Without centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, Hitler's passionate
hatred would never have been so fervently echoed.
Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury
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 AD 388. In that year a synagogue
at Rome was burnt by Christians and the authorities required that
restitution be paid. This was clearly fair, and in keeping with
custom. But in the same year another synagogue, at Callinicum on
the Euphrates, was razed by Christians 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 AD 438 which excluded Jews from all political and military
functions. They were again forbidden to mary Christians, or to own
Christian slaves, to hold public office or to build synaguogues.
In the same year the Empress Eudoxia tried to relax the regulations
which barred the Jews from Jerusalem except for the festival of
Sukkoth. When the Jews gathered on the Temple Mount they were attacked
by Christian monks. Many Jews were murdered. When some of the monks
were brought for trial, the leader of the massacre, a monk called
Barsauma, assembled his followers again. Now they threatened to
burn the empress herself and inspired such fear that the proceedings
had to be dropped. Barsauma later became Saint Barsauma.
John Chrysostom, another Christian saint and a Doctor of the Church,
was even more extreme. He claimed that Jews sacrificed their children
to Satan, an accusation which 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, 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
Under the Emperor Justin I (518-27) 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 AD
529 confirming their legal disabilities. This code would be influential
for many hundreds of years - up to the present day, through Gratian.
Marriage between Christian and Jew was confirmed as a capital offence.
Synaguogues were sequestered and converted into churches. The burning
down of synaguogues was also explicly 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
intermariage. It prohibitted 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,
nor 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 Rhineland. Christians
living with Jews were to be excommunicated - a regulation leading
directly to the creation of Jewish ghettos.
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 of Christian 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 characatured 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 a charactured Jewish facial features. Western Christians
were not willing to accept the origins of their own religion for
many centuries. A senior nineteenth century churchman, Dean Milman,
became very unpopular for referring to Abraham as a sheikh.
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, though their rates of return
were a fraction of those of modern high-street bankers. They were
routinely cheated, abused and humiliated, and the most preposterous
calumnies were perpetrated against them.
During Eastertide of 1144 a twelve 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 which 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 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 Saragosa 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, nineteen Jews were executed and many more suffered other
punishments. Chaucer's Prioress's Tale gives a chilling insight
into Christian thinking about Little St Hugh, 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 the blood 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
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. Sometimes one incident would
spark off imitative pogroms throughout the country. In 1264 for
example there was a fresh outbreak of pogroms in London and other
major towns during which many Jews perished.
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 build 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 Moslem 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 aboloshed 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
alter, in the presence of nineteen 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
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 Cathar crusade puts it:
Organised and official persecution of the Jews became a normal
feature of life in the south only after the Crusade because it
was only then that the Church became powerful enough to insist
on the application of positive measures of discrimination.
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 encoraged racial discrimination.
. Other Church officials spread blood-libels, and enforced prohibitions
on the admission of Jews to colleges, military orders, professions
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
Moslem 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 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 they continued to suffer a number of
legal disabilities up to the nineteenth century. Even after six
hundred 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.
(France 1182, 1306 and 1396, Parma 1488, Milan 1490, Spain 1492,
Catalonia 1493, Portugal 1497). 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. 180 Jews were burned
at Munich in 1285 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 named Simon had been ritually
murdered. The 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. Through his
inflamatory preaching Bernardino went on to secure the expulsion
of Jews from Perugia, Brescia and Gubbio; rioting in Florence and
Forli; and the razing of the synagogue at Revenna. Simon was duly
beatified by the Church, and the usual selection of miracles were
reported at his shrine. His cult continued officially until 1965.
The doctrine of transubstantiation affirmed by the Fourth Lateran
Council in 1215 led Catholics to believe that the bread used at
the mass changed into Jesus' flesh. The word host, 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 bread even cried out in pain. Stories like this lead
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 the same year a knight by the name
of Rindfliesh was responsible for the extermination of 146 Jewish
communities in revenge for fancied affronts to the host. 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 were commissioned
to lend credibility to the imaginary events that had precipitated
them. Generally they showed blood flowing from the tortured wafers
A bleeding host was found in the home of a Jew in 1338, as a result
of which several Jewish communities in Lower Austria and Moravia..
Between 100 and 500 Jews were mutilated and killed at Brussels in
1370, after someone reported seeing a Jew break a wafer. 41 were
burned to death at Breslau in 1453, 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. 38 were burned at Berlin in 1510 on the strength of a single
confession obtained under torture. The last known execution of Jews
for host nailing took place at Nancy in 1761.
Another fanciful idea was that Jews plotted to poison the wells.
In 1161 eighty six Jews had been burned for this in Bohemia. A hundred
and sixty Jews had been burned at Chinon in 1321 as accomplaces
of the lepers who had supposedly planned to poison the whole of
France. Some years earlier Forty 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 the it by poisoning water wells. Now it was
the Jews who were primarily held responsible, and the lepers who
were the accomplices. At Strasburg 2,000 Jews were burned alive.
At Mainz some 6,000 were slaughtered in a single day, the 24th 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 were far more guilty
towards Christ. The implication is that it would be much cheaper,
easier, safer, and worthier to masacre 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, and other rabbinical writings were destroyed. One reason for
this holocaust 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
Like other minority groups - prostitutes, Moslems, lepers and
reformed heretics - Jews were reqired 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 complained
about this non-conformity in 1233 in a letter to the German bishops,
and an effort was them 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 encoraged
forcible conversion, and preached anti-Semitism to the populace.
They acted against Jews and other minority groups as "the shocktroops
of the Church" . Roman 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 which 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
Jews had been confined by the Senate 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
and continued to be so associated within living memory. 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 over-eat, 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.
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 310). 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 Italian kingdom
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 him, as it was to
help other Jews when falsely accused. When it became clear that
a miscarriage of justice had taken place, La Civilta Catholica 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".
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 to conspiracy with Freemasons. Included was the accusation
that Jews were given to murdering Christians, an echo of the old
Jews were persecuted in Eastern Europe as well as Western Europe.
Hundreds of thousands of 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 its periodic 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 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 . After the War, when Jewish refugees returned to their homes
and businesses, Christian Poles reacted in the traditional way.
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 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. Jewish
persecutions were common under the Russian Orthodox Church right
up until the Russian Revolution of 1918. Cossacks and other Orthodox
troops killed around 60,000 Jews in Eastern Europe during the Revolution
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'. Justice was routinely denied
by Protestants even up to recent times. Luther's anti-Semitic writings,
such as About 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, their houses destroyed, their books should be siezed,
public prayer or teaching should punished by death. They 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 alsost 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:
The National Socialist leaders of Germany have provided indisputable
documentary evidence that the Jews have are responsible for this
war in its world-wide magnitude. They have therefore made the necessary
decisions and taken the necessary steps, both internal and external,
to ensure that the life of the German nation is protected against
As members of that same German nation, the undersigned leaders
of the German Evangelical Church stand in the forefront of this
historical struggle to defend our country, because of which it has
been necessary for the national police to issue a statement to the
effect that the Jews are the enemies of the German nation and of
the world, just as it was also necessary for Dr Martin Luther to
demand, on the basis of his own bitter experience, that the severest
measures should be taken against Jews and that they should be expelled
from all German countries.
Christian baptism does not change in any way the Jew's
racial character, his membership of the Jewish people and his
biological nature. It is the duty of a German Evalgelical Church
to foster and to promote the religious life of the German people.
Christians who are Jews by race have no place in that Church and
no right to a place.
The undersigned leaders of the German Evangelical Church have
therefore decided not to accept Jewish Christians as members of
the Church community.
And 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 which
was at least more than other Churches were prepared to do .
The Catholic Church had earned as bad a reputation during the
Nazi era, but no declaration of guilt was forthcoming from its head,
Pius XII (pope 1939-1958). 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. During the war he never even made
a statement that would give guidance to the many Catholics in the
Fascist and Nazi armies, as he could have done without endangering
himself. 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. .
Though His Holiness failed consistently to condemn Nazi atrocities,
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 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. Very rarely a senior churchman will now admit to
his Church's complicity. Cardinal Franz König for example confirmed
in 1988 that the Catholic Church in Austria bore part of the responsibility
for Nazi crimes against the Jews, and admitted that anti-Semitism
was linked to Catholic education practices .
During their Passover meal many Jews still leave their doors open,
as they have done for centuries. One traditional reason is to allow
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 and the statement
that 'Jews can never be forgiven for crucifying Christ' was subscribed
to by 46% of Roman Catholics, 60% of Protestants, and 86% of Southern
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".