Right On: Evil and the passage of time

Tear down the monument to the butcher of Belgium.

michael freund 88 (photo credit: )
michael freund 88
(photo credit: )
In the heart of Brussels, capital of the new and enlightened Europe, stands a large and imposing monument that shamelessly commemorates a mass murderer of Jews. Sitting atop his horse, his sword raised triumphantly in the air, the figure of the medieval knight Godfrey of Bouillon dominates the city's Place Royale. The jubilant statue, adjacent to a grand structure still in use by Belgium's royal family, depicts the Belgian-born nobleman as he embarked on his way to the Holy Land at the start of the infamous First Crusade. Godfrey has long been revered by Europeans as the liberator of Jerusalem, the man who helped free the city from the hands of the Muslim "infidels" more than nine centuries ago. He has been the subject of epic poems and operas, as well as a topic of literary tribute, and was once even selected to appear on a list of the "greatest Belgians." But Jews remember Godfrey quite differently. Far from being a gallant personality, he was ruthlessly cruel and unforgiving, and spurred the men under his command to commit one ghastly anti-Semitic atrocity after another. The statue in his memory has been in place for more than a century, and it remains a blight on the city and the nation that serve as its host. And with the tides of Jew-hatred on the rise across Europe, now more than ever is the time for Israel and the Jewish people to demand that this moral eyesore be summarily torn down. GODFREY entered the pages of infamy in 1096, after Pope Urban II's call to arms the previous year to reverse the Muslim occupation of the Land of Israel. After putting together a rag-tag army of thousands, Godfrey is reported to have said to his recruits: "In this, our Holy War, we shall slay all the children of Israel wherever we shall find them. I shall not rest content until I have exterminated the Jews." Fearful of what the marauding band would do to them, the Jews of Cologne and Mainz each raised the enormous sum of 500 silver marks, which they paid as tribute to Godfrey in a medieval version of "protection money." The noble knight was only too happy to pocket the funds, and then renege on his promise. As they made their war across France and Germany 911 years ago this month, the Crusaders left a path of death and destruction in their wake, terrorizing the Jews and massacring tens of thousands of innocents. Entire communities were wiped out in a frenzy of hate and bloodletting, as the Jews of Speyer, Worms and Mainz were destroyed. A quarter to a third of European Jewry, and possibly more, was annihilated as armies of rabble led by men such as Godfrey, Peter the Hermit, Count Emicho and others swept across the continent on their way to Jerusalem. So great was the disaster that befell the Jews during the First Crusade that a special prayer known as Av Harachamim ("O Merciful Father") was composed lamenting "the pious, the upright and the blameless, the holy communities who laid down their lives for the sanctification of His name." It is still recited each week in synagogues around the world as part of the regular Sabbath service. Three years later, in July 1099, Godfrey and his men broke through the walls of the Holy City and proceeded to slaughter Muslims and Jews alike. It is said that many Jews were driven into a synagogue by the Crusaders, who then set the building alight as Godfrey marched around the structure and engaged in song. IS THIS really the kind of person who should be celebrated in the center of Europe? Sure, you might be wondering, that may very well be correct. But who really cares? After all, it was a long time ago, so why bother dredging up the distant past? But the fact is that it does matter. As various historians have noted, the Crusades were, in effect, "the first Holocaust," the opening foray of Europe's millennial-old attempt in the modern era to eradicate the Jewish people. It paved the way for later expulsions, persecutions and forced conversions, all of which culminated in the German Holocaust six decades ago. The passage of time does not dilute or diminish the evil done by Godfrey and his ilk. If, several centuries from now, someone wished to erect a monument in memory of one of Hitler's henchmen, we would surely not remain silent in the face of such offense. And, deep down, we know it to be true that the people whom a nation chooses to honor and commemorate say a great deal about the values they embrace and wish to uphold. Hence, it sends a stark and terrible message when men such as Godfrey receive acclaim, and it is therefore incumbent upon Israel and the Jewish people to protest this affront to the Belgian government. Who knows? Perhaps, on their way to work, European Union officials in Brussels might just feel a slight pang of guilt and realize the weight of their historical and moral responsibility to act against those who seek to destroy Israel, such as our foes in Gaza and Teheran. So let's raise our voices loud and clear, and send a firm but clear message to the mayor of Brussels and the Belgian leadership: Tear down that obscene statue of Godfrey of Bouillon.