18 May 1096

Over 800 Jews are massacred in Worms, Germany.

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For millennia, the Jewish people have often been scapegoats. From their time as slaves in Egypt to the Holocaust to the present day, oppression has been part and parcel of the faith, and the Middle Ages offered little relief.

On this day in 1096, Crusaders on their way to the Holy Land slaughtered over 800 Jews in Worms, Germany.After Pope Urban II called for the first Crusade in 1095 – I direct you to the Papal Pedant’s take on that speech – an overwhelming number of Christians volunteered, marching across the European continent.

Many of these amateur soldiers held Jews in contempt for their “murder” of Christ, and sought revenge along the route. Church leaders were able to keep their flocks in check early on in the journey, but as the throngs swelled, things turned ugly in the Rhineland.

At Speyer on May 3, Crusaders killed 11 Jews outside the town synagogue, where many more were hiding; one woman preferred to be martyred rather than convert, a sacrifice known as Kiddush ha-Shem.

Things were much worse in Worms, where on May 18, these so-called Christians attacked Jews in their homes. They would besiege the bishop’s castle, where more had sought asylum, breaking through after nine days. Overall, 800 Jews died; 5,000 total would perish in the Rhineland region by July.