The future Roman Emperor Titus began the Siege of Jerusalem, during which the Second Temple was burned and destroyed.
The Roman attack on Jerusalem came four years into the First Jewish–Roman War. Triggered by ethnic tensions between Romans and Jews in Judea, the Great Revolt quickly spread throughout the province. Emperor Nero sent four legions, approximately 80,000 soldiers, under the command of his trusted general Vespasian and his son Titus to crush the uprising. By the time Vespasian was recalled to Rome in 69 CE to be appointed Emperor, the Roman forces had driven most of the rebels back to the fortified city of Jerusalem.
Titus moved to besiege the city in early 70 CE, coinciding with Passover. Assisted by the experienced general and former governor of Judea, Tiberius Julius Alexander, he positioned three legions on the western side and a fourth to the east on the Mount of Olives. Pilgrims were permitted to enter the city to celebrate Passover, but the Romans refused to allow them out again. The increase in population placed additional strain on the already-depleted food and water supplies in the city.
Many of the details of the siege were recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus, who had defected to the Roman side after his surrender earlier in the war. Having failed to negotiate with the defenders of the city, but having breached the Third and Second walls, the Romans sought to force the Jews into starvation by erecting a wooden palisade that used every tree in a 10 mile radius.
When the Romans breached the final defences in August the remaining defenders were massacred and the Temple was destroyed, leaving the Western Wall as the only surviving feature.
Jews first began to arrive in England following the Norman conquest. Primarily serving as moneylenders due to strict Catholic laws about usury, anti-Jewish sentiment had begun to grow by the time of Richard I’s coronation on 3 September 1189.
That day witnessed anti-Semitic rioting that led to the deaths of around 30 Jews after they were denied entry to the coronation banquet. Although Richard later explicitly stated that Jews in England should not be harmed, violence surfaced again and slowly spread north after he departed for the Holy Land on the Third Crusade.
In March the anti-Semitic attacks reached York. In the midst of a raging fire, the cause of which is unknown, a mob looted the house and killed the family of Benedict, a wealthy Jew who had been mortally wounded in the London pogrom. Fearing for their lives, the rest of the Jewish population of the city, numbering in the region of 150 people, fled to the well-defended Clifford’s Tower.
Having been granted access by the warden, the fearful Jews later locked him out while an armed mob surrounded the tower. Trapped inside, and faced with either forced conversion to Christianity or death at the hands of the angry crowd, most of the Jews chose to die at their own hand. Many fathers killed their wives and children before committing suicide. The tower was then set on fire.
Although some Jews took up the offer of safe passage in return for their conversion, they were all killed by the crowd. Led by Richard Malebisse and other members of the local gentry, the mob then moved to York Minster where they burned the records of loans made to local residents by the Jews, effectively cancelling their debts.
On the 20th January 1942, a number of senior Nazis met at the Wannsee Conference where they discussed what was referred to as the Final Solution to the Jewish Question. SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich called the meeting, in which he outlined the deportation of European Jews to extermination camps in Poland where they would be systematically murdered.
Six months earlier, on the 31st July 1941, Hermann Goering had ordered Heydrich as his second-in-command to submit plans “for the implementation of the projected final solution of the Jewish question”. Heydrich was a trusted member of the Nazi elite, and had been referred to by Hitler as “the man with the iron heart”. He had already helped to organise Kristallnacht, established Jewish ghettos in Nazi-controlled territories, and command the Einsatzgruppen that were responsible for millions of Jewish deaths prior to his planning of the Final Solution.
Heydrich originally planned for the Wannsee Conference to take place on 9th December 1941, but it was postponed due to the USSR’s counter-offensive in the Battle of Moscow and the entry of the USA into the war. Fifteen representatives from a variety of government ministries attended the delayed meeting on the 20th January instead.
By this time hundreds of thousands of Jews had already been killed in the east, and the planning and construction of extermination camps had already begun. The meeting was, therefore, more to ensure coordination between the various government agencies in implementing the deportations.
Minutes from the meeting survive as what is known as the Wannsee Protocol, although the language was edited so that mass extermination was never explicitly recorded.
The Jewish population of Basel were massacred amidst accusations that they were responsible for causing the Black Death.
The Black Death, which is estimated to have killed between 75 and 200 million people in the middle of the fourteenth century, arrived in central and western Europe in 1348. The pandemic spread through Savoy and soon began to kill people in the city of Basel.
Convinced that the Jews of the city were dying of the disease less frequently than the Christians, the local population soon began to accuse the Jews of poisoning the wells. Although accurate statistical evidence is lacking, numerous theories have been put forward to explain why Jews may have appeared to have suffered less from the disease. While one of these is based on the simple observation that Christians were less likely to see Jewish victims due to the fact they were buried in separate cemeteries, another suggests that strict Jewish dietary rituals meant that Jewish homes were much less appealing to the rats that are believed to have carried the plague.
Under pressure from the powerful guilds, many of whom had obtained confessions from local Jews under torture, the City Fathers responded with extraordinary ruthlessness. Having separated children from their parents, the adult Jews were a specially constructed wooden barn on an island in the Rhine. Here they were shackled together and the structure set on fire, leaving the victims to burn alive. The surviving children were forcefully converted to Christianity, while Jews were banned from the city for 200 years.
The Black Death itself continued to ravage Europe for around another four years, killing between 30 and 60 per cent of the entire population of the continent.
Relations between Catholicism and Judaism cover a long, complex and violent history in which Christians revered the Jewish scriptures yet held Jews collectively responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. However, the murderous anti-Semitism of the Nazi Holocaust led to moves for reconciliation between the two religions in the second half of the 20th century.
A key milestone in relations came when the Second Vatican Council published Nostra aetate, (‘In Our Time’) in 1965. This document formally rejected the idea of collective Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion. Two decades later, John Paul II became the first Pope to visit a synagogue where he called Jews “our beloved elder brothers” and condemned anti-Semitism.
Despite these positive steps towards reconciliation, the diplomatic negotiations between Israel and the Holy See in the 1990s were still enormously complex. Significantly the Vatican maintained its call for Jerusalem to have ‘international status’ due to its unique position as a holy site for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Property rights and tax exemptions for the Church in Israel also featured heavily in the discussions.
The agreement was signed by Monsignor Claudio Celli, the Vatican Undersecretary of State, and Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin. However, it has never been ratified by the Israeli Knesset due to ongoing economic disputes over the legal status of church properties in Israel. Despite this, the Vatican appointed an apostolic nuncio to Israel in 1994 while Israel appointed an ambassador to the Vatican.
The origin for the scandal lay in the discovery of a ripped-up letter in a waste basket at the German Embassy in Paris. Having been handed by the cleaner who found it to French counter-espionage, it was found to contain French military secrets and was determined to have been leaked by someone within the General Staff.
Alfred Dreyfus, who had been born into a Jewish family in the Alsace region before its annexation by Germany, had been promoted to the rank of captain by 1889. He joined the General Staff in 1893 but, following the discovery of the letter known as the bordereau, was arrested after his handwriting was compared to that in the letter.
Dreyfus’ trial began on 19 December, but was preceded by weeks of anti-Semitic articles in the right-wing press. The trial itself was conducted in a closed court, where the seven judges unanimously found him guilty of treason after being handed a secret dossier during their deliberations. They declared their verdict on 22 December, and sentenced him to life imprisonment preceded by military degradation. This involved the insignia being torn from his uniform and his sword broken, before being paraded in front of a crowd stirred up by the press shouting, “Death to Judas, death to the Jew.”
Dreyfus was transported to Devil’s Island in French Guiana, but in France new evidence began to emerge that another officer was the real traitor. With support from the Dreyfusards including the novelist Emile Zola, a retrial in 1899 reduced the sentence while the President of the Republic granted a pardon. However, it wasn’t until 1906 that Dreyfus was finally exonerated and readmitted to the army.
Einstein, who was Jewish, was undertaking a visiting professorship at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena when Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor on 30 January 1933. With the Nazis expanding their power in Germany, Einstein chose not to go home when he returned to Europe in March. When his ship docked at the Belgian port of Antwerp on 28 March he renounced his German citizenship by handing in his passport at the German Consulate.
While the Nazis seized Einstein’s cottage and converted it to a Hitler Youth camp, the government barred Jews from teaching at universities and the German Student Union burned his books. With a bounty on his head, Einstein stayed in Belgium for a few months before moving to Britain where he was guarded by his friend, naval officer Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson.
While a refugee in Britain, Einstein lobbied foreign governments and universities to find employment for former German Jewish scientists. Many places were found around Europe, with over 1,000 German Jewish scientists being placed in Turkish universities alone, but Einstein himself was refused British citizenship and instead accepted an offer from the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study in New Jersey. He departed England on 17 October 1933.
Although Einstein initially intended to only stay in the United States for a short time, in 1935 he chose to seek American citizenship, which he gained in 1940. By this time he had warned President Roosevelt about the danger of Hitler developing nuclear weapons, and encouraged the United States to begin its own research.
On the 15th July 1834 the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, otherwise known as the Spanish Inquisition, was disbanded. Originally established in 1478 by the Catholic Monarchs, the Spanish Inquisition came under the direct control of the Spanish monarchy rather than the church which meant it was used as both a religious and political organization. By the time it was abolished, up to 150,000 people had been tried by the Spanish Inquisition, of whom somewhere between two and five thousand were executed.
The Spanish Inquisition’s main task was to regulate and maintain Catholic orthodoxy within the dual kingdoms of Aragon and Castile. Their main focus was therefore on Jews who outwardly converted to Christianity but continued to practice Judaism. Known as Crypto-Jews, this group was disproportionately targeted by the Inquisition, especially after Ferdinand and Isabella ordered all Jews and Muslims to convert to Catholicism or leave the country in decrees issued in 1492 and 1501. The British historian Henry Kamen estimates that up to 90% of Inquisition trials were for conversos.
The Enlightenment had a significant impact on the activity of the Spanish Inquisition, as the government gradually became more secular. The fact that many of the Enlightenment texts were being brought in to Spain by influential nobles meant the ideas that would previously have been policed by the Inquisition had to be increasingly tolerated. Although the Inquisition made a short comeback after Napoleon Bonaparte’s older brother Joseph dissolved it during his short time as king, the Inquisition was finally abolished by Maria Christina of the Two Sicilies.
On the 27th January 1945, Soviet soldiers from the 322nd Rifle Division liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp near the Polish city of Oświęcim. They met some resistance from the remaining Nazi troops in the city, but by 3pm had captured the Main Camp and Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
By the end of 1944, the Soviet Union was making significant gains against the Nazis on the Eastern Front. As a result SS chief Heinrich Himmler ordered the end of gassings across the Reich, and the systematic destruction of written records. Approximately 65,000 prisoners were evacuated deeper into the Reich between August 1944 and January 1945 but tens of thousands of prisoners still remained in Auschwitz. Therefore, on the 17th January, at least another 58,000 inmates were sent on a death march under armed guard; of those who departed around 20,000 made it to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in Germany.
More than 7,000 prisoners were left behind in the camp because they were deemed too weak or sick to complete the march. Meanwhile, the Nazis continued to destroy evidence of the crimes committed in the camps by blowing up or burning many remaining buildings including the crematoria. Remaining SS troops were ordered to kill the remaining inmates, murdering over 600 of them before the Soviet forces arrived. However, due to the quick progress of the Red Army some buildings – as well as thousands of inmates – survived.
After the liberation, hospital facilities were established at the camp to provide medical treatment for the survivors. On the 2nd July 1947, the Polish parliament passed an act that turned the camp in to a museum.
On the 15th September 1935, the German Reichstag passed the Nuremberg Laws that legally discriminated against Jews. The antisemitic legislation consisted of two laws – the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, and the Reich Citizenship Law.
Since coming to power in 1933, the Nazi Party had produced large amounts of propaganda that discriminated against minorities, and which gradually encouraged people in Germany to view Jews in particular as belonging to a separate race to other Germans. The Nuremberg Laws enshrined this discrimination in the legal framework of the country.
The first law focused on individual relationships by banning marriages and sexual relationships between Jews and Germans. Furthermore it strengthened the concept of ‘German’ racial superiority in law by banning German women under the age of 45 from working in Jewish households. Meanwhile the Reich Citizenship Law stripped Jews and many other minorities of their German citizenship as it stated that only people with German or related blood could be Reich citizens.
This second law relied on a clear definition of Jewishness, but this was not actually agreed upon until November. In the end, Hitler declared that anyone with three Jewish grandparents was to be classed as Jewish; anyone who had two Jewish grandparents would be considered Jewish under the law if they practised the faith or had a Jewish spouse. Proving racial heritage therefore became a vital part of life in Nazi Germany. However, due to concerns about how the international community might interpret the laws, prosecutions did not begin until after the 1936 Berlin Olympics.