Saturday, June 18, 2016

German-Jewish Problems from 1348-1349: Black Death

Nadene Goldfoot                                                 
The Plague, a painting in Madrid Museum

The Black Death was an not just an epidemic, but a pandemic  outbreak of bubonic plague in Europe around 1348 that spread through Asia and Europe  that killed between one-third and two-thirds of the population in less than five years.  It killed 25 million people then over a period of 50 years.  The plague stopped during the winter years.  Spreading across Asia first, people thought it was over by 1348.  The epidemic spanned from China to England to North Africa, transmitted along the Silk Road and other trade routes.  It was an epidemic that killed much of the population of Europe.  It led to murderous attacks on many Jewish communities because they were the first thought to have caused it.  "The Black Death lingered on for centuries, particularly in cities. 

Outbreaks included the Great Plague of London (1665-66), in which one in five residents died." Jews had already been expulsed from England in 1290 and weren't allowed back until 1655.  

This happened in Germany even more than other countries because the masses of people were so superstitious that this charge, originating in Savoy, was that Jews had caused the disease by poisoning the wells.   

The truth was that Jews were less exposed to the plague because of their being shunned by the German Christians and were segregated from them in their own communities.  The Jews followed their dietary and hygienic laws and this protected them but made them more suspicious to the gentiles as they were looked upon as killers of Christ and evil.  

Pope Clement VI issued a bull condemning the libel.  He ordered the Jews to be protected.  They population ignored this, and there was hardly any Jewish community that didn't suffer from Alsace eastward from attacks.

Emperor Charles IV even went along with the attacks in return for a share in the booty.   The guilds for the lower nobility and the lower patrician classes were against their Jewish supporters.  Those who owned money to Jews welcomed the opportunity to kill their creditors.

In Germany alone, attacks on Jews took place in about 350 places, while 60 large and 150 small communities were absolutely exterminated!

Many towns from then on banished the Jews for all time, although some soon changed their minds.  This was the greatest disaster that happened to Germany Jewery in the Middle Ages.  Attacks on a smaller scale took place also in Poland, Catalonia and northern Italy.  
Suffering from blisters of bubonic plague 

"The first well-documented pandemic was the Plague of Justinian, which began in 541 CE. Named after the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, it killed up to 10,000 people a day in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul, Turkey), according to ancient historians. Modern estimates suggest half of Europe's population was wiped out before the plague disappeared in the 700s."  This means that the Middle Ages pandemic was the 2nd round of the bubonic plague.                                                                     

What caused it in the first place?  Mainly, it was rats that carried fleas that bit people.  "The animal reservoir for plague includes mice, camels, chipmunks, prairie dogs, rabbits, and squirrels, but the most dangerous for humans are rats, especially the urban sort. The disease is usually transmitted by the rat flea,Xenopsylla cheopis."  This cause wasn't found until 1859.  during a 3rd epidemic in China that started in 1855.  However, "The second way the plague was spread was through the air.   People were infected with it simply by inhaling."

"The most common reason  thought by Christians was that it was the wrath of God. The times were fanatically religious, and one of the ways God got even, so to speak, was by punishing man. This is especially confirmed in Christian mythology with the idea of the Four Horsemen of Apocalypse, one of whom is pestilence. This Horseman of Pestilence was their interpretation of the plague."  They blamed the corruption of the church, or for not stopping the Muslims during the Crusades.  They finally blamed the Jews just for living there  " because they had allowed the Jews to live in their midst as Jews. This reason became widely accepted. Therefore, in many communities throughout Christian Europe the formula and prescription of saving the community from the plague lay in either converting, exiling or murdering the Jewish population.  No wonder we today are down to only 14 million Jews in the world, about 0.02% of the world population.  

How did people suffer?  "Bubonic plague, the disease's most common form, refers to telltale buboes—painfully swollen lymph nodes—that appear around the groin, armpit, or neck.

Septicemic plague, which spreads in the bloodstream, comes either via fleas or from contact with plague-infected body matter.

 Pneumonic plague, the most infectious type, is an advanced stage of bubonic plague when the disease starts being passed directly, person to person, through airborne droplets coughed from the lungs. If left untreated, bubonic plague kills about 50 percent of those it infects. The other two forms are almost invariably fatal without antibiotics."

The Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio lived through the plague as it ravaged the city of Florence in 1348. The experience inspired him to write The Decameron, a story of seven men and three women who escape the disease by fleeing to a villa outside the city. In his introduction to the fictional portion of his book, Boccaccio gives a graphic description of the effects of the epidemic on his city.

"The symptoms were not the same as in the East, where a gush of blood from the nose was the plain sign of inevitable death; but it began both in men and women with certain swellings in the groin or under the armpit. They grew to the size of a small apple or an egg, more or less, and were vulgarly called tumours. In a short space of time these tumours spread from the two parts named all over the body. Soon after this the symptoms changed and black or purple spots appeared on the arms or thighs or any other part of the body, sometimes a few large ones, sometimes many little ones. These spots were a certain sign of death, just as the original tumour had been and still remained."

Most victims of the pandemic were buried in mass graves.  Civilization up to that time with its laws of behavior was abandoned and it was every man for himself.  

Resource:  The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia

No comments:

Post a Comment