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The Plague and the Jews of Strasbourg

February 13, 2018

On this date in 1349, the city of Strasbourg, located along today’s French-German border, arrested its Jews and charged them with poisoning wells to cause the Black Death (in reality, bubonic plague), which was sweeping through Europe and ultimately killed between one-third and sixty percent of the continent’s population. The next day, according to Jakob Twinger von Königshofen (1346-1420), 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. If they had been poor and if the feudal lords had not been in debt to them, they would not have been burnt.” Over two hundred other Jewish communities across Europe were destroyed in similar pogroms fueled by Black Death panic. In September of that year, Emperor Charles IV would officially pardon the town for both massacre and theft.

“It was decided in Strasbourg that no Jew should enter the city for a hundred years, but before twenty years had passed, the council and magistrates agreed that they ought to admit the Jews again into the city for twenty years. And so the Jews came back again to Strasbourg in the year 1368 after the birth of our Lord.” —Jakob Twinger von Königshofen