The Jewish Martyrs of Norwich
The Jewish Martyrs of Norwich

The news of the discovery in Norwich, England of a presumed mass murder of Jewish men, women and children that took place in medieval times has left hardly a ripple, especially among the present day Anglo-Jewish community. This is passing strange as it now appears that the bodies – all 17 of them – were found as long ago as 2004 and have been kept in storage all that time without decent or respectful burial.

The remains were discovered during the construction of a new shopping center and researchers from the Center for Anatomy and Human Identification at Dundee University have deduced that all 17 bodies were thrown head first down a well in either the 12th or 13th centuries.

The conclusion from DNA research is that they were Jews and that at least five were from the same family.

Eleven of the bodies were of children from the ages of 2 to 15 with five of them below the age of five.

England was no different from most of Christendom during the Medieval period and beyond. Europe then was as much a charnel house for the stateless and hapless Jews as it was during the Holocaust. The same relentless hatred of the Jews lay like a psychosis among the vast majority of Europeans and England was no exception.

Today that same aberrant behavior manifests itself in unfounded hatred towards the Jewish state and in a perverse ultra-support for the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians.

In England, a catastrophe broke upon the Jews during the Third Crusade (1189-1192) when the coronation of Richard Coeur de Lion took place. Anti-Jewish mobs attacked and murdered Jews from Norwich to Dunstable and throughout many English towns because of a false rumor that King Richard had ordered the Jews who had come to honor him at the palace to be turned away. 

During the king’s absence while on the crusade, the Jewish community of York tried to find refuge in the lord's castle from ravening mobs bent on the Jews’ destruction. Rather than fall into the hands of the fanatical mob, the Jews, at least 150 in humber,  took their own lives on March 17th, 1190.

Rabbi Yom Tov ben Isaac uttered these final words: “It is plainly the will of G-d of our Fathers that we die for his holy Law. And lo, death is at our door … for if we fall into their hands, we shall die in mockery at their arbitrary choice.”  A rabbinic ban (cherem) prohibited Jewish residence in York after that pogrom.

Peter Abelard, the French scholar, himself a victim of persecution by the Church, was a lone voice in sympathizing with the harried and tormented Jews throughout so much of Europe. He wrote in 1135: “No nation has undergone such sufferings for God. Scattered among all the nations, having neither king nor secular prince, the Jews are oppressed with heavy taxes as if they must buy their lives anew every day … The Jews are not permitted to own fields and vineyards … Thus the only livelihood that remains to them is usury, and this in turn excites the hatred of the Christians.”

One of the earliest cases of blood libel, the rumors of ritual murder falsely spread against the Jews. was recorded in the same Norwich, England. In 1146, the local Jews were accused of having kidnapped, tortured and killed a Christian boy before the Passover. Thus began the blood libel that spread throughout Christendom and resulted for centuries in the massacres of countless Jewish victims.  In Poland and Russia at Easter time, which so often corresponds with the Passover festival, Jews were routinely slaughtered in pogroms.

In short, the discovery of the 17 presumably Jewish bodies in the Norwich well attests to the anti-Jewish hatred that permeated every facet of medieval life throughout Christendom from the Popes to the secular kings and princes on down to the peasants. 

That these bodies have been in storage since 2004 with, as far as I am aware, apparently no outrage expressed by the Anglo-Jewish community or its representative Board of Deputies is deplorable.  If this story is true, then the  bodies of the murdered Jews should immediately be flown to Israel – the Jewish biblical and ancestral homeland – where they will be given the appropriate and dignified burial according to the laws of Moses. 

If it has not already taken place, I hope Britain’s Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sachs, will be addressing this appalling situation.

One can only imagine the riots in British streets if these skeletons had been identified as belonging to Muslims and were being treated in this manner.

Inflamed Christians leaving their respective churches during medieval times, and bent on murdering Jews after hearing vitriolic and hateful anti-Jewish sermons from their priests, were no different from today’s Muslims who leave their mosques with a blood lust after hearing their imams preach anti-Christian, anti-Jewish, anti-Hindu and anti-Buddhist diatribes.

In contrast, Christians in America have historically eschewed the hate that their European coreligionists spewed for centuries. Indeed, millions of American Christians have embraced the Jewish roots of their faith and have been stalwart friends of the reborn Jewish state. Their support has been an immense encouragement to embattled Israel whose enemies encompass it with growing strength and enmity. 

Sadly, however, too many liberal churches and denominations in the United States have fallen victim to the lies and modern day anti-Israel blood libels spewed by the likes of the Rev. Naim Ateek and his Sabeel organization – an appendage of the Saudi and oil rich Arab funded anti-Jewish and anti-Israel Palestinian propaganda campaign; a repetitious catalogue of calumnies against the Jewish state that surely gives the ghost of Josef Goebbels great delight.

So if indeed the bodies in the well turn out to be Jewish victims and martyrs, Israel should immediately demand that they be transferred to the Jewish state as the only decent site for their Jewish burial.

So too should a memorial be erected in Norwich to the martyred Jews, just as a plaque exists in York commemorating the martyred Jews of that city.