The First Crusade is divided into two main parts: The Peasant’s Crusade in which thousands of peasants led by religious leaders and some nobles decided to march to the Holy Land, and the real First Crusade which took place later and which was made up of knights and soldiers. The Peasant’s Crusade is often the subject of mockery, as it failed completely to accomplish anything of value from a crusading perspective and only really did damage to the Christian territories they marched through. The atrocities committed during the Peasant’s Crusade are no laughing matter though, and they serve as an example of what an ignorant population fed lies and propaganda is capable of.
Antisemitism has existed in Europe for millennia. Its most famous product was the Holocaust of the Second World War, but numerous earlier atrocities were carried out by those who hated the Jewish people. During the First Crusade, many massacres of Jews were carried out by one Count Emicho. Count Emicho was from the Rhineland in Germany. He was inspired by Peter the Hermit, the original leader of the Peasant’s Crusade, to lead a Crusade again the holy land and he was able to gather several thousand followers with impassioned speaking. Most of Emicho’s followers were illiterate peasants, but he also had nobles, knights, and clerics, all of whom would have known that the forced conversion or murder of Jewish people was in fact forbidden by the church. As Emicho’s army marched through the Rhineland, they laid siege to several towns and massacred the Jewish population within them. One such event occurred at the Town of Worms. Members of Emicho’s army arrived at Worms on May 18th and attacked the Jews in the town after a rumor spread that Jews had boiled a Christian alive and used his remains to contaminate the local wells. Much of the Jewish population fled to the palace of the Bishop of Worms who gave them sanctuary. The town’s population joined Emicho’s forces and they first killed the portion of the Jewish population that had remained outside the palace walls. After eight days, Emicho’s forces and local burghers broke into the palace and killed 800 to 1,000 Jews and forced those that they did not kill to be baptized.
The Massacre of Worms is perhaps the best possible evidence of the ease with which one can drive a population to do unspeakable things. That the perpetrators were so easily convinced to murder and pillage shows the danger of both fundamental prejudice and misinformation. Most of the perpetrators were uneducated, illiterate farmers and burghers who hated Jewish people for economic reasons that were only exacerbated by lies about Jewish people and myths like the one saying that Jewish people killed Jesus. However, even educated knights, Nobles, and religious officials took part, perhaps wanting to gain popularity and influence through the destruction of a hated group. Such events are not so really possible in any reasonable scenario in most of the developed world today. However, in those nations still populated by the poorly educated and the fanatically religious and lead by self-serving ideologues, horrible atrocities have been committed in recent history and could be committed again in the near future.