Jewish Massacres


Historians often claim that the main body of Peter’s followers (Peter’s Crusade) attacked Jews along the way to Constantinople.  This is careless, as Fredric Duncalf (18882-1963) pointed out, Peter’s followers “do not seem to have been guilty of the persecution of the Jews which became so prevalent in the Rhine valley after their depature.”

Several of these massacres were committed by two groups that were following the wake of Peter’s expedition, but most of them were the work of German knights who seem not to have been involved with Peter.  Emicho of Leisingen was a minor Rhineland count who responded to the pope’s call to crusade by assembling a small army of German knights.  Then, on Ma 3, 1096, two weeks of Peter’s group had set out for the Holy Land, Emicho led his troops in an attack on the Jewish population of Speyer (Spier). Some historians believe that Emicho’s attacks on the Jews were cynical prompted primarily by greed, while others accept that he sincerely believed that all “enemies of Christ” should be converted or killed.  In any event, warned of Emicho’s approach and intentions, the bishop of Speyer took the local Jews under his protection, and Emicho’s forces could lay their hands on only a dozen Jews who had somehow failed to heed the bishops alarm. All twelve were killed.  Then Emicho led his forces to Worms.  Here, too, the bishop took the local Jews onto his palace for protection.  But this time Emicho would have none of that;  his forces broke down the bishop’s gates and killed about five hundred Jews.  The pattern was repeated the next week in Mainz.  Here, too, the bishop attempted to shield the Jews but was attacked and forced to flee for his life.  The same again in Cologne, and again in Mets.  As the distinguished historian of anti-Semitism Leon Poliakov (1910-1997) summed up:  “It is important to note that almost everywhere bishops attempted, sometimes even at the peril of their own lives, to protect the Jews.  At this point a portion of Emicho’s forces broke away and set out to purge the Moselle Valley of Jews. Being careful only to attack town without a resident bishop, they managed to kill several thousand Jews.

The pope harshly condemned all these attacks, but there was little more he could do. This is consistent with the efforts of local bishops to preserve the Jews, and with the fact that other armies gathered for the First Crusade did not molest Jews.