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The Strasbourg Massacre, 1349

Updated: Feb 14

On This Day in Jewish History: February 14, 1349

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On this day, 1349, the Strasbourg Massacre of Jews begins, killing an alleged 2,000 Jews on a wooden platform in the Jewish cemetery of Strasbourg, France. The Jewish community in Strasbourg is believed to have originated in the 12th century, and was possibly one of the largest Jewish communities in the German Empire. Located on the border of Germany, Strasbourg was home to nearly three hundred Jews by the 14th century. Much like most Jews in Germany, Jews in Strasbourg were money lenders or worked within the medical field. This was because Jews were banned from working in most occupational fields, and in reality, most Jews made their living through trading second hand materials, rags and junk.


The Black Plague was commonly believed to have been a bubonic plague that spread across Europe with devastating consequences. While it is believed to have killed between 20-50% of Europe’s population between 1347-1352, it also incited mass movements of violence against Jews in the German Empire, Spain, France and the Low Lands from September 1348 to 1351. Jews were falsely accused of partaking in a universal plot conspiring against Christians and poisoning water sources, and the protection offered to them by Pope Clement VI stood no chance against the plague hysteria that spread across Germany. The Strasbourg Massacre is an example of this mass movement of violence. When reports of Jews poisoning wells reached Strasbourg in 1348, city leaders questioned the validity of these claims and continued to protect their Jewish community.


At a council meeting held in January of 1349, leaders in Alsace officially sanctioned the destruction of Jews in their region. In Strasbourg, city leaders continued to protect their Jews after the council meeting, angering the lower class who believed that the Jews were bribing them for their protection. The workers and butcher’s guild removed the mayor of Strasbourg, Peter Swarber, and his assistants from office, and new leadership was sworn in.


The next day, February 13th, the Jews of Strasbourg were arrested. There is no evidence of a trial or any form of procedure to determine their fate, these Jews were simply condemned to death. On February 14th, the Jews of Strasbourg were marched to the Jewish cemetery, where a wooden platform was prepared for them. Before being burned to death, the common folk stripped them of their clothing in search of money. It’s been said that this mass execution took six days to complete, during which children and young women were offered the choice of baptism. It is believed that two thousand Jews were killed, but seeing how the population of Strasbourg was nowhere near that number, the real death count is probably less.


The Middle Ages were not an easy time period for Jews in the German Empire, and most Jewish communities faced persecution and exile. Jews were perceived to be deceitful and evil, and their work in money-lending paired with their denial of Christianity made them the perfect target for hostility and violence. Christians also believed that Jews used "sorcery" and collaborated with evil forces to spread diseases among them. The German Empire protected Jews, but the arrival of the Black Plague changed this reality.



 

Sources:

- Cohn, Samuel K. “The Black Death and the Burning of Jews.” Past & Present, no. 196, 2007, pp. 3–36. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25096679.

- Mancus, Jacob Ruәer. “The Black Death and the Jews 1348-1349,” chp. 9 in The Jew in the Medieval World: A Sourcebook, 315-1791. Hebrew Union College Press, 1999.

- Winkler, Albert. The Medieval Holocaust: The Approach of the Plague and the Destruction of Jews in German, 1348-1349. Federation of East European Family History Societies, vol. XIII, 2005, pp. 6-24.

- Finley, Theresa. Koyama, Mark. “Plague, Politics, and Pogroms: The Black Death, the Rule of Law, and the Persecution of Jews in the Holy Roman Empire.” The Journal of Law and Economics, vol. 61, no. 2, 2018, pp. 253–277. doi:10.1086/699016.

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