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40 SHOFAR Fall 1999 Vol. 18, No.1 The Crypto-Jews of Portugal by Samuel Schwarzl I. The Marano Background The existence of secret or Crypto-Jews in the full tide of the twentieth century in a republican country of Europe may appear incredible.... Nevertheless-as it has been my good fortune to discover-Crypto-Jews are still to be found in Portugal. These Crypto-Jews are the descendants of the Maranos whom the Decree of Expulsion of 1496 and the brutality which followed it forced to abjure their faith. This remnant of ancient Portuguese Jewry, having miraculously survived persecution, preserves to this day its purity of race and consciousness of faith despite four hundred years of Christianization and three hundred of Inquisition. A few historical details may render this anomaly a little less strange. An essential difference, it will be recalled, distinguishes the expulsory measures ofthe two Iberian countries, Spain and Portugal. Spain witnessed a veritable mass emigration ofJews in consequence ofthe decree of March 31, 1492; for the greater part of Spanish Jewry (Alexander Herculano estimates the number at 800,000), refusing to surrender their faith, abandoned its native land within the four months fixed by the implacable law. In Portugal, on the contrary, no important emigration followed upon the expulsory decree ofDecember 5, 1496. In fact, this decree ofKing Emanuel, ordering underpain ofdeath the departure ofall Jews who refused baptism and at the same time promising transportation facilities to those who chose to emigrate, was little more than a piece ofdeception: the king did not desire the expulsion of the Jews so much as their conversion at all costs to Catholicism. Commercial discretion as well as Catholic ardor entered into the royal policy. The king was not blind to the economic disruption which followed on the heels of the Spanish expulsion, and preferred recourse to the most savage devices for constraining his Jewish subjects to remain in the country and assimilate with the general population. Indeed, it is averred that Emanuel was personally opposed to the expulsory decree and that he signed it only because the Spanish rulers at the instigation of Torquemada had conditioned their consent to Emanuel's marriage with their daughter Isabella on the promulgation in Portugal of an act patterned after the Spanish expulsory decree. The 'Reprinted from The Menorah Journal, vol. 12 (1926), pp. 138-149,283-297,325. The Crypto-Jews ofPortugal 41 young Portuguese monarch thus signed the required decree under pressure, and then sought to avoid its unfortunate economic consequences by enforcing a mass conversion to Catholicism rather than a mass emigration. He began by the brutal conversion of Jewish youth, which was calculated to lead equally to the Christianizing of the adults. It was not long before the greater part of Portuguese Jewry, which had not faltered in the face of exile or misery, was reduced to accepting baptism as the sole means of retaining possession of their children. Some there remained, however, who refused to renounce their faith; by order ofthe king they were conducted to the capital under promise ofbeing furnished with facilities for transportation to Africa. As soon as, to the number of about 20,000, they had been gathered together in Lisbon, they were herded in a concentration camp, and in place of being transported were starved and maltreated until they embraced Catholicism. Many allowed themselves to die of hunger or took recourse to suicide rather than submit, while others were dragged like wild beasts to the baptismal fonts. Altogether only seven or eight persons, seven or eight martyrs and heroes whose names history has unfortunately forgotten, resisted violence to the end and eventually embarked for Africa. These seven or eight persons comprise the totality ofJews who emigrated from Portugal in consequence ofthe decree ofexpulsion; the overwhelming majority passed ostensibly over to Catholicism and remained in the country. By this policy, ruthlessly enforced, Emanuel rather naively imagined he had solved his religious problem while preserving his Jewish population, whose social energy and intellectual capacities had contributed so notably to the economic development and scientific achievements of his realm. But events were not slow to undeceive his simple-minded hopes in a religious pacification ofthe...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-5165
Print ISSN
0882-8539
Pages
pp. 40-64
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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