I have been reading The Scourging Angel by Benedict Gummer, which is an account of the Black Death in Britain. The books is well worth a look if you are interested in this period of history during the Middle Ages. One thing I came across that I didn’t know is what happened to Jewish populations in Europe when the Black Death began to sweep across the Continent.
Medieval Europeans didn’t know why the plague was upon them. Many Churchmen put the blame on man’s sin – it was God’s divine punishment. But lay people however had more down to earth suspicions and decided that there were being maliciously attacked. Rumours spread that wells were being poisoned by enemies. And enemies in Medieval Europe usually meant the Jews, who were seen as outsiders and subject to myths such as the blood libel (the murder of children), the murder of Christ and well poisoning. The stresses of the Black Death turned people’s attentions to people who were seen as outsiders living amongst them and as the plague spread so did the attacks on Jews.
The Church did try to stop this – indeed Jews were protected by Papal order, but these orders were ignored (the Church was not all powerful in the Middle Ages).
In scenes chillingly similar to what would happen under the Nazis whole populations of Jews were slaughtered. For example in Strasbourg the burning of Jews lasted for six days. This was not just people attacking Jews opportunistically where they found them, but an organized slaughter of every Jew that the city authorities could get hold of.
- Scientists Sequence Black Death Bacteria (science.slashdot.org)
- Medieval Black Death bacteria extinct (phew breathes sigh of relief) (marklord.info)
- Rats Not to Blame for Black Death? (marklord.info)
- What does the black death have to do with microbes (wiki.answers.com)
- What were the impacts on the black death (wiki.answers.com)