On 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.