I’ve written about this before, so this time I’m letting other sources do the talking. The first is an article that circulated widely in news media last month. It seems the Spanish Government is trying to make amends for a 500 year-old “mistake” that saw its entire Jewish population forced to convert to Christianity or leave the country. Well, better late than never, you’d have to say.
Where did they go, those hundreds of thousands of expelled refugees, obliged to leave their property and most of their worldly possessions behind? The following news item, fairly representative, says that these days Sephardic Jews live in France, Israel, Iraq, Yemen, after originally going to Northern Africa and southern Europe.
|Certainly – I’d love to become a Christian|
“MADRID – They were burned at the stake, forced to convert or chased into exile. Now Spain is moving to right a half-millennium old “historic mistake” against its onetime flourishing Sephardic Jewish community: the EU country is on the verge of offering citizenship to descendants of victims — estimated to number in the millions.
The Spanish conservative government plans to make amends with a law expected to be passed within weeks or months in Parliament that offers citizenship to the legions of Jews forced to flee in 1492. Asked whether the new law amounted to an apology, Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardon replied: “Without a doubt.”
“What the law will do, five centuries later, is make amends for a terrible historic mistake, one of the worst that Spaniards ever made,” Ruiz-Gallardon told The Associated Press in an interview.
Descendants of Sephardic Jews, he said, will be considered “children of Spain.”
Jewish history seems to tell a more detailed and slightly different story:
“In the same month in which their Majesties [Ferdinand and Isabella] issued the edict that all Jews should be driven out of the kingdom and its territories, in the same month they gave me the order to undertake with sufficient men my expedition of discovery to the Indies.” So begins Christopher Columbus’s diary. The expulsion that Columbus refers to was so cataclysmic an event that ever since, the date 1492 has been almost as important in Jewish history as in American history. On July 30 of that year, the entire Jewish community, some 200,000 people, were expelled from Spain.
“Tens of thousands of refugees died while trying to reach safety. In some instances, Spanish ship captains charged Jewish passengers exorbitant sums, then dumped them overboard in the middle of the ocean. In the last days before the expulsion, rumors spread throughout Spain that the fleeing refugees had swallowed gold and diamonds, and many Jews were knifed to death by brigands hoping to find treasures in their stomachs.
“The Jews’ expulsion had been the pet project of the Spanish Inquisition, headed by Father Tomas de Torquemada. Torquemada believed that as long as the Jews remained in Spain, they would influence the tens of thousands of recent Jewish converts to Christianity to continue practicing Judaism. Ferdinand and Isabella rejected Torquemada’s demand that the Jews be expelled until January 1492, when the Spanish Army defeated Muslim forces in Granada, thereby restoring the whole of Spain to Christian rule. With their most important project, the country’s unification, accomplished, the king and queen concluded that the Jews were expendable. On March 30, they issued the expulsion decree, the order to take effect in precisely four months. The short time span was a great boon to the rest of Spain, as the Jews were forced to liquidate their homes and businesses at absurdly low prices. Throughout those frantic months, Dominican priests actively encouraged Jews to convert to Christianity and thereby gain salvation both in this world and the next.
“The most fortunate of the expelled Jews succeeded in escaping to Turkey [in fact, the Ottoman Empire]. Sultan Bajazet [Bayezit] welcomed them warmly. “How can you call Ferdinand of Aragon a wise king,” he was fond of asking, “the same Ferdinand who impoverished his own land and enriched ours?” Among the most unfortunate refugees were those who fled to neighboring Portugal. In 1496, King Manuel of Portugal concluded an agreement to marry Isabella, the daughter of Spain’s monarchs. As a condition of the marriage, the Spanish royal family insisted that Portugal expel her Jews. King Manuel agreed, although he was reluctant to lose his affluent and accomplished Jewish community.
“In the end, only eight Portuguese Jews were actually expelled; tens of thousands of others were forcibly converted to Christianity on pain of death. The chief rabbi, Simon Maimi, was one of those who refused to convert. He was kept buried in earth up to his neck for seven days until he died. In the final analysis, all of these events took place because of the relentless will of one man, Tomas de Torquemada.
“The Spanish Jews who ended up in Turkey, North Africa, Italy, and elsewhere throughout Europe and the Arab world, were known as Sephardim — Sefarad being the Hebrew name for Spain. After the expulsion, the Sephardim imposed an informal ban forbidding Jews from ever again living in Spain. Specifically because their earlier sojourn in that country had been so happy, the Jews regarded the expulsion as a terrible betrayal, and have remembered it ever since with particular bitterness. Of the dozens of expulsions directed against Jews throughout their history, the one from Spain remains the most infamous.”
I didn’t see any mention of Turkey in any of the articles about the Spanish Government’s recent overtures – nor that Ottoman Salonika had the largest population of Jews in Europe before that city was taken over by Greece in 1912. Anyway, let’s see how many descendants of the Sephardim take up Spain’s invitation.