The call for the First Crusade touched off the Rhineland massacres also known as the German Crusade of 1096, the persecutions of 1096 or Gzerot Tatenu (Hebrew: גזרות תתנ"ו) for the edicts of 856, which occurred during the year of 4856 according to the Jewish calendar. Prominent leaders of crusaders involved in the massacres included Peter the Hermit and especially Count Emicho. As part of this persecution, the destruction of Jewish communities in Speyer, Worms and Mainz were noted as the "Hurban Shum" (Destruction of Shum). These were new persecutions of the Jews in which peasant crusaders from France and Germany attacked Jewish communities. A number of historians refer to the antisemitic events as "pogroms".
According to David Nirenberg, the events of 1096 in the Rhineland "occupy a significant place in modern Jewish historiography and are often presented as the first instance of an antisemitism that would henceforth never be forgotten and whose climax was the Holocaust."
The preaching of the First Crusade inspired an outbreak of anti-Jewish violence. In parts of France and Germany, Jews were perceived as just as much an enemy as Muslims: they were held responsible for the crucifixion, and they were more immediately visible than the distant Muslims. Many people wondered why they should travel thousands of miles to fight non-believers when there were already non-believers closer to home.
It is also likely that the crusaders were motivated by their need for money. The Rhineland communities were relatively wealthy, both due to their isolation, and because they were not restricted as Catholics were against moneylending. Many crusaders had to go into debt in order to purchase weaponry and equipment for the expedition; as Western Catholicism strictly forbade usury, many crusaders inevitably found themselves indebted to Jewish moneylenders. Having armed themselves by assuming the debt, the crusaders rationalized the killing of Jews as an extension of their Catholic mission.
There had not been so broad a movement against Jews by Catholics since the seventh century's mass expulsions and forced conversions. While there had been a number of regional persecutions of Jews by Catholics, such as the one in Metz in 888, a plot against Jews in Limoges in 992, a wave of anti-Jewish persecution by Christian millenniary movements (who believed that Jesus was set to descend from Heaven) in the year 1000, and the threat of expulsion from Treves in 1066; these are all viewed “in the traditional terms of governmental outlawry rather than unbridled popular attacks.” Also many movements against Jews (such as forced conversions by King Robert the Pious of France, Richard II, Duke of Normandy, and Henry II, Holy Roman Emperor around 1007–1012) had been quashed by either Roman Catholicism’s papacy or its bishops. The passions aroused in the Catholic populace by Urban II’s call for the first crusade moved persecution of Jews into a new chapter in history where these previous constraints no longer held.
The extent of the era's antisemitism is apparent in Godfrey of Bouillon, who swore
“to go on this journey only after avenging the blood of the crucified one by shedding Jewish blood and completely eradicating any trace of those bearing the name 'Jew,' thus assuaging his own burning wrath.”
Emperor Henry IV (after being notified of the pledge by Kalonymus Ben Meshullam, the Jewish leader in Mainz) issued an order prohibiting such an action. Godfrey claimed he never really intended to kill Jews, but the community in Mainz and Cologne sent him a collected bribe of 500 silver marks.
Sigebert of Gembloux wrote that before "a war in behalf of the Lord" could be fought it was essential that the Jews convert; those who resisted were "deprived of their goods, massacred, and expelled from the cities."
The first outbreaks of violence occurred in France. A contemporary chronicle of events written by an anonymous author in Mainz wrote
“There first arose the officers, nobles, and common people who were in the land of France [Sarefat] who took counsel together and plotted…to make clear the way to go toward Jerusalem.”
Richard of Poitiers wrote that Jewish persecution was widespread in France at the beginning of the expeditions to the east. The anonymous chronicler of Mainz admired the Jews
“At the time the [Jewish] communities in France heard [about these things], trembling… seized them. They wrote letters and sent messengers to all the communities around about the River Rhine, [to the effect] that they should fast…and seek mercy from Him who dwells on high, that He might save them from their hands. When the letter reached the holy ones in the land [of the Rhine], namely the men of renown … in Mainz, they responded [to their brethren in] France as follows: ‘The communities have decreed a fast. We have done that which was ours [to do]. May the Lord save us and may He save you from all sorrow and oppression [which might come] upon you. We are in great fear.’”
In June and July 1095 Jewish communities in the Rhineland (north of the main departure areas at Neuss, Wevelinghoven, Altenahr, Xanten and Moers) were attacked, but the leadership and membership of these crusader groups was not chronicled. Some Jews dispersed eastward to escape the persecution.
On top of the general Catholic suspicion of Jews at the time, when the thousands of French members of the People's Crusade arrived at the Rhine, they had run out of provisions. To restock their supplies, they began to plunder Jewish food and property while attempting to force them to convert to Catholicism.
Not all crusaders who had run out of supplies resorted to murder; some, like Peter the Hermit, used extortion instead. While no sources claim he preached against the Jews, he carried a letter with him from the Jews of France to the community at Trier. The letter urged them to supply provisions to Peter and his men. The Solomon bar Simson Chronicle records that they were so terrified by Peter’s appearance at the gates that they readily agreed to supply his needs. Whatever Peter's own position on the Jews was, men claiming to follow after him felt free to massacre Jews on their own initiative, to pillage their possessions. Sometimes Jews survived by being subjected to involuntary baptism, such as in Regensburg, where a crusading mob rounded up the Jewish community, forced them into the Danube, and performed a mass baptism. After the crusaders had left the region these Jews returned to practicing Judaism.
Folkmar and Gottschalk
In the spring of 1096, a number of small bands of knights and peasants, inspired by the preaching of the Crusade, set off from various parts of France (Cologne) and Germany (Worms). The crusade of the priest Folkmar, beginning in Saxony, persecuted Jews in Magdeburg and later, on May 30, 1096 in Prague in Bohemia. The Catholic Bishop Cosmas attempted to prevent forced conversions, and the entire Catholic hierarchy in Bohemia preached against such acts. Duke Břetislav II was out of the country and the Catholic Church's officials' protests were unable to stop the mob of crusaders.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church as a whole condemned the persecution of the Jews in the regions affected (though their protests had little effect). Especially vocal were the parish priests (only one monk, named Gottschalk, is recorded as joining and encouraging the mob). Chronicler Hugo of Flavigny recorded how these religious appeals were ignored, writing:
“It certainly seems amazing that on a single day in many different places, moved in unison by a violent inspiration, such massacres should have taken place, despite their widespread disapproval and their condemnation as contrary to religion. But we know that they could not have been avoided since they occurred in the face of excommunication imposed by numerous clergymen, and of the threat of punishment on the part of many princes.”
In general the crusader mobs did not fear any retribution as the local courts did not have the jurisdiction to pursue them past their locality nor the ability to identify and prosecute individuals out of the mob. The pleas of the clergy were ignored on similar grounds (no cases against individuals were brought forward for excommunication) and the mob believed that anyone preaching mercy to the Jews was only doing so because they had succumbed to Jewish bribery.
Gottschalk the monk went on to lead a crusade from the Rhineland and Lorraine into Hungary, occasionally attacking Jewish communities along the way. In late June 1096, the crusader mob of Gottschalk was welcomed by King Coloman of Hungary, but they soon began plundering the countryside and causing drunken disorder. The King then demanded they disarm. Once their weapons had been secured, the enraged Hungarians fell upon them and “the whole plain was covered with corpses and blood.”
The largest of these crusades, and the most involved in attacking Jews, was that led by Count Emicho. Setting off in the early summer of 1096, an army of around 10,000 men, women and children proceeded through the Rhine valley, towards the Main River and then to the Danube. Emicho was joined by William the Carpenter and Drogo of Nesle, among others from the Rhineland, eastern France, Lorraine, Flanders and even England.
Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV, absent in southern Italy, ordered the Jews to be protected when he learned of Emicho's intent. After some Jews were killed at Metz in May, John, Bishop of Speyer gave shelter to the Jewish inhabitants. Still 12 Jews of Speyer were slain by crusaders on May 3. The Bishop of Worms also attempted to shelter Jews, but the crusaders broke in to his episcopal palace and killed the Jews inside on May 18. At least 800 Jews were massacred in Worms when they refused Catholic baptism.
News of Emicho's crusade spread quickly, and he was prevented from entering Mainz on May 25 by Bishop Ruthard. Emicho also took an offering of gold raised by the Jews of Mainz in hope to gain his favor and their safety. Bishop Ruthard tried to protect the Jews by hiding them in his lightly fortified palace. Nevertheless, Emicho did not prevent his followers from entering the city on May 27 and a massacre followed. Many among the Christian business class (the burghers) in Mainz, had working ties with Jews and gave them shelter from the mobs (as the burghers in Prague had done). The Mainz burghers joined with the militia of the bishop and the burgrave (the town's military governor) in fighting off the first waves of crusaders. This stand had to be abandoned when crusaders continued to arrive in ever greater numbers, and the militia of the bishop together with the bishop himself fled and left the Jews to be slaughtered by the crusaders. Despite the example of the burghers, many ordinary citizens in Mainz and other the towns were caught up in the frenzy and joined in the persecution and pillaging. Mainz was the site of the greatest violence, with at least 1,100 Jews and (possibly more) being killed by troops under Clarambaud and Thomas. One man, named Isaac, was forcefully converted, but later, wracked with guilt, killed his family and burned himself alive in his house. Another woman, Rachel, killed her four children with her own hands so that they would not be cruelly killed by the crusaders.
“cruel foreigners, fierce and swift, Frenchmen and Germans…[who] put crosses on their clothing and were more plentiful than locusts on the face of the earth.”
On May 29 Emicho arrived at Cologne, where most Jews had already left or were hiding in Christian houses. In Cologne, other smaller bands of crusaders met Emicho, and they left with quite a lot of money taken from the Jews there. Emicho continued towards Hungary, soon joined by some Swabians. Coloman of Hungary refused to allow them through Hungary. Count Emicho and his warriors besieged Meseberg, on the Leitha. This led Coloman to prepare to flee into Russia, but the morale of the crusader mob began to fail which inspired the Hungarians and most of the mob was slaughtered or drowned in the river. Count Emicho and a few of the leaders escaped into Italy or back to their own homes. William the Carpenter and other survivors eventually joined Hugh of Vermandois and the main body of crusader knights.
Later attacks on Jews
Later in 1096, Godfrey of Bouillon also collected tribute from the Jews in Mainz and Cologne, but there was no slaughter in this case. Saint Louis University Professor Thomas Madden, author of A Concise History of the Crusades, claims the Jewish defenders of Jerusalem retreated to their synagogue to "prepare for death" once the Crusaders had breached the outer walls of the city during the siege of 1099. The chronicle of Ibn al-Qalanisi mentions the building was set fire while the Jews were still inside. The Crusaders were supposedly reported as hoisting up their shields and singing “Christ We Adore Thee!” while they circled the fiery complex." However, a contemporary Jewish letter written shortly after the siege does not mention the burning synagogue. But playing on the religious schism between the two sects of Judaism, Arabist S.D. Goitein speculates the reason the incident is missing from the letter is because it was written by Karaite Jews and the synagogue belonged to the Rabbanite Jews.
Following the siege, Jews captured from the Dome of the Rock, along with native Christians, were made to clean the city of the slain. Tancred took some Jews as prisoners of war and deported them to Apuleia in southern Italy. Several of these Jews did not make it to their final destination as “Many of them were […] thrown into the sea or beheaded on the way.” Numerous Jews and their holy books (including the Aleppo Codex) were held ransom by Raymond of Toulouse. The Karaite Jewish community of Ashkelon (Ascalon) reached out to their coreligionists in Alexandria to first pay for the holy books and then rescued pockets of Jews over several months. All that could be ransomed were liberated by the summer of 1100. The few who could not be rescued were either converted to Catholicism or murdered. The First Crusade ignited a long tradition of organized violence against Jews in European culture. Jewish money was also used in France for financing the Second Crusade; the Jews were also attacked in many instances, but not on the scale of the attacks of 1096. In England, the Third Crusade was the pretext for the expulsion of the Jews and the confiscation of their money. The two Shepherds' Crusades, in 1251 and 1320, also saw attacks on Jews in France; the second in 1320 also attacked and killed Jews in Aragon.
Catholic Church response
The massacre of the Rhineland Jews by the People's Crusade, and other associated persecutions, were condemned by the leaders and officials of the Catholic Church. The bishops of Mainz, Speyer, and Worms had attempted to protect the Jews of those towns within the walls of their own palaces, but the People's Crusade broke in to slaughter them. Fifty years later when St. Bernard of Clairvaux was urging recruitment for the Second Crusade, he specifically criticized the attacks on Jews which occurred in the First Crusade. There is debate on Bernard's exact motivations, as like many he may have been disappointed that the People's Crusade devoted so much time and resources to attacking the Jews of Western Europe while contributing almost nothing to the attempt to retake the Holy Land itself, the result being that Bernard was urging the knights to maintain focus on the goal of protecting Catholic interests in the Holy Land. It is equally possible that Bernard honestly held the belief that forcibly converting the Jews was immoral, or perceived that the original Rhineland massacre was really motivated by greed: both of these sentiments are echoed by canon Albert of Aachen in his chronicle of the First Crusade. Albert of Aachen's view was that the People's Crusade were uncontrollable semi-Catholicized country-folk (citing the "goose incident", which Hebrew chronicles corroborate), who massacred hundreds of Jewish women and children, and that the People's Crusade were themselves slaughtered by Muslim forces in Asia Minor.
News of the attacks spread quickly and reached the Jewish communities in and around Jerusalem long before the crusaders themselves arrived. However, Jews were not systematically killed in Jerusalem, despite being caught up in the general indiscriminate violence caused by the crusaders once they reached the city.
In the years following the crusade, the Jewish communities were faced with troubling questions about murder and suicide, which were normally sins for Jews just as they were for Catholics. The Rhineland Jews looked to historical precedents since Biblical times to justify their actions: the honourable suicide of Saul, the Maccabees revolt against Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the suicide pact at Masada, and the Bar Kochba revolt were seen as justifiable deaths in the face of a stronger enemy.
Previous to the Crusades, the Jews were divided among three major areas which were largely independent of one another. These were the Jews living in Islamic nations (still the majority), those in the Byzantine Empire and those in the Roman Catholic West. With the persecutions that began around 1096, a new awareness of the entire people took hold across all of these groups, reuniting the three separate strands.
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- David Nirenberg, 'The Rhineland Massacres of Jews in the First Crusade, Memories Medieval and Modern', in Medieval Concepts of the Past: Ritual, Memory, Historiography, p.279-310
- Robert Chazan (1996). European Jewry and the First Crusade. U. of California Press. pp. 55–60.
- Shum Hebrew: שו"ם were the letters of the three towns as pronounced at the time in old French: Shaperra, Wermieza and Magenzza.
- Sources describing these attacks as pogroms include:
- Richard S. Levy. Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia Of Prejudice And Persecution, ABC-CLIO, 2005, ISBN 9781851094394. p. 153.
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- Hugo Slim. Killing Civilians: Method, Madness, and Morality in War, Columbia University Press, 2010, ISBN 9780231700375, p. 47.
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- Marvin Lowenthal, The Jews Of Germany (1939)
- CROSS PURPOSES: The Crusades (Hoover Institute television show). The entire episode can be viewed with RealPlayer or Windows Media Player.
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- "Die Juden des Mittelrhein-Mosel-Gebietes im Hochmittelalter unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Kreuzzugsverfolgungen [The Jews of the Middle Rhine Moselle area in the High Middle Ages, with special emphasis on crusade persecutions]". Monatshefte für Evangelische Kirchengeschichte des Rheinlandes. 44. 1995.