“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
(Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzche, 1844 – 1900)
We live in strange times, built upon the past which itself was strange at times.
Today, the world’s fast growing religion is Islam, yet simultaneously also one of the most hated since 9/11 is Islam.
The main enemy of Islam?
Its existence on lands formerly Arabic, not withstanding the classical existence of the biblical land of Israel, created through the effort of ardent Zionists and by the remaining WW2 superpowers.
Need another reason?
Israeli behaviour against Palestine is often questionable at best.
Now, I don´t blame the Israeli people themselves for the actions of their government as I don´t blame the Russians or the Americans or the Chinese peoples for their governments.
Outside of the voting booth and protests, the people have little power to control what governments do in their name.
Unlike many who say one should not hold the Israeli government accountable for their actions, because criticism of the government is anti-Semetic, I disagree.
One can criticize a government without hating its people.
As ironic and politically incorrect as my following analogy will be, I have often wondered if the God of Abraham and Isaac and Moses might not be a bit Nietzschean in His dealings with His chosen people.
For when one considers the history of the Jewish people, they have had to survive a hell of a lot, and yet they’re still standing.
As followers of my blog already know, I have been exploring the city of Schaffhausen, its history, its culture, its life past and present, as part of my travels, time and money permitting, to the four points, from canton to canton, across Switzerland.
Let’s consider the Jewish experience in Schaffhausen…
At the end of the 14th century, about 50 people of the Jewish faith lived in Schaffhausen.
Most of them lived in the upper Neustadt where there was also a synagogue.
The Jews were mainly money traders as they were prohibited from doing other jobs.
Since Christians were not allowed to lend money for interest because of their church doctrine, towns welcomed the financially strong Jewish settlers.
As outsiders in a Christian society, Jews were subjected to many hostilities.
They were often the scapegoats when culprits were sought for plagues or other catastrophes.
In many places the Jews were persecuted, banished and even murdered.
When Jews were accepted into the city, special contracts were drawn up, often of limited duration.
The Jews paid the city a special tax, were assured of legal protection, but were excluded from all political and military activity, including sentry service.
They were also banned from joining a guild.
The wealth of the Jews was a source of envy and resentment and the fact that they were involved in pawnbroking on a large scale and demanded very high interest, even on very small loans, made them a particular object of hatred among the lower classes of the population.
When there was an outbreak of plague in 1348, rumours were spread that the Jews had poisoned the wells.
People wanted vengeance and in countless towns throughout Europe Jews were burnt.
The Jews of Schaffhausen suffered this fate at the beginning of 1349.
It was another 20 years before Jews moved back into the city and were given citizens’ rights.
The Jews were obliged to wear special signs to identify themselves: a cone-shaped hat and a badge in the shape of a yellow ring or scrap of red cloth, so that people could recognize them as Jews.
A specific time was reserved for the Jews in the public baths.
In 1391, the Jews Menlin and Lemblin with their families and servants became naturalised citizens of Schaffhausen.
Shortly after his arrival, Lemblin bought a house from a widow in the Neustadt.
In 1401, the Jews were accused of ritually murdering a Christian boy in nearby Dissenhofen.
The alleged ringleaders Menlin, Lemblin and Hirtz were brutally tortured and burnt at the stake together with another 30 Jewish women, children and men.
The killing of the Jewish community in Schaffhausen was beneficial to many contemporaries: the debts made with the killed money lenders were thereby settled and their possessions went to the town treasury and to the Austrian rulers.
The relaxation and final abolition of the Church’s ban on interest radically altered the money-lending business: the Jews lost their monopoly.
In 1472 a decree was promulgated depriving Jews of the right to remain in the city after November.
They were given time to sell their possessions.
They remained forbidden to take up residence until 1535.
In 1535 a Jewish family, the family of David the Jew, was again accepted into the city.
David was involved in financial dealings, but was also a doctor.
Although his services were in demand, he nevertheless had to fight against constant mistrust and prejudice, which were expressed in unjustified arrests.
He died in 1560.
His family was expelled two years later.
After that, Schaffhausen refused to allow Jews to take up residence in the city until the 19th century.
In Switzerland in the early 1930s, a movement arose which sympathised with National Socialism (Nazis): the National Front.
The right-wing extremist movement also found sympathisers in Canton Schaffhausen.
The anti-semitic stance of the National Front was presented in its programme for the National Council (Parliament) elections in 1935:
“One of the greatest dangers threatening Switzerland today is the influx of Jews from abroad.”
The more the National Front emulated German National Socialism in spirit and behaviour, the less support it got from the Swiss people.
Between 1933 and 1945, thousands fleeing from the Nazis tried to cross the Schaffhausen border: politically pursued people, Jewish women and men, prisoners of war, deserters and forced labourers.
Some were admitted.
Many, however, were turned back and left to their own fate.
Up until July 1944, drastic measures were in force when entering the country.
With the exception of deserters and war prisoners who had escaped, refugees were not welcomed in Switzerland even if they had to fear for their lives in Germany.
Their only choice was illegal border crossing.
Many people reached Switzerland with the aid of helpers.
Others, who were accepted contrary to the federal regulations, were rare.
Many people searching for help, however, were not successful.
Border guards intercepted and sent them back over the green border or handed them over to the German authorities.
Only in the last months of the war when the German Reich began to sink in chaos did the Swiss government open the borders.
Today Switzerland boasts about its open immigration policies as compared to its European neighbours, but conversation amongst ex-pats and especially among refugees tells a somewhat different story.
On a regular basis, newspapers publish accounts of the Swiss party in power, the SVP (the Swiss People’s Party) and their attempts to create yet another law and another, discouraging immigration into the country in the name of protecting Swiss culture, encouraging legislation that tosses out undesireable foreign influences and regular racial profiling by customs officials is more the norm than it is the exception.
It has become politically incorrect to persecute Jews, but did we really need to find new scapecoats and targets for our insecurities?