Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 January 2013
Nine hundred years ago, crusaders passing through the Rhineland on their way to Jerusalem attacked Jews in towns throughout the region surrounding Heidelberg. Many Jews were killed or converted to Christianity, and many took their own lives in order to avoid baptism. The events themselves occupy a significant place in modern Jewish historiography and are often presented as the first instance of an anti-Semitism that would henceforth never be forgotten and whose climax was the Holocaust. As Arno Mayer put it in his study of the “Final Solution”: “The attack on the Jews [in 1096] set a disastrous precedent, depositing a fatal poison in the European psyche and imagination.” Moreover, some have seen the texts that a number of Jewish communities produced in the aftermath of the massacres as the vessels of a collective memory that gave Jews strength and allowed them to retain their identity throughout a history of tragedies; a collective memory that, in Alan Mintz's words, “summed up [for modern Jews] the past to be espoused or rejected.” The First Crusade massacres emerge in such scholarship as a focal point in a narrative of Jewish history that asserts the identity of past and present suffering, and that finds its coherence in a teleology of escalating persecution leading to the Holocaust and to Zionist redemption.