[The Black Death as a cause of the massacres of Jews: a myth of medical history?]

Med Ges Gesch. 1998;17:101-30.
[Article in German]


In the middle of the 14th century, most towns in German-speaking territories and beyond massacred their Jewish communities. Thousands of Jews were burnt, often connected with accusations of well-poisoning. Medical and socio-historical literature usually attributes these massacres to the anxiety created by the Black Death, which was sweeping over Europe during this period. This article argues that there is no direct link between the massacres and the plague. How other researchers showed before, far from acts of plague-terrified, frenzied mobs, the massacres were the carefully planned and executed work of the Christian local governments. In addition, the slaughtering of Jews began long before the Black Death broke out in Europe. No relation can be found between the intensity of the disease and the violence of the murderers, even though there were wide regional differences. Causes of the persecutions other than the effects of plague seem evident, mainly religious fears fueled by the Church, financial profit, and political interests. This article wants to draw the attention to a myth in the history of medicine, the myth of the plague as the main cause of the massacres in the 14th century. It also raises the question, whether the plague as a trigger for the massacres really was a basic requirement.

Publication types

  • English Abstract
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Death
  • Disease Outbreaks / history*
  • Europe
  • Germany
  • Historiography*
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Medieval
  • Homicide / history*
  • Humans
  • Jews / history*
  • Plague / history*
  • Race Relations / history*