The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Shofar FTP Archive File: antisemitism/blood-libel/klein-001

"Christian-Jewish relations will never become normalized until Christians
as well as Jews have examined the  prejudices and horrors of their
common history.  The two-thousand-year-old past has to be analyzed to
discover what lies buried in those centuries through which they lived,
though separated by more or less wilful misunderstandings and
persecutions inflicted on the minority.  It is the duty of the historian
to lift the veil which blinded the eyes of many otherwise humane and
committed Christians who showed themselves singularly loveless and
insensitive where Jews were concerned.  The semiofficial Vatican
periodical, the Civilta Cattolica, and its contributors are a case in
point; they remained, up to World War II and after, unconscious of the
fact that they encouraged the "teaching of contempt" among countless
readers who regarded this periodical as the official source and
fountainhead of papal thinking.

"Though many articles derogatory to Judaism had appeared in the Civilta
between 1850, when it first appeared, and 1881, it was in this latter
year that ritual murder was first casually mentioned as a well-known
Jewish practice.  The authority quoted was Rabbi David Drach, the early
nineteenth century French convert, who was archivist in Rome from 1832
to 1842.  He was the author of Lettres d'un rabbin converti and a number
of other books and pamphlets aiming at the conversion of Jews and
describing their religious beliefs.  In April 1881, the Civilta quotes
from his De l'Harmonie entre l'Eglise et la Synagogue (1844), the
assertion that the Jews of Damascus had been responsible in 1840 for the
ritual murder of the Capuchin Fr. Thomas and that their guilt had been
established beyond doubt.  The powerful influence of international Jewry
had, however, obtained their release.  The evidence was, in the
Civilta's view, all the more  convincing, since Drach must have found it
particularly distasteful to incriminate members of his own race.  But,
according to the Civilta, the ritual murder was a fact:  almost every
year Jews murdered Christian children for their Passover in order to
fulfil a talmudic law.  The custom, the paper noted, was especially
observed in Poland.

"The absence of any Jewish law concerning the use of Christian blood in
their better-known religious writings was, for the Civilta, easily
explicable:  the law was secret and had nothing to do with the original
religion of Israel but was rooted in the talmudic tradition. It was only
observed according to the Talmud where Jews lived in Eastern Europe and
in oriental countries.

"Readers were told that the Damascus murder of two adult Christians was
not intended for Passover but for Purim; the rule  for this feast was
that every Jew had to get drunk and to kill one Christian in place of
Haman; this was one of the main reasons why popes and bishops forbade
all familiar intercourse between Jews and Christians.

"In May of 1882, the story of the Damascus case was finally told in a
special Civilta report:  Fr. Thomas had been invited into a Jewish home,
attacked, bound, and a certain Jew, Harari, had cut his throat, his
blood being collected in a bottle.  As it was impossible to find any
evidence of his murder, the most prominent Jews of Damascus were
imprisoned and tortured.  The accusation was in fact strongly supported
by the French consul, Ratti-Menton, France having taken upon herself the
protection of Middle Eastern Christians.  Politics played some part in
the affair, for France supported Mehemet Ali's annexation of Syria from
Turkey and influenced the Egyptian governor to extort a confession from
the Jews.  The anti-Jewish reaction of the French press helped to
justify the trial.  Other countries, especially Austria and England,
reacted differently.  When the torture and death of several of the
accused became known, the Jewish communities of Europe united to support
their unfortunate brethren in Damascus.  Several Chief Rabbis, whose
reputation was above suspicion, took a solemn oath that there was not a
word of truth in the blood libel.  The Civilta's comment was that Jews
were allowed to commit perjury in a Christian court.  Supported by Queen
Victoria herself, the venerable Sir Moses Montefiore and the French
lawyer (and later deputy) Isaac Adolphe Cremieux were delegated to
undertake the journey to Cairo and Damascus.  The embarrassed Mehemet
Ali had to give in to the united pressure of all foreign  consuls, the
French always excepted.  The Jews, as far as they had survived the
torture of the governor Sherif Pasha, were released and completely
exonerated.  Contrary to a statement  in the Civilta, the words "killed
by Jews" were deleted from the tombstone of Fr. Thomas.

"Neither the body of the Capuchin monk nor that of his servant were ever
found.  They were probably killed by a Moslem who, after a violent
quarrel, had been heard to threaten the monk whose life, moreover, had
been far from saintly. He had engaged in dealings as a kind of quack
physician with all sorts of people and had made a number of enemies.
But this was not, of course, the view of the Civilta; according to them,
Montefiore had succeeded in bribing Mehemet Ali with Rothschild's gold,
so that the truth of the affair should not become known; the ritual
murder of Fr. Thomas must have been a fact, because it followed the same
pattern of other such killings of Christians by Jews throughout the
centuries.  What the Civilta's writers omitted to mention were the
unspeakable tortures practiced on Jewish men, women, and even children,
which were bound to force out a "confession" by at least one person.
Under duress, one or two abjured their faith and accepted Christianity
(or Islam), but when faced with death were "sticknecked" enough to
return to the faith of their ancestors." Klein, Charlotte. Damascus to 
Kiev:  Civilta Cattolica on Ritual Murder Pgs. 182,183, 186, 187, 188)

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