By Israel Drazin
The Valentine’s Day Massacre occurred in Strasbourg on the day that people show love, on February 14, 1349. This was when the Black Plague, which probably started in China or central Asia, was carried to Europe by rats on merchant ships and created the most devastating pandemic in human history. The plague ravaged Europe between 1348 and 1350 killing between 75 and 200 million people, from 30 to 60 percent of the population who had no concept of the danger of germs. Looking around them, many citizens saw that few of the Jews died from the plague and became convinced that they survived simply because they had caused the plague by poisoning their wells and didn’t drink from them. So they rushed and butchered some 2000 Jews in retaliation by burning them, and by expelling those they didn’t kill from their city. This was the first pogrom in history. The murders didn’t end in Strasbourg. In August 1349 the Jewish communities of Mainz and Cologne were exterminated. By 1351, 60 major and 150 smaller cities were destroyed.
Scholars are convinced that there was a rational reason why Jews survived. Unlike their neighbors they washed daily, washing that removed the germs. The Jewish practice, followed by many at the time, was to wash hands three times upon waking from sleep and twice before eating. Thus a reasonable religious practice saved them from death, at least until unreasonable people who didn’t accept the practice killed or exiled them.