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Kasteel Born  /

“In Duitsland, Brabant, Vlaanderen, Henegouwen en Holland heeft in 1309 een grote menigte mensen zich met het kruis getooid en overal in de landen vele Joden vermoord”
De Tielse Kroniek

Throughout human history the meanings of space and place have been intertwined with the physical manipulation of the environment. Pre-historic ‘hunebedden’ passage graves marked the resting places of deceased leaders, early motte and bailey encampments created a physical manifestation of the social hierarchy of the day, while medieval castles were often designed to create a sense of power, domination and economic muscle.

The traditional “castle story” as has been told for generations usually describes the grand buildings as predominantly a fortification - a strategic military construction where great sieges and battles raged between rival powers. However, in many instances the castle played a much more symbolic role, being used to legitimize the succession of new elites – sited more for visual impact than protective prowess.

The illusion of this symbolic power became eminently clear at the site of Kasteel Born when in 1309 the castle became the site of the first documented massacre of Jews in the Netherlands. Throughout the middle ages the fever of crusades gripped the Christian population of Europe. Instigated by Pope Urban II to assist the Byzantine Emperor in defending the easternmost borders from the encroaching Seljuq Turks. Urban used rhetoric of piety along with the promise of plenary indulgences to raise armies for the Emperor’s defense. Although framed as a battle to liberate Jerusalem from the Muslims the speeches of the papacy were taken by many to condone violence against disbelievers in their own country.

Jewish communities in parts of France, the Rhineland, Mainz, Bohemia and Prague were attacked, robbed, murdered or forced to repentance in the massacres of 1096 but the murderous pogroms, at that point, failed to spread to the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the situation worsened as the crusaders accumulated debt from Jewish moneylenders at home to finance their holy expeditions - rationalizing the persecution of those they owed money to as an extension of their Christian mission (and conveniently wiping out their debt).

As a result the surviving Jewish communities sought the protection of local lords and barons, though this came at a steep price and was ultimately not sufficient to quell the bloodlust of a militia pumped for action. The pot finally boiled over in Born in 1309 when Jewish refugees from Sittard and Susteren sought refuge in the castle – drawn to its symbolic defensive presence. However, tragically for those fleeing a frenzied mob it failed to provide the imagined solace seeing 110 murdered and the original castle burnt to the ground – the first ever pogrom to occur on Netherlands soil.

Today the ruins of the manor that eventually replaced the original castle bear a plaque of remembrance unveiled 700 years after that pivotal moment in Limburg history took place. The wreck of the house, built in 1538, itself suffered a fate to flame, being burnt to the ground in 1930 – the unearthed remains now subject to the ravishes of the weather and standing as a reminder of the frailty of power when overcome by the demands, however bloodthirsty, of the populace.

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