History is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon… Napoleon Bonaparte


According to the received wisdom of our age there are certain terms that must always be used in conjunction – all racists must be white goes hand in hand with it corollary that all whites must be racists. Since the end of the second world war it has been de rigueur that all discussions of antisemitism contain the qualifying accusations of German and Christian to define the guilty parties. Sooner or later people will realize that antisemitism in our time is more a result of Islamofascism than either of the standard whipping boys currently in fashion. In the meantime about all intelligent people can do is attempt to educate people out of their prejudices.

Chojnice is today in Poland – more or less where it started out – having at various times been ruled by Teutonic Knights, Prussia, Germany [including the Third Reich] and having been occupied by the Russians. It might be accurately thought of as a Germanic town at one point in time since the German protestants fleeing the counter-reformation constituted the majority of the population in the late eighteenth century and by the start of the 20th century Catholics still made up less than one half of the population of about 10,000 and the Jews numbered only about four hundred.

The origins of the blood libel are found in the writings of the Graeco-Egyptian author Apion in antiquity and the scholar Walter Laquer has investigated the phenomena and found only about 150 cases from then until now. While one case is too many this is obviously a crime – like regicide – that is more notorious for its exceptionalism than its commonality. The old standby that it is the fault of the Catholics is given the lie by Pope Innocent IV who took action against the blood libel as early as 1247 when he mandated that,  In their malice, they ascribe every murder, wherever it chance to occur, to the Jews. And on the ground of these and other fabrications, they are filled with rage against them, rob them of their possessions without any formal accusation, without confession, and without legal trial and conviction, contrary to the privileges granted to them by the Apostolic See… Since it is our pleasure that they shall not be disturbed,… we ordain that ye behave towards them in a friendly and kind manner. Whenever any unjust attacks upon them come under your notice, redress their injuries, and do not suffer them to be visited in the future by similar tribulations. Even the muslim Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, issued a royal decree formally denouncing blood libels against the Jews in the late sixteenth century.

The sad truth of the matter is that a child was murdered and that whoever the guilty party was may have escaped justice. At this point in time it is probably impossible to solve this murder but ascribing worse crimes to others is of no service either and perpetuating religious and national hatreds is absolutely counterproductive. There is no need to run from history but the historian has a moral obligation to accuracy and balance that is lacking here.

The butcher’s tale: murder and anti-Semitism in a German town New York: W.W. Norton, c 2002 Helmut Walser Smith Blood accusation Poland Chojnice Hardcover. 1st. ed. and printing. 270 p.: ill., maps; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 217-260) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG  

A dramatic exploration of a remote and tiny town where an anti-Semitic crime took place at the turn of the last century. In 1900, in a small Prussian town, a young boy was found murdered, his body dismembered, the blood drained from his limbs. A handful of Christians participated in violent riots to accuse the Jews of ritual murder – the infamous blood-libel charge that has haunted Jews for centuries.

In his creative narrative, Helmut Walser Smith reconstructs the murder and the ensuing  anti-Semitism that engulfed this otherwise peaceful town. Building on his reconstruction to fabricate an examination of hatred, bigotry, and mass hysteria to fit his thesis Smith has done little more than create a modern fable that will foster the same misunderstandings and engender the same sorts of mistrust and hatred for another generation.

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