In mid-14th century Europe a plague enveloped the continent. Named the Bubonic Plague or the Black Death, it was a bacterial infection, often carried by the fleas on rats. At least 30% of the European population died in this nasty plague. Other counts put the number of dead at 38 million.
At the time, the status of Jews was protected in some quarters by a Papal Bull. But there had been a history of massacres and mistreatment of Jews in every corner of Europe for hundreds of years, including during the Crusades as Christian soldiers made their way to Palestine. At the time of the plague, Jews were not considered full members of the countries and communities where they lived in Europe. If there were citizens then, Jews would not be considered in citizens.
The belief took hold that it was Jews who were deliberately spreading this plague. Many believed that Jews were poisoning Christian wells. Jews lived in ghettos and had separate wells, which set them up for this charge.
The first massacres of Jews took place in towns in southern France and Spain in 1348, where Jews were slaughtered in their homes. About 2,000 Jews were burnt alive in Strasbourg, France. Hundreds of Jewish communities were sacked and burned. Sometimes the Jewish communities would fight back, but they were soon overwhelmed by the sheer number of murderous bigots. By 1351, there were 350 incidents of anti-Jewish pogroms and 150 minor Jewish communities were exterminated. According to Leon Poliakov in his four volume history of anti-Semitism, “other fanatics persecuted the Jews solely from religious motives.”
Today as we all face a new and potent illness and death, white nationalists are targeting Jews and immigrants as they usually do. They argue that people of color, immigrants, Jews, and Muslims are not wanted in the white republic. It reminds us all that we have much to do to repair this torn world. And we can hope and work for a time when people do not feel threatened simply because of who they are.
Just yesterday we learned that a white nationalist died in a firefight with the FBI while plotting to bomb a hospital housing COVID-19 patients in Missouri. According to law enforcement, he had previously considered attacking multiple targets, including a school with a large number of black students, as well as a mosque and a synagogue.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to document some of these horrific acts bigotry. We’ve created a new section of our website to provide updates on how the latest threats from the far-right during this period- https://www.irehr.org/covid19updates.
We’ll also be adding additional response information to Trepper: The Anti-Bigotry App (available for both iPhone and Android devices). Trepper is also a tremendous resource to document hate crimes and other bigotry, even as you socially distance.
Please be well, be safe, and stay in touch.