IN ONE of the crowded streets of the city of Worms a priest was speaking to a large gathering of people. All were listening with great interest when suddenly a child called to his mother:
"Look, Mother, look at that man walking towards the priest. How dusty and torn his clothes are! He looks tired, too. And, see, Mother, he has a pilgrim's staff in his hand. I wonder from where he comes!"
Before his mother could reply, the man had walked up to the priest and cried aloud in a trembling voice:
"Hear ye, brethren, I have just returned from the Holy Land. When I first came there with my companions, we wanted to visit the grave of Jesus. But when we came near it, we found it surrounded by hundreds of infidels who would not let us see it. You
who live quietly and peacefully here, cannot imagine all we pilgrims had to suffer near that holy grave. This ought not to continue any longer. We must rescue it from the hands of those infidels."
"That's right, that's right," shouted the people.
Then the priest called loudly: "All those who want to go to the Holy Land to fight for the grave of Jesus, gather here!"
Some hundreds of people, not only in Worms but in other cities, too, formed themselves into bands and started on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. They put a little red cross on their cloaks and so they were called crusaders. In order to get many men to go on these crusades to the Holy Grave, the popes sent out proclamations, called bulls, in which they said:
"Let it be known that all men who join in this holy war, in this crusade against the unbelievers in Jerusalem,--let it be known that the sins of these crusaders will be forgiven, and they will be excused from paying all their debts."
Now it happened that in those days many Christians owed money to the Jews. When they heard the pope's bull, they thought:
"Now we can get even with those Jews! We won't pay our debts and they will not be able to take us to court either." And they were very happy.
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There were also monks and priests who for many, many years had tried to get the Jews to become Christians. These monks said: "Before going to Palestine to fight the unbelievers there, why not begin with the unbelievers right here?" So it came about that the crusaders while traveling to the Holy Land turned upon the Jews in the cities of Europe, whom they called infidels, and attacked them.
Since the popes in their bulls forgave all sins and excused all debts, many bad people, such as thieves and robbers, joined the crusades. When crusaders of this kind came through Jewish towns, they began to break into Jewish homes.
In Worms, when the Jews heard that the crusaders had come, they rushed to the bishop's castle. The bishop was a kind man and they were sure he would protect them.
The crusaders ran from house to house and from synagogue to synagogue. Furious because they found no one, they determined to destroy everything belonging to the Jews. First they tore the holy books and the Torah; then they set fire to the houses and synagogues. Still their anger was unsatisfied. And so they stormed the bishop's castle, crying madly: "Hand over those infidels! If they want to live they must become Christians."
When the bishop, who was in one of his rooms in the castle, heard this, he came forward and pleaded with the crusaders:
"What good will it do to Christianity if many Jews, who really don't want to become Christians, will make believe they are Christians?"
But the crazed mob would not listen. "We want those Jews!" they shouted.
The bishop, seeing he could no longer resist the mob which was growing wilder all the time, came to the Jews and told them that he could not protect them any longer.
"You must be baptized," he said, "or these men will compel me to hand you over to them."
Can you imagine how the Jews felt? What were they to do? Shalom, chief among the Jews, begged:
"Please give us just one hour in which to consider whether we shall die as Jews or live as Christians."
"Very well," said the bishop, "I shall try to keep away this mad mob for another hour. But remember, do not hold me responsible after that."
Yes, the Jews had only one hour in which to decide between life and death. During that hour the mad mob kept on battering away at the castle doors.
"We are giving those unbelievers too much time. Out with them! Death upon them!"
Meanwhile, what had the Jews decided? Do you think you can guess? Let us see.
Some, a very few, said: "Oh, suppose we are baptized, suppose we do say those words: 'In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, we are baptized,' and then let them sprinkle a few drops of water on us! When we are free, we will become Jews again."
"No, no, we will never listen to that," the others cried.
They considered this way out and that way out. At last they made their decision. At the end of the hour, when the bishop returned, he was stunned at the sight which met his eyes. There lay the Jews--dead. They had chosen to kill themselves rather than to give up their religion.
"So," said the bishop, as a shudder went through him. "So this is your answer."
And the Jews all over the world remember and honor these men of Worms as "Kedoshim," holy ones, saints, who were strong enough to die for their religion!