Ackerman Chronicle

Issue 40 | October 21, 2020

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On October 8, 2020, Dr. Nils Roemer presented his lecture “Infectious Diseases, COVID-19 and Antisemitism” in partnership with ADL Texoma. His lecture spanned a thousand-year history from the middle ages to the present COVID-19 pandemic and provided a fascinating look at how Jews have been seen as scapegoats during times of crisis for centuries.

Jews in the Medieval World

Dr. Roemer began his discussion by taking a look at Jewish life in medieval Europe, where he described the continuity of Jewish existence as being governed by secular and religious outside forces and entities. The one constant in their lives was uncertainty, as they possessed no individual rights, and any privileges they were given as a group and could be taken away.

The First Crusade in 1096 marked a dramatic shift in increasing violence and pogrom activity that escalated during the 13th century. Simultaneously, the emergence of exclusionary practices and outright expulsion became a continuous theme from this period forward. Dr. Roemer stressed that by the 1500s, virtually all Jews had been expelled from urban centers throughout Western Europe. The banishment resulted in a vast Jewish migration from cities to rural areas in the east, predominantly to Poland and what would become known as the Pale of Settlement.

In the middle ages, competitive markets and suspicion of Jewish control over business resulted in increased persecution, highlighting yet another chaotic change when the Jewish economic role in society was challenged and undermined their security when non-Jewish businesses took over the financial world. Jewish city-dwellers who remained were concentrated into distinct quarters and “othered” from their Christian neighbors.

The Persecution of Jews During the Black Death

In the 14th century, with the arrival of the Black Death, nearly half the world’s population perished, and Jews were often blamed for the plague. Examples of this can be seen in the images disseminated by authorities, which often depicted Jews as the harbingers of disease. In an atmosphere of increased animosity and fear, a wave of violent pogroms erupted across Europe in which thousands of Jews were killed.

The idea that Jews poisoned wells, spread disease, and were a physical danger to those around them was preserved in the local memories of places like Strassbourg, Germany where two thousand Jews were massacred in 1349 in the chaos and fear of the Black Death. Those ideas were disseminated further with the advent of the printing press the following century.

The Strasbourg Massacre of 1349

The Antiquitates Flandriae (below) is a medieval drawing that depicts the Strasbourg Massacre that took place on February 14, 1349, in which 2000 Jews were murdered for the alleged poisoning of well water that caused the Black Death. (Photo courtesy of the Royal Library of Belgium manuscript 1376/77)

14th-century manuscript Antiquitates Flandriae depicting the 1349 Strasbourg Massacre

Shift Towards a Racial Paradigm

In the nineteenth century, outbreaks of cholera and typhus revived the fear and paranoia that accompanied the Black Plague, leading to another rise in antisemitic rhetoric and violence against Jews. This "new" antisemitism, however, added a racial component that was not previously there. At this time, the Jews became seen as not only the carriers but also the embodiment of the disease.

Today and COVID-19

Dr. Roemer connected this long-standing history of blaming Jews in times of disaster and pandemics over centuries to the present day, and how this legacy is informing current responses to COVID-19. Regrettably, but not surprisingly, the current Corona Virus pandemic has awakened a new antisemitic fury all over the globe. As evidence of this revival of anti-semitism, Dr. Roemer shared several examples of disturbing new trends emerging in many countries, including the U.S., where mass demonstrations have employed antisemitic imagery dating from the medieval period to Nazi Germany has been displayed on banners, tee-shirts and used as rhetoric by the far-right.

Dr. Roemer shared some of the disturbing present-day anti-Semitic imagery being propagated online by a variety of media sources (below).

Upcoming Events

Film Screening and Discussion: The Silence of Others

This documentary reveals the epic struggle of victims of Spain's 40-year dictatorship under General Franco, who continue to seek justice to this day. Filmed over six years, the film follows the survivors as they organize the groundbreaking 'Argentine Lawsuit' and fight state-imposed amnesia of crimes against humanity, and explores a country still divided four decades into a democracy. Seven years in the making, The Silence of Others is the second documentary feature by Emmy-winning filmmakers Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar.

This film will be available for screening free of charge from October 12-26, 2020. More information and the link will be posted on the Ackerman Center Upcoming Events webpage.

Click below to view the film's trailer

Panel Discussion: The Silence of Others

Thursday, Oct. 29th, 5:30pm

This is an online event.

Join Drs. Amy Kerner, Pedro Gonzalez Corona, and Sarah Valente for a brief commentary and opportunity to share your thoughts and perspectives and to discuss the meaning and implications of the film.

More information and the link will be posted on the Ackerman Center Upcoming Events webpage.

2020 Annual Einspruch Lecture

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This year’s Einspruch lecture will be presented in two parts. Part I is a pre-recorded interview with Benjamin Ferencz, the chief prosecutor for the United States Army at the Einsatzgruppen Trial in Nuremberg, which is available by clicking below. At age 100, Mr. Ferencz is the last-living Nuremberg prosecutor. Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, he is the subject of the 2018 documentary Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz, now available on Netflix. This interview was conducted strictly for this program.

This video is available online by clicking here.

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This issue was made possible by the following contributors:

Cynthia Seton-Rogers, Academic and Outreach Events Manager

Chrissy Stanford, Research Assistant

Philip Barber, Research Assistant