Blamed for Black Plague, Basel Burns Jews

At the end of the 14th century in Europe, scores were dying from the Black Plague and nobody knew why. That is, until a scapegoat was found. On January 9, 1349, nearly the entire Jewish population of Basel was massacred by the townspeople. Ignorant to the causes of the plague, the people and local leaders of modern Switzerland, France and Germany accused Jews of poisoning wells. Most were burnt alive.

There were many factors that converged to turn the Jews into the perfect scapegoat for a plague now believed to have spread from China. Anti-Semitism had been a problem for Jews in Europe long before the plague worsened their fate. In the centuries leading up to the Basel massacre, the Church enforced laws similar to the Nuremberg laws seen over half-a-millennium later. Jews were barred from working as weavers, shoemakers, carpenters, miners and bakers, among other professions. As a result of these racist laws, Jews often worked as money lenders, a practice that lead to public resentment against them and may have contributed to the events of 1349. Another law, passed in 1215 by Pope Innocent III was particularly similar to those passed by Nazi Germany in the 20th century – Jews were required to wear a yellow badge at all times.

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