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More 24 August historical myths: this time --Black Death scapegoating

August 24th is a really busy date for fans of European history. Last year on this date I posted about the Sack of Rome on this day in 410 CE and how its portrayal in popular education and folklore reflects more on our Anglo/British cultural underpinnings than on what was going on in the northern Mediterranean sixteen hundred years ago.

This time I want to bring our attention to Western Europe in 1348/49 where 24 August is listed as the date of the massacre of 6000 Jews in the city of Mainz, part of a series of organized mass killings of Jews over the course of those two years in many towns of the region (Erfurt, Koln, others). These murders have long been presented in the context of fear and superstition about the The Black Death. This explanation / rationale for the systemic exploitation and murder of Jewish residents has been yet another smokescreen for even less savory motivations. You can see a typical presentation of the standard version in The Writer's Almanac here:

But historical scholarship on the period has shown pretty clearly that superstition about the plague was not the main driver of these crimes. You can see a short list of citations of relevant writing here:

Some of this is briefly covered in this wikipedia entry:

Posted by
3363 posts

Thank you Avi, very interesting and the more I learn about the persecution of Jews, the more pervasive it seems to be. The post caught me eye because I find the whole plague/Black Death time period to be of interest, although it was a dark time in Europe history. How do you know all this stuff?

Posted by
2589 posts

to answer that last question, I follow The Writer's Almanac and the on-this-day sidebar of wikipedia pretty regularly and the same topics tend to come up several times over the course of a year on relevant dates. They don't need to come up with 365 lists of important milestones since one thing, like the Black Death, can be mentioned on many different days in the calendar, taking advantage of key episodes and personages involved.