"Jews should be slaves to Christians and at the same time treated kindly due of humanitarian considerations." Third Lateran Council, 1179, Canon 24
This is part 7 in a continuing series representing a first draft of my book, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival: Zionism for the 21st century.
We tend to look at events surrounding us as unique to the present, as divorced from history. The description of the Holocaust as "unique" or "mysterious" suggests this, and reinforces the perception. That such descriptives originate with respected scholars and intellectuals reinforces this perception. The purpose of my writings is to establish our historical experience as, if not causal, then continuing precedent. And precedent, as evidenced by the "mystery" of the survival of antisemitism in the 21st century for example, is retained in cultural memory, an inheritance always available. Blaming "Hitler" for the Holocaust may be consoling, since he is dead and no longer a threat, but it does not respond to the real problem facing Jewish survival.
The plague known as the Black Death traveled from the Orient to the Middle East and Europe. It devastated Europe, more than a third of the total population dying from the disease in the mid-14th century. Although Jews also were victim, rumors spread accusing them of poisoning Christian wells in order to spread the disease (ibid. p. 127). Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed. “On January 9, 1349, nearly the entire Jewish population of Basel was massacred by townspeople.” That massacre was typical of others perpetrated across Europe as, “the people and local leaders of Switzerland, France and Germany accused Jews of poisoning wells. Most were burnt alive… in 1215 Pope Innocent III … passed [an edict that inspired] Nazi Germany in the 20th century –Jews were required to wear a yellow badge at all times.”
In Strasbourg, a city not yet touched by the plague, 900 Jews were gathered together and burned alive.
Another anti-Jewish rumor involved a supposed cabal of rabbis that gathered in Spain intent on harming Christians. According to this myth Jewish communities throughout Europe were instructed by the cabal to poison Christian wells. Five hundred years later that myth would resurface as The Protocols of Elders of Zion.
Another myth that grew up in this period accused Jews of ritual murder of Christian boys. The myth usually involved the kidnapping of a pre-pubescent youth who would be tied or nailed to a cross in mockery of the Christian Eucharist. The child would suffer a wound similar to that delivered to Jesus on the cross, the blood then supposed to be used in the baking of Passover matzo.
Simon of Trent, supposedly murdered in this fashion in 1475, was canonized by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. A cult developed around Simon that survives to the present. Although officially disbanded in 1965 by Pope Paul VI, evidence of its continuation is available on Catholic organization internet sites.
Even today blood libel accusations continue to excite the imagination of some Christian communities. The most celebrated modern case involved a Russian Jew, Menahem Beilis, who was arrested on July 21, 1911 for the murder and mutilation of a Ukrainian youth. Acquitted after spending two years in jail, the peasant making the charge eventually admitted that his accusations were based on tutoring by the police.
And one year after the liberation of Auschwitz, of the more than 24,000 Jewish residents of pre-war Kielce, Poland, 200 survivors returned home only to be faced with a pogrom inspired by… a blood libel. Thirty-five were murdered, and two Jews who just happened to be on a train passing through the city were also murdered.
Most recent in this series, Antisemitism and Jewish Survival:
1. The Crusades (1096-1272): ''Rehearsal'' for Holocaust
2. Anti-Jewish Persecution and the failed Parousia: the year 1000
3. St. Augustine saves the Jews: The Draft Book, Part 4