and finally in the tower itself.

Then he was dragged to the place of execution and placed on the wheel upside down, half sitting and half lying. It was miraculous and horrible to see how the hand with which he had committed this terrible deed continued to bleed for three days on the wheel.

The Hand in Mellenthin

A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz

In Mellenthin there was once a girl who, while she was still alive, always struck her mother, and after she died, her hand came out of her grave. However often the Mellenthin peasants reburied it, it came out again. Finally they cut it off, and since the Mellenthin church was just being built, they put a stone behind the altar, and laid the hand under it, and it is lying there still.

A Hand Grows from the Grave

A. Kuhn and W. Schwartz

In the church at Lunow, three quarters of a mile from Oderberg, there is a chopped off, dried up hand on display. It is clenched into a fist and holds a switch between its fingers. It comes from a son who in a godless manner had once struck his father. God himself punished him, for when he died and was buried, his hand emerged from the grave.

However often they reburied it, it always reappeared. Finally they beat it with a switch, thinking that it would then return to beneath the earth, but that did not help. Therefore they chopped off the hand, put the switch in its fist, and placed it in the church at Lunow as an eternal warning to godless children.

A Hand Grows from the Grave: Three Legends from Mecklenburg

Karl Bartsch


Once there was a boy who struck his mother, whereupon he died. After he was buried, his hand grew out of the earth. Then the mother was told that she should beat the hand with a switch. The mother did this, and the dead boy pulled his hand back under. But the next day the hand was always there again. Finally the executioner had to come and chop off the hand. They put it in a box and kept it in the church.


A child's hand, wrapped in a silk cloth, is kept behind the alter in the church at Petschow, between Tessin and Rostock. The people there tell how a wayward child had lifted his hand against his parents. The child died soon afterward and was buried. The hand that had been lifted against the parents grew out of the grave. They placed it back beneath the earth several times, but it always reappeared, until they finally chopped it off.


In the church at Garwitz, a village in the vicinity of Parchim, behind the altarpiece there is a hand that was chopped off just beneath the joint. The following legend is told about it:

A girl abused her parents, and even struck her mother so hard that the mother died of the consequences. Soon after the mother's death, the girl herself died. She had lain in the grave for only a few days when her wicked hand emerged. The villagers beat it with whips and a few times it withdrew back beneath the earth. Finally, because it ceased retreating from the whips' blows, they chopped it off. It is preserved even to this day. The flesh has dried firmly onto the bones, and the entire hand has a black appearance.

The Withered Hand in the Church at Bergen

A. Haas

A withered hand was kept in the church at Bergen into the first half of the nineteenth century. It came from a father murderer. After the murderer's death, the hand is said to have emerged from the grave. However often they reburied the hand, it always came out again, until finally they chopped it off and put it in the church. Punishment such as this always befalls those who raise a hand against their own parents.

The Cursed Hand

Karl Haupt

In the year 1572, on January 22, a mother murderer from Gersdorf was punished with red-hot pincers, first at the marketplace in Lauban, and then at every cross street. Afterward his right hand was cut off, then his heart was pulled from his body, and finally he was quartered and the four parts of his body were hung on four posts near the gallows. The cut-off hand was nailed up as well. Although the birds pulled the other pieces apart and ate them, they did not touch the hand. Still entirely uninjured, it was taken down and buried in the year 1577 before the arrival of Emperor Rudolph II.

A Hand Grows from the Grave

Bernard Baader

About four hundred years ago in Heidelberg it happened that a hand grew out of the grave of a newly buried child, who was eight years old.

In response to this miracle the clergy conducted prayers and processions and investigated the child's life, discovering that he had often struck his parents.

His mother was now sentenced to make up for the delayed discipline. She was required to beat the child's hand thoroughly with a thick switch, and after she had done this for a time, the hand withdrew back into the grave and stayed there from that time forth.

The Hand That Grew from the Grave

J. G. Th. Grässe

In Danzig a child struck his mother. He died soon afterward and took the curse of this act with him to his grave. As punishment his hand soon afterward grew out of the grave. A large stone lay on the grave, and his fingers forced themselves into it. This stone, with traces of the five fingers, can still be seen the Parish Church in a chapel not far from the alter.

A Child's Hand That Wrongly Attacked a Mother
Grows Out of the Grave

Friederich Wagenfeld

In the beginning of the fourteenth century a poor widow lived just outside the Doven Gate [in Bremen] in the vicinity of Jodenberg. She occupied a cottage that had been given to her by the wealthy Frau Schwanke, the wife of Conrad von Verden. For many long years she had served Frau Schwanke's parents as a faithful and industrious maid, and for this reason Frau Schwanke provided her with various means of support, even in her old age.

To be sure, the old widow had a daughter who was married to a wealthy tanner in the city, but the daughter had a hard and proud personality, and when the council at that time gave tanners the right to have their own guild in the future, the devil of arrogance so overcame the tanner-master's wife that she became ashamed of her mother, and in the end she even forbade her to enter her house.

The old woman was slow and frail, and she could no longer manage to provide for herself, even by spinning. She would have perished had it not been for the help of others. But this help came to a terrible end when Conrad von Verden, who together with his wealthy cousins had committed a number of acts of violence, was driven from the city along with all of his relatives. The old woman could no longer take her pot to Frau Schwanke to get leftovers from their noon meal, as she had been accustomed to do for a year and a day.

Bitter necessity now drove her to turn to her daughter for charity. It was a difficult step for her. With a shaking hand she reached for the staff which for a long time now she had been forced to rely on to support her unsteady gait.

Underway she stopped several times. She feared an angry confrontation with her daughter, and reflected if it would not be better to take her problems to someone other than her own child. Suddenly she found herself standing in front of her son-in-law's house. She hesitated another moment, then took courage and stepped inside. "After all, she is my daughter, my only child," she murmured quietly to herself. "God and Saint Willhadus will soften her harshness."

She entered the parlor, where the entire family had gathered to eat their noon meal. At first she was very embarrassed, standing there in her poor clothing surrounded by expensive household furnishings and utensils, and she struggled unsuccessfully for words with which to express her plea. Having collected herself somewhat, she most movingly described in simple and unassuming language the hopelessness of her plight.

Tears came to her son-in-law's eyes, but he was a weak man who was completely dominated by his wife, and for nothing in the world would he have made an independent decision, directed only by his heart. He would have taken the helpless old woman into his house with pleasure, if it had depended upon him alone. But as it was, he cast a questioning glance toward his wife to assure himself of her approval. Fear overcame him when he saw her face. It was nothing new for him that she should become angry, even in unimportant matters, but never before had he seen such fury, such an ugly distortion of her features. It was as though upon the sight of her mother she had become possessed of an evil spirit.

The redness of her raging anger gave way to a corpse-like paleness. With sparking animal-like eyes she appeared to want to penetrate the being to whom she owed her life and existence and who had protected her with maternal nurture in her youth and had cared for her in sickness.

Terrified, the old woman looked around for a chair, for her strength threatened to leave her. For a moment the man's human feelings overcame his fear of his wife, and he rushed forward to catch the half-unconscious woman. Until now the tanner-master's wife had sat there quietly without saying a word, or without even moving. But now her anger suddenly exploded like a crashing thunder-storm that had been threatening in the skies for some time. With superhuman strength she pushed her husband aside and like a wild animal threw herself furiously at her own mother, in order to punish her for having dared to come here, although she had been expressly forbidden to do so. Striking at her with her fists, she finally drove her out of the parlor door.

The old woman lay on the hallway floor with her face to the ground. She did not move, and the daughter's demands that she stand up were in vain.

The daughter's unnatural anger suddenly dissipated at this pitiful sight. It was as though a curtain had been drawn from her eyes and that she could finally see whom she had directed her blind fury against. "Mother!" she cried, horrified at what she had done. "Forgive me! Come to your sinful and repentant daughter. Before God and all the saints, if the most tender attention and the most loving care can erase this terrible sin from your memory, then you shall forget it."

Gripped by the deepest sympathy, she bent over the unfortunate woman in order to lift her up. She wanted never again to be separated from her, never again to cause her concern. But this change of disposition came too late, and with horror she saw that she was wasting her loving caresses on a corpse.

The tanner-master's wife was spared by an earthly judge, for it was determined that the old woman did not die only as a result of the attack, but even more from fear and terror. But there is also a judge who dwells above the clouds who does not make his determinations according to earthly expectations and sophistry.

The tanner-master's wife died suddenly thereafter, and a few days after her burial, the gravedigger noticed with horror that the buried woman's hands -- with which she had attacked her mother -- were extending from the grave. And this miracle can be seen to this day, eternalized in stone in the ambulatory of the cathedral.

A Mother Disciplines Her Deceased Child

Switzerland, Franz Niderberger

In a house in Obwalden there once lived an eight or nine year old child who was very disobedient and rebellious. The mother recognized her child's stubbornness but could not find it in her heart to discipline him. Thus this child lived for some time and did many bad things.

Then he took sick and died. After the burial the child broke through his coffin and stuck his right arm out of the grave, causing fear and amazement among the people. The parents attempted everything to get their child to pull his arm back, but nothing helped.

Finally someone said to the deeply concerned parents, "You spared the rod too much. As punishment for this, the mother must go to the grave every day and beat the hand with a switch until he pulls it back."

The mother did this, and this course of action brought the desired results.

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Revised March 30, 2000.