After the rise of the Christian faith, the early Church started to blame “the Jews” for the death of Jesus Christ and assigned them collective responsibility. This point of view was adopted enthusiastically in Germany. Furthermore, since Jews were among the only people legally allowed to lend money at high interest rates during the Middle Ages, powerful people had a lot of incentives to get rid of their debts by getting rid of the Jews they owed money to. Of course killing people because you owed them money was not considered to be socially acceptable on its own even in the Middle Ages, and thus it became common to blame Jews of all sorts of lurid, imaginary crimes. These slanders quickly took on a life of their own and sadly became a firm part of German folklore.

Here are historical accounts that showcase the kinds of slanders that might spread about Jewish communities:

The Persecution of Jews in Constance

Around [the 14th century] the people in the Lake Constance area raged against the Jews (the hated usurers) in an abominable manner, like they did in many other areas, as the superstitions of the time blamed them for all inequities of an immoral and anarchic period. In Constance a Christian was supposed to have sold altar bread to Jews, and a fanatical maid cried: “The body of Christ is defiled horribly by the Jews!” After this, the raging mob grabbed the next Hebrews they encountered and slaughtered them with hatchets as if they were oxen. Twelve were burned, and twelve were thrown into the Rhine. A few distinguished citizens of Constance were noble and brave enough to take care of the other Jews and rescue them. They were berated for having been bribed by the Jews, and the court scribe tells us that no longer had any success in life and that Heaven had punished their defense of the unrighteous with an early death.

Source: Schwab, G. Der Bodensee nebst dem Rheinthale von St. Luziensteig bis Rheinegg. 1840, p. 178f.

Commentary: “Desecration of altar bread” was one of the most common slanders against Jews, and was usually good for riling up a mob despite the preposterousness of the alleged crime. This particular incident seemed to date back early to the 14th century - 1312 and afterwards - but the people of Constance got around to the other two main libels against the Jews during the same period. These include well-poisoning libel (1349) and blood libel, that is to say using the blood of Christian children for alleged “religious rituals” (1390 and 1443). An English-language overview of the history of Jews in Constance can be found here.

At least in this particular instance a few brave people were willing to stand up to the lynch mob, but their fellow “Christians” as well as folklore condemned them all the same. But the story of this text doesn’t end here.

From: Two Thousand Years of Slander - Jews in German Folklore