"Without centuries of Christian anti-Semitism, Hitler's passionate hatred would never have been so fervently echoed."
(Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury)
Early Christians specialised in causing trouble at synagogues, and disrupting Jewish services. Such behaviour had been censured by the pagan emperors, but under Christian ones official censure changed to toleration, and even encouragement. The first nominally Christian emperor, Constantine, was also the first significantly to limit the rights of Jews as citizens of the Roman empire. In later centuries the emperors became more strongly Christian, and laws concerning Jews became correspondingly more discriminatory, intolerant and oppressive.
An important turning point came in AD 388. In that year a synagogue at Rome was burnt by Christians and the authorities required that restitution be paid. This was clearly fair, and in keeping with custom. But in the same year another synagogue, at Callinicum on the Euphrates, was razed by Christians at the instigation of the local bishop. Again the Emperor required the bishop to make restitution. The leading Churchman of the day, Ambrose, now a saint and Doctor of the Church, interceded and made it clear to the emperor that it would be sinful to help the Jews in this way. The emperor acceded to the will of the Church, and withdrew his demand for justice.
The Christian Emperor Theodosius II promulgated a new code of law in AD 438 which excluded Jews from all political and military functions. They were forbidden to many Christians, or to own Christian slaves (according to the Church it was only permissible for Christians to own Christian slaves). In the same year the Empress Eudoxia tried to relax the regulations which barred the Jews from Jerusalem except for the festival of Sukkoth. When the Jews gathered on the Temple Mount they were attacked by Christian monks. Many Jews were murdered. When some of the monks were brought for trial, the leader of the massacre, a monk called Barsauma, assembled his followers again. Now they threatened to burn the empress herself and inspired such fear that the proceedings had to be dropped. Barsauma later became Saint Barsauma.
John Chrysostom, another Christian saint and a Doctor of the Church, was even more extreme. He claimed that Jews sacrificed their children to Satan, an accusation which was to be amplified and believed throughout Christendom for centuries. He also claimed that God hated the Jews and always had done. His sermons whipped congregations into a frenzy of excitement and fanaticism. Before long the sort of massacre of Jews by Christians, which in time would come to be known as pogroms, were being instigated by Christian leaders. Saint Jerome regarded the Jews as vipers. Saint Cyril, bishop of Alexandria, instigated a series of riots directed against them. Massacres and riots occurred elsewhere in the empire but, as so often, surviving records are patchy, and have been so sanitised by Christian hands that they are unreliable. We shall almost certainly never know how many Jews were murdered by Christians during the Dark Ages.
Under the Emperor Justin I (518-27) Jews were forbidden to make wills, to receive inheritances, to give testimony in court, or to perform any other legal act. From now on they would be second class citizens. The next Emperor, Justinian, produced a new code in AD 529 confirming their legal disabilities. This code would be influential for many hundreds of years - up to the present day, through Gratian. As the grip of Christians tightened on the levers of power marriage between Christian and Jew was made a capital offence. In 538 a Church Council at Orléans again condemned intermarriage. It prohibited Christians and Jews eating together, or mixing at all during Holy Week. Regulations affected all facets of life. Jews were not permitted to give medical aid to Christians, nor to receive it from them. By the end of the sixth century they were being subjected to forcible baptism. By 1010 local Jewish populations were being massacred in Europe, notably in Rome, Orléans, Rouen, Limoges, and throughout the Rhineland. Existing legal disabilities were confirmed by the Lateran Council in 1179, which added a further restriction that Jews should not receive feudal homage.
The justification for Jewish persecutions through the centuries has been a passage from the Matthew gospel. After Pilate has denied responsibility for sentencing Jesus to death, the Jewish people are quoted as saying "...His blood be on us, and on our children" (Matthew 27:25). A similar theme may be found at 1 Thessalonians 2:15. In Christian eyes this meant that the Jews as a race were collectively responsible for the death of Jesus. In time, the principle of collective guilt would open the way to the assignment of other imaginary forms of guilt. The fact that Jesus had been a Jew, as his parents and his followers had been, was overlooked. In Christian art the Jews were depicted as ugly and deformed, while Jesus was a handsome European.
In Western European art Jesus' family were often depicted with blond hair and blue eyes. The suggestion that Jesus might have looked anything like a typical Mediterranean Jew was tantamount to blasphemy. He was invariably depicted wearing at least a loincloth, not only to protect emerging concepts of Christian modesty, but also to hide the uncomfortable fact that he had been circumcised, as all Jewish boys were (and still are), at the age of 8 days (Luke 2:21). The apostles were also depicted as handsome western Europeans - all except Judas who was shown with caracatured Jewish features and who alone wore the yellow clothes that Jews were obliged by medieval Christians to wear. Western Christians were not willing to accept the origins of their own religion for many centuries. A senior nineteenth century churchman, Dean Milman, became very unpopular for referring to Abraham as a sheikh.
A provision in Deuteronomy 23:20 permitted Jews to make a profit from lending money to gentiles. So it was that Jews were able to lend money in Christian Europe. This suited both Jews and Christians, and Jews were allowed into Christian countries in order to fulfill an essential economic function. As far as is known, Jews were introduced into Britain soon after the Norman Conquest to act as bankers to the King and his nobles. They were regarded as the King's property , and in theory enjoyed his protection. Restricted to money lending, Jews were frequently accused of usury, though their rates of return were a fraction of those of modern high-street bankers. They were routinely cheated, abused and humiliated, and the most preposterous calumnies were perpetrated against them.
During Eastertide of 1144 a twelve year old boy by the name of William was murdered near Norwich, probably by a local sexual deviant. Contrary to the available evidence, a monk, Thomas of Monmouth, formulated a theory that the boy had been ritually murdered by Jews. He claimed that they had crucified him just as they had crucified Jesus, overlooking the fact that crucifixion was a Roman not a Jewish practice, and that there was no reason to suppose that the child had been crucified at all. Nevertheless, the story soon gained wide currency and came to be believed as fact. William was acclaimed St William, a martyr for the Holy Mother Church. His body was moved to Norwich cathedral where wondrous miracles were worked at his shrine, a circumstance which served to confirm the monk's story. Norwich profited enormously from the influx of pilgrims, all eager to learn the details of St William's dreadful martyrdom, to witness his great miracles, and make offerings.
As the stories spread and Norwich became rich, it must have occurred to others that they could cash-in on anti-Semitism as well. In any event, there was an outbreak of such cases around the country - Gloucester 1168, Bury St Edmunds 1181, Winchester 1192. The victims of any and every child murderer were acclaimed by the Church as victims of Jewish atrocities. Shrines were established, pilgrims arrived, miracles occurred, and the money rolled in. When the bishop of Norwich visited France in 1171 similar cases were suddenly reported there as well - Blois 1171, Pontoise and Braisne 1182. Another case was reported in Saragosa in the same year. Any murder without a genuine suspect was likely to excite a new outbreak of unfounded rumour. When the body of a nine year old boy called Hugh was discovered down a well in Lincoln in 1255, the stories of ritual murder were soon circulating again. Jews were accused of crucifying him in the most unlikely circumstances. After torture sessions and a show trial, nineteen Jews were executed and many more suffered other punishments. Chaucer's Prioress's Tale gives a chilling insight into Christian thinking about Little St Hugh, and demonstrates the use of anti-Semitic propaganda in skilled hands.
Sometimes there was not even a murder victim to trigger the anti-Semitism. At Blois a servant of the mayor reported that he thought he saw a Jew throw a child's body into the river. No body was ever found, and no child was reported missing. Even so, 38 leading Jews were sentenced to death and were burned. The calumny of ritual child sacrifice, which came to be known as the blood libel, was soon widespread throughout Europe. Jews were accused of torturing children, murdering them in a ritual parody of Christian belief, then drinking their blood. Everywhere, Jews suffered torture and death because of these inventions.
As the King's property, Jews in England had enjoyed a measure of protection. But when kings started taking their Christian duties seriously, they became less inclined to take care of their Jews. Jewish citizens who came bearing gifts for King Richard I of England at his coronation in 1190 were massacred out of hand. Their murder was acclaimed by churchmen as the judgment of God, and was emulated in almost every other town in England with a Jewish community. When a massacre broke out in York the Jewish population took refuge in a substantial building called Clifford's Tower. There, their Christian neighbours besieged them, offering a choice between death and Christian baptism. Many chose to die by their own hand. Others gave themselves up to the Christians only to be massacred on the spot, despite the promises. Those who had led the siege and massacre went to nearby York Minster where they burned records of their debts to the people they had just murdered. Then they left for the Third Crusade, safe in the knowledge that the Church would forgive them, if indeed it felt it needed to. Groups of Jews were massacred by zealous Christians on a number of occasions like this. Sometimes one incident would spark off imitative pogroms throughout the country. In 1264 for example there was a fresh outbreak of pogroms in London and other major towns during which many Jews perished. Jews suffered a number of indignities and disabilities. The Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 had debarred them from holding land, and from all military and civil functions. It had also required all Jews to wear distinctive clothing. At the insistence of the Church they were obliged to fast during Lent. They were debarred from practising almost all trades, since trades were controlled by guilds. Guilds were essentially Christian organisations: they enjoyed the favours of patron saints; their members build chapels; they put on annual religious plays. They would not permit Jewish members, and without membership it was impossible to obtain an apprenticeship, or to sell services. Boroughs obtained royal charters to allow them to exclude Jews from their environs. By 1271 the requirements of the Church were being enforced in England, and Jews were prevented from holding land. They were also obliged to wear distinctive yellow badges, as they were in continental Europe.
It is sometimes claimed that anti-Semitism was a European phenomenon, rather than a Christian phenomenon. But this is demonstrably not so. In the ninth century senior churchmen like Agobard, Archbishop of Lyons, and Hinemar, Archbishop of Rheims, worked hard campaigning against Jews who were already integrated into Carolingian society. In Moslem Spain and in Cathar lands of the Languedoc Jews had enjoyed much greater freedom than in Christendom. In Cathar lands they were accorded civil rights, and sat as elected consuls. They filled high offices for the Counts of Toulouse and other potentates. The Easter tradition called "Strike the Jew", popular throughout western Christendom, had been abolished in Toulouse in the middle of the twelfth century - despite the protests of the clergy. One of the specific charges made by Churchmen against Ramon VI of Toulouse was that he gave public office to Jews. In 1209, stripped to the waist and barefoot, he was obliged to swear in front of a relic-laden alter, in the presence of nineteen bishops and three archbishops, that he would no longer allow Jews to hold public office. In 1229 his son and heir, Ramon VII, underwent a similar ceremony where he was obliged to prohibit the public employment of Jews, this time at Knitter Dame in Paris. By the next generation a new, zealously Catholic, ruler was arresting and imprisoning Jews for no crime, raiding their houses, seizing their cash, and removing their religious books. They were then released only if they paid a new "tax". As an English historian of the Cathar crusade puts it:
Organism and official persecution of the Jews became a normal feature of life in the south only after the Crusade because it was only then that the Church became powerful enough to insist on the application of positive measures of discrimination.
Again, the Spanish Inquisition worked hard to introduce anti-Semitism into areas of Spain where Judaism, Islam and Christianity had coexisted for centuries under convivencia. They introduced ghettos, enforced sumptuary laws, promoted mass expulsions, and encouraged racial discrimination.. Other Church officials spread blood-libels, and enforced prohibitions on the admission of Jews to colleges, military orders, professions and trades.
Like Richard I, King Edward I was a Crusader. His duty to God impelled him to travel to the Levant to kill God's enemies, the Moslem infidels. It occurred to him, as it occurred to other Crusaders, that it was much easier to kill off God's other enemies, the perfidious Jewish infidels, without even crossing the Channel. The problem was that they were funding the National Debt. Eventually, to save himself from financial ruin, Edward confiscated the whole of their property, and expelled them from the country in 1290. Even so Christian propaganda kept alive the calumnies, and centuries later English audiences would have been familiar with usurers like Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Jews were not readmitted to England until Cromwell's Protectorate, and they continued to suffer a number of legal disabilities up to the nineteenth century. Even after six hundred years the blood libel was still current in Britain. It surfaced for example during the spate of Jack-the-Ripper murders in Whitechapel in 1888. The murders were quite different from the ones in the Middle Ages, and the charges of ritual murder were equally absurd, but they sounded just as convincing to receptive ears.
In Europe, as in England, Jews were generally protected by the rulers whom they served, but if their usefulness ceased, or the debts owed to them became too great to repay, they became dispensable. Time after time their property was confiscated and they were exiled. (France 1182, 1306 and 1396, Parma 1488, Milan 1490, Spain 1492, Catalonia 1493, Portugal 1497). All the nobles had to do was withhold protection, and enthusiastic Christian hands would do the rest. Pogroms were a feature of European life throughout the crusades everywhere. During the Shepherd's Crusade of 1251 the Jewish population of southern France was almost annihilated. The blood libel was popular almost everywhere. 180 Jews were burned at Munich in 1285 following a rumour that they had bled a child to death in their synagogue. In 1294 the blood libel was heard at Bern in Switzerland. Some Jews were executed, the rest expelled from the city. Later a fountain was erected showing a sinister looking Jew eating one child and carrying a sack full of others. In 1475 most of the Jews in the town of Trent in the Tirol were tortured and burned following reports that a child named Simon had been ritually murdered. The Christian population had been whipped into a murderous frenzy by a preacher, Fra Bernardino da Feltra, who had accused Jews of ritual murder in his Lenten sermons that year. Through his inflammatory preaching Bernardino went on to secure the expulsion of Jews from Perugia, Brescia and Gubbio; rioting in Florence and Forli; and the razing of the synagogue at Revenna. Simon was duly beatified by the Church, and the usual selection of miracles were reported at his shrine. His cult continued officially until 1965.
The doctrine of transubstantiation affirmed by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 led Catholics to believe that the bread used at the mass changed into Jesus' flesh. The word host, a term for a sacrificial victim, was (and still is) applied to this bread. Within a few years stories were spreading that Jews were stealing wafers of bread, and torturing them in order to torture Jesus. A common story was that they pushed nails through the bread, making it bleed in imitation of the crucifixion, a practice known as Host Nailing. Sometimes the bread even cried out in pain. Stories like this lead to Jews being sent to the stake throughout Europe, the first victims apparently in 1243 at Berlitz in Germany. In 1298 a host nailing story was spread by a priest at Nuremberg, as a result of which 628 Jews lost their lives. In the same year a knight by the name of Rindfliesh was responsible for the extermination of 146 Jewish communities in revenge for fancied affronts to the host. In 1337 at Deggendorf in Bavaria the entire Jewish population was burned following the circulation of such stories. The Church there commissioned a number of paintings showing Jews torturing the host with thorns, and with hammers and nails. Thousands of pilgrims travelled to see these pictures, until they were withdrawn in the 1960s. Similar massacres took place elsewhere, and imaginative pictures were commissioned to lend credibility to the imaginary events that had precipitated them. Generally they showed blood flowing from the tortured wafers of bread.
A bleeding host was found in the home of a Jew in 1338, as a result of which several Jewish communities in Lower Austria and Moravia.. Between 100 and 500 Jews were mutilated and killed at Brussels in 1370, after someone reported seeing a Jew break a wafer. 41 were burned to death at Breslau in 1453, after a woman reported seeing a Jew stab a wafer. Confessions were obtained by the use of torture. Such confessions led to the burning of 27 Jews at Mecklenburg in 1492. 38 were burned at Berlin in 1510 on the strength of a single confession obtained under torture. The last known execution of Jews for host nailing took place at Nancy in 1761.
Another fanciful idea was that Jews plotted to poison the wells. In 1161 eighty six Jews had been burned for this in Bohemia. A hundred and sixty Jews had been burned at Chinon in 1321 as accomplices of the lepers who had supposedly planned to poison the whole of France. Some years earlier Forty Jews had committed suicide at Vitry in order to avoid the same fate. When the Black Death ravaged Europe between 1348 and 1351 Jews provided convenient scapegoats. The theory was that they provoked the it by poisoning water wells. Now it was the Jews who were primarily held responsible, and the lepers who were the accomplices. At Strasburg 2,000 Jews were burned alive. At Mainz some 6,000 were slaughtered in a single day, the 24th August 1349. Elsewhere Jews were walled up in their homes and left to die of starvation. Around 10,000 Jews, representing around 80 communities, were murdered in Bavaria. The entire Jewish population of Basel was wiped out: 600 adults went to the stake; their children were given to Christians for forcible conversion. Invariably the Church was involved one way or another, sometimes through priests, sometimes monks, sometimes through a rampaging mob of penitents known as Flagellants. These Flagellants literally whipped themselves into a religious frenzy. They were responsible for a Jewish massacre at Frankfurt in July 1349. Sometimes their mere approach precipitated violence. Anticipating the arrival of Flagellants in the same year, Christians at Brussels killed 600 Jews. Within the space of the three years 1348-1350, there were 350 known Jewish massacres, but there may well have been many more.
As in England, Continental Crusaders often started with a massacre of local Jews when they set off for the Holy Land. On their way to the First Crusade in 1095-6 various groups, fired by the oratory of preachers, massacred any Jews that they came across. A group in Normandy attacked Jews in Rouen. A priest called Volkmar led a group of Saxon Crusaders in the massacre of Jews in Prague. Another Priest, called Gottschalk, led the massacre of Jews in Regensburg. Crusaders from Flanders attacked Jews in Cologne. A group from Lorraine attacked those in Metz. Another group attacked Jews in Speyer, Worms and Mainz. In Worms around half the Jewish population was slaughtered. The survivors asked the local bishop to save them. He said he would do so only if they agreed to become Christians, and left them to consider. As happened in other such situations in towns throughout Europe, they committed mass suicide rather than convert. The men killed their children, then their wives (one a new bride), then each other. The last man left alive then killed himself. Successful Crusades not only started with massacres of Jewish communities, they ended with them as well. The general pattern followed the first great Crusader success. When the Crusaders took Jerusalem they pursued the Jewish population into their synagogue, and then set light to it, burning them alive.
Sprees of murder and arson were led by priests, and the same pattern was repeated every time a new Crusade was preached. As one influential Abbot, Peter of Cluny, pointed out: it was expensive in men and money to travel to the end of the world to fight Mohammedans, yet there were infidels living locally who were were far more guilty towards Christ. The implication is that it would be much cheaper, easier, safer, and worthier to massacre local Jews than to attack distant Muslims - who were likely to fight back. Preachers promoting the Second Crusade prompted massacres across Germany and France. Jewish literature was also a common target. Book burning was widespread and endorsed by the Church. Pope Gregory IX ordered the Talmud to be burned throughout Christendom. Tens of thousands of copies of it, and other rabbinical writings were destroyed. One reason for this holocaust was the suspicion that the Talmud contradicted Christian beliefs concerning the Virgin Birth of Jesus. The Crusader king, Louis IX of France (St Louis), was also worried by the danger of Jews denying the virgin birth. If Christian laymen heard a Jew denying the Virgin birth, or otherwise slandering the Christian faith, they should, said the future saint, run him through with a sword on the spot.
Like other minority groups - prostitutes, Moslems, lepers and reformed heretics - Jews were required to wear distinctive clothing to act as a "badge of infamy". In France and Spain this was generally a round yellow patch called a rouelle. In Italy rouelles, circular red badges and yellow hats were all used. In England it was a saffron badge shaped like the twin tablets of Moses. In Germany, Austria and Poland Jews traditionally wore a conical hat called a Judenhut. Pope Gregory complained about this nonconformity in 1233 in a letter to the German bishops, and an effort was them made to bring them into line. Jews were required to pay an annual fee for their rouelles, so they were effectively being required to pay for being persecuted).
Persecution was popular at all levels within the Church, but the main proponents were the Mendicant Orders - Dominicans and Franciscans. They invented pretexts to justify persecution, they ran the Inquisition, they enforced the rules, they promoted the burning of Jews and Jewish writings, they engineered ever more severe restrictions, they encouraged forcible conversion, and preached anti-Semitism to the populace. They acted against Jews and other minority groups as "the shocktroops of the Church". Roman Popes also promoted the persecution of Jews. Callistus III (pope 1455-1458) for example revived legislation prohibiting social contacts between Christians and Jews. Paul IV (pope 1555-1559) hated them. As a cardinal he had ordered the burning of Jewish books. Two months after his election as Pope he published his bull Cum nimis absurdum, a document which was to promote anti-Semitism for centuries to come. He claimed that Jews were slaves by nature, and that they should be treated as such. In Rome, and throughout the papal states they were confined to specified districts each with a single entrance, which are now known as ghettos. (The term Ghetto is taken from the name of the district in Venice where the Jews had been confined by the Senate in 1516). Jews were forced to sell their houses at a fraction of their worth, forbidden to engage in commerce, and obliged to wear badges of infamy in public. They were obliged to use Latin, and to attend Church sermons for their conversion. The only trade open to them was the buying and selling of secondhand clothes and old iron - which largely explains why Jews were traditionally associated with the rag and bone trade and continued to be so associated within living memory. Once again, Jews were forbidden to receive medical attention from Christians. Synagogues were destroyed. Paul's restrictions were enforced more or less severely by popes for many centuries. Elderly Jews were kidnapped from their ghetto during the Roman Carnival, forced at sword-point to overeat, then to race against each other. If two Christians testified that a Jew had insulted the Roman Catholic faith, or a priest, he could be put to death. Neither was this sort of attitude restricted to the Middle Ages. Leo XII (pope 1823-1829) once again forcibly confined the Jews to ghettos. His Holiness also condemned a new Austrian constitution because it countenanced Jews running their own schools and colleges. As late as 1852 Pope Pius IX had persuaded Tuscany to prohibit Jewish physicians from practising medicine.
Catholic authorities had for centuries been forcibly removing Jewish children from their parents in order to bring them up as Christians. The whole civilised world was shocked to discover that this was still happening in 1858 when Edgardo Mortara was seized in Bologna and sent to Rome. His Holiness refused to yield to world opinion and, after a triumphal parade through the ghetto in Rome, Edgardo began his new life. (The Church's argument was that several years earlier a Christian maid had secretly baptised the infant Edgardo when he was thought to be dying, so he was already a Christian). In future the Church would be much more circumspect in removing children from their parents, though it continued to do so well into the twentieth century. As for the ghettos, it was not until 1870 (when Italian troops forcibly took Rome - the last remnant of the Papal States) that Jews were released from the last ghetto in Europe. One of the first acts of the New Italian kingdom after the liberation of Rome was to tear down the ghetto walls.
Wherever Christianity flourished, so did anti-Semitism. A clerical revival in France in the 1890s was linked to the Dreyfus affair, during which a Jewish army officer was falsely accused of treason by the Christian establishment. It was left to a small number of freethinkers such as Émile Zola to help him, as it was to help other Jews when falsely accused. When it became clear that a miscarriage of justice had taken place, La Civilta Catholica commented that "if a judicial error has indeed been committed, then the Assembly of 1791 was responsible when it accorded French nationality to Jews". Father Vincent Bailly, Editor of La Croix claimed that the Church in France was undergoing "a punishment reminiscent of Christ's own passion . betrayed, sold, jeered at, beaten, covered with spittle and crucified by the Jews".
Anti-Semitism was still widespread at the beginning of the twentieth century. In Limerick in Ireland the Jewish community were boycotted, stoned, beaten and robbed, and eventually driven out of the city in 1904. The man behind it was Father John Creagh, a priest who accused Jews each Sunday from his pulpit of a range of offences from deicide to conspiracy with Freemasons. Included was the accusation that Jews were given to murdering Christians, an echo of the old blood-libel.
Jews were persecuted in Eastern Europe as well as Western Europe. Hundreds of thousands of were murdered in Christian pogroms in Eastern Europe over the centuries. In 1723 the bishop of Gdansk in Poland demanded the expulsion of Jews from the city. When the city authorities declined he exhorted a mob to break into the city ghetto and beat the residents to death. Such pogroms continued until recent times. Often the murders were justified by the old blood libel. Familiar charges of the ritual murder of children were heard at the Hilsner trial in Slovakia in 1900, and at the Beilis trial in Kiev in 1913.
The general pattern is that the stronger the Christian faith, the stronger is the persecution of the Jews. It is notable that pogroms have been common in Poland during its periodic intervals of that country's independence, when the Church has enjoyed its greatest power and influence. The restoration of independence to Poland in 1918, for example, was followed by an immediate return to traditional practices - an outbreak of pogroms. Polish Catholics may not have welcomed domination by Hitler's Third Reich, but few quarreled with the Nazi's attitude towards the Jews. Many Roman Catholics in Poland saw their Jewish neighbours carted off to death camps and were often not at all averse to helping them on their way. After the War, when Jewish refugees returned to their homes and businesses, Christian Poles reacted in the traditional way. They circulated stories of the ritual murder of children - the ancient blood libel yet again - and instigated a massacre of the refugees. At Kielce 42 Jews, some of them recently freed from Nazi death-camps, were murdered by their Christian neighbours.
Like their Catholic brethren, Orthodox Christians thrived on anti-Semitism for centuries. In the Ukraine for example numerous massacres were perpetrated in the mid seventeenth century. Orthodox Ukrainians took the opportunity to massacre some 100,000 Jews, representing around 300 communities, while rebelling against their Polish rulers. In 1801 Orthodox Priests in Bucharest used the traditional blood-libel to whip up Christian sentiment, which resulted in the Jewish quarter being attacked, and 128 inhabitants having their throats cut. Jewish persecutions were common under the Russian Orthodox Church right up until the Russian Revolution of 1918. Cossacks and other Orthodox troops killed around 60,000 Jews in Eastern Europe during the Revolution itself. Protestants also found Jewish persecution and genocide to be entirely compatible with their faith. After all the New Testament had referred to Jews as children of the Devil (John 8:44) and Martin Luther had regarded Jews as 'worse than devils'. Justice was routinely denied by Protestants even up to recent times. Luther's anti-Semitic writings, such as About Jews and their Lies (1543), were frequently quoted by the Nazis to justify their actions. Luther had recommended that Jewish houses and synagogues should be burned down, their books should be burned, their money confiscated, and their religion prohibited. He recommended forced labour, or better still, expulsion from the country. As a Jewish historian has noted, because of his views Protestants became even more anti-Semitic than Roman Catholics. In the twentieth century German Protestants were still keen to follow his advice. The Nazis realised all of Luther's dreams, helped by Deutsche Christen, and other Christian Churches. The Deutsche Christen were Nazi Protestants who dominated the Protestants in Germany. During World War II over half of the German Landeskirchen were Deutsche Christen. Other Protestants, who did not support Hitler, joined the so-called Confessing Church, and in the main kept their views to themselves. After the War was over and the danger passed the leaders of the Confessing Church made a declaration of their own guilt to the Council of World Churches, a gesture which was at least more than other Churches were prepared to do. The Catholic Church had earned as bad a reputation during the Nazi era, but no declaration of guilt was forthcoming from its head, Pius XII (pope 1939-1958). Pius appeared to many to have supported the great dictators. His Holiness never once unequivocally condemned the victimisation or murder of Jews in Italy or the Third Reich, despite being blessed with direct communication with the divine through his supernatural visions. During the war he never even made a statement that would give guidance to the many Catholics in the Fascist and Nazi armies, as he could have done without endangering himself. Catholics engaged in genocide were never once informed by the Church or the Pope that what they were doing was wrong. In the whole of Christendom only a handful of Churchmen stood up to the Nazis. Altogether, over six million Jews died, including a million children. As historians have observed, it is difficult to see how the attempted murder of an entire people could take place without the highest moral authority on earth voicing any explicit criticism of it.
Though His Holiness failed consistently to condemn Nazi atrocities, he was content to continue referring to "perfidious Jews". After the war he even condemned the concept of collective guilt as applied to the German people. To many this was the ultimate irony since the Church's persecution of the Jews had for centuries been based on the principle of collective guilt. Pius's successor, Pope John XXIII, admitted Church guilt in the sort of code favoured by theologians: "The mark of Cain is stamped upon our foreheads. Across the centuries, our brother Abel has lain in blood which we drew, and shed tears we caused by forgetting Thy love. Forgive us Lord, for the curse we falsely attributed to their name as Jews. Forgive us for crucifying Thee a second time in their flesh, for we knew not what we did". This may mean "We admit responsibility for centuries of persecution and murder", but it is difficult to be certain. In 1958 His Holiness removed the reference to "perfidious Jews" from the Good Friday liturgy of the Roman Church. In 1965 the second Vatican Council reconsidered the question of collective guilt and exonerated the Jews from collective responsibility for the death of Jesus, but only on condition that they dissociated themselves from the supposedly wicked generation of the time of the crucifixion. Very rarely a senior churchman will now admit to his Church's complicity. Cardinal Franz König for example confirmed in 1988 that the Catholic Church in Austria bore part of the responsibility for Nazi crimes against the Jews, and admitted that anti-Semitism was linked to Catholic education practices.
During their Passover meal many Jews still leave their doors open, as they have done for centuries. One traditional reason is to allow anyone who wants to see what is happening, and in particular to see that Christian children are not being murdered. Churches still apparently do their part to foster hatred and distrust. A detailed study in the 1966 revealed that a significant amount of anti-Semitism in American Christians was due to church teachings. The doctrine of collective guilt was found to be still popular and the statement that 'Jews can never be forgiven for crucifying Christ' was subscribed to by 46% of Roman Catholics, 60% of Protestants, and 86% of Southern Baptists.
The Anglican Church stays silent about the martyrdom of St William of Norwich and Little St Hugh of Lincoln. Their many miracles still stand testimony to the Christian faith. At the time of writing there is a notice put up by the Cathedral authorities by the remains of the shrine of Little St Hugh in Lincoln Minster. It frankly concedes that the story of Little St Hughand other such stories were fictions. It goes on to suggest a prayer, not as one might expect for the victims of Christian persecutions, nor even for forgiveness. It simply asks God to forget all about it "Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers".