By David Malkiel
Past and Present, Vol.194:1 (2007)
Introduction: The chief trauma in the historical memory of the Jews of Franco- Germany (‘Ashkenaz’) in the Middle Ages was the persecution of 1096, when thousands of crusaders slaughtered the Jews in towns along the Rhine. The particulars of this grim episode are detailed in three twelfth-century Hebrew texts, which emphasize the experience of the Jewish martyrs, allegedly about two thousand in Worms and Mainz alone. The main event in these tales of carnage is the slaughter of Jews by Jews: parents killed their children, each other and themselves when the enemy was at the door, and there was no escape. The narratives do make fleeting mention of those Jews who survived by accepting baptism, but that is not primarily what these Hebrew accounts are about.