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A Brief and Incomplete History of Jewish Suffering

325 – The Council of Nicea rejected the Jewish roots of Christian faith

It separated the celebration of Easter from the Jewish Passover, stating, “For it is unbecoming beyond measure that on this holiest of festivals we should follow the customs of the Jews. Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people…”

415 – St. Augustine’s writings fostered anti-Semitism

St. Augustine wrote, “The true image of the Hebrew is Judas Iscariot, who sells the Lord for silver. The Jew can never understand the Scriptures and forever will bear the guilt for the death of Jesus.”

613 – Persecution in Spain

Jews were given the choice of leaving Spain or converting to Christianity. Jewish children over six years of age were taken from their parents and given a non-Jewish upbringing.

1096 – The First Crusade

The goal of the Crusades was to liberate Jerusalem from Muslim control. However, the Crusaders killed many Jews as they crossed Europe en route to the Holy Land. In the Rhine Valley alone, about 12,000 Jews were killed in the First Crusade. Such persecution continued through the ninth and last Crusade in 1272.

1099 – Crusaders Burn Jerusalem Synagogue

Having cornered the Jews of Jerusalem in a synagogue, they set it on fire. Those who tried to escape were forced back into the burning building.

1190 – Death in York Castle

Seeking refuge from anti-Jewish riots that had started in London, the Jews of York, England, fortified themselves in a castle. Rather than surrender, they killed themselves on the Sabbath before Passover. By 1290, Jews were expelled from England.

1320 – The Shepherd Crusade and Massacre in France

40,000 French shepherds went to Palestine on another crusade. This time, 140 Jewish communities in their path were destroyed. The following year, in Guienne, France, Jews were accused of prompting criminals to poison wells. 5,000 Jews were burned alive at the stake.

1348-9 – Black Plague

As the Black Plague took its awful toll in Europe, Jews became the scapegoats. Again, they are accused of poisoning wells and are tortured and slaughtered from Spain to Poland.

1483-97 – The Spanish Inquisition

During the Spanish Inquisition, Jews were given the choice of being baptized as Christians or being banished from Spain. In 1492, 300,000 left Spain as paupers. Others converted to Christianity, but often continued Jewish observance in secret. During this period, Jewish people were exiled from Spain, Sicily, Lithuania and Portugal.

1648-49 – Cossack Massacres

Massacres were carried out by Bogdan Chmielnicki, leader of the Cossacks. During the peasant revolt against Polish rule in the Ukraine, over 100,000 Jews were killed and 300 communities destroyed.

1881-84 – Russian Pogroms

During this period, numerous pogroms occurred in more than 100 Jewish villages in southern Russia with looting, rape and murder. These violent acts prompted a Jewish exit from Russia; many fled to America.

1903 – Easter Riot in Moldova

The Jews were blamed for the deaths of a murdered Christian child and a young Christian woman who had committed suicide at the Jewish Hospital. That Easter, violence erupted, resulting in the death of 49 Jews, with 500 injured. It was later revealed that relatives had murdered the child and the suicide had nothing to do with the Jewish people.

1920s – Discrimination in the U.S.

Prejudice against Jews in North America became widespread. Many universities imposed quotas on Jewish students. When Harvard accepted all students on the basis of merit, the Jewish student body was about 15%. In 1941, after quotas were imposed, Princeton University had a Jewish student body of fewer than 2%. Jews were also usually barred from Protestant country clubs, restricted neighborhoods and other Protestant enclaves.

1938 – Kristallnacht

On the infamous Kristallnacht (November 9-10, 1938), Nazi hatred erupted in Germany and Austria and resulted in the destruction of Jewish businesses and synagogues. The attempted extermination of the Jewish people in Europe was under way.

1940 – French Jewish Deportation

The Vichy government of France collaborated with Nazi Germany. Before the war had ended, France deported over 76,000 Jews to Nazi death camps. Only about 2,500 are known to have survived.

1939-45 – World War II

Approximately six million Jews and six million others were murdered by Nazis. Although there are notable exceptions, particularly in the Netherlands, churches and ordinary Christians in Europe did little to alter the outcome.


“Anti-Semitism,” Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1971.

A History of the Jewish People, Edited by H.H. Ben-Sasson, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1976.


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