Early Christians specialised in causing trouble at synagogues and disrupting Jewish services. Such behaviour had been censured by the pagan emperors, but under Christian ones official censure changed to toleration and even encouragement. The first nominally Christian emperor, Constantine, was also the first significantly to limit the rights of Jews as citizens of the Roman Empire. He imposed heavy penalties on anyone who converted to Judaism and also on any Jewish community that received converts. In the next generation any Christian converting to Judaism would have all of his property confiscated. Marriages between Christians and Jews became capital offences. In later centuries the emperors became more strongly Christian, and the laws concerning Jews became correspondingly more discriminatory, intolerant and oppressive.
An important turning point came in 388. In that year Christians burned a synagogue at Rome and the authorities required that restitution be paid. This was clearly fair and in keeping with custom. But in the same year Christians razed another synagogue, at Callinicum on the Euphrates, at the instigation of the local bishop. Again the Emperor required the bishop to make restitution. The leading churchman of the day, Ambrose, now a saint and Doctor of the Church, interceded and made it clear to the Emperor that it would be sinful to help the Jews in this way*. The Emperor acceded to the will of the Church and withdrew his demand for justice.
The Christian Emperor Theodosius II promulgated a new code of law in 438 that excluded Jews from all political and military functions. They were again forbidden to marry Christians, to own Christian slaves, to hold public office or to build synagogues. In the same year the Empress Eudocia tried to relax the regulations that barred the Jews from Jerusalem except for the festival of Sukkoth. When the Jews gathered on the Temple Mount, Christian monks on the Mount revealed swords and clubs hidden under their robes and attacked the Jews. Many were murdered. When eighteen of the monks were brought for trial, the leader of the massacre, a monk called Barsoma, assembled his followers again and spread rumours that noble Christians were to be burned alive. Now they threatened to burn the Empress herself and inspired such fear that the proceedings had to be dropped. “Five hundred groups” of paramilitary monks patrolled the streets. Barsoma announced that “The cross has triumphed”. He later became St Barsoma.
St John Chrysostom, another Doctor of the Church, was even more extreme. He claimed that Jews sacrificed their children to Satan , an accusation that was to be amplified and believed throughout Christendom for centuries. He also claimed that God hated the Jews and always had done. His eight sermons of 387 whipped congregations into a frenzy of excitement and fanaticism: Jews were drunkards, whoremongers and criminals. They were lascivious, obscene, demonic and accursed. They murdered prophets, Christ, even God himself. Before long the sort of massacre of Jews by Christians, which in time would come to be known as pogroms, were being instigated by Christian leaders. St Jerome regarded the Jews as vipers. St Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, instigated a series of riots directed against them. Massacres and riots occurred elsewhere in the Empire but, as so often, surviving records are patchy, and have been so sanitised by Christian hands that they are unreliable. We shall almost certainly never know how many Jews were murdered by Christians during the Dark Ages.
Under Justin I (Eastern Roman Emperor 518-527), Jews were forbidden to make wills, to receive inheritances, to give testimony in court, or to perform any other legal act. From now on they would be second class citizens. The next emperor, Justinian, produced a new code in 529 confirming their legal disabilities. This code would be influential for many hundreds of years. Marriage between Christian and Jew was confirmed as a capital offence. Synagogues were sequestered and converted into churches. The burning down of synagogues was also explicitly made legal. Many bishops and monks — now saints — took advantage of the revised law to commit acts of arson. In 538 a Church Council at Orléans again condemned intermarriage. It prohibited Christians and Jews eating together, or mixing at all during Holy Week. Regulations affected all facets of life. Jews were not permitted to give medical aid to Christians or to receive it from them. By the end of the sixth century they were being subjected to forcible baptism. A Church Council in Toledo in 694 declared all Jews to be slaves. Their possessions were to be confiscated and their children seized — to be converted to Christianity. By 1010 local Jewish populations were being routinely massacred in Europe, notably in Rome, Orléans, Rouen, Limoges, and throughout the Rhineland. Existing legal disabilities were confirmed by the Third Lateran Council in 1179, which added a further restriction that Jews should not receive feudal homage. Christians living with Jews were to be excommunicated — a regulation leading directly to the creation of Jewish ghettos. Cannon law expressly prohibitted ordinary social relationships with Jews:
The justification for Jewish persecutions through the centuries has been a passage from the Matthew gospel. After Pilate has denied responsibility for sentencing Jesus to death, the Jewish people are quoted as saying ” …His blood be on us, and on our children” (Matthew 27:25). A similar theme may be found at 1 Thessalonians 2:15. In Christian eyes this meant that the Jews as a race were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. In time, the principle of collective guilt would open the way to the assignment of other imaginary forms of guilt. The fact that Jesus had been a Jew, as his parents and his followers had been, was overlooked. In Christian art the Jews were depicted as ugly and deformed, while Jesus was a handsome European.
In western European art Jesus” family were often depicted with blond hair and blue eyes. The suggestion that Jesus might have looked anything like a typical Mediterranean Jew was tantamount to blasphemy. He was invariably depicted wearing at least a loincloth, not only to protect emerging concepts ofChristian modesty, but also to hide the uncomfortable fact that he had been circumcised, as all Jewish boys were (and still are), at the age of 8 days (Luke 2:21). The apostles were also depicted as handsome western Europeans — all except Judas who was shown with caricatured Jewish features and who alone wore the yellow clothes that Jews were obliged by medieval Christians to wear. Artistic depictions of Satan also tended to show him with caricatured Jewish facial features.
A provision in Deuteronomy 23:20 permitted Jews to make a profit from lending money to gentiles. So it was that Jews were able to lend money in Christian Europe. This suited both Jews and Christians, and Jews were allowed into Christian countries in order to fulfil an essential economic function. As far as is known, Jews were introduced into Britain soon after the Norman Conquest to act as bankers to the King and his nobles. They were regarded as the King’s property*, and in theory enjoyed his protection. Restricted to money lending, Jews were frequently accused of usury, although their rates of return were a fraction of those of modern high-street banks. They were routinely cheated, abused and humiliated, and the most preposterous calumnies were perpetrated against them.
During Eastertide of 1144 a 12-year-old boy by the name of William was murdered near Norwich, probably by a local sexual deviant. Contrary to the available evidence, a monk, Thomas of Monmouth, formulated a theory that the boy had been ritually murdered by Jews. He claimed that they had crucified him just as they had crucified Jesus, overlooking the fact that crucifixion was a Roman not a Jewish practice, and that there was no reason to suppose that the child had been crucified at all. Nevertheless, the story soon gained wide currency and came to be believed as fact. William was acclaimed St William, a martyr for the Holy Mother Church. His body was moved to Norwich Cathedral, where wondrous miracles were worked at his shrine, a circumstance that served to confirm the monk’s story. Norwich profited enormously from the influx of pilgrims, all eager to learn the details of St William’s dreadful martyrdom, to witness his great miracles, and to make offerings.
As the stories spread and Norwich became rich, it must have occurred to others that they could cash in on anti-Semitism as well. In any event, there was an outbreak of such cases around the country — Gloucester 1168, Bury St Edmunds 1181, Winchester 1192. The victims of any and every child murderer were acclaimed by the Church as victims of Jewish atrocities. Shrines were established, pilgrims arrived, miracles occurred, and the money rolled in. When the Bishop of Norwich visited France in 1171, similar cases were suddenly reported there as well — Blois 1171, Pontoise and Braisne 1182. Another case was reported in Saragossa in the same year. Any murder without a genuine suspect was likely to excite a new outbreak of unfounded rumour. When the body of a nine-year-old boy called Hugh was discovered down a well in Lincoln in 1255, the stories of ritual murder were soon circulating again. Jews were accused of crucifying him in the most unlikely circumstances*. After torture sessions and a show trial, 19 Jews were executed and many more suffered other punishments. Chaucer’s Prioress’s Talegives a chilling insight into Christian thinking about Little St Hugh (as the boy is now known), and demonstrates the use of anti-Semitic propaganda in skilled hands.
Sometimes there was not even a murder victim to trigger the anti-Semitism. At Blois a servant of the mayor reported that he thought he saw a Jew throw a child’s body into the river. No body was ever found, and no child was reported missing. Even so, 38 leading Jews were sentenced to death and were burned. The calumny of ritual child sacrifice, which came to be known as theblood libel, was soon widespread throughout Europe. Jews were accused of torturing children, murdering them in a ritual parody of Christian belief, then drinking their blood. Everywhere, Jews suffered torture and death because of these inventions.
As the King’s property, Jews in England had enjoyed a measure of protection. But when kings started taking their Christian duties seriously, they became less inclined to take care of their Jews. Jewish citizens who came bearing gifts for Richard I at his coronation in 1190 were massacred out of hand. Their murder was acclaimed by churchmen as the judgement of God and was emulated in almost every other town in England with a Jewish community. When a massacre broke out in York, the Jewish population took refuge in a substantial building called Clifford’s Tower. There, their Christian neighbours besieged them, offering a choice between death and Christian baptism. Many chose to die by their own hand. Others gave themselves up to the Christians only to be massacred on the spot, despite the promises. Those who had led the siege and massacre went to nearby York Minster, where they burned records of their debts to the people they had just murdered. Then they left for the Third Crusade, safe in the knowledge that the Church would forgive them, if indeed it felt it needed to. Groups of Jews were massacred by zealous Christians on a number of occasions like this.
Jews suffered a number of indignities and disabilities. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 had debarred them from holding land, and from all military and civil functions. It had also required all Jews to wear distinctive clothing. At the insistence of the Church they were obliged to fast during Lent. They were debarred from practising almost all trades, since trades were controlled by guilds. Guilds were essentially Christian organisations: they enjoyed the favours of patron saints; their members built chapels; they put on annual religious plays. They would not permit Jewish members, and without membership it was impossible to obtain an apprenticeship, or to sell services. Boroughs obtained royal charters to allow them to exclude Jews from their environs. By 1271 the requirements of the Church were being enforced in England, and Jews were prevented from holding land*. They were also obliged to wear distinctive yellow badges, as they were in continental Europe.
It is sometimes claimed that anti-Semitism was a European phenomenon, rather than a Christian phenomenon. But this is demonstrably not so. In the ninth century senior churchmen like Agobard , Archbishop of Lyons, and Hinemar, Archbishop of Rheims, worked hard campaigning against Jews who were already integrated into Carolingian society. In Muslim Spain and in Cathar lands of the Languedoc, Jews had enjoyed much greater freedom than in Christendom. In Cathar lands they were accorded civil rights and sat as elected consuls. They filled high offices for the Counts of Toulouse and other potentates. The Easter tradition called “Strike the Jew”, popular throughout Western Christendom, had been abolished in Toulouse in the middle of the twelfth century — despite the protests of the clergy*. One of the specific charges made by churchmen against Raimon VI of Toulouse was that he gave public office to Jews. In 1209, stripped to the waist and barefoot, he was obliged to swear in front of a relic-laden altar, in the presence of 19 bishops and three archbishops, that he would no longer allow Jews to hold public office. In 1229 his son and heir, Raimon VII, underwent a similar ceremony where he was obliged to prohibit the public employment of Jews, this time at Notre Dame in Paris*. By the next generation a new, zealously Roman Catholic, ruler was arresting and imprisoning Jews for no crime, raiding their houses, seizing their cash, and removing their religious books. They were then released only if they paid a new “tax”*. As an English historian of the crusade against the Cathars puts it:
Again, the Spanish Inquisition worked hard to introduce anti-Semitism into areas of Spain where Judaism, Islam and Christianity had coexisted for centuries under convivencia. They introduced ghettos, enforced sumptuary laws, promoted mass expulsions, and encouraged racial discrimination*.
In Jeruasalem Christians sought and obtained from the Moslems rulers the right to kill Jews for the crime of walking past a church, or the convent on Mount Zion. Unaware Jews were routinely lynched for this crime, a position that continued until 1917*.
Like Richard I, King Edward I was a crusader. His duty to God impelled him to travel to the Levant to kill God’s enemies, the Muslim infidels. It occurred to him, as it occurred to other crusaders, that it was much easier to kill off God’s other enemies, the perfidious Jewish infidels, without even crossing the English Channel. The problem was that they were funding the National Debt. Eventually, to save himself from financial ruin, Edward confiscated the whole of their property, and expelled them from the country in 1290. Even so, Christian propaganda kept alive the calumnies, and centuries later English audiences would have been familiar with usurers like Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Jews were not readmitted to England until Cromwell’s Protectorate and then not because of any sympathy for them, but in order to facilitate the End of the World*. They continued to suffer a number of legal disabilities up to the nineteenth century. Even after 600 years the blood libel was still current in Britain. It surfaced for example during the spate of Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel in 1888. The murders were quite different from the ones in the Middle Ages, and the charges of ritual murder were equally absurd, but they sounded just as convincing to receptive ears.
In Europe, as in England, Jews were generally protected by the rulers whom they served, but if their usefulness ceased, or the debts owed to them became too great to repay, they became dispensable. Time after time their property was confiscated and they were exiled — for example from France in 1182, 1306 and 1396 , Parma in 1488, Milan in 1490, and Spain in 1492. All the nobles had to do was withhold protection, and enthusiastic Christian hands would do the rest. Pogroms were a feature of European life throughout the Crusades everywhere. During the Shepherd’s Crusade of 1251 the Jewish population of southern France was almost annihilated.
The blood libel was popular almost everywhere. In 1285, 180 Jews were burned in Munich following a rumour that they had bled a child to death in their synagogue. In 1294 the blood libel was heard at Bern in Switzerland. Some Jews were executed, the rest expelled from the city. Later a fountain was erected showing a sinister-looking Jew eating one child and carrying a sack full of others. In 1475 most of the Jews in the town of Trent in the Tirol were tortured and burned following reports that a child had been ritually murdered. On Easter Sunday, March 26th, 1475, the corpse of a young boy called Simon was found floating in a ditch in the city of TrentThe Christian population had been whipped into a murderous frenzy by a preacher, Fra Bernardino da Feltra, who had accused Jews of ritual murder in his Lenten sermons that year. The Church duly beatified Simon, and the usual selection of miracles were reported at his shrine. His cult continued officially until 1965, and there are still Catholics propagating the traditional blood-libel around Simon’s death*.
The doctrine of transubstantiation affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 led Roman Catholics to believe that the bread used at the Mass changed into Jesus” flesh. The wordhost, a term for a sacrificial victim, was (and still is) applied to this bread. Within a few years stories were spreading that Jews were stealing wafers of bread and torturing them in order to torture Jesus. A common story was that they pushed nails through the bread, making it bleed in imitation of the crucifixion, a practice known as host nailing. Sometimes the breadeven cried out in pain. Stories like this led to Jews being sent to the stake throughout Europe, the first victims apparently in 1243 at Berlitz in Germany. In 1298 a host-nailing story was spread by a priest at Nuremberg, as a result of which 628 Jews lost their lives. In 1337 at Deggendorf in Bavaria the entire Jewish population was burned following the circulation of such stories. The Church there commissioned a number of paintings showing Jews torturing the host with thorns, and with hammers and nails. Thousands of pilgrims travelled to see these pictures, until they were withdrawn in the 1960s.
Similar massacres took place elsewhere, and imaginative pictures werecommissioned to lend credibility to the imaginary events that had precipitated them. Generally they showed blood flowing from the tortured wafers of bread. In 1453, a total of 41 Jews were burned to death at Breslau after a woman reported seeing a Jew stab a wafer. Confessions were obtained by the use of torture. Such confessions led to the burning of 27 Jews at Mecklenburg in 1492. The last known execution of Jews for host nailing took place at Nancy in 1761.
Another fanciful idea was that Jews plotted to poison wells. In Bohemia, 86 Jews were accused of this in 1161 and burned at the stake. At Chinon in 1321, a total of 160 Jews were burned as accomplices of the lepers who had supposedly planned to poison the whole of France. Some years earlier, 40 Jews had committed suicide at Vitry in order to avoid the same fate. When the Black Death ravaged Europe between 1348 and 1351, Jews provided convenient scapegoats. The theory was that they provoked it by poisoning water wells. Now it was the Jews who were primarily held responsible, and the lepers who were the accomplices. At Strasbourg 2,000 Jews were burned alive. At Mainz some 6,000 were slaughtered in a single day, the 24 th August 1349. Elsewhere Jews were walled up in their homes and left to die of starvation. Around 10,000 Jews, representing around 80 communities, were murdered in Bavaria. The entire Jewish population of Basel was wiped out: 600 adults went to the stake; their children were given to Christians for forcible conversion. Invariably the Church was involved one way or another, sometimes through priests, sometimes monks, sometimes through a rampaging mob of penitents known as Flagellants. These Flagellants literally whipped themselves into a religious frenzy. They were responsible for a Jewish massacre at Frankfurt in July 1349. Sometimes their mere approach precipitated violence. Anticipating the arrival of Flagellants in the same year, Christians at Brussels killed 600 Jews. Within the space of the three years 1348-1350, there were 350 known Jewish massacres, but there may well have been many more.
As in England, Continental crusaders often started with a massacre of local Jews when they set off for the Holy Land. On their way to the First Crusade in 1095-6, various groups, fired by the oratory of preachers, massacred any Jews that they came across. A group in Normandy attacked Jews in Rouen. A priest called Volkmar led a group of Saxon crusaders in the massacre of Jews in Prague. Another priest, called Gottschalk, led the massacre of Jews in Regensburg. Crusaders from Flanders attacked Jews in Cologne. A group from Lorraine attacked those in Metz. Another group attacked Jews in Speyer, Worms and Mainz. In Worms around half the Jewish population was slaughtered. The survivors asked the local bishop to save them. He said he would do so only if they agreed to become Christians, and left them to consider. As happened in other such situations in towns throughout Europe, they committed mass suicide rather than convert. The men killed their children, then their wives (one a new bride), then each other. The last man left alive then killed himself. Successful crusades not only started with massacres of Jewish communities, they ended with them as well. The general pattern followed the first great crusader success. When the crusaders took Jerusalem they pursued the Jewish population into their synagogue, and then set light to it, burning them alive.
Sprees of murder and arson were led by priests , and the same pattern was repeated every time a new crusade was preached. As one influential abbot, Peter of Cluny, pointed out: it was expensive in men and money to travel to the end of the world to fight Mohammedans, yet there were infidels living locally who were far more guilty towards Christ. The implication is that it would be much cheaper, easier, safer, and worthier to massacre local Jews than to attack distant Muslims — who were likely to fight back. Preachers promoting the Second Crusade prompted massacres across Germany and France.
Jewish literature was also a common target. Book burning was widespread and endorsed by the Church. Pope Gregory IX ordered the Talmud to be burned throughout Christendom. Tens of thousands of copies of it, together with other rabbinical writings, were destroyed. One reason for this orgy of destruction was the suspicion that the Talmud contradicted Christian beliefs concerning the Virgin Birth of Jesus. The crusader king, Louis IX of France ( St Louis), was also worried by the danger of Jews denying the Virgin Birth. If Christian laymen heard a Jew denying the Virgin Birth, or otherwise slandering the Christian faith, they should, said the future saint, run him through with a sword on the spot.
Like other minority groups — prostitutes, Muslims, lepers and reformed heretics — Jews were required to wear distinctive clothing to act as a “badge of infamy”. In France and Spain this was generally a round yellow patch called a rouelle. In Italy rouelles, circular red badges and yellow hats were all used. In England it was a saffron badge shaped like the twin tablets of Moses. In Germany, Austria and Poland, Jews traditionally wore a pileum cornutum, a conical hat known in German as a Judenhut. Pope Gregory IX complained about this non-conformity in 1233 in a letter to the German bishops, and an effort was then made to bring them into line and wear badges. Jews were required to pay an annual fee for their rouelles, so they were effectively being required to pay for being persecuted ).
Persecution was popular at all levels within the Church, but the main proponents were the mendicant orders — Dominicans and Franciscans. They invented pretexts to justify persecution, they ran the Inquisition, they enforced the rules, they promoted the burning of Jews and Jewish writings, they engineered ever more severe restrictions, they encouraged forcible conversion, and they preached anti-Semitism to the populace. They acted against Jews and other minority groups as “the shock troops of the Church”*. Popes also promoted the persecution of Jews. Callistus III (pope 1455-1458) for example revived legislation prohibiting social contacts between Christians and Jews. Paul IV (pope 1555-1559) hated them. As a cardinal he had ordered the burning of Jewish books. Two months after his election as Pope he published his bull Cum nimis absurdum, a document that was to promote anti-Semitism for centuries to come. He claimed that Jews were slaves by nature, and that they should be treated as such. In Rome, and throughout the Papal States, they were confined to specified districts each with a single entrance, which are now known as ghettos. (The term ghetto is taken from the name of the district in Venice where the Senate had confined the Jews in 1516.) Jews were forced to sell their houses at a fraction of their worth, forbidden to engage in commerce, and obliged to wear badges of infamy in public. They were obliged to use Latin, and to attend Church sermons for their conversion. The only trade open to them was the buying and selling of second-hand clothes and old iron — which largely explains why Jews were traditionally associated with the rag and bone trade. Once again, Jews were forbidden to receive medical attention from Christians. Synagogues were destroyed. Paul’s restrictions were enforced more or less severely by popes for many centuries. Elderly Jews were kidnapped from their ghetto during the Roman Carnival, forced at sword point to overeat, then to race against each other. If two Christians testified that a Jew had insulted the Roman Catholic faith, or a priest, he could be put to death. Neither was this sort of attitude restricted to the Middle Ages. Leo XII (pope 1823-1829) once again forcibly confined the Jews to ghettos and subjected them to the Inquisition. His Holiness also condemned a new Austrian Constitution because it countenanced Jews running their own schools and colleges. As late as 1852, Pope Pius IX had persuaded Tuscany to prohibit Jewish physicians from practising medicine.
Roman Catholic authorities had for centuries been forcibly removing Jewish children from their parents in order to bring them up as Christians. The whole civilised world was shocked to discover that this was still happening in 1858 when Edgardo Mortara was seized in Bologna and sent to Rome (see page 353). His Holiness refused to yield to world opinion and, after a triumphal parade through the ghetto in Rome, Edgardo began his new life. (The Church’s argument was that several years earlier a Christian maid had secretly baptised the infant Edgardo when he was thought to be dying, so he was already a Christian.) In future the Church would be much more circumspect in removing children from their parents, though it continued to do so well into the twentieth century. As for the ghettos, it was not until 1870 (when Italian troops forcibly took Rome — the last remnant of the Papal States) that Jews were released from the last ghetto in Europe. One of the first acts of the new Kingdom of Italy after the liberation of Rome was to tear down the ghetto walls.
Wherever Christianity flourished, so did anti-Semitism. A clerical revival in France in the 1890s was linked to the Dreyfus affair, during which a Jewish army officer was falsely accused of treason by the Christian establishment. It was left to a small number of freethinkers such as Émile Zola to help Dreyfus, as it was to help other Jews when falsely accused. When it became clear that a miscarriage of justice had taken place, La Civiltà Cattolica commented that “if a judicial error has indeed been committed, then the Assembly of 1791 was responsible when it accorded French nationality to Jews”. Father Vincent Bailly, Editor of La Croix, claimed that the Church in France was undergoing “a punishment reminiscent of Christ’s own passion …. betrayed, sold, jeered at, beaten, covered with spittle and crucified by the Jews”. The Dreyfus affair and its repercussions were indirectly responsible for the introduction of the 1905 law separating church and state in France.
Anti-Semitism was still widespread at the beginning of the twentieth century. In Limerick in Ireland the Jewish community were boycotted, stoned, beaten and robbed, and eventually driven out of the city in 1904. The man behind it was Father John Creagh, a priest who accused Jews each Sunday from his pulpit of a range of offences from deicide (god-murder) to conspiracy with Freemasons. Included was the accusation that Jews were given to murdering Christians, an echo of the old blood libel*. The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, a fabrication created by a Russian Orthodox secret policeman revived Christian anti-Semitism throughout Europe. In England it was republished in 1920 by the official publishers to the Church of England*.
Jews were persecuted in eastern Europe as well as western Europe. Hundreds of thousands were murdered in Christian pogroms in eastern Europe over the centuries. In 1723 the Bishop of Gdansk in Poland demanded the expulsion of Jews from the city. When the city authorities declined, he exhorted a mob to break into the city ghetto and beat the residents to death. Such pogroms continued until recent times. Often the murders were justified by the old blood libel. Familiar charges of the ritual murder of children were heard from the Protestant court chaplain, Adolf Stöcker, at Berlin in 1892, and again at the Hilsner trial in Slovakia in 1900, and at the Beilis trial in Kiev in 1913.
The general pattern is that the stronger the Christian faith, the stronger is the persecution of the Jews. It is notable that pogroms have been common in Poland during intervals of that country’s independence, when the Church has enjoyed its greatest power and influence. The restoration of independence to Poland in 1918, for example, was followed by an immediate return to traditional practices — an outbreak of pogroms. Polish Roman Catholics may not have welcomed domination by Hitler’s Third Reich but few quarrelled with the Nazi’s attitude towards the Jews. Many Roman Catholics in Poland saw their Jewish neighbours carted off to death camps and were often not at all averse to helping them on their way*. In some places local Catholics carried out their own pogroms, as at Jedwabne where hundreds of Jews were burned alive in 1941*. After the War, when Jewish refugees returned to their homes and businesses, Christian Poles reacted in the traditional way once again. They circulated stories of the ritual murder of children — the ancient blood libel yet again — and instigated a massacre of the refugees. At Kielce 42 Jews, some of them recently freed from Nazi death-camps, were murdered by their Christian neighbours*.
Like their Roman Catholic brethren, Orthodox Christians thrived on anti-Semitism for centuries. In the Ukraine, for example, numerous massacres were perpetrated in the mid-seventeenth century. Orthodox Ukrainians took the opportunity to massacre some 100,000 Jews, representing around 300 communities, while rebelling against their Polish rulers. In 1801, Orthodox priests in Bucharest used the traditional blood libel to whip up Christian sentiment, which resulted in the Jewish quarter being attacked, and 128 inhabitants having their throats cut. In the 1840’s blood libels arose on Damascus, Rhodes and Jerusalem. In Damascus Jews were arrested for supposedly killing a Christian monk. Sixty three Jewish children were tortured to induce their mothers to reveal the “hiding place of the blood”. In Jerusalem a Christian boy attacked a Jewish boy. The Jewish boy threw back a stone which grazed the Christian’s foot. This was enough for Orthodox churchmen to accuse Jews of procuring Christian blood to add to their passover biscuits. Jewish persecutions were common under the Russian Orthodox Church right up to the Russian Revolution of 1918. Cossacks and other Orthodox troops killed around 60,000 Jews in eastern Europe during the Revolution itself.
Protestants also found Jewish persecution and genocide to be entirely compatible with their faith. After all the New Testament had referred to Jews as children of the Devil (John 8:44), and Martin Luther had regarded Jews as “worse than devils” and a “damned, rejected race” He recommended how they should be treated: “Set their synagogues on fire … in order that God may see that we are Christians …. Their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed …. They should be put under one roof or in a stable, like gypsies, in order that they may realize that they are not masters in our land, as they boast, but miserable captives, …. They should be deprived of their prayer books and Talmuds in which such idolatry lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught.’. their rabbis must be forbidden to teach under the threat of death.”*.
Luther’s anti-Semitic writings, such as On Jews and their Lies (1543), were frequently quoted by the Nazis to justify their actions. Julius Streicher, the editor of the anti-Semitic Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer cited Luther in justifying his own conduct in the court at Nuremberg in 1946. Luther had recommended that Jewish schools and synagogues should be burned down, that the houses of Jews should be destroyed, that their books should be seized, and public prayer or teaching punished by death.
Jews should not be allowed to walk on the streets. Their wealth should be confiscated. He recommended forced labour, or better still, expulsion from the country. It was almost a Nazi textbook.
As a Jewish historian has noted, because of his views Protestants became even more anti-Semitic than Roman Catholics*. In the twentieth century German Protestants were still keen to follow his advice. The Nazis realised all of Luther’s dreams, helped by Deutsche Christen and other Christian Churches. The Deutsche Christen were Nazi Protestants who dominated the Protestants in Germany. During World War II over half of the German Landeskirchen were Deutsche Christen. But other Protestant Churches held similar views. Here is part of a declaration made by the Presidents of German Protestant Churches in 1941:
This was far from unusual. Other Protestants, who did not support Hitler, joined the so-called Confessing Church, and in the main kept their views to themselves. After the war was over and the danger passed, the leaders of the Confessing Church made a declaration of their own guilt to the Council of World Churches, a gesture that was at least more than other Churches were prepared to do*.
The Roman Catholic Church had earned as bad a reputation during the Nazi era, but no declaration of guilt was forthcoming from its head, Pius XII. Pius appeared to many to have supported the great dictators. His Holiness never once unequivocally condemned the victimisation or murder of Jews in Italy or the Third Reich, despite being blessed with direct communication with the Divine through his supernatural visions. When Marshal Pétain asked whether the pope had any objection to anti-Jewish laws the pope confirmed that he did not. During the war he never even made a statement that would give guidance to the many Roman Catholics in the fascist and Nazi armies, as he could have done without endangering himself. Roman Catholics engaged in genocide were never once informed by the Church or the Pope that what they were doing was wrong. In the whole of Christendom only a handful of churchmen stood up to the Nazis. Altogether, over six million Jews died, including a million children. As historians have observed, it is difficult to see how the attempted murder of an entire people could take place without the highest moral authority on Earth voicing any explicit criticism of it. A memo in the records of the British Foreign Office describes Pius as “the greatest moral coward of our age”. A man who refuses to risk his own security, knowing that by taking such a risk he might well save millions of others, seems a curious choice for God’s representative here on Earth.
His Holiness failed consistently to condemn Nazi atrocities, even though he was certainly aware of them after 1942, and was repeatedly asked to condemn them. During and after the war he was content to continue referring to “perfidious Jews”. After the war he even condemned the concept of collective guilt as applied to the German people. To many this was the ultimate irony since the Church’s persecution of the perfidious Jews had for centuries been based on the principle of collective guilt. Pius’s successor, Pope John XXIII, admitted Church guilt in the sort of code favoured by theologians: “The mark of Cain is stamped upon our foreheads. Across the centuries, our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, and shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us Lord, for the curse we falsely attributed to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh, for we knew not what we did”. This may mean “We admit responsibility for centuries of persecution and murder”, but it is difficult to be certain. In 1958 His Holiness removed the reference to “perfidious Jews” from the Good Friday liturgy of the Roman Church. In 1965 the Second Vatican Council reconsidered the question of collective guilt and exonerated the Jews from collective responsibility for the death of Jesus, but only on condition that they dissociated themselves from the supposedly wicked generation of the time of the crucifixion. Rarely a senior churchman will now admit to his Church’s complicity. Cardinal Franz König for example confirmed in 1988 that the Roman Catholic Church in Austria bore part of the responsibility for Nazi crimes against the Jews, and admitted that anti-Semitism was linked to Roman Catholic education practices*.
Antisemitism was still a standard part of Catholic teaching into the 1970’s. Over a 30 year period from the 1930’s, Father Louis Gales’s Treasure Chest Comics were distributed to millions of children in Catholic parochial schools in the US, which promoted Catholic propaganda against Communism and against Jews, continuing the slander that there was a vast global conspiracy to destroy the Christian world. The image on the right is typical, depicting Jews in the heart of washington as determined to finish off the Catholics.
During their Passover meal many Jews still leave their doors open, as they have done for centuries. One traditional reason is to allow in anyone who wants to see what is happening, and in particular to see that Christian children are not being murdered. Churches still apparently do their part to foster hatred and distrust. A detailed study in the 1966 revealed that a significant amount of anti-Semitism in American Christians was due to Church teachings*. The doctrine of collective guilt was found to be still popular: 46 per cent of Roman Catholics, 60 per cent of Protestants, and 86 per cent of Southern Baptists subscribed to the statement that “Jews can never be forgiven for crucifying Christ”.
The Anglican Church stays silent about the martyrdom of St William of Norwich and Little St Hugh of Lincoln. Their many miracles still stand testimony to the Christian faith. At the time of writing there is a notice put up by the cathedral authorities by the remains of the shrine of Little St Hugh in Lincoln Minster. It frankly concedes that the story of Little St Hugh and other such stories were fictions. It goes on to suggest a prayer, not as one might expect for the victims of Christian persecutions, nor even for forgiveness. It simply asks God to forget all about it “Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers”.
§ The law establishing state secularism in France includes the statement “The Republic neither recognises, nor salaries, nor subsidizes any religion” — though of course the State continues to subsidise the Catholic Church heavily.
§. St Ambrose claimed to have set fire to the synagogue himself (Epistolae 40:11) , but he was almost certainly lying.
§. Pollock and Maitland, The History of English Law, pp 468-475 discusses the legal position of Jews in Medieval England in further detail.
§. The Benedictine chronicler Matthew Paris reported that the local Jews had fattened Little St Hugh on bread and milk for ten days and had invited almost all the Jews in England to his crucifixion.
§. Pollock and Maitland, The History of English Law, p 473.
§. Stephen O”Shea, The Perfect Heresy, p 53.
§. Michael Costen, The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade, pp 115, 122 and 154
§. Michael Costen, The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade, p 191.
§. Michael Costen, The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade, p 38.
§. Kamen, The Spanish Inquisition, p 230.
§. Simon Sebag Montifiore, Jerusalem (Weidenfield & Nicholson, London, 2011, p 287 & passim.
§. Jews were readmitted to England after a Dutch rabbi, Menasseh ben Israel, petitioned Cromwell, explaining to him that Jews had to be scattered to all corners of the world before returning to Jerusalem to trigger the Second Coming. If there were no Jews in England then they could not return from “all corners of the world” and the Messiah could not return!
§. Traditionalist Catholic websites still promoting the traditional blood libel were easy to find in 2014, an example setting out the whole invented story may be found at:
§. Richards, Sex, Dissidence and Damnation, p 114.
§. An account of the Limerick pogrom, and a ceremony of reconciliation conducted in 1990, is related by Cal McCrystal in a newspaper article: “The Last Jews of Limerick”, The Independent on Sunday, 16 th September 1990.
§ George, Shanks (trans, uncredited), The Jewish Peril. Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, Eyre & Spottiswoode, ( London, 1920)
§. The unrepentant attitudes of Poles to their Jewish neighbours during the Nazi occupation is most strikingly recorded in Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, a monumental documentary film about the Holocaust containing eyewitness accounts from the Poles themselves.
§. Massacres of Jews in Poland during the Second World War were conventionally attributed to the Nazis, but in recent years it has been accepted that such massacres were sometimes the work of local Catholic groups. In 2001 it was revealed, by the historian Jan Tomasz Gross In his book Neighbours that hundreds of Jews had been massacred by local Poles at Jedwabne. Poland’s President Alexander Kwasniewski made an apology in the name of the Polish nation, but the Church was more circumspect. Poland’s Catholic bishops formally expressed their “regret” over the massacre – widely but incorrectly described in the media as an “apology”. Poland’s senior churchman, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, suggested that Jews should apologise to the Poles for collaborating with the Soviet occupiers and was quoted as saying in an interview that “Jews were always expressing their aversion towards Poles”. The commemoration service on the 60th anniversary of the pogrom was overshadowed by the boycott of the service by the more Catholic citizens of Jedwabne. When the service began, the priest of Jedwabne started to ring his church bells as a sign of protest. BBC News Online, Tuesday, 10 July, 2001 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/europe/1431753.stm
§. This event was denied for 50 years, but the Polish government finally acknowledged that it had happened on the 50th anniversary. The acknowledgement was reported internationally on 6 th and 7 th July 1996.
§. Cited by Dagobert D. Runes, in The Jews and the Cross, Philosophical Library, New York, (1966), p.25. Also cited by William L. Shirer in The Rise and Fall or the Third Reich
§. Levy, Blasphemy, p 61, quoting Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews (New York, 1927, 6 vols.), vol. 4, pp 549-52.
§. English translation from Joachim Kahl, The Misery of Christianity, p 62 citing Karlheinz Deschner, Abermals krähte der Hahn (Eine kritische Kirchengeschichte von den Anfängen bis zu Pius XII), 2 nd ed, Stuttgart, 1964. The declaration was made on 17 th December 1941 by the Church Presidents and bishops of Saxony, Mecklenburg, Schleswig-Holstein, the Anhalt of Saxony, Thüringen and Lübeck.
§. As part of the Stuttgart Declaration of Guilt made in October 1945, the Confessing Church accused itself of “not having confessed more boldly, prayed more faithfully, believed more joyfully and loved more ardently”. This was considered by many to be Church-speak for a confession of collaboration. Certainly it proved highly controversial and was not accepted by many Lutherans, who continued to maintain that they had nothing to apologise for. See Scholder, A Requiem for Hitler, pp 32 and 122-3.
§. “Vatican Churchmen “Helped Nazis Escape” “, The Independent, 6 th January 1988 citing Cardinal Franz König in the Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronath.
§. C. Y. Glock and R. Stark, Christian Beliefs and Anti-Semitism, Harper & Row (New York, 1966).