One of the most dramatic explorations of a German town in the grip of anti-Semitic passion ever written.
In 1900, in a small Prussian town, a young boy was found murdered, his body dismembered, the blood drained from his limbs. The Christians of the town quickly rose up in violent riots to accuse the Jews of ritual murder—the infamous blood-libel charge that has haunted Jews for centuries. In an absorbing narrative, Helmut Walser Smith reconstructs the murder and the ensuing storm of anti-Semitism that engulfed this otherwise peaceful town. Offering an instructive examination of hatred, bigotry, and mass hysteria, The Butcher's Tale is a modern parable that will be a classic for years to come.
Winner of the Fraenkel Award and a Los Angeles Times Best Book of 2002.
Two residents out for a stroll in Konitz, Germany, in March 1900, discovered a carefully tied package in a nearby lake. Its contents, the upper torso of a missing youth, set off a chain of events that brought national attention to an unremarkable village on the eastern edge of the Austro-Prussian empire. After weeks in which no suspect or motive was offered, the vacuum began to fill with rumor; the flames were fanned by the arrival on the scene of anti-Semitic journalists, and soon most of Konitz was convinced that the death was a Jewish ritual murder. A police inspector from Berlin suspected the town's Christian butcher; he and his allies in turn accused the Jewish butcher. Mobs began a series of violent acts against Konitz's Jews, and the Prussian army was called in to quell the violence. Smith, who teaches German history at Vanderbilt, does a masterful job exploring the history of the blood libel (the charge that Jews commit ritual murder of Christian children), as well as of community and how people band together to bring about great good or in the case of Konitz genuine evil. Yet, Smith argues that Konitz should be seen as a case study of "process," of how different forces came together to make "latent anti-Semitism manifest," causing peaceful townspeople to turn on their neighbors. Drawing on a remarkably detailed documentary record, Smith analyzes social, class and other factors in the violence the role of the middle vs. working classes, Protestants vs. Catholics and in an original piece of analysis, shows how the townspeople's response was itself a form of ritual murder. Although classed by the publisher as history/Judaica, this powerful volume will also appeal to true-crime readers and anyone interested in the dynamics that can turn a peaceful community into a place of hatred and violence. Map, illus. not seen by PW.