An unknown event crippled Ashkenazi Jews more than a 14th-century massacre

(ORDO NEWS) — In March 1349, a Jewish pogrom began in the ancient German city, which later historians called the Erfurt Massacre.

The result of this event was that the Jewish community ceased to exist there for some time. Scientists now say that long before the pogrom, something happened that greatly reduced the genetic diversity of the community.

A medieval Jewish community existed in Erfurt from the 11th to the 15th century, with one short break. In some sources, it is called the richest community of the German lands. Alas, as is often the case, wealth became the cause of envy, and that led to the pogrom.

Although, according to documents, the Ashkenazi community (the so-called sub-ethnic group of Jews formed in Central and Eastern Europe) regularly contributed money to the treasury of the Holy Roman Empire, its members received neither help nor protection from the authorities.

Moreover, it was at the suggestion of some officials that, from our point of view, the absurd accusations of the ritual murders of Christian babies were added to the accusation of the spread of the plague – in Europe in the middle of the 14th century, black death raged.

An unknown event crippled Ashkenazi Jews more than a 14th century massacre 2
During the Strasbourg Massacre, Jews were burned alive. This pogrom began 35 days before the bloody events in Erfurt. Just like in Erfurt, the Ashkenazim were accused of poisoning wells and spreading plague

The number of those killed in the massacre of 1349 has not been established: estimates vary from hundreds to thousands of people. But it is known for sure that the surviving members of the community left the city and returned only five years later.

Scientists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Israel) extracted DNA from the teeth of 33 Ashkenazi Jews who lived in Erfurt in the 14th century and compared the data with each other, as well as with the genome of modern Ashkenazi Jews.

The ancestors of about half of modern Jews in the Middle Ages lived in Central or Eastern Europe. And if you compare today’s Ashkenazi from the United States and Israel, it turns out that they are very similar genetically, almost like the same population, regardless of where they live.

But 600 years ago, there was no such genetic uniformity at all.

Examining the DNA of Ashkenazi Jews of the 14th century, the authors of the work came to the conclusion that the Erfurt community can be divided into two groups.

One is more related to people from the Middle Eastern populations, and the other is more European, including migrants to Erfurt from Eastern Europe. The findings suggest that there were at least two genetically distinct groups in medieval Erfurt. Now there is no such genetic variability anymore.

In 1454, the non-Jewish population of Erfurt expelled the Ashkenazim from the city. The authorities did not interfere with this, quietly rejoicing that there was no massacre.

Almost immediately, a granary was built on the site of the Jewish cemetery. And in 2013, they decided to arrange a parking lot there. During the archaeological excavations preceding the construction, a cemetery was discovered.

All 33 samples are uniquely dated to the 14th century, but to different periods. It can be assumed that it was the massacre of 1349 that reduced the genetic diversity of Ashkenazi Jews, and some results confirm this. So, in the genome of modern Ashkenazi there is not one line from those present before the pogrom.

But then the researchers compared the DNA of people who died shortly before the massacre with the DNA of those who died closer to the beginning of the 14th century, decades before the pogrom.

And they unexpectedly found that the event that reduced the Ashkenazi genetic diversity to almost modern levels (apart from the one lineage mentioned above) occurred much earlier than 1349. Although, most likely, still in the XIV century.

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Ashkenazi Modern Times. Prague, 1772

By studying mitochondrial DNA (inherited through the maternal line), the authors of the work found that a third of the Ashkenazi-Erfurts descended from one woman. At least eight people from Erfurt also carried genetic mutations that cause diseases common in modern Ashkenazi Jews but rare in other populations.

In the DNA of people who lived before the 14th century, these mutations are much less common. It turns out that they were distributed precisely among the part of the population that survived in unknown events, but among the dead, its carriers either did not exist at all, or there were quite a few.

It is difficult to say today what kind of event led to such a serious reduction in genetic diversity. The fact is that Jewish laws in most cases forbid disturbing the dead.

This means that it will be extremely difficult to determine even the time and place of an event that affected the Ashkenazi Jewish community more than the Massacre in Erfurt.


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