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The Konitz Family

(Continued from Issue #2)

On the faith of these stupid accusations the first magistrate of the capital was summoned before the tribunal of the Inquisition, thrown into prison, and would have been consigned to the flames, if it had not been for the urgent solicitations of the court. They contented themselves with disgracing him by compelling him to make an atonement which was stamped with the seal of dishonour. He was drawn in a cart into the court fronting the porch of Notre Dame, where a scaffold had been erected; he appeared there in a humiliating posture, without hood or sash, fell on his knees, and asked pardon; after which he was recon ducted to the prison of the bishop's palace, where he was condemned to end his days, with no other food than bread and water.*

*See the Memoirs of the Time; also the Great Chronicles of Paris.

The citizens of Paris were not moved by this iniquitous judgment, they forgot the benefits with which their provost had loaded them; the court itself dared not to side with this worthy officer in the presence of the accusing cries of a fanatical multitude, nor did the magistrates blush to allow a man to be condemned as a Jew and a heretic, though the meanest capacity can readily see the contradiction which exists between these two terms.

The day on which Hugues Aubriot was dishonoured in the court fronting Notre Dame, Jehan le Rouge was set at liberty by a decree of the court of the Chatelet, seeing that no proofs existed against him, because a testimony of Jews could not be admitted in a court of justice.

The court, magistrates, and citizens soon became aware of the fault they had committed, in yielding to the fury of an incensed populace; for its exactions soon became more numerous and unjust.

When the popular masses are in motion they bear a resemblance to the waves when raised by a storm; a deep rumbling at first announces the gathering of the tempest; then the sky becomes overcast; the sea rises, ploughed up by frightful gusts; the billows dash and break with a dreadful roaring, and long after the foam, which floats tremblingly on the surface of the waves, appears like the echo of the internal agitation of the sea. Unhappy is that country which is distracted by popular convulsions! Unhappy the town which is exposed to the murderous assaults of an ignorant and fanatical mob! The more the enraged crowd is in the wrong, the more are its excesses to be dreaded; for when the senseless multitude has its feet in blood, it believes that its head is raised to the skies. Laws, reason, justice, humanity, every thing it tramples under foot, as soon as religious error has falsely taught it that religion allows it to do whatever it wishes--and it is not until it awakens that it understands that it is the first and most certain victim of the disorder; for public calamities, which take their birth in the street, reach the people before they arrive at the higher classes.

On the 1st of March, 1381, the people arranged their revolt, organized the insurrection, and, in connexion with their interested adherents, put themselves in a way of obtaining by violence the expulsion of the Jews and the dividing of their effects.

The Bishop of Beauvais, the Chancellor of France, having refused to consent to the iniquitous decree of banishment asked for against the Jews, and the court having declared that they resided in France on the faith of the royal word,* the populace had recourse to brutal force, and the debtors of the Jews excited it to murder and plunder. The quarter of the Jews at Paris was again forced by an infuriated multitude, and they defended themselves from house to house, with the courage of despair. Every where the furniture was destroyed, and the title-deeds and jewels were stolen, the air resounded with cries of rage and the expiring groans of the dying; and the public authorities, as if struck with stupor, did not interfere to put a stop to this frightful work, which flooded with blood one part of the city, to which the other quarters appeared to be strangers.

* J. des Ursin, History of Charles VI.

One group distinguished itself above all others by its ferocity; it was the one headed by Jehan le Rouge, and he excited it by the cries of "Slay!--Slay!" Urged by cupidity as much as the desire of vengeance, these miserable wretches directed at once their steps towards the house of Reuben Konitz. But they found the house shut and barricaded, and they were compelled to undertake a regular siege; boiling oil and projectiles of every kind were showered in the first instance from the windows on the assailants, of whom several were killed or wounded; and when the door was forced, the combat continued from story to story, and chamber to chamber. Do you know by whom this admirable resistance, this struggle so well maintained, and this manly courage were planned and executed? By an old man, a youth, and a young girl. Reuben, Samson, and Deborah had alone contended against this sanguinary multitude, hoping every instant to see the soldiers of the King of France arrive, whom they had so well paid for protection, and to whose interests they had been so true. But at length their strength was exhausted; they were about to yield, when despair inspired them with the idea of setting fire to their house, and to draw their assassins with themselves into a common ruin. Suddenly the house appeared in flames, and when the assailants wished to fly it was too late; they then redoubled their efforts, forced the last door, and were about to make themselves masters of the Jew and his fortune; but at this moment a horrible cracking was heard, the house fell down with a loud crash, and the besiegers and besieged disappeared together under the burning ruins.

When it was too late to effect any good, they discovered among the yet smoking ruins the inanimate bodies of Reuben and his two children lying closely together, as if this united family had not wishes to be separated even on the threshold of eternity. Jehan le Rouge was found near them writhing in agony, disfigured, half burnt, and though in a most desperate condition, he continued to live for some time longer, enduring the most dreadful sufferings.

When nearly all the houses of the Parisian Jews bore some marks of the fury of the populace, the revolt extended itself into the other parts of the city, with the cries of "No more imposts! no more Jews." The doors of the Hotel de Ville were broken open, the prisons opened, and the liberated malefactors joined the revolters; the other collectors of the taxes were assassinated, and officers of government insulted, the agents of the police threatened, and the Jews who had escaped to the Chatelet were pursued thither, and struck even in the presence of the powerless authorities. Women and children, who had found refuge in the monastery of St. Germain-des-Prés, and whose only crime was that of belonging to the Jewish religion, were murdered on the very steps of the altar; and it was not until at the end of four days of massacre and pillage, when no more victims were left to be sacrificed, no more booty to be carried off, that this terrible mob retired peacefully to brood over its crimes; without the citizens of Paris, who had already sustained their provost so feebly, giving any proof of a less degree of cowardice in defending their guests, or in fighting for humanity and morality, which had been dragged, so to say, into the mud of the gutters.

But vengeance was not slow in making itself felt, and unavailing regrets followed in its steps. The populace imagined that its reign had commenced; that from this date its will should be supreme and be the only law for all; for when the equilibrium of the different powers in a state is violently destroyed, all the interests are threatened equally; and when the people revolt against the laws, the bad passions will generally prevail, as, when a quiet lake is forcibly agitated, the dregs will always rise to the surface. Paris became soon a prey to anarchy; no authority was recognized, the administrative action was suspended, and the farther existence of all the institutions was rendered doubtful. The yoke of the populace weighed heavily on the Parisian citizens, who regretted having become accessory to the violation of the holy laws of hospitality; and, as if to add to their regrets, discord, misery, and famine exercised their work of destruction in the capital.

The rightful authority now felt that the hour of its return had arrived; and on the 11th of January, 1382, the princes regent, accompanied by the young king, set out from St. Denis at the head of three divisions of the royal army, and took possession of Paris without encountering much resistance; so much was every one disgusted with the reign of the assassins of the Jews. The king's retaliation was dreadful; the Parisians were disarmed, the chiefs of the sedition perished on the scaffold, three hundred citizens were put to death on the first day, and a great number of others were thrown into prison; those who could not be punished otherwise were ruined by confiscations, and secret acts of vengeance were exercised likewise through means of nocturnal executions, the traces of which were concealed by throwing the bodies of the sufferers into the Seine. Liberty, which had been so greatly abused by the outrage committed on the Jews, also received her revenge; the fortifications in the interior of Paris were destroyed, the gate St. Antoine (then situated in front of the street Culture St. Catherine) was demolished, and the stones from its ruins were used to finish the Bastile, the structure which acted as a constant threat against the liberty of the Parisians; and a royal ordinance of the 27th January abolished the office of provost of the merchants, suppressed the municipal council, destroyed the tribunal of the chamber of commerce, and disbanded the national guard established among the citizens for the defence of the city.

Paris did not dare to complain at seeing itself all at once deprived of so many of its privileges and immunities, for it had to call to mind the wrongs it had practised towards the Jews; it felt that the liberties of all are a mutual surety, and it understood that those only who respect the rights of others, can require others to maintain theirs. The pressure of the public misery proved to the inhabitants of the capital that anarchy is the most fearful adversary of true liberty, just as fanaticism is the most violent enemy of true piety. And when the great city was filled with alarm and covered with mourning, the divine judge of human passions, called conscience, told her: "Behold the fruits of hospitality wilfully neglected, of humanity outraged, and of religious tolerance trampled under foot."