Medieval childhood for lower classes included three to a bed sleeping arrangements and early apprenticeships. Among the nobility and royalty, children were often educated in other households for networking opportunities. Those situations were, of course, for the children who survived birth and infancy, and didn’t contract any terrible diseases. But children were loved. They were not protected by child abuse or child labor laws that exist all across Europe today. Yet, despite their frequency, child deaths were mourned. For centuries that grief was sublimated into rage at Europe’s Jewish minority.
On Christmas Day, 1235 in Fulda, Germany a miller and his wife came home from the holy day church service to find their house burned down, and their five sons dead beside it. Their anguish and devastation was absolute, immeasurable. When they asked who was responsible, neighbors blamed anonymous Jews, who they credited with bleeding the boys to make Jewish medicine. 34 Jews and Jewesses were arrested and tortured until they confessed. Two contemporary accounts still exist. According to the Erfurt chronicle, the guilty Jewish were executed by passing Crusaders. The Marbach chronicle recorded the Christian people of Fulda as the ones who burned their Jewish neighbors alive. Both accounts agree the wrongful execution date was December 28th, 1235.
Some villagers, presumably sympathetic to the remaining Jewish population, loaded the bodies of the five boys onto a cart and took them to the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Frederick II was a radical among his peers, and largely considered a Christian heretic for doing things like employing Jewish translators and appreciating the sound of Muslim prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque when he was King of Jerusalem. Although the accused Jews at Fulda had already confessed and been executed, he decided to launch a thorough investigation into the matter. He started by writing to his fellow monarchs, asking if they’d encountered incidents of Jewish ritual murder. All answered in the negative.
Next Frederick II gathered Jewish converts to Christianity who had some credibility, community leaders and elders, along with experts on Jewish law. He asked them for their scholarly opinion on the charges in the case. The converts cited the Talmud, the Torah, and Jewish kosher customs to argue against the charges. Judaism forbids the eating of blood, even animal blood, extensively and repeatedly. Blood sacrifices in the Temple had never included human sacrifice, and no tradition in the Diaspora had started human sacrifice either. The inquiry took eight years. Mongols made vassals of Kievan Rus and harried Poland with raids. Frederick went to war with Pope Gregory IX and his son Henry VII. In 1239, Pope Gregory ordered all Jewish holy texts confiscated and publicly burned.
On the question of whether or not Jews required blood for their Passover rituals, the scholars and converts assembled for the Fulda commission were certain. “Neither the Old nor the New Testament states that the Jews lust for human blood: on the contrary, it is expressly stated in the Bible, in the laws of Moses, and in the Jewish ordinances designated in Hebrew as the ‘Talmud’, that they should not defile themselves with blood. Those to whom even the tasting of animal blood is prohibited surely can not thirst for that of human beings, (1) because of the horror of the thing; (2) because it is forbidden by nature; (3) because of the human tie that also binds Jews to Christians; and (4) because they would not willfully imperil their lives and property.” Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s ruling stated “For these reasons we have decided, with the general consent of the governing princes, to exonerate the Jews of the district from the grave crime with which they have been charged, and to declare the remainder of the Jews in Germany free from all suspicion.”
The entire Jewish population of Berlitz, Germany was burned alive on charges of host desecration that same year in 1243, for allegedly torturing a sentient wafer.
“This Day in Jewish History // 1235: 34 Jews Burned to Death in First Blood Cannibalism Case” by David B. Green. Haaretz. 28th December 2014. Accessed 4th November 2017.
“What Medieval Europe Did With Its Teenagers” by William Kremer. BBC News Magazine. 23rd March 2014. Accessed 4th November 2017.
Jewish Encyclopedia – “Blood Accusation“