A Brief History
On February 14, 1349, the city of Strasbourg, France was the scene of a St. Valentine’s Day massacre 150 times worse than the more famous Chicago incident!
Digging deeper, we find Strasbourg at the time an independent Imperial City located in the region now known as Alsace on the French-German border.
Lest you think anti-Semitism was something invented by the Nazi’s in World War II, pogroms against people practicing the Jewish faith go back a long time, even before the earliest settlement of Strasbourg in 12 B.C.
In 1349, only a year after an epidemic of Bubonic Plague (Black Death) had devastated Strasbourg, a tide of hatred swept over the city, and public hysteria blamed Jews for “poisoning the wells.” In “retaliation,” about 1,000 Jews were burned to death! (In comparison, only 6 gangsters were murdered in Chicago on February 14, 1929.) What was left of the Jewish population was kicked out of the city.
As if the mass murder was not enough, laws were then enacted that forbade Jews from being within the city after dark, and the 10 o’clock p.m. curfew was sounded by a special horn to ensure such laws were followed! Incredibly, this policy lasted all the way until the French Revolution! And if that was not enough, a special tax was levied on Jews for any horse they brought into the city, supposedly for pavement maintenance!
Annexed by France in 1681 under King Louis XIV (r. 1643-1715), Strasbourg had become a mostly Protestant city during the time of Martin Luther’s Reformation. Martin Luther’s teachings, himself being a virulent anti-Jewish crusader, must have been a natural fit in a city that had publicly burned a thousand people. An exception was made for Strasbourg regarding the official French policy of expelling Protestants from France, and the city had been allowed to remain Protestant.
Strasbourg became German again after the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 but was returned to France after World War I. When Germany was set to invade France in 1940, the Jewish population of Strasbourg was quickly evacuated to avoid the inevitable Nazi persecution. Maybe the city had finally learned its lesson!
Illustrative of how contradictory history can be, combining the worst and best of mankind, not long after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the Strasbourg Cathedral was completed in 1439, surpassing the Great Pyramid in Egypt to become the tallest man-made structure in the world at that time and one year after that, Guttenberg invented the moveable-type printing press.
Today, there are about 16,000 Jews in Strasbourg. Shalom!
Question for students (and subscribers): Why have Jews been massacred so many times in history? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more on this event in the broader history of antisemitism, please see….
Evans, Harold and Phyllis Goldstein. A Convenient Hatred: The History of Antisemitism. Facing History and Ourselves, 2011.
The featured image in this article, an image by Émile Schweitzer (1837–1903) of the Pogrom of Strasbourg, comes from the Bibliothèque nationale et universitaire of Strasbourg (reference number 636916). This file is licensed under the Licence Ouverte (License text, English license text). This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author’s life plus 100 years or fewer.