On This Day
1349 – The Jewish population of Basel, believed by the residents to be the cause of the ongoing Black Death, is rounded up and incinerated.
The Basel massacre of Jews took place on 9 January 1349, as part of the Black Death persecutions of 1348–1350.
Following the spread of the Black Death through the surrounding countryside of Savoy and subsequently Basel, the Jews were accused of having poisoned the wells, because they were perceived as having a lower mortality rate from the plague than the non-Jews.
The City Fathers of Basel attempted to protect their Jews but to no avail, and 600 Jews, including the community’s rabbi, were burned at the stake. Afterwards, 140 Jewish children were forcibly converted to Catholicism.
Following the massacre, it was decreed that all Jews were banned from settling in the city of Basel for 200 years, although this was revoked several decades later.
Black Death Jewish persecutions
The Black Death persecutions and massacres were a series of violent attacks on Jewish communities blamed for an outbreak of the Black Death in Europe from 1348 to 1351.
History of persecutions
Christians despised Jews for their lack of conviction in Jesus Christ. The official church policy was to protect Jews because Jesus was born into the Jewish race. But in reality Jews were targets of Christian loathing. As the plague swept across Europe in the mid-14th century, annihilating nearly half the population, Jews were taken as scapegoats, likely because they were affected less than other people. Accusations spread that Jews had caused the disease by deliberately poisoning wells.
The first massacres directly related to the plague took place in April 1348 in Toulon, France, where the Jewish quarter was sacked, and forty Jews were murdered in their homes, then in Barcelona. In 1349, massacres and persecution spread across Europe, including the Erfurt massacre (1349), the Basel massacre, massacres in Aragon, and Flanders. 2000 Jews were burnt alive on 14 February 1349 in the “Valentine’s Day” Strasbourg massacre, where the plague had not yet affected the city. While the ashes smouldered, Christian residents of Strasbourg sifted through and collected the valuable possessions of Jews not burnt by the fires. Many hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed in this period. Within the 510 Jewish communities destroyed in this period, some members killed themselves to avoid the persecutions. In the spring of 1349 the Jewish community in Frankfurth-am-Main was annihilated. This was followed by the destruction of Jewish communities in Mainz and Cologne. The 3000 strong Jewish population of Mainz initially defended themselves and managed to hold off the Christian attackers. But the Christians managed to overwhelm the Jewish ghetto in the end and killed all of its Jews.
At Speyer, Jewish corpses were disposed in wine casks and cast into the Rhine. By the close of 1349 the worst of the pogroms had ended in Rhineland. But around this time the massacres of Jews started rising near the Hansa townships of the Baltic Coast and in Eastern Europe. By 1351 there had been 350 incidents of anti-Jewish pogroms and 60 major and 150 minor Jewish communities had been exterminated. All of this caused the eastward movement of Northern Europe’s Jewry to Poland and Russia, where they remained for the next six centuries. King Casimir of Poland enthusiastically gave refuge and protection to the Jews. The motives for this action is unclear. The king was well disposed to Jews and had a Jewish mistress. He was also interested in tapping the economic potential of the Jewry.
Reasons for relative Jewish immunity
There are many possible reasons why Jews were accused to be the cause for the plague. One reason was because there was a general sense of anti-Semitism in the 14th century. Jews were also isolated in the ghettos, which meant in some places that Jews were less affected. Additionally, there are many Jewish laws that promote cleanliness: a Jew must wash his or her hands before eating bread and after using the bathroom, it was customary for Jews to bathe once a week before the Sabbath, a corpse must be washed before burial, and so on.
In many cities the civil authorities either did little to protect the Jewish communities or actually abetted the rioters. Pope Clement VI (the French born Benedictine, Pierre Roger) tried to protect the Jewish communities by two papal bulls (the first on July 6, 1348 and another 26 September 1348) saying that those who blamed the plague on the Jews had been “seduced by that liar, the Devil” and urging clergy to protect the Jews. In this, Clement was aided by the researches of his personal physician Guy de Chauliac who argued from his own treatment of the infected that the Jews were not to blame. Clement’s efforts were in part undone by the newly elected Charles IV, Holy Roman Emperor making property of Jews killed in riots forfeit, giving local authorities a financial incentive to turn a blind eye.
As the plague waned in 1350, so did the violence against Jewish communities. In 1351, the plague and the immediate persecution was over, though the background level of persecution and discrimination remained. Ziegler (1998) comments that “there was nothing unique about the massacres”. 20 years after the Black Death the Brussels massacre (1370) wiped out the Belgian Jewish community.
Jewish tales of Black Death in Early Modern Period
Though told for nearly 350 years, there were no written accounts of the Black Death through Jewish tales until 1696, by Yiftah Yosef ben Naftali Hirts Segal Manzpach in the Mayse Nissim. Yuzpa Shammes, as he frequently was referred to, was a scribe and shammash of the Worms community for several decades. His accounts intend to show that the Jews were not idle but that they took action against inevitably becoming the scapegoat. Despite Yuzpa’s assertion that the Jews fought against the massacres, there are contradicting accounts that claim that there was no evidence of “armed resistance”. These contradicting tales display the effect of oral tradition being manipulated to fit certain circumstances.
“Ordinary folk hated the Jews because they had served the merchants and aristocrats, and with their loans and with their capital, helped establish urban economy and the city’s governing political and territorial independence. Further, the Jews had exploited artisans ‘with loans at usurious rates’.” These reasons gave the “ordinary folk” the motive to kill the Jews because they were gaining political and social standings. Breuer also included that “others … saw the massacres as the revenge of impoverished debtors against privileged elite of Jewish creditors.”
Born On This Day
&Eva Kelly Bowring (January 9, 1892 – January 8, 1985) was a U.S. Senator from Nebraska. Bowring was born in Nevada, Missouri. In 1928, she married Arthur Bowring. They made their home at the Bowring Ranch near Merriman in Cherry County, Nebraska.
Bowring was active in Republican politics in Nebraska. She was appointed to the United States Senate by Governor Robert B. Crosby to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Dwight Griswold, making her the first woman to represent Nebraska in the Senate. She served from April 16, 1954, to November 7, 1954. Incidentally, the fifteenth Senate term for Nebraska’s Class 2 seat, which lasted from January 3, 1949 to January 3, 1955, was unusual in that it saw six Senators serve. Bowring was the fourth of these.
After her service in the Senate, Bowring continued ranching near Merriman. She served part-time on the Board of Parole of the Department of Justice from 1956 to 1964. She died in 1985, only one day before her 93rd birthday. After her death, Bowring Ranch was donated to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, becoming Bowring Ranch State Historical Park.
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