Anniversary Post: the Basel Massacre

Basel MassacreOn this day in 1349, the Basel Massacre occurred. It happened during the Black Death of 1346 through 1353. But in the years 1348 to 1350 there were a number of persecutions because of it. I mean: people were dying; somebody had to be blamed; and why not the Jews! This is a classic one: the Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. That’s such a common conspiracy theory throughout history that it is a silly stereotype like Borat thinking that Jews have horns.

It’s perhaps appropriate to talk about this right now, given the lead poisoning in Flint, Michigan. The thing about blaming the Jews is that they never had a motive, other than that the Christian majority thought they were evil. But Governor Snyder and his allies had very clear ideological and financial reasons to poison the people of Flint. Not that I’m saying they cared about poisoning the people; I’m just saying that they didn’t care — that the other concerns were greater.

Now it isn’t just that the Christians hated the Jews in Basel. It was also the case that the Jews weren’t dying as much. This was due to the fact that their dietary rituals kept their food cleaner. And they engaged in daily washing and periodic bathing. The Christians were the kind of filthy people so ably rendered in the film The Name of the Rose. (Yes, the book is thousand times better, but the filth is so clear in the film!)

One interesting thing about the Basel Massacre is that it occurred where France, Switzerland, and Germany meet. So the people there were a good cross-section of the people of Europe. Apparently, the town elders tried to stop the attack on the Jews. I do like that. As people get older, they do often get wiser. It’s interesting to watch it in our own country where conservatives are convinced the sober voices of knowledge are just wimps. Things haven’t changed much in 666 years.

So 600 local Jews were put inside a barn on an island in the Rhine, and it was set on fire. There were only a few survivors. And the Black Death continued on unabated for another four years.

12 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: the Basel Massacre

    • Do you mean it is a miracle that any of them survived? I tend to agree. As much as I have a problem with things Israel does, I get it.

      • Yes, his maternal family escaped from the pogroms in Lithuania. But a few remaining family members were lost in the Holocaust.

        • Of course, it is also true that there are very few Jews left in the world. Although I don’t think it was ever a very big religion, which is probably why it was such an easy target for vilification.

            • But I think the money thing works the other way around. As an outsider group, they had to find ways to survive. Clearly, some of them were going to thrive. Since it wasn’t acceptable to the majority that outsiders should thrive, they had to be stopped. And one rich Jew meant they were all rich. But I’m not sure the Jews were treated worse than the Gypsies. It’s really just whoever is convenient.

              • The Gypsies had an escape-both were treated horribly but at least the Roma could run away. Kind of hard to do that when you have a store or a house.

                One of the most horrifying scenes in literature I have read was in Sarum with the expulsion of the Jews. In it, the few remaining Jews hired someone to take them across the channel. The captain takes them to the beach where there is no way to escape and leaves them there to drown which may have been based on a true story.

                I just don’t know how anyone can do something like that. I watched a mini series based on Ken Follett’s World Without End last night and it was nearly as upsetting since it was visible there in the stark horror of how evil people can be.

                  • Nope, I tried a long time ago but never managed to get passed the first chapter.

                    But I do read a lot of history and it is just as bad.

                    • Oh yes, I know. It is the reason we have the FDA but annoyingly not the reason we have strong unions.

                    • Yeah, there is that Sinclair quote about aiming for America’s heart and hitting its stomach. It’s a funny quote. But it is also heartbreaking.

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