1349. The first holocaust of Jews: From Cologne to the Rhine River into Austria

673 years ago today in 1349, the city of Strasbourg massacres its Jewish population during the Black Death Persecutions across Europe

Tensions in Europe were heightened. The very religious people of the day were experiencing an apocalyptic plague that was rapidly depopulating cities across the continent. The plague induced great fear and hysteria amongst the population against outsiders who might be spreading it.

The Jewish populations of Europe during the Middle Ages were also in a peculiar situation. Christian doctrine forbade Christians from lending money to each other with interest. This allowed Jews to fit into the role competitively, becoming moneylenders for centuries.

With this profession, Jews were often granted special benefits for being the creditors of monarchs and nobility. But also felt the ire of the general population as taxes could be raised to pay for debts owed to them.

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One of the most impactful political treaties of the Middle Ages, The Magna Carta, had two specific clauses that addressed Jewish moneylending.

The Jewish populations were also competitive merchants involved in the complex guild systems that dominated European trade. The average European peasant had little in common with moneylending and guild systems, and prejudice built for centuries.

Adding more to this boiling pot, some Christian interpretation taught that Jews were also responsible for the murder of Christ! And as the Black Death began to spread across Europe in 1347, it would catalyze something very ugly that had been lying dormant. In early 1348, several cities in Switzerland interrogated Jews under torture to get confessions of a well-poisoning plot across Europe to spread the plague.

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Despite Pope Clement VI issuing two papal bulls denouncing the conspiracy and violence, hundreds of Jewish communities along the Rhine River were massacred as the news spread over the months.

The ruler of Strasbourg, King Charles IV, ceded the city more rights to deal with its finance in 1347 and the Jewish merchants would directly pay taxes to the city-council and guild masters.

The Jewish population of Strasbourg was well embedded within the economy of the city and continued to pay for protection against the angry populace as well-poisoning accusations flared.

For weeks the mayor of the city, Peter Swarber demanded evidence of Jews spreading the plague and ensured the Jewish quarter of the city was well guarded.

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Which further inflamed the populace. Finally, on February 9th, the artisan guilds revolted and overthrew their leaders, implementing a new regime that would not honor the city’s former agreement with the Jewish population.

As the political leadership of the city was realigning, an angry mob began construction of a large house for the Jewish population’s execution. On February 14th, Jews were ordered and dragged from their homes into the streets.

They were marched from their quarter to this large wooden structure that was eventually set on fire. Any Jews who tried to escape the inferno were stabbed and beaten to death.

Throughout the evening of the ghastly scene, hysterical townsfolk would dance and celebrate the clearing of their debts and seizure of Jewish property. Some members of the mob would grab young children and women from the condemned to save and convert them.

From the city of Cologne, all the way down the Rhine River into Austria, most Jewish populations were destroyed. It’s considered by some historians to be Europe’s “first holocaust of Jews”.

[Online References]
(https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi… )
(https://www.timesofisrael.com/the-magna-cartas-very…/ )
(https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-black-death )
(https://www.jpost.com/…/This-Week-in-History-The-Jews… )
(https://dragiffhistory.weebly.com/…/the_black_death_and… )
(https://www.haaretz.com/…/.premium-1349-a-valentine-s… )
(https://www.aish.com/…/Horrific-Valentines-Day-Massacre… )
(https://prezi.com/ta1ue2uxcugk/strasbourg-massacre/ )
[Audiobook Reference]
The Great Mortality
An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time
By: John Kelly
(https://www.audible.com/…/The-Great…/1977381359… )
Artwork: Pogrom of Strasbourg by Emile Schweitzer
Authored by R.E. Foy

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