09 May 2007

Brussels: Godfrey the Crusader

Why should Jewish genealogists be interested in Godfrey of Bouillion's adventures during the First Crusade, or his statue in Brussels. It was so long ago.

For starters, the names of those murdered nine centuries ago were only sporadically recorded, and about one-third of European Jewry was lost forever. These were our ancestors, but we don't know their names.

The Crusades previewed tragic future events including expulsions and conversions. Some historians call the Crusades "the first Holocaust."

Michael Freund, in the Jerusalem Post, writes about Godfrey, who went off to the Holy Land at the start of the First Crusade.

Godfrey has long been revered by Europeans as the liberator of Jerusalem, the man who helped free the city from the hands of the Muslim "infidels" more than nine centuries ago. He has been the subject of epic poems and operas, as well as a topic of literary tribute, and was once even selected to appear on a list of the "greatest Belgians."

Pope Urban II's call to arms caught Godfrey's attention in 1096. He is reported to have told his army of thousands, "In this, our Holy War, we shall slay all the children of Israel wherever we shall find them. I shall not rest content until I have exterminated the Jews."

Several communities - such as Cologne and Mainz - paid the then-fortune of 500 silver marks each as protection money. Godfrey took the cash and attacked them.

May is the 911th anniversary of the Crusaders' jaunt across France and Germany, destroying entire communities: Speyer, Worms and Mainz. It is estimated that 25-30 percent, if not more, of European Jewry was lost forever.

It took three years to reach the Holy Land and, in July 1099, the Crusaders broke into Jerusalem, killing Jews and Moslems.

This disaster, writes Freund, led to the Av Harachamim prayer still recited as part of the Shabbat service. A portion: "the pious, the upright and the blameless, the holy communities who laid down their lives for the sanctification of His name."

Is this really the kind of person who should be celebrated in the center of Europe ? Sure, you might be wondering, that may very well be correct. But who really cares? After all, it was a long time ago, so why bother dredging up the distant past?

Click here for the entire piece.

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