02/09/07 - jews and the plague

In today's excerpt - Jews are blamed for the plague, the Black Death that killed between a third and two-thirds of Europe's population from 1347 to 1351, and over 75 million people worldwide. They were charged with spreading the plague by poisoning wells, and pogroms were unleashed against them, from the Mediterranean through Northern Europe:

"The disturbing facts of the treatment of Jews during the Black Death remains. ... Between May 17 and 19 [1348], there had been anti-Jewish riots in six ... Spanish cities. ... Secular rulers in various regions began to allow themselves to be swept along by the tide of anti-Jewish feelings. ... Between July and August, pogroms spread throughout the country, and Jews were thrown into wells they had purportedly poisoned. ...

"By December, the murders began to take on increasingly macabre and outlandish characteristics. More and more Jews took their own lives rather than wait for their killers. At Esslingen, in December, they shut themselves in their synagogue and committed mass suicide by firing the building. ...

"Heinrich Portner [the Augsburg burghermeister] was heavily in debt to Jewish bankers, and repeatedly opened the gates to 'Jew killers', thus setting a pattern by which the rich and powerful acquiesced to the murders as a means of eliminating debts. ...

"In Strasbourg on St. Valentine's Day, a Saturday, the Jews were burned. According to a contemporary chronicler, 'They were led to their own cemetery, into a house prepared for their burning, and on the way they were stripped almost naked by the crowd, which ripped off their clothes and found much money that had been concealed.' "


Norman F. Cantor


In the Wake of the Plague: The Black Death and the World It Made


Free Press a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.


Copyright 2001 by Norman Cantor


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