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November 18, 1983 - Image 88

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-11-18

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

88 Friday, November 18, 1983


Spaniard Visits 'Hidden Jews' of Northern Portugal

(Editor's note: The fol-
lowing letter, appearing
here translated from the
Spanish, was sent to De-
troiter Ann Mandelbaum
by her friend Myriam del .
Rey of Madrid, Spain. Ms.
del Rey is a descendant of
converted Spanish Jews
from Majorca who has
recently reconverted to
Judaism. She is an ar-
chitect by profession and
has spent considerable
time in Israel where she
has learned Hebrew. To-
gether with an Israeli
scholar she visited towns
in northern Portugal
where there are a
number of communities
of persons whose ances-
tors were forcibly con-
verted Jews in the 16th
Century. They appear to
have a strong claim to
recognition as Jews by
Israel and world Jewry.)

Since my return I have
been busy trying to organize
the Guarda seminar about
the Judeos or descendants of
Portuguese converts of the
16th Century. I was there at
the beginning of July with
my Israeli friend who is the
official organizer for the
Guarda is a small Por-
tuguese city close to the
Spanish border at the same
latitude with Salamanca. It
has a perfectly preserved
medieval Jewish neighbor-
hood and a population with
a high percentage of Mar-
ranos and some Judeos. The
difference between the
groups is that the Judeos

are strict adherents and
preserve many Jewish ritu-
als which are still recogniz-
able; while the Marranos
are.the result of mixed mar-
riages, Judeos married to
Marranos or Old Christians
(the expulsion from the
Judeo group in these cases
is automatic) or Judeos that
do not observe the rituals
But the best thing was the
Sabbath spent in the town
near Belmonte, where the
Judeos make up a group of
some 300 families and the
Marranos are also very
numerous. We were staying
at the home of a Judeo
couple. All of us women
lighted the candles. There
was a Judeo and Jewish
kidush. I was so touched
that I became confused and
had to repeat it again. It was
something unforgettable.

During the same day
we were visiting various
homes of Judeos and we
talked with the people. In
the afternoon I showed
slides of Jerusalem and
gave out posters. We sang
in Hebrew, Ladino and
Judeo-Portuguese. They
prayed and danced in
their own way, and ev-
erything ended with the
Hatikva in Hebrew, Por-
tuguese and Spanish.

After the seminar I would
be able to inform you better,
but at the moment I can
mention to you several
They keep kosher of sorts,
except the separation of
plates for meat and milk

and the shehita ritual
(ritual slaughtering) al-
though they know it well,
and would like to have a
They celebrate Passover
with matzot, Yom Kippur
and Purim; they remember
Sukkot (which they wish to
celebrate again); Rosh
Hashana, Shavuot (faith
memory of it) and Hanuka
(some celebrate it, others
not, so people would not
think they celebrate

They celebrate the
Sabbath, preparing in
advance the house and
the food; they light the
candles, do not make fire;
they use electricity, and
some use their cars,
others, better informed,
do not. They do not write
and do not take photos,
(they would not allow my
Israeli friend to take pic-
tures). They pray before
dinner, in the morning
and afternoon.

They pray daily, twice a
day (morning and night).
They pray next to the door
step (reminder of the
mezuza), looking east and
They have their own
ritual in Portuguese for
births. The young people
want to circumcize their
sons. Some have gotten
themselves circumcized.
For weddings, they get. mar-
ried in the bride's home,
without going to church
until the first born comes.
(This gives them a bad repu-
tation among the "Old

Christians"), and as far as
death is concerned, they
wash the dead, throw all the
water out from the house,
and only call the priest for
the funeral.
They only go to church
three times in their lives:
First, to baptize their chil-
dren. The Civil Registry is
fairly new in Portugal as
well as in Spain. In the past,
without baptism, one did
not exist officially. Second,
in order to get married
(otherwise the children
were considered illegiti-
mate) and third, to bury the
dead. In Belmonte there is
still no civil cemetery. Be-
fore entering church they
say a prayer in which they
ask God's forgiveness and
affirm their adherence only
to Him.

They know the prayers
by memory, especially
the women, but some
have small manuscripts
which help them re-
member. Everything is in
Portuguese, but many
phrases seemed direct
translations of Jewish
prayers. This is one of the
most important points for
the seminar.

There is some kind of
yeshiva for children and
young people, in which they
are learning Hebrew on
their own, with a Hebrew
grammar written in
English that an American
Jew left them. In order to
use it, some have learned
English and continue to
teach the others.
In charge of the class is a

boy 16 years of age who
wants to become rabbi and
make aliya. The youngest
student is eight years old
and already can read He-
They also study Judaism
and Zionism from Spanish
and English books which
they understand perfectly.
Some of these -young people
want to make aliya. They
begin to feel conscious of not
being considered Jews by
mainstream Jews, but no
one in the area has the least
doubt about their Jewish
The adults in general
have a primary school edu-
cation. There are no illiter-
ates, not even among older
women. The young people
have a secondary school
education but among them
are some with college edu-

One of them is Jose
Eduardo de Matos, a
journalist and graduate
from. Coimbra and
Salamanca Universities.
He is a polyglot who
speaks Portuguese,
Spanish, French, Italian,
English perfectly and
some Hebrew. He is 26
years old.

He has organized several
trips of Judeos to Israel. The
Judeos returned a lot more
conscious of what they for-
got in these five centuries.
Jose Domingo directs a
magazine in Guarda and he
is a correspondent for sev-
eral newspapers.
The economic level of the
Judeos and Marranos

ranges from lower middle
class to high bourgeoise,
who are not very educated.
They dedicate themselves to
business, commerce, indus-
try and some are artisans.
The health situation
appears to be good except for
inbreeding . . . among
women who also may have
some kind of hormonal im-
balance since all of them
have a lot of hair.
As I was saying, a mixed
marriage inevitably pro-
duces the expulsion from
the Judeo group, even when
it takes place with a Mar-
rano. The Israeli rabbinate
is now considering the ques-
tion of whether the Judeos
are Jews.
They sent a rabbi who re-
turned saying that they
were Jews but they have not
yet made a decision.

But there is no doubt of
their Jewishness among
the "Old Christians" with
whom they live in a state
of constant tension.
Much worse is the atti-
tude taken by local
Communists who have
made serious accusa-
tions against the Judeos
due to their Zionism.

Nor do the anti-Semitic
Nazis of Lisbon doubt the
identity of these Judeos.
They have covered with
swastikas the homes of
Judeos and Marranos in the
region. These people live
not only in Guarda and
Belmonte, but also in the
northern parts of Portugal
— Tras os Montes, Beira
Alta, Beira Baisca, etc.

Christians Must Do More in Response to the Holocaust


National Institute
on the Holocaust

Vashem, the Holocaust
Martyrs and Heroes Memo-
rial in Jerusalem, has sev-
eral important components.
There is the educational
building, with library, arc-
hives, classrooms and staff
offices. There is the
museum, with photographs
and other displays. There is
the art building, with rotat-
ing exhibits and also a fine
assembly hall. There is the
impressive sanctuary, with
its eternal light and iden-
tification of major death
camps in black marble.
In the open there are the
Pillar of Remembrance, the
relief memorial to Janusz
Korczak and the children,
and — recently begun — the
Valley of the Lost Corn-
Last summer Dr. Arad,
the director (and as a youth
the legendary "Tolka"), told
me with excitement of the

arrival of one of the Danish
longboats in which Jews
had been rowed to Sweden
during the famous rescue
action. The boat is to be
suitably and permenently
displayed at Yad Vashem.

In a great arc which
sweeps around the build-
ings are the trees of the
Avenue des Justes — the
Avenue of the Righteous
Gentiles — each marked
with a plaque carrying
the name of one of the
Hasidei Umot HaOlam —
one who saved the life of
one or more Jews. There
are now nearly 3,000

Verifying nominees is
very important, for there
are now real advantages to
be exploited if any un-
scrupulous person were to
perpetuate a successful
fraud. For example, a Polish
citizen so cited by Yad Vas-
hem is entitled to a 25 per-
cent increase in wages
and/or pension. The process
of verification, which is
done with utmost care, is

4 k'

presently supervised by Dr.
Mordechai Paldiel, the first
gradute of our major in
Holocaust studies at Tem-
ple University.
That the Jewish commu-
nity should now be remem-
bering those who put their
lives on the line as rescuers
is singularly appropriate. It
is important, especially for
Jewish children, to know
that in those terrible years
not all the gentiles in Chris-
tendom were either per-
petrators or passive spec-
But the role of gentiles
who remember, perhaps
especially the role of profes-
sing Christians, is different
from that of Jews. Most gen-
tiles, even church leaders,
have not confronted the
Holocaust and its lessons
for the present day.

If the denominational
publishing houses, by
and large, are surveyed,
the weekly menu of mate-
rials for sermons and
Sunday schools give no
sign of awareness of the

tyrs, like the Jesuit Father
Delp and the Protestant
theologian Dietrich
Bonhoeffer, are entitled to
admiration by Jews and
Christians alike. But for
most church leaders and
most of the baptized, the
years of the Nazi Empire
were not years of persecu-
tion: they were years of
apostasy, apostasy of a mass
unknown in Christian his-
tory for at least 2,000 years.


event. Most of them con-
vey timeless truths, pro-
positional or abstract,
which fit 1783 or 1883 just
as well as 1893.

In other circles, which are
at least aware that some-
thing terrible indeed hap-
pened, a more subtle form of
triumphalism obstructs re-
pentence and change. A
series of books of trium-
phalist spirit is being pub-
lished now on a church press
in Germany, sallying forth
under the Losung — It is
true the Jews suffered but
we Christians suffered too.
This lie is only slightly
less repelling than the lie of
the so-called historical re-
visionists, who carry on
their well-financed effort to
deny the Holocaust al-
True, a few genuine mar-

If Christianity is to re-
cover its integrity, and to
blow its trumpet again
with a clear note, Chris-
tians must repent of their
betrayal of the faith and
turn to works worthy of

The painful truth is that
Delp and Bonhoeffer, and
most of the other faithful
witnesses against Nazi wic-
kedness, walked their last
years in constant danger of
their lives, receiving preci-
ous little encouragement
even from church leaders,
and none from large popula-
tions whose baptism as in-
fants was but a forgotten
All the more blessed,
then, to be reminded that
there were some places
where a community of
Christians was faithful to
the one they called "Lord."
The Kreisau circle of resis-
ters, most of them martyred
at the end, was such a fel-

The French village of
Le Chambon, most of
whom survived, was such
a community of rescuers.
Led by their pastor
Andre Trocme and his
valiant wife Magda, they
are credited with saving
5,000 Jewish lives, right
under the noses of the
Nazis and their
enthusiastic Vichy col-

A year ago last January
an elderly woman, Helene
Klein, received the Berlin
city citation for helping to
save Jews during the
Holocaust. When asked by a
newspaper man why she did
it, she answered simply:
". . out of self-respect."
There you have it, the
most profound theological
truth of all: true religion
lies not primarily in ideol-
ogy or dogma, but in doing
the Truth.
Telling the story of the
Hasidei Umot HaOlam is a
fine action for a Jew, and
memorializing them at Yad
Vashem is a fine action of
the Jewish people. The ac-
tion for Christians is to
mourn that there were not
more of the righteous in
Christendom, that apostasy
was widespread instead,
and to work before the night
falls again that our pulpits
and Sunday schools instill
amity instead of hostility,
courage instead of time-
serving cowardice.

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