Fear and Loathing
January 9, 1349: The Basel, Switzerland massacre takes place. The Black Death was one of the most horrific pandemics in human history. Between 1346 and 1353 there were between 75 and 200 million deaths. The plague was responsible for killing between 30 and 60% of Europe’s total population. DNA analysis of victims show that Yersinia pestis was the probable cause of this and several other types of plague. It was believed to have originated in the plains of central Asia and then brought to Europe via the Silk Road and reached the Crimea in 1343. It was then spread mostly by Oriental rat fleas living on black rats which invaded many merchant ships. It spread across the Mediterranean and then through Europe. It took 150 years for Europe’s population to recover and was responsible for much social upheaval.
As the plague spread, something needed to be done. Unfortunately, the science of the time was not up to the task. Bacteria were unknown as were proper sanitation and the understanding of vectors. Without understanding the cause of the spread of the disease, no adequate measures were taken to halt it. And so the disease continued its northward march. Black Death spread through the countryside of first Savoy and then on to Basel. Jews were accused of poisoning the wells. Their religious practices held them to a more sanitary way of life and they were often segregated into ghettos. These two factors helped to mitigate the spread of the disease in their own communities and so they were thought to be responsible.
The City Fathers of Basel tried to protect their Jewish population to no avail. Local guilds demanded the condemnation of the adult Jews. Six hundred were handed over. The Jews were taken to an island in the Rhine River and shackled inside a wooden barn. The barn was then set on fire. Only a few Jews remained and these were orphaned children who were forcibly converted to Christianity. It was then declared that no Jews would be permitted to locate inside the city of Basel for 200 years. The city’s subsequent financial collapse necessitated the reversal of this ruling and Jews were given early re-admittance.
Today, Basel is Switzerland’s third most populous city (behind Zürich and Geneva) and has almost 200,000 people living there. The city is located where the borders of France, Germany, and Switzerland come together and the city’s suburbs lie in all three countries. The metropolitan region is home to over 500,000 Swiss in 74 municipalities in Switzerland and more in France and Germany. The tri-national Basel metropolitan area encompasses 226 municipalities with about 830,000 people living there. It is a major industrial center for chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Guy Morin is the mayor and 100 members sit in the Grosser Rat or parliament of the city.
Jews survived all the defeats, expulsions, persecutions and pogroms, the centuries in which they were regarded as a pariah people, even the Holocaust itself, because they never gave up the faith that one day they would be free to live as Jews without fear. – Jonathan Sacks
No doubt the Jews aren’t a lovable people; I don’t care about them myself; but that is not sufficient to explain the Pogrom. – Neville Chamberlain
Because anti-Semitism is the godfather of racism and the gateway to tyranny and fascism and war, it is to be regarded not as the enemy of the Jewish people, I learned, but as the common enemy of humanity and of civilisation, and has to be fought against very tenaciously for that reason, most especially in its current, most virulent form of Islamic Jihad. – Christopher Hitchens
The Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. – John Adams
Also on this day: Advertising – In 1984, Clara Peller makes her television debut.
Going to the Dogs – In 1929, The Seeing Eye was established.
Northern Aggression? – In 1861, Star of the West, is fired upon by Southerners.
Giant – In 1881, Edouard Beaupré was born.
Egypt be Dammed – In 1960, construction on the Aswan Dam began.