… that most notorious man Josce cut the throat of his dearly beloved wife Anna with a sharpened knife; nor did he spare his own sons. And when this was also done by the other men that most wretched old man [Yom Tov of Joigny, a visiting rabbi from northern France whom William had previously described as having encouraged the Jews to martyr themselves] slit Josce's throat because he was more honourable than the others. Soon after they had all been killed together with the instigator of the error, the interior of the castle began to burn by the fire which, as has been said, had been started by those who were going to die. To be sure, those who had chosen to live did what they could to withstand the fire started by their own people so that they themselves would also be destroyed even if they were unwilling, by taking refuge in the external parts of the citadel where they would be less exposed to the flames. That irrational frenzy of rational beings against themselves is simply astonishing. But anyone who reads the History of the Jewish War by Josephus has some understanding that that madness has come down to our time from an old custom of the Jews in the face of pending calamity. At daybreak when numerous people assembled to assault the castle, those wretched remaining Jews, perched on the ramparts, mournfully revealed the nocturnal slaughter of the others and throwing the corpses of the dead from the wall as visible proof of so great a crime they proclaimed as follows: "Behold the bodies of the wretched who inflicted death on themselves in a wicked frenzy and set fire to the inner chambers of the castle as they died in order to burn us alive because we recoiled from doing the same and preferred to throw ourselves on Christian mercy. But God has preserved us from the madness of our brothers as well as from the destruction of the fire so that we should not any longer differ from you in religion in any way. Indeed, the distress has given us understanding and we recognize the Christian truth and seek charity; we are ready to be purified by holy baptism as you are wont to demand of us and, having given up our former rituals, be united to the Church of Christ. Receive brothers out of enemies and let us live with you in the faith and peace of Christ." As they mournfully said these things, most of us both shuddered with great astonishment at the madness of the dead and pitied the survivors of the slaughter. But the leaders of the conspirators, of whom one was a certain Richard with the apt surname of Malebisse, a very violent man, were not moved by any mercy for those wretched people. They treacherously plied them with sweet words and faithfully promised them the favour they hoped for so that they would not be afraid of coming out, but as soon as they had emerged the cruellest butchers hostilely seized them and killed them, all the while they were demanding the baptism of Christ. And indeed of those who were killed by that more than brutal brutality I would have said without hesitation that, if they were sincere in their petition for baptism, they would have been by no means cheated of its effect, baptized as they were in their own blood. But whether they requested baptism falsely or not, that detestable cruelty of the murderers is unpardonable.
William of Newburgh on the attack on the Jews of York in 1190
by Anna Sapir Abulafia
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