“My eyes have seen but my hands are clean!”

People still living in the area of the Wolf family murders recall the words the convicted man was supposed to have said to declare his innocence: “My eyes have seen but my hands are clean.” What did he mean by that? According to Dr. Timothy Kloberdanz, professor emeritus of anthropology at North Dakota State University and an expert on the history and culture of Germans from Russia, this is a true folk expression. It is usually said in dialect German and thus varies from region to region, village to village and individual to individual. Often expressed as THE eyes have seen but THE hands are clean, this folk saying is an old one (pre-dating 1920, the year of the Wolf family murders) and, sadly, is more evocative of the violent post-Revolution period in Russia when the militia would come into a German village and execute certain villagers for the “crime” of being “enemies of the people.” Those who witnessed the terrible events or had to clean up the mess and bury the dead after the massacres would say: “The eyes have seen but the hands are clean.” In other words, they witnessed the unforgettable results of the horrendous crime (with their own eyes) but they themselves had no blood on their hands and professed their innocence. So perhaps when the convicted man said: “Die Auge hen sehne, aber die Haende sind saube,” he was explaining that he was not guilty of the crime but that he knew more than he could or would say.
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