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Purge or Remove: Persecutions for Jews in the Late Medieval Germany

A 15th-century German woodcut showing an alleged host desecration. In the first panel the hosts are stolen; in the second the hosts bleed when pierced by a Jew; in the third the Jews are arrested; and in the fourth they are burned alive

A 15th-century German woodcut showing an alleged host desecration. In the first panel the hosts are stolen; in the second the hosts bleed when pierced by a Jew; in the third the Jews are arrested; and in the fourth they are burned alive

Purge or Remove: Persecutions for Jews in the Late Medieval Germany

By Masayuki Furukawa

Deviations and Alienations of Marginalized People in Medieval European Communities: The Seventh Korean-Japanese Symposium on Medieval History of Europe (2010)

Introduction: Anti-Jewish violence in the Middle Ages related with a notion of Diaspora. It was accepted widely that Jews were forced to be a kind of rootless wanderers in the medieval Christendom. Moreover Jews themselves seemed to keep their own identity as a minority, who were expelled from the Christian society. However, is the tragic situation of Jews unavoidable in medieval Europe? It is an attempt about Pogroms against Jews in the late medieval Germany from a point of view of historical analysis, how evaluated a phenomenon such as a brutal oppression against heretics in a Christian society.

Here is an example for Jewish Diaspora-image; “Der Rabbi von Bacheracha”, which is a fragment written by Heinrich Heine, a romantic poet. As a Jew, Heine wrote a story about kick out of another Jew in Bacharach, which were a small riverside settlement. That was an exactly milestone of the history of oppression against Jews. “Here you can see a group of people who are separated from each other, having missed inhabitants. They are people in a small Jewish community. Jews lived in Bacharach from the times of Roman Empire, and accepted their religious fellows who escaped from persecution even when they had hard time to survive”. The hero of the story, Abraham, a rabbi in Bacharach, was one of them. He ran away out of the settlement because of his suspicion as a murder of a baby. “He was born in the town and his father was a rabbi of the town. The last will of his father was that he got engaged with the same work as his father, and never left Bacharach unless he was in a threat to life. That was his last order”. Rabbi Abraham left the settlement not because of his spontaneous motivation, but because of proscription based on a false charge. This story by Heine was established on a certain concept: persecution against Jews in the Middle Ages. The Roman written in early 19th century shows us a subject of Jews, who have been aliens in a community and just an expelled Diaspora.

In the current world, quite a various people are forced to leave their hometown, moving to unfamiliar countries. The concept of Diaspora has been reanalyzed to enlarge its notion: It is not only for Jewish history, but also for any other historical entities. Jewish-Diaspora is assumed to be a representative example of various kinds of Diasporas. It may be well accepted that the concept of being Jewish shown by Heine is linked with the current Diaspora-discussion.

Here is an issue, have Jews stood for the notion of Diaspora to begin with? In history of the Medieval Europe, had Jews been persecuted or expelled consistently? It was said Jews were just alien and Diaspora as it literally meant. However, had Jewish destiny being Diaspora as necessity based on their idiosyncrasy in a given society? Was the tragic situation of Jews unavoidable, for example, in medieval Germany? Indeed a peculiarity of German history with the holocaust has been mentioned without any supporting evidence. But such a widely accepted understanding, persecution for Jews was actually done and that has kept going on from the beginning of the Middle age, needed to be investigated from a historical point of view.

Click here to read this article from the Korean Society for Western Medieval History 

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