Wednesday, February 14, 2007

February 14

On Valentine's Day 1945, the 91st and 398th Bomber Groups of the US Air Force accidentally unleashed a 3-minute barrage of bombs on Prague. After becoming disoriented, the bomber crews allegedly mistook the city for the German city Dresden, which was then being firebombed by British and American forces 100 kilometers away; the bombers, the US initially claimed, had only dropped leaflets on the city. Over 700 Czech civilians died in the raid, while an additional 1200 were wounded. In his diary, the American engineer and tail gunner George Forsyth wrote the following
It took us three days to complete this mission. We bombed the Capitol of Czechoslovakia, Prague. We were supposed to go to Dresden. We ran out of gas on the way home and landed at Brussels. We really had a lot of fun there. We went to town in our flying clothes.
Meantime, the bombing of Dresden, which concluded on February 15, claimed tens of thousands of lives.


As the bubonic plague began its catastrophic depopulation of Europe in 1348, Jews were scapegoated for the horrific disease that eventually killed 25 million people. On the orders of Amadaeus VI, the Count of Savoy, Jews living along the shores of Lake Geneva were tortured and predictably confessed to the erroneous charges and named others whom they claimed as co-conspirators in the fictitious plot to poison Christendom. News of the confessions spread throughout Europe, and mobs organized and carried out the predictable reprisals. In Strasbourg, the mass murder was organized by craftsmen and the nobility, whose economic resentments were at least as strong as their religious bigotry. On St. Valentine’s Day 1349, the city’s Jews were burnt in their own cemetery. As Jacob von Königshofen, a Swiss historian who would have been seven years old at the time, wrote years later,
There were about two thousand people of them. Those who wanted to baptize themselves were spared. . . . Many small children were taken out of the fire and baptized against the will of their fathers and mothers. And everything that was owed to the Jews was cancelled, and the Jews had to surrender all pledges and notes that they had taken for debts. The council, however, took the cash that the Jews possessed and divided it among the working-men proportionately. The money was indeed the thing that killed the Jews. If they had been poor and if the feudal lords had not been in debt to them, they would not have been burnt. After this wealth was divided among the artisans some gave their share to the Cathedral or to the Church on the advice of their confessors.

Thus were the Jews burnt at Strasbourg, and in the same year in all the cities of the Rhine, whether Free Cities or Imperial Cities or cities belonging to the lords. In some towns they burnt the Jews after a trial, in others, without a trial. In some cities the Jews themselves set fire to their houses and cremated themselves.
After the mass immolation, the magistrates of Strasbourg banished Jews from the city for a century. Twenty years later, that decision was rescinded.

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