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A TV special on Captain Barros Basto was shown on Portuguese national TV station RTP2
on Sunday, November 11, 2007 at 9.00a.m.




por Puedro Sinde a seguir

by manuel lopes azevedo

from http://www.friendsofmarranos.blogspot.com/


Author Alexandre Teixeira Mendes

signing copies at launch

(photo copyright by Monica Delicato)

. manuel lopes azevedo, Yaacov Gladstone,

 Dr. Harold-Michal-Smith

It was standing room only at the magnificent Kadoorie Mekor Haim synagogue in Porto for the launch of a new book on the life and work of Captain Barros Basto. The book, by Marrano poet Alexander Teixeira Mendes offers a new vision of the man and his times. Written in Portuguese, (the English translation is underway), it is entitled “Barros Basto, the Marrano Mirage”.

Barros Basto, a former Marrano himself, was a leader and role model for thousands of Marranos hiding in the villages of northern Portugal. He established the first Yeshiva in Portugal, Rosh Pinah, since the forced baptism of Jews in 1497. Captain Basto built the Mekor Haim synagogue during the great depression (completed in 1938, the year 200 synagogues were destroyed in Europe) as a spiritual haven to encourage Marranos to return to their ancestral religion-Judaism.

The revival of open Judaism in Portugal was unacceptable to the totalitarian Salazar government and the Catholic Church. The captain was unjustly accused of homosexual acts and stripped of his military rank and honour for conducting circumcisions on returning Marranos. This was a near fatal blow to the revival of the Marrano movement. Those who came out fled back into hiding, many losing their jobs and ostracized.

Captain Arthur Barros Basto was devastated and died a broken hearted man in 1962. His granddaughter, Isabel Barros Basto Lopes is supporting a campaign being launched by the American and Portuguese Friends of Marranos to clear his name. A petition seeking justice for the captain will soon be launched.

The launch of Barros Basto, the Marrano Mirage, was made possible by the generosity of Dr. Harold Michal-Smith and Yaacov Gladstone, founder and president of the American Friends of Marranos. They were both honoured with a beautiful specially bound limited edition of the book. Mr. Yaacov Gladstone announced a further donation by the American Friends of Marranos to Ladina to support the upcoming publication “Marrano Women in the Inquisition” presently being researched by Fernanda Guimaraes. It is hoped that the women portrayed will be the subject of a play.

The book was presented by philosopher Pedro Sinde and Yaacov Gladstone. Pedro advised the attentive audience not to expect a traditional linear biographical story of the Captain and his work of rescue amongst the thousands of Marranos of northern Portugal. He resorted to a metaphor of a tree to explain the book; Barros Basto is the central trunk of the tree, surrounded by many branches. Accordingly, the author may in fact be describing biographical data, but then shifts to a question concerning the oppression of the Catholic church which in turn is linked to Salazar’s dictatorship, and ultimately returns to the tree trunk in a discussion of the oppression of the totalitarian state on Barros Basto because of his democratic beliefs.

This rich narrative permits the reader to imagine Barros Basto alive, accompanying him in his youth, during the war, in the mysterious Oryamita Institute, in his work of rescue, and in resisting the malicious connivance of the “new state” and the Church. Contrary to most authors, Alexandre transforms the object of his study into his subject, making this a passionate book, not an objective one.

Notably, this is the first time in Portuguese literature, (and this book IS literature, a book within a book with its one hundred and sixty or so lengthy footnotes), that a different concept of Portuguese identity is discussed openly. Following theories developed by Teixeira Pascoais, leader of the Portuguese Renaissance movement at the turn of the 20th century and of Antonio Telmo’s thesis of the secret history of Portugal (Professor Telmo, himself a Marrano, wrote the preface to the book), the author describes the Portuguese psyche as essentially Jewish, a golden thread of Portuguese literature revealed in Sampaio Bruno (the “Covered One” in the 19th century, Fernando Pessoa (the “Message”) in the 20th century, Camões in the epic Lusiadas and Bernardino Ribeiro in “Menina e Moça” in the 16th century, the latter published at the same Jewish printing house in Ferrara that published Samuel Usque’s “Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel” and the Ferrara bible dedicated to Dona Gracia.

A beaming and visibly moved Yaacov Gladstone said how proud he and Dr. Harold Michal-Smith were for helping to make Alexandre’s dream come true. They had met Alexandre four years previously when the book was only a dream.

Yaacov expressed the hope that other organizations such as the American Sephardic Federation, The Joint Distribution Committee, Jewish Federations, etc., will understand the urgency of continuing the work of Barros Basto to bring Jewish education to the Marranos or they will disappear like the Chinese Jews of Kaifeng.

The American and Portuguese Friends of Marranos are determined to help Marranos, wherever they may be, to regain their Jewish identity. Readers who wish to participate in this great mitzvah of bringing Jewish education to the Marranos can make cheques payable to “El Centro de Estudios Judios” and mail it to American Friends of Marranos, 310 Lexington Avenue, Ste. 5D, New York, New York, 10016 or email Yaacov at yanklegladstone@aol.com


by Inacio Steinhardt

"Barros Basto is a legend about whom a biography is waiting to be written.
But the life of a devout Jew
with a cause that failed is hardly the stuff of best-sellers."

The above quotation from Elaine and Robert Rosenthal's article "The Portuguese Dreyfus" was chosen by the authors to open the book "Ben-Rosh ---- A Biography of Captain Barros Basto, 'The Apostle of the Marranos".

Did Barros Basto's cause really fail? and why?

Barros Basto, as a person, had a bitter end. He was dismissed from the army and dishonoured and his yeshiva was closed. Political enemies, and the hatred of the catholic clergy who felt threatened by him, combined to take advantage of internal dissensions among the Jews, and destroy him as a person.

Yet, those Jews who opposed Barros Basto's work were convinced of their own righteousness, and each of them was sure of acting in the best interests of the Jewish faith and of the marranos. Were they right? It is important to be sure of this, lest the same mistakes be repeated in our days.

Barros Basto was by nature a man of principle and of action, devoted to the betterment of the world and of humanity. He was one of the founders of scouting in Portugal; he fought alongside, and worked with, the republicans who overthrew the monarchy; he even founded a new religion - Oryam - in an attempt to mould the character and the way of life of the "mountaineers" of his birthplace.

From his loving grandfather he learned the secret of his family’s Jewish origin. This revelation led him to try to force his way into the mainstream of Judaism, despite the opposition of the Jewish community in his country.

His ancestors were "New Christians", descendants of those Jews who had been forcibly converted to Christianity in 1497. But they were not necessarily crypto-Jews or marranos . The moment he returned to Oporto and began to form a Jewish community with the few Ashkenazi residents of the town, he was surprised at the number of his compatriots who appeared before him and admitted having practiced Jewish rites in secret.

Fascinated with these revelations, Barros Basto travelled extensively through the villages and towns of northern Portugal, in order to get acquainted with these crypto-Jews, and to learn more about their religious practices and their way of life.

He made no attempt to change such beliefs and practices. What he did do was devote himself to stripping the secrecy from their way of life, to convincing them that the Republican revolution - in which he had taken part - had opened a new era of freedom for the still practicing descendants of the Jewish victims of forced conversion. Unfortunately, he did not know then just how shortlived this freedom was to be.

Barros Basto’s "Work of Redemption" was intended to lead the marranos into practicing their own version of the Jewish religion openly and without fear, and to help them, by all available means, to recover and bring up to date all the information about Judaism which they had lost during the preceding four centuries.

The "Portuguese Marranos Committee" of London, which was formed as soon as the news of the discovery of secret Jews in Portugal became known in the Jewish World, approved Barros Basto’s work and gave it financial support.

Not so Maurits Van Son, of Amsterdam, and his "Nederlandsche Pro-Marrano Vereeniging".

In his booklet "Verleden en heden der Marranen in Portugal" , Van Son, an orthodox Jew, wrote: "... They don’t ask for anything, but their eyes speak for their will to be admitted into the assembly of Israel."

They did not ask for anything, it’s true. They don’t ask for anything even today. Their faith, and their belief, were strong enough to keep them Jews - even in the eyes of their Catholic neighbours - for 400 years. Why then should they need to ask to be admitted? They believed in the Captain; they were ready to take the hand that he extended to them, and eager to learn what he was teaching them - the history of their people and their own history, the meaning of their own Judaic traditions, and the comparable practices of the rest of the Jewish World. By no means, however, were they ready to give up the faith and the practices which they had learned from their grandmothers.

Manuel Marques, a one-time Catholic priest who has since left the priesthood to return to secular life, had this to say about the faith of the marranos: "I have changed, because everything has changed around me.

It was the contact at the moment of death that impressed me the most. I felt their faith to be so strong that I could almost touch it. This became a big problem for me: I had come to Belmonte in order to convert the Jews , to carry on the work of my predecessors, but they were the ones who converted me."

Rabbi Baruch Ben-Jacob, a "haham" from Salonica, whom the Dutch committee hoped to appoint as Chief Rabbi of the marranos, decided to decline the position, because he could not go along with the Captain’s views, nor with the attachment of the marranos to their traditions.

On his departure, after he had told them that old traditions would have to be abandoned and replaced by orthodox practices, the old women of Bragança wondered "is Judaism a religion of what to eat and drink and such material things?".

Yet Rabbi Ben-Jacob, in his report spoke of his emotion: "I could not hold back the hot tears in my eyes. Thus amidst a great enthusiasm of faith and religion, I departed sorrowfully from such an impressive assembly".

The Jewish community of Lisbon had mixed feelings about the discovery of the marranos. No Jewish heart could remain unmoved, in the face of the phenomenon of people who were strong enough to keep their Jewish faith for over 400 years. Some of the Jews of Lisbon were in favour of accepting the marranos as they were; others claimed that the marranos had already become "alien corn", and that any contact with them would endanger the precarious status of the small Jewish community of Portugal, which was itself seen as alien by the authorities. Finally, there were those among the leaders of the community who, after consulting the chief rabbi of Eretz Yisrael, were willing to accept the marranos as brethren, provided only that these would undertake to observe orthodox practices, and accept the hegemony of the Lisbon community.

Under severe pressure as a result of the problems created in his army service by religious enemies, the Captain committed several grave mistakes in the management of the Community which he led, and allowed personal feuds and jealousies to develop and flourish among those persons whom he selected to replace him in his work, during his absences.

The first anonymous denunciation to the police was seen by the latter as an internal community matter, "the Jews washing their dirty linen".

Nevertheless it was the first skirmish in the long campaign of civil and military persecution against Barros Basto, which in the end was to destroy him physically, though never in spirit.

The repercussions of the persecutions against the captain, the closure of the yeshiva, the the freedom of religion.

Growing strength of the reactionaries in the Roman Catholic Church and of the political police, and last but not least, the rise of Nazism in Germany, all worked together to frighten those marranos who had believed the Captain, and who had prematurely celebrated the freedom of religion.

The return to clandestine Jewish worship was very hard, especially for the younger generation. In townlets and villages, which when Barros Basto first arrived counted hundreds of practicing crypto-Jews, there remain today only a few individuals, sometimes only pointed out as "Jews" but ignorant of any Jewish tradition. From time to time a son or a daughter of such a family finds his or her way to full conversion, and seeks a place in mainstream Judaism.

But there is no easy path from a secretive marrano home to the Synagogue with all its internal divisions. Traditionally, Judaism is not a religion of proselytism. Seldom are newcomers received with love and open arms. Judaism is an ethnic religion, and the Orthodox rabbis are usually suspicious of those who tap at their doors. The marranos themselves are also cautious and suspicious. These new searchers suffer, and resent the cold welcome which they usually receive.

Nevertheless, there do exist examples of a successful relationship, eventually leading to full integration. The crypto-Jewish community of Belmonte has succeeded in surviving the crisis. It is the only such community in Portugal to have done so.

Perhaps because the influence of Barros Basto in Belmonte was less strongly felt (although some young men of Belmonte attended the Yeshiva in Oporto, and never returned home...), perhaps because of some sort of a feud that existed between Barros Basto and Samuel Schwarz, the "discoverer" of the Belmonte community, perhaps because Belmonte has been widely publicized by Schwarz and several other visitors - the crypto-Jews of Belmonte were eventually offered full integration into the mainstream of Judaism.

Twenty years ago, the present Catholic priest of Belmonte claimed in a letter to this author that he personally was against giving Catholic sacraments to people who, as an open secret, kept the Mosaic law at home.

"Somebody should come from Israel to convince them that now they are free to practice their religion in public. Let them build a synagogue and I will be the first to help."

Father Registo’s wish became true. A synagogue was built in Belmonte’s old Jewish quarter, "Marrocos."

Two factors have influenced the acceptance of the change by the Belmontese marranos: the much wider choice of marriage partners which followed the end of endogamy within the strict family clan (this was already causing serious health problems) and the end of religious matriarchy.

This article is being written shortly before the presentation to the public of the biography of Arthur Carlos de Barros Basto at the Kadoory Mekor Haim Synagogue, in Oporto, which he himself proudly inaugurated in 1938, after all his years of trouble.

The synagogue was closed for many years, but has reopened now for the benefit of a community of newcomers. Marranos are seldom seen there.

One year earlier, on December 5th.1996 (the date on which, 500 years previously, the Edict of Expulsion was signed by king Manuel I), a synagogue - Bet Eliahu - was inaugurated in Belmonte.

Most of the Belmonte community have converted to Judaism. But is that the appropriate verb to use? "Converted"? People whom even the priests themselves, let alone the rest of the population, called by no other name than "judeus" (Jews)? Did they need to be "converted"?

They now pray in Hebrew; men wear talitoth and tephilin, women go in the streets of Belmonte with fancy hats no different than in Bnei Brak and Mea Shearim.

However, in the secrecy of their homes, they still light the same traditional shabbat oil lamps, and bake their own matsot..... after being for so many years "crypto-Jews", hiding their religious acts from the eyes of the priests, they have become "crypto-marranos", hiding their marrano activities from the rabbis.

Is there any reason for Orthodox mainstream Judaism to claim exclusive proprietorship of the Jewish faith? Should not such communities as the Falasha (Ethiopian), Ben Yisrael (India), the Marranos and any other bona-fide Jewish groups (including Conservative and Reform Jews) be considered equal members --- different, perhaps, but equal nonetheless --- of the same religion?

Naturally those who choose orthodox Judaism should be accepted according to the rules of Halakhah. Their motives might be the absence of solid traditions in their families, or even the wish to marry a member of a different Jewish group. But otherwise, why should they need anybody’s approval to be what their forefathers taught them to be?

Barros Basto’s biography is witness to the difficulty of freeing oneself from the stigma, when one is descended from Jews.

Inacio Steinhardt

January 1998
Copyright 1997, 1998, 1999 Inacio Steinhardt


Portal to a Portuguese Past
Captain Arturo Carlos de Barros Basto (the 'apostle of the Marranos)

The Jerusalem Post,


Nestled along the right bank of the Douro River in northern Portugal, the city of Oporto seems an unlikely setting for one of the more intriguing, if lesser known, dramas of 20th century Jewish history.

With its wide avenues, bustling port and increasingly profitable wine industry, Oporto strikes the first-time visitor as a typical European commercial hub, one in which medieval monuments and imposing cathedrals stand within just a few blocks of modern office buildings and rows of banks and other financial institutions.

And yet, down a small, unassuming street called Rua de Guerra Junqueiro, stands a majestic synagogue called Mekor Haim (“Source of Life”) which, some 70 years ago, was the focal point of an extraordinary, if brief, revival of Jewish life among thousands of the region’s anousim (Hebrew for "those who were coerced," as many Marranos prefer to be called).

The nascent movement to return to Judaism was led by none other than a decorated Portuguese Army officer, Captain Arturo Carlos de Barros Basto, who served his country faithfully in the First World War. And while his determined efforts to spearhead a mass return to Judaism were ultimately suppressed by the authorities, they continue to capture the imagination of Jews and non-Jews alike.

Born in a village near Oporto in 1887, Barros Basto was a descendant of anousim, and he grew up with vague memories of his grandparents secretly lighting candles on Friday nights and observing other Jewish rituals.

“There does not seem to be any doubt that his grandfather knew of his family´s Jewish origins… and that he transmitted this knowledge to his grandson,” notes Inacio Steinhardt, Tel Aviv correspondent for the Portuguese News Agency and co-author of a 1997 biography of Barros Basto. At an early age, says Steinhardt, Barros Basto had a tendency “to abhor certain facets” of the Catholicism he was raised with, “and to idealize a more sublime relationship with the Creator.”

In 1916, while fighting on the European front, Barros Basto commanded an infantry squadron and saw action in Flanders, where he even survived a gas attack. There, according to historian Howard M. Sachar, Barros Basto had an experience that would prove to be a turning point in his life.

One Friday evening, he ambled into the tent of a French liaison officer who happened to be Jewish. When he saw the officer lighting candles, the Frenchman explained that it was a “Jewish Sabbath tradition”. For Barros Basto, writes Sachar in his book Farewell Espana: The World of the Sephardim Remembered, “the dim memory of his grandparents’ ritual suddenly locked into focus.” He returned to Portugal a changed man.

Determined to undergo formal conversion to Judaism, Barros Basto overcame numerous obstacles and made his way to Spanish Morocco, where he fulfilled his goal and returned to the faith of his ancestors under the guidance of the rabbinate in Tetuan.

With a newfound zeal, Barros Basto returned to Oporto, married a Jewish woman, and set about the task of encouraging his fellow crypto-Jews to come out of the closet and openly return to the Jewish people. He established a synagogue and started a weekly newspaper, HaLapid, in which he wrote under his Hebrew name of Abraham Ben Rosh.

Dressed in his military uniform, Barros Basto began visiting remote areas throughout northern Portugal, pleading with the anousim to embrace Judaism. “He initiated a process of welcoming the crypto-Jews and their descendants back to Judaism”, says Rufina Bernardetti Silva Mausenbaum, a writer and descendant of Portuguese anousim. “He travelled to the villages and towns to reassure these frightened people that it was safe at last to openly practice Judaism once more… of these trips were made with two medical doctors accompanying him to perform circumcisions when required”.

As a result of these efforts, Barros Basto quickly became known as the “Apostle of the Marranos”, and within a few years his efforts began to bear fruit when the Mekor Haim synagogue in Oporto was formally dedicated. The building, which was donated by Elie Kadoorie, and built on land that had been purchased by Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Paris, came to serve as a kind of headquarters for Barros Basto’s movement to restore the anousim to the Jewish people.

Recognizing the importance of education, Barros Basto succeeded in establishing a yeshiva on the synagogue’s premises, which he called Rosh Pina, Hebrew for “cornerstone”. The school operated for nine years, during which it trained some 90 students in subjects ranging from Hebrew to Jewish history and tradition.

All these activities, however, did not go unnoticed by the church and the authorities, neither of whom looked too kindly on Barros Basto’s efforts, particularly when thousands of people began to respond to his call to return to Judaism.

“Anti-Semitism was rampant in Europe during the `30s, working against his efforts and dreams,” says Mausenbaum. “This wave of anti-Semitism swept through Portugal as well, affecting the resurgence of Jewish life he had sparked, which was viewed with severe criticism by the Church and the new regime headed by Antonio Salazar [the authoritarian Portuguese premier who ruled from 1932 to 1968 - MF].”

In 1935, a local Oporto priest named Tomaz Correia da Luz Almeida set in motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to Barros Basto’s dismissal from the army and the disintegration of the burgeoning movement he had founded.

Anxious to stem the tide of those abandoning Catholicism to return to Judaism, Almeida brought trumped up charges against Barros Basto to the police, alleging that he was a “degenerate” who engaged in homosexual acts with his students. The Oporto prosecutor brought charges against Barros Basto, leading the Portuguese Army to initiate court-martial proceedings against him. After dragging on for over two years, the case was finally dropped in 1937 for lack of evidence.

But, as historian Sachar puts it, “the damage was done. By the mid-1930s, parents had withdrawn their children from the Rosh Pina school, and Barros Basto had become persona non grata among his once-devoted marrano followers.” In 1943, the Portuguese Ministry of Defense, citing unspecified reasons of “good and welfare”, revoked Barros Basto’s commission as an officer and summarily drummed him out of the service, leading historians to dub him the “Portuguese Dreyfus” (after the French general staff officer Alfred Dreyfus, who was wrongly accused and convicted of treason in 1894).

The thousands of anousim whom Barros Basto had inspired to investigate their Jewish ancestry and heritage quickly got the message: it was not yet safe to return to Judaism. And then, almost as quickly as it had begun, the movement Barros Basto initiated rapidly faded away.

Climbing the stairs to the Mekor Haim synagogue’s top floor, I proceed down a hallway and enter the library. Lining the shelves are a variety of religious books, many of them dusty and torn, signifying both their age and the ample use to which they were once put. Impulsively, I open a cabinet on the wall, where I discover a pile of old booklets in Portuguese, carefully bound and wrapped as if awaiting distribution.

“Catecismo Israelita” (The Belief System of Israel), a 59-page volume, discusses the mission of the Jewish people in this world as well as various aspects of Jewish philosophy and practice. “Judeus & Proselitos” (Jews and Converts), explains in 45 pages the meaning of conversion and Jewish attitudes toward converts throughout the ages. Both booklets proudly bear the name of “A.C. de Barros Basto” on their cover, and state that they are publications of Yeshivah Rosh-Pinah, the school he worked so hard to establish.

Leaving the room, I proceed to the women’s balcony, which overlooks the main sanctuary where untold numbers of Portuguese anousim, undoubtedly led by Barros Basto himself, once gathered to offer prayers just as their ancestors had done before them. The interior of the synagogue is strikingly beautiful, yet the silence in the room is as piercing as it is anguished.

“The synagogue may be empty, but you can feel the voices of the worshippers who once prayed here,” says Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay who accompanied me on the visit. “Though the library and beit midrash are no longer in use, you can still feel and hear the students who once sat here, learning Torah and grappling with the age-old question of what it means to be a Jew,” he tells me.

And yet, I remain troubled. Here, for a few brief years some seven decades ago, an abrupt awakening had taken place. Thousands of Portuguese men and women whose ancestors had been coerced into adopting Christianity five hundred years ago, suddenly stepped out of hiding and sought to reclaim what had been taken from them by force. Could it be, I thought, that the Pintele Yid, the Jewish spark, had survived in Portugal for all those centuries only to come alive briefly in the 1930’s and then be snuffed out in a spasm of intolerance by Barros Basto’s persecutors?

No, Rufina Mausenbaum later reassured me, Barros Basto’s accomplishment was not short-lived. “Though he never quite succeeded in reviving the full potential of Portuguese Judaism in his time,” she said, “I believe he gave hope and strength and helped nurture the Jewish soul of the secret-Jewish communities of Portugal.”

Today, she notes, Portugal´s young anousim look to Barros Basto as an inspiration, “speaking openly and wishing for their own ‘Ben Rosh’, as he was known, to assist them in their return”.

Indeed, Barros Basto biographer Inacio Steinhardt says that most of the current congregation’s few dozen members are “people that found their Jewish roots and returned to Judaism or are in the process of returning.” An ambitious effort by the synagogue’s dynamic Israeli-born president, Moshe Medina, he notes, aims at drawing in local anousim, welcoming them into the community and educating them about Judaism.

Medina’s brother, Marco, confirms that a rebirth, of sorts, is underway. Just recently, he relates, he was sitting at a café in Oporto reading a book in Hebrew. A young Portuguese man came over and asked him what language he was reading. “When I told him, he got all excited because he was from the anousim,” says Medina. “He said to me, ‘I love Israel and I love the Jewish people – my people’. So I invited him to come to the synagogue, to learn more about his heritage.”

“I get calls every week from Portuguese Marranos seeking a connection with Judaism,” Medina says. “They want to learn more, celebrate the holidays, and become Jews. There are hundreds and hundreds of anousim in this area, and we need to reach out to them.”

It seems, then, that Rufina Mausenbaum was right, after all. Decades later, Barros Basto’s efforts continue to reverberate among Oporto’s hidden Jews. “His dreams and his deeds,” she told me, “were indestructible”.

And so, it appears, is the tenacity of the Jewish soul, which, against all odds, is struggling to reemerge in places such as Oporto.

And while they may face an uphill battle, Portugal’s anousim can at least find solace in the fact that although their commanding officer, Captain Arturo Carlos de Barros Basto, is no more, his dream and his spirit live on.