Friday, August 24, 2007

August 24

As the Black Death brought fever and boils to the middle decades of the 14th century, religious minorities among other groups were assigned blame for a disease that ultimately killed tens of millions of people across Europe and Asia. Throughout Europe, Jews and Muslims were looked at with particular suspicion; religious persecutions intensified as the plague depopulated the continent. The years 1348-1351 were uniquely awful for Jews, who already labored under inquisitions and harsh laws that punished them, so the logic went, for leading Christ to his slaughter.

As the bodies piled up in the houses and streets of European towns and cities, rumors circulated that rabbis had concocted the pestilence from the innards of spiders, owls, snakes and toads. Accused throughout the land of poisoning well-water, the European Jewry endured a wave of massacres and expulsions unprecedented in the history of Christendom. Thousands were burnt alive in Basel, Strasburg, Colmar, Speyer and Zurich; others were walled up in their homes and left to starve. Overall, more than 200 Jewish communities were destroyed utterly by 1351, with many of the survivors migrating into Poland, Lithuania, and other regions of Eastern Europe.

On August 24, 1349, one of the worst of the plague massacres occurred in the German cities of Mainz and Breslau -- the two largest Jewish communities in Germany -- where between 6000 and 12,000 people were roasted in a single day.

Last year's post: Pliny the Elder and Elizabeth Kubler-Ross