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February 13: Black Death

Lawrence Bush
February 13, 2010

strasb2 On this day in 1349, the city of Strasbourg, in the Alsace region along the French-German border, arrested its Jews and charged them with poisoning wells to cause the Black Death (actually bubonic plague), which was sweeping through Europe and ultimately took at least twenty-five million lives. The next day, according to Jacob von Königshofen, a priest-historian, “they burnt the Jews on a wooden platform in their cemetery. There were about two thousand of them. Those who wanted to baptize themselves were spared. . . . And everything that was owed to the Jews was cancelled. . . . The council . . . took the cash that the Jews possessed and divided it among the working-men proportionately. The money was indeed the thing that killed the Jews.” By the summer, the plague actually reached Strasbourg and took a heavy toll. Emperor Charles IV then officially pardoned the town for the massacre of the Jews and the stealing of their possessions.
“In the matter of this plague the Jews throughout the world were reviled and accused in all lands of having caused it through the poison which they are said to have put into the water and the wells . . . and for this reason the Jews were burnt all the way from the Mediterranean into Germany, but not in Avignon, for the pope protected them there.” —Jacob von Königshofen

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​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.