A nachzehrer is a sort of German vampire. Nachzehrer translates “afterwards (nach) devourer/sapper of energy (zehrer)”. The nachzehrer was prominent in the folklore of the northern regions of Germany, but even in Silesia and Bavaria, and the word was also used to describe a similar creature of the Kashubes of Northern Poland. Though officially a vampire, they are also similar to ghouls, and in many ways different from either undead. The nachzehrer is not a blood-sucker, but like a ghoul, rather consumes already dead bodies.
A nachzehrer is created most commonly after suicide, and sometimes from an accidental death. According to German lore, a person does not become a nachzehrer from being bitten or scratched; the transformation happens after death and is not communicable. Nachzehrers are also related to sickness and disease. If a large group of people died of the plague, the first person to have died is believed to be a nachzehrer.
Typically, a nachzehrer devours its family members upon waking. It has also been said that they devour their own bodies, including their funeral shrouds, and the more of themselves they eat, the more of their family they physically drain. It is not unlikely that the idea of the dead eating themselves might have risen from bodies in open graves who had been partly eaten by scavengers like rats.
The nachzehrer was similar to the Slavic vampire in that it was known to be a recently deceased person who returned from the grave to attack family and village acquaintances.
Some Kashubes believed that the Nachzehrer would leave its grave, shapeshifting into the form of a pig, and pay a visit to their family members to feast on their blood. In addition, the Nachzehrer was able to ascend to a church belfry to ring the bells, bringing death to anyone who hears them. Another lesser known ability of the Nachzehrer is the power it had to bring death by causing its shadow to fall upon someone. Those hunting the Nachzehrer in the graveyard would listen for grunting sounds that it would make while it munched on its grave clothes.
It usually originated from an unusual death such as a person who died by suicide or accident. They were also associated with epidemic sickness, such as whenever a group of people died from the same disease, the person who died first was labelled to be the cause of the group’s death. Another belief was that if a person’s name was not removed from his burial clothing, that person would be a candidate for becoming a nachzehrer.
Such a belief was found even in the Republic of Venice, where the body of a woman, with a brick in her mouth, was recently discovered in a mass grave of plague-dead people.
The official killing myth says you can kill a nachzehrer by placing a coin in its mouth, and then chopping off its head. It can be discerned from this that a mere coin in the mouth may result in paralysis as some myths say that a stake through a vampires heart does.
It is characteristic of a nachzehrer to lie in its grave with its thumb in its opposite hand, and its left eye open.