4000 years of Jewish History

Why has Christendom
attacked the Jews?

Muslims and Jews in History

Expulsion of the Jews From
Arab Countries

The Treatment
of Jews
in Arab/Islamic Countries



Lost Tribes

What Happened to the Muslims After 1492?






















Cape Verde



Sao Tome




Latin America








The Secret Jews of Portugal

Based on
‘The Nutshell History of the Marranos of Portugal’
by Manuel Azevedo

Click to go to





Proposed Marriage of Ferdinand’s Daughter

The Forced Baptism of Jews to Christianity

The Lisbon massacre of 1506










Aristides de Sousa Mendes



Click here to go to ‘Marrano Diaspora

TERMINOLOGY  (see also  Spain#GLOSSARY)                                         TOP

by mlopesazevedo

At one time a pejorative term applied to Jews who were forcibly baptized in Spain in 1391 and in Portugal in 1497, is in common usage by some academics in Portugal who attribute its origin to the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus (‘forced one’) like the widely used Hebrew term today, Anussim. Christianity adopted the nomeclature of converso or New Christian , who were not necessarily Marrano. The term Marrano is used here because of its association with the forced baptism of 1497 and the Inquisition, its acceptance in Portugal, and its growing meaning as a badge of identity and resistance to the demonic unHoly Office of the Inquisition (which still exists!). (Azevedo)

Portugal Passes Law of Return 500 years after forced baptism

In 1492, on the 9th of Tisha B'Av, all Jews were expelled from Spain. Four years later, on December 4, 1496 king Manuel of Portugal ordered all Jews to leave Portugal, but in 1497, in an about face, the king ordered all Jews forcibly baptized; only about 60 were allowed to leave the country. The king promised the newly converted Jews that there would be no inquiries as to their private religious practices for 20 years and no inquisition. This, in the late professor Yerushalmi's view, created a distinct group of modern Jews, outwardly Catholics but inwardly Jews, Jews in their hearts. Portugal's secret Jews became know as New Christians or Marranos.

For almost 300 years the secret Jews of Portugal who did not flee the country were terrorized by state and Church, imprisoned, tortured, and burned alive. Their houses, land and assets were seized by the Inquisition. Families were torn apart. There are over 45,000 Inquisition files in the “Torro de Tombo”, Portugal's national archives, mostly of charges against New Christians for Judaizing. Like the Nazis, the Holy Roman Apostolic Catholic Church kept meticulous records, a blessing in disguise. Now Historians can minutely research the lives of thousands of New Christian Jews.

The New Christians resisted. Many continued to secretly adhere to the essential rituals of Judaism, observing Shabbat and dietary laws, celebrating the high holidays, reciting prayers and fasting on Tuesdays and Thursdays; obviously circumcision was discontinued. Books were prohibited but they were smuggled into the country. Sometimes New Christian “rabbis” travelled to communities in the diaspora for instruction, such as the case of Domingos de Oliveira the barber of Carção near Bragança, who on the pretext of travelling to Rome to get permission to marry his cousin, went to the well established Portuguese Jewish community of Livorno for religious instruction. When he returned home, he formed an “irmandade” which built a chapel and conducted “dry” mass. The resistance to the Inquisition continued to the 20th century as the now famous secret community of Belmonte attests.

Now, after more than 500 years, the Portuguese national Assembly unanimously passed a law permitting any descendant of forcibly baptized Portuguese Jews to regain Portuguese citizenship. Although the maxim of “justice delayed is justice denied' is apposite, the dramatic action by the national government is yet another step in the long overdue recognition of Portugal's Jewish heritage.

In 1989, then president Mário Soares apologized for the Inquisition. On the 4th of December 1996, the National Assembly revoked the 1496 Edict of Expulsion. And last year, Captain Barros Basto, the “Portuguese Dreyfus” was finally rehabilitated by a unanimous vote in the National Assembly after being condemned for leading a Marrano revival in northern Portugal in the 1930's. In 1938, the year of Kristallnacht, the Captain completed the Kadoorie Mekhor Haim synagogue in Porto, one of the largest synagogues in Europe, still standing. Finally, he and Aristides Sousa Mendes who saved many more Jews than Schindler during World War II are now being recognized for the heroes that they are.

What is happening in Portugal? Is the new law of return just a ploy to entice Jews to invest in Portugal at a time of crisis, as some suggest? For almost 500 years the subject of Portuguese Jewishness has been taboo in Portugal; almost like the Mafia law of “Omerta”, imposing its law of silence on every aspect of society, it's not discussed, it's not taught in schools, better to pretend it does not exist. There are no national museums of Judaism or the Inquisition, and until recently there were no local Jewish museums either.

The persecution of Jews is a a dark stain on Portuguese history. Its consequences are imbued in the psyche of every Portuguese person as the distinguished professor and essayist Eduardo Lourenço, resident in France observes, “The Inquisition is the most present, obsessive and enigmatic episode of our collective life”. But things are changing.

Although the “official” version of Portuguese history ignores the Semitic roots of its people and the great contribution of Jews to Portuguese culture, memory and history are combining to create a new societal dynamic in Portugal, one that remembers, values, and cherishes its Jewish past. Five hundred years is a long time, but not long enough to eradicate collective memory, to completely destroy the roots of a vibrant foundation.

Until 1496, Portugal was a tolerant country where the people of the three books lived side by side in relative harmony. Jews have lived in Portugal before the country even existed. Portugal's first treasurer under King Afonso in the 12th century as the chief rabbi Ben Yahia, a tradition that continued for hundreds of years. In the medieval period every king and queen in Europe wanted a Portuguese doctor, Jewish of course. In the 17th century the “men of the nation” dominated trade and commerce in the Mediterranean; “Portuguese merchant” was a euphemism for being Jewish.

The enshrining of the law of return in Portuguese law is another step in the awakening of Jewish memory in Portugal. It may also attract new immigration and capital which is sorely needed. It could help create a Jewish civil life for the remnants of the Jewish people, which in Portugal encompasses a great part of the population, DNA studies notwithstanding. After all, any taxi driver in Lisbon will tell you that most Portuguese people have a Jewish “rib”, and that the popular dish “alheira” is Jewish food. I rest my case.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"This article deals with the Portuguese sausage."

Fried alheira from Mirandela

The alheira is a type of Portuguese sausage, made with meats other than pork (usually veal, duck, chicken, quail or rabbit) and bread.

Although its name derives from the Portuguese word for garlic (alho) and was once used to describe any sausage seasoned with it, present-day alheiras don't necessarily contain garlic (although it is still a common ingredient).

The type of sausage currently known as "alheira" was invented by the Jews of Portugal, who were forced to convert to Christianity, as a way to deceive the Portuguese Inquisition. Since their religion didn't allow them to eat pork, they were easily identifiable by the fact that they didn't hang sausages in their smokehouses (fumeiros in Portuguese). As a cover, they replaced pork with a large variety of other meats, such as poultry and game, which would then be mixed with bread for texture. This recipe would later spread amongst Christians, who added the ever-present pork to it."

New Christian (Catalan: cristiá nou; Spanish: cristiano nuevo; Galician: cristián novo; Portuguese: cristão-novo) was a term used to refer to Iberian Jews and Muslims who converted to Roman Catholicism, and their known baptized descendants. The term was introduced by the Old Christians of Iberia who wanted to distinguish themselves from the conversos (converts). They sometimes used other derogatory terms to apply to each of the converting groups such as Moriscos for Moors and Marranos for Jews. (Wikipedia)

SUMMARY                                                                                                    TOP

The Salazar dictatorship (Prime Minister of Portugal from 1932 to 1968 and acting President of the Republic briefly in 1951.  The values totalitarianism imbeds in its citizens did not start with Salazar but goes back much further.

Portugal was a tolerant and mostly peaceful country since its foundation; Catholics, Jews, and Muslims lived in relative peaceful co-existence.  For a short period, Portugal even dominated the world, creating the first truly global empire. This changed in December, 1496 when King Manuel, in order to appease his future in-laws, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, ordered all Jews and Muslims to leave Portugal within ten months. Henceforth there would be only one truth, one religion. He allowed the Muslims to leave but stopped the Jews, the best educated sector of society who dominated trade and commerce, the civil service, the professions and several crafts. The royal physicians were Jewish, most of the finance ministers since the founding of the country were Jewish, the King’s tax collectors were Jewish and it was a Jew, the King’s personal physician, Abraham Zacuto who created the navigational tables that enabled Vasco da Gama to sail to India. The King was not about to allow these valuable citizens leave, so in 1497 he had them  forcibly baptized.  Henceforth they would be known as New Christians.

Intolerance lasted a long time. The inquisition was implemented in 1536 lasting until 1821 and the first burning at the stake was in 1540.  although Pombal (Secretary of the State of the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves - the equivalent to a today's Prime Minister - to Joseph I of Portugal from 1750 to 1777) ended the persecution of the New Christians in 1774. Portugal’s brightest and best educated were either burned alive (about 3,000), the rest tortured or maimed. There are over 40,000 Inquisition files in the Torre de Tombo, the national archives, mostly for the crime of apostasy and heresy, that is, for not being true Catholics. Fear, suspicion, distrust, conformity, and illiteracy reigned supreme for 250 years before the Salazar dictatorship. The possession of certain books could mean the death sentence. It was best to keep one’s mouth shut and tend the garden.

Thousands fled the Inquisition, settling in more tolerant states such as France, Holland, England, Italy, Turkey and the Americas. The Portuguese New Christian Diaspora produced brilliant minds including the notable “Dutch” philosopher Baruch Spinoza (Bento de Espinhosa), “British” classical economist David Ricardo, a contemporary of Adam Smith, French prime minister Pierre Mendes France, Camille Pissaro, the “Danish-French” dean of impressionism (his parents were from Bragança), Jacob Rodrigues Pereira (the first teacher of deaf mutes in France), and  George Washington financier and philanthropist Aaron Lopez, born Duarte Lopes in Lisbon, who helped build Brown university.

The Portuguese have a tradition of tolerance and scholarship; they just have to be reminded of it. They have a memory problem; they cannot seem to recall their involvement in slavery, the atrocities committed in the colonial wars, or the crimes committed by Salazar and the Inquisition. It was not until 2008 that a memorial was erected in the Rossio square in memory of the thousands of New Christians who were massacred in 1506 in Lisbon at the behest of Dominican friars who were later publicly executed on orders of the king. The Church has never apologized, never offered to make amends. Unlike the Nazi holocaust, no one has ever been charged or convicted. The Inquisition and its long term consequences has nearly been forgotten or covered up.

The Carnation revolution of 1974 marked a sharp turn in Portuguese culture towards greater equality, freedom, and education when the autocracy was replaced by a democracy without a shot being fired.. However, the roots of those values have been buried for far too long; they need time and nurturing to fully revive.

EARLY HISTORY                                                                                         TOP  

The Jews of Portugal pre-date the founding of the nation in 1143. When Afonso conquered Lisbon from the Moors in 1147, there already existed thriving Jewish communities in Iberia (Sepharad), perhaps dating as far back as the time of King Solomon. Afonso welcomed his Jewish subjects and appointed Yahia ben Yahi, the chief rabbi of Santarem, as his treasurer, tax collector, and chief rabbi of the newly formed nation state, Portugal.

Throughout most of the Middle Ages, Portuguese Jews (Sephardim) enjoyed unparalleled freedom, wealth and power. They occupied key positions in government, academia, and commerce, and especially the professions of medicine, science and law. Even when Hebrew was later prohibited, doctors could continue to possess Hebrew books. Places of worship and schools flourished. Jews established the first printing presses in Portugal at Faro, Lisbon and Leiria. The first eleven books printed in Portugal were in Hebrew. The nautical charts of Abraham Zacuto guided Vasco da Gama to India.

IMMIGRATION OF SPANISH JEWS INTO PORTUGAL AFTER EXPULSION FROM SPAIN                                                                                               TOP

Proposed Marriage of Ferdinand’s Daughter                                              TOP

Portugal even accepted over 100,000 Spanish Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, albeit with conditions.

Following the death of King John II in 1495, his successor, Manuel sought to marry the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabel. As a condition of their consent to the wedding, the Catholic monarchs of the newly created country of Spain demanded the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal as they had done in 1492. Accordingly, on or about the 5th of December of 1496 king Manuel ordered Jews and Muslims to leave Portugal by October of 1497. He permitted the Muslims to leave but he had no intention of allowing the Jews to do so.

The Forced Baptism of Jews to Christianity                                              TOP

The scheming Manuel, coveting the Spanish throne, did not want to lose his most learned, creative and productive subjects, not to mention his personal physician, tailor, royal mathematician, royal astronomer, his government financiers, etc. He encouraged “his” Jews to convert to Christianity. He tried to persuade and cajole them, even bringing converted rabbis from Spain to preach to them. When his impatience grew, he took away their children to be raised by Catholic families, but if they converted, the families would remain intact. Of the stubborn lot of over 20,000 who held out until the end, he ordered that they assemble in the "Estaus" palace, today’s national theatre at the north end of the Rossio in downtown Lisbon. The promised ships never arrived to ferry the Jews away. First the King withheld food and water from the assembled for three days, after which he ordered them all baptized, even if Church elders protested! Only a handful of Jews were permitted to leave, such as Abraham Zacuto, the King’s physician.

Henceforth there were supposedly no more Jews in Portugal, only Christians, Old and New. King Manuel ordered the confiscation of all synagogues and their contents. Yeshivas, kosher producing facilities and all communal property were seized. Hebrew books were prohibited and ordered to be deposited in the synagogues. Contrary to some reports, the books were not burned, Manuel may have been cruel, but he was not stupid. He sold the valuable Hebrew manuscripts, many brought to Portugal in 1492. The books turned up in places such as North Africa and Goa. Many synagogues were converted into churches, including the grand synagogue of Lisbon which was destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755. Many contemporary Misericordia churches are former synagogues such as the Misericordia chapel in Vila Real or the Misericordia church in Leiria.

Following the forced baptism, the King encouraged marriages between Old Christians who had titles and “pure blood” and New Christians. He prohibited the inter-marriage of New Christians. There would be no inquiry as to the religious practices of New Christians in their private homes for 20 years but they were not free to leave the realm. However, following

The Lisbon massacre of 1506                                                                    TOP

Two to four thousand New Christian men, women and children, were slaughtered over a period of three days, the King extended the 20 year period and removed many disabilities such as the ability to emigrate or the prohibition on inter-marriage.

In 1506, Lisbon suffered a plague and drought. Those who could, including the court, left leaving a hysterical atmosphere with citizens praying daily for water and compassion.

Professor Yosef Yerushalmi in the Hebrew Union College Annual Supplement, Cincinnati, 1976 describes the immediate cause of the massacre.

The Dominican Convent in Lisbon attracted crowds who were praying for relief. A light that seemed to be emanating from a crucifix over the altar of a chapel was interpreted to be a divine sign. It attracted large crowds of citizens eager for a miracle. The crowd one day included “one of the Hebrews recently enlisted in the ranks of the baptized,” a New Christian. He made a remark that was interpreted as blasphemy. According to one account, he asked, “How can a piece of wood work wonders?” An enraged crowd beat him to death, and his body was dismembered and burned in the square in front of the Convent. His brother, who complained about this outrage, met the same fate. This began a three-day massacre and burning of an estimated two to four thousand Conversos, also known as New Christians - Jews forcibly baptized in 1497. The mobs of citizens who roamed through Lisbon violating and killing Jews were incited by Dominican friars, one of whom preached a sermon against the “Jews” that day, accompanied by outbursts from other friars that included: “Heresy! Destroy this abominable people!”

King Manuel, under whose authority thousands of Jews had been forcibly baptized in 1497, was not in the city at the time. Upon his return he arrested the two Dominicans who had led the riot. They were executed, along with forty or fifty other conspirators. He then granted permission to all New Christians to leave Portugal, contradicting his order in 1497 that forbade any New Christian to leave the country. King Manuel also abolished legal discrimination against New Christians. The lives and the property of the New Christians (Conversos) who remained in Lisbon were never endangered during the remainder of his reign. After his death in 1521 the persecution resumed.

The Lisbon massacre, the subject of a recent book by Susana Mateus Basto and Paulo Mendes of the Alberto Benveniste Centre for Sephardic Studies and Culture at the University of Lisbon, signalled a failure of King Manuel’s policy of integration. Most of the New Christians, outwardly Catholic, had remained Jewish in their hearts. The New Christian secret Jews became known as Marranos, from the Portuguese "marrar", i.e. forced, or from the Aramaic-Hebrew Mar Anus, a forced one, like the widely used Hebrew term today, Anousim, although some historians claim the once pejorative term derives from the Castilian term for swine.


Distressed at the growing rift between New and Old Christians, the King sought permission from Rome to introduce the Inquisition has had been done in Spain in the late 15th century. However, Marrano bribes paid to high ranking Church officials in Rome, including Cardinals and no doubt the Pope himself, thwarted the introduction of the Inquisition in Portugal until 1535 and although the first auto de fe was held in 1540, the Inquisition did not get into full swing until 1580, thus enabling several generations of Marranos to develop a unique secret Portuguese Jewish culture.

MARRANOS IN EUROPE                                                                              TOP

The ambiguous Portuguese Marranos became known throughout Europe as "Men of the Nation". Being Portuguese in 16th century Europe was synonymous with being Jewish. The Marranos established flourishing Jewish communities in Amsterdam, Bordeaux, London, Hamburg, Venice, Livorno, Salonica, and Constantinople, amongst others. In the New World, the relatively small number of Marranos established communities in Brazil, New York, Philadelphia, Charleston, Newport Rhode Island, as well as the Caribbean Islands. The success of the American war of Independence owes its success to the financial and material aid provided by the Marranos, then openly professing their Judaism, such as the money and ships provided to George Washington by Aaron Lopez, the wealthiest merchant of the thirteen colonies, born Duarte Lopez in Lisbon.

The Marranos prospered both in business and government wherever they went. It was a the son of a Marrano, Rabbi Manasseh ben Israel (Manuel Dias Soeiro) of Amsterdam, born in Lisbon or Madeira, who convinced Oliver Cromwell in 1656 to allow Jews back into England. The Marranos established the coffee, diamond and tulip industries in Amsterdam. They were instrumental in establishing the stock exchanges of Amsterdam, London and New York. They controlled the sugar and tobacco industries, and regrettably were involved in slavery, amassing huge fortunes.

This rising merchant class created the world’s first truly global Empire (see ‘The First Global Village, How Portugal Changed the World’ by Martin Page, now in its 8th edition). Lisbon became one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. However, not even the huge bribes paid to the Pope and cardinals could keep the Inquisition at bay forever. With the onset of the Inquisition, many of the wealthy Marranos left Portugal, contributing to the decline of Portugal. The poor Marranos, the old and infirm had no option but to remain, becoming even more secretive. Thousands were burned at the stake, including most of the leading intellectuals of the University of Coimbra in the early 17th century. Even Antonio Homem, the chancellor of the University and an advisor to the Pope was burned alive in 1624 (he also happened to be a Marrano rabbi). The ones that left established the oldest extant synagogues in the U.S.A; England, and Holland, Touro synagogue, Newport, R.I; 1762 (founded in 1658), Bevis Marks synagogue, London 1701 (founded 1656), and the Esnoga, Amsterdam, 1675 (amalgamated from three communities dating fro 1598). The Esnoga, undisturbed by the Nazis, stands as the model synagogue for the Western Sephardic world. Bevis Marks in London is a replica, one-quarter its size.

The philosophers Baruch Espinoza, Frances Sanches, Uriel Acosta, Montaigne, and David Ricardo were all Marrano descendants. So were rabbis Ben Israel and Aboab Fonseca, the first rabbi in the Americas (Recife, Brazil, 1635). The father of French impressionism, Camille Pissaro was descendant of a Marrano born in Bragança, in the Tras Montes region of Portugal. So too were les freres Peyrere (Pereira) of Bordeaux and later Paris, contemporaries and associates of the Rothchilds. Portugal has yet to recover from this extraordinary brain drain.

THE MARQUIS OF POMBAL                                                                         TOP

An 18th century Portuguese statesman who was the Secretary of the State of the Kingdom of Portugal and the Algarves (the equivalent to a today's Prime Minister) to Joseph I of Portugal from 1750 to 1777.  He distinguished himself by his swift action following the 1755 Lisbon earthquake and policies to improve Portugal’s economy.  He weakened the grip of the Inquisition and had the Jesuits expelled.

The term Pombaline is used to describe not only his tenure, but also the architectural style which formed after the great earthquake.

David Birmingham in ‘A Concise History of Portugal,  (Cambridge University Press, 1996) describes his role as follows:

“Pombal’s social reforms designed to open the way to new economic prosperity went beyond the field of education. He recognised that one burden which held Portugal back was still the institutionalised persecution of all Portuguese of Jewish descent. He therefore outlawed racial discrimination and determined that New Christians should be given genuine legal equality with Old Christians. In order to carry out such a radical change he had to confront the Inquisition. This he did by virtually abolishing its church role and turning it into a state tribunal.”

The classic true or apocryphal story about him was

King José I was considering a proposal by the Portuguese Inquisition which required New Christians (descendants of Jews) to wear yellow hats so that they could be identified in public. One day, the Marquis of Pombal, his Chief Minister, who objected to discriminatory measures, arrived in court carrying three yellow hats. The King asked who they were for and Pombal replied: “One for me, one for you and one for the Chief Inquisitor”. And there the matter rested.

ABOLITION OF THE INQUISITION 1821                                                  TOP

It was not until the liberal revolution of the early 19th century that the Inquisition was abolished. Although the Marquis of Pombal invited Jews back to Portugal at the end of the 18th century, very few took up his offer.

According to an old, possibly apocryphal story, Portugal’s King José I was considering an inquisitional proposal to require descendants of Jews to wear yellow hats so they could be identified in public. One day the Marquês de Pombal, his prime minister, arrived at court carrying three yellow hats. When the king asked who they were for, the marquis replied, “One for me, one for you and one for the grand inquisitor.” He broke the power of the Inquisition in the late eighteenth century, though it wasn’t abolished until 1821. In the nineteenth century a new community grew when immigrants from Gibraltar and Morocco arrived in Lisbon and the Algarve. The first post-Inquisition synagogue was built in Lisbon in 1902.  


Anita Novinsky of the Laboratório de Estudos sobre a Intolerância of the Universidade de São Paulo has clearly shown the importance attached to Marrano’ s living with two names - one public and the second his original Jewish name (see References).


Some Jews from North Africa and Gibraltar did establish communities in Lisbon, Faro, and the Azores in the 19th century but eventually disappeared. The only surviving remnant maintains a synagogue in Lisbon, Shaare Tikve, and recently a museum opened in the Faro Jewish cemetery.

Belmonte                                                                                                     TOP

However, to the surprise of many, indigenous Marranos did survive nearly 300 years of the Inquisition. In 1920, Samuel Schwarz, a Polish engineer working in Portugal, encountered a community of Marranos in the interior of Portugal (Belmonte) who had managed to preserve some of the secret rituals, including prayers, of their ancestors. At first distrustful and denying any Jewish connection, they opened up only after Schwartz recited a Hebrew prayer, in which one of the women elders (women handed down the secret prayers from generation to generation) recognized the Hebrew word, Adonai.. Today Belmonte has a new synagogue and a Jewish museum.

SALAZAR                                                                                                      TOP

António de Oliveira Salazar served as the autocratic Prime Minister from 1932 to 1968 and the acting President of the Republic briefly in 1951. He founded and led the Estado Novo (New State), the authoritarian, right-wing government from 1932 to 1974. In 1940.  His goal was to establish a Catholic Social Order even in a nominally secular state. In this objective he dissolved Freemasonry in Portugal in 1935

A nationalist who was close to the Raman Catholic church he was fervently opposed to communism and was considered a fascist,  though Portugal remained neutral during World War 2.  His main instrument of repression was The Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado or PIDE (International State Defence Police),

Although the name PIDE was only used from 1945 to 1969, the whole network of secret police forces which existed during the 40 years of the regime are commonly known as PIDE.

During the 1930’s he was the person whom Captain Barros Basto and Aristides de Sousa Mendes (see below) had to deal with.


About the same time as Schwartz learned of the Marranos of  Belmonte Captain Barros Basto, a decorated World War I veteran founded a synagogue for Marranos, the Mekor Haim synagogue in Porto on the second floor above a store. This charismatic army captain embarked on campaign to convince Marranos to return openly to normative Judaism. In full uniform, sometime on horseback, he travelled the isolated communities of Tras Montes and Beiras, founding several Jewish communities, including Bragança, Covilha and Pinhel. Some estimate his adherents at the time upwards of 10,000. Cecil Roth, who first met him in 1926, described Basto as the most charismatic man he had ever met.

In 1930 Roth published the Apostle of the Marranos, a short biographical monogram translated into French. Roth’s pioneering classic, History of the Marranos, published shortly thereafter owes much to the Captain’s infectious enthusiasm.

The Captain was a visionary leader. He faced the middle of a depression and European anti-Semitism. With the help of Bevis Marks, he received substantial international help from the descendants of the Marrano Diaspora in New York, London, Amsterdam, Paris and Hamburg and the Kadoorie family of Shanghai. One result was a magnificent synagogue in Porto (Mekor Haim - Creator of Life) which he dubbed, ‘the Cathedral of the North’ to ensure no Marrano would feel ashamed when walking in and be a source of pride and beacon of strength to all the Marranos of Portugal. He also published a newsletter and created a talmud torah.

In the Mid 1930’s he was accused of paedophilia.  While not proven he was court marshaled and dismissed from the army

Today, Captain Barros Basto is known as the Portuguese Dreyfus.  The reaction of the state to his attempt to bring Marranos back to Judaism can only be understood against the political background of Portugal in the 1930's when Portugal was under the dictatorship of António Salazar.. .  Deeply religious and infused with Roman Catholic precepts he oversaw a church revival.  

Salazar's state was established on the principles of traditional Roman Catholicism, with an emphasis on order so that the parish, and Christianity were said to be the foundations of the state. His dictatorship blended  Roman Catholic principles and Mussolini-like fascism.

The response to Barros Bastos success in bringing the Marranos back to Judaism was described by Howard Morley Sachar in 'Farewell Espana' The World of Sephardim Remembered' 1994 pp184-7

A reaction (to his success) was not long in coming. One phase of the church's counter attack was oblique, and was exerted through pressure on the government A second phase was directed against Barros Basto himself. In 1935 a local priest, Tomaz Correia da Luz Almeida, prior of the monastery of Al-furada, awaited Barros Basto's students each day as they walked home following their afternoon classes. Gently but persistently, Frei Tomaz won the confidence of several youngsters. Through skillful, manipulative questioning, he was able to fabricate a case against the captain. Soon the cleric convinced the police that Barros Basto was a "degenerate," that he was engaging in unnatural practices during circumcision ceremonies, under the pretext of sucking blood from the infants' incisions. Whereupon the Oporto municipal prosecutor immediately brought criminal charges against Barros Basto. The captain was unperturbed. He had anticipated church opposition and knew that his own devoted constituency of students and colleagues would decisively repudiate the libel.

But here Barros Basto encountered a shattering surprise. One of those "colleagues," Isaac Cassuto, had immigrated to Portugal several years earlier from Hamburg, where his father had been president of that city's tiny Sephardic community. It later developed that Cassuto had departed under a cloud; evidently he had "appropriated" rare Hebrew incunabula from the Hamburg talmudic academy. In Portugal, as an equally slippery dealer in rare books, Cassuto did well enough to maintain a luxurious villa in the seaside resort of Estoril. Barros Basto, in turn, had sufficient information about the man to block his repeated overtures for congregational office. It was as a gesture of revenge, therefore, that Cassuto now volunteered to serve as a police witness against the accused captain. His testimony was devastating. Barros Basto's dossier then was turned over to the army, which instituted its own court-martial. With extended interruptions, the case dragged on from 1935 to 1937. Eventually it was dropped for lack of conclusive evidence. Yet the damage was done. By the mid-193os, parents had withdrawn their children from the Rosh Pina school, and Barros Basto had become persona non grata among his once-devoted marrano followers. With equal timorousness, the established Jewish community also now distanced itself from the case. Finally, in 1943, the Ministry of Defense revoked Barros Basto's officer's commission for reasons of "good and welfare." He was a ruined man.


PORTUGAL AND THE NAZIS                                                                        TOP

While the Nazis were destroying synagogues throughout Europe, and the students of the German college next door were throwing rocks at the windows of the newly built synagogue, one man stood up and built a lasting memorial to the Marrano legacy. He is a true hero.

It did not take long for the Catholic Church to respond. They built a bigger church, in the same architectural style as the synagogue, just up the road. Teachers and doctors who had adhered to the Captain’s call suddenly had no students or patients. There were mischievous public demonstrations against the presence of synagogues in the provinces. The totalitarian government led by Salazar in Lisbon was not too enamoured with the Captain, who had hoisted the Republican flag in Porto in 1910. The powerful enemies of the Captain organized a campaign to destroy him. He died a broken man and the Marranos once again withdrew into obscurity. (see Barros Basto, the Marrano Mirage by Alexandre Teixeira Mendes, forthcoming,

Many Jews escaping from the Nazis headed for Portugal. Until May 10, 1940 entrance visas to, or transit permits through Portugal, could be obtained at the Portuguese consulate in Bordeaux. On that date, when Germany invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, the Portuguese Government prohibited further crossings especially of Jewish refugees. Only British citizens recommended by the British consul could get visas. Some 30,000 refugees, including 10,000 Jews mobbed the Bordeaux Portuguese consulate to obtain the piece of paper that would enable them to leave France

Aristides de Sousa Mendes,

A devout Christian, he saw the terrible plight of the refugees, decided to disobey his government’s explicit instruction. He received a delegation of refugees at the consulate, headed by Rabbi Haim Kruger and promised transit visas to everyone in need. He even added that those who could not pay the visa fees would receive the documents free of charge.

Rumors about Sousa Mendes’ actions reached Lisbon who ordered him to return home immediately.  In Lisbon, he was brought before a disciplinary panel and dismissed from the Foreign Ministry leaving him destitute and unable to support 13 children. He died penniless in 1954. Only in 1988, thanks to external pressure and his children’s efforts, did his government grant him total rehabilitation.

When asked to explain his actions, he said: “If thousands of Jews are suffering because of one Christian [Hitler], surely one Christian may suffer for so many Jews”.

On October 18, 1966, Yad Vashem recognized Aristides de Sousa Mendes as one of the Righteous Among the Nations.   Amongst other posthumous honours in 1987, the Portuguese Republic granted a posthumous Order of Liberty medal, one of that country's highest honors.   On March 18, 1988 the Portuguese parliament officially dismissed all charges, restoring him to the diplomatic corps by unanimous vote and honoring him with a standing ovation.  He was promoted to the rank of Ambassador and issued the Cross of Merit for his actions in Bordeaux. In 1994 former President Soares dedicated a bust of Sousa Mendes in Bordeaux, along with a commemorative plaque at 14 quai Louis-XVIII, where the consulate at Bordeaux had been housed. There is also a Sousa Mendes Foundation.  

He saved 30,000 people of whom 10,000 were Jews

Santarem, Portugal

Bronze statue of
Aristedes de Sousa Mendes

erected to honour
his liberation of refugees

from the Nazis

‘The Consul of Bordeaux’

Launch of movie
in the presence of the
President of the EU in 2011

First minute in French,
followed by the
Symphony orchestra
and movie trailer

LISBON MEMORIAL TO THE 1506 MASSACRE                              TOP

          In April 2008 a ceremony was held attended by the Lisbon Patriarch Dom José Policarpo, the Chief Rabbi of the Lisbon Jewish Community Eliezer Shai di Martino and representatives of other ethnic and religious communities in the city.

The monument comprises two sculptures by architects Graça Bachmann and Segismundo Pinto and sculptor Carlos Ramos and a mural with the phrase Lisbon – City of Tolerance, by designers Susana Jesus and Paulo Cardoso.  They were donated by the Jewish community and the Catholic Church to symbolise reconciliation and respect.

Lisbon monument inscribed

In memory
 of the thousands of Jews
 who were the victims
of intolerance and religious fanaticism
and murdered
in the massacre
initiated on April 19, 1506,
 in this square.

The square base supporting
the sphere says

5366 - 5768

A verse from Job (16:18) in,
Portuguese and Hebrew, is inscribed

‘Earth, do not cover my blood,
let there be no
resting place for my outcry’

TODAY                                                                                           TOP

However, the story is not over. Today, following the visit of the Sefardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to the Mekor Haim Kaddoorie synagogue in Porto in 2004, another Marrano renaissance is in the air. There are active Marrano, Conservative, Orthodox and Liberal communities in Porto, Belmonte and Lisbon. There is a nascent kosher industry producing wine and olive oil, including the first kosher port wine ever produced. Portugal’s first kosher restaurant will open shortly. Every month it seems, there is a new book published on Marrano Jewish history. There is now a Portuguese branch of Sefer publishers, one of the largest Jewish publishers in Brazil. The tanach was recently launched in Portugal. The first book on the Lisbon 1506 massacre of New Christians sold out quickly. There are new Jewish museums in Belmonte, Faro and Porto. Another two will open next year in Covilhã and Trancoso. Who knows, a yeshiva may be next. There is a future for Jews in Portugal; they did not die in vain. The Inquisition did not succeed.


Wikipedia  - Portuguese Inquisition

Jewish Virtual Library - The Inquisition

Encyclopaedia Judaica - Persecution of the Jews: The Inquisition of the church against the Jews 1481-1834

History of the Origin and Establishment of the Inquisition in Portugal - Google Books Result.

Anita Novinsky. Laboratório de Estudos sobre a Intolerância, Universidade de São Paulo

Farewell Espana, The World of Sephardim Remembered,  Howard Morley Sachar

Aristedes de Sousa Mendes