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December 30, 1983 - Image 45

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1983-12-30

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Friday, December 30, 1983 45

Romantic Decade of Portuguese Marrano Renaissance

(Continued from Page 48)
that Dr. Azancot was the
brother-in-law of Capt.
Basto, and that it was his
sister, Leah, whom the cap-
tain married.
Dr. Azancot is a member
of one of the community's
oldest families and al-
though over 80, is still
engaged in an active law
practice. He was not reluc-
tant to discuss the Marrano
"As to why the Marrano
Renaissance failed? Re-
member, in spite of the re-
public and its adherence to
the tenents of freedom of
religion, Portugal was and
is a Catholic country. While
world Jewry thought of the
Marranos as lost Jews, they
were, in fact, practicing
Catholics and had been for
several centuries.
"During the 1920s and
'30s an organization
called Action Catholique,
founded by Pope Pius XI
as a lay organization to
serve as an extension of
the clergy to save and to
preserve Catholic souls,
was very active. Most
prominent lay Catholics
were members and they
were able to exert eco-
nomic and political
power even on Salazar."
What of the trial and the
charges against Captain
Barros Basto? "They were
not true, but were a means
of discrediting him and his
missionary work. The main
object was to close the
yeshiva. Basto was not ac-
cused of homosexuality, but
some of the students were.
"The verdict was pre-
determined. He was tried by
a military court. There was
no real defense. He was
found guilty of the charges
and dismissed from the
army. There appeared to
have been no foreign con-
cern about the allegations
and the trial. It was consid-
ered pretty much an inter-
nal Portuguese matter."

When we told Dr. Azancot
that we were going to
Oporto the next day to .see
the Kadoorie synagogue
and to talk to the few Jews
left, he asked us to give his
regards to his sister Leah,
Basto's 84-year-old widow
who lives with the Bastos'
daughter Miriam. We were
delighted to learn that Leah
was still alive and assured
him we would try to see her.
Basto's grandson and
granddaughter, he told us,
also live in Oporto.
Any contact with the
remaining Jews in
Oporto and the Marranos
of northern Portugal, we
were informed, must
begin with Amilcar
Paulo, an Oporto public
relations official for a
local firm. Paulo, a self-
taught scholar, has suc-
ceeded M. Schwarz as the
foremost student of Mar-
ranos: Born to a rural
Marrano family he prac-
tices no religion and con-
siders himself neither
Jewish nor Catholic.
For over 30 years he has
sought out Marrano corn-

munities, and has recorded
and described their prac-
tices. To the Kadoorie
synagogue he is very much
attached, and is permitted
to maintain an office there,
Basto's former office. His
wife, Maria, agreed to meet
us at the synagogue.
To see the synagogue, as
we did, on a sunny cloudless
day, in a light possible only
in the northern Portugal,
was an unforgettable sight.
A gleaming white marble
building, a blend of North
Africa and Portuguese
architecture, accentuated
by huge palm trees, it has
both a modern and an an-
cient appearance.
The building and the
grounds were in excellent
condition, maintained by
funds from a foundation es-
tablished by the Kadoorie
family. On both sides of the
stairways as you enter are
two huge tablets, one in
English and the other in
Portuguese indicating that
the synagogue had been
erected by Lawrence and
Horace Kadoorie "to mark
the love, respect and vener-
ation for their father Sir
Elly Kadoorie and their
mother the late Laura
Equally impressive is
the plaque which is
prominently displayed
on the wall as you enter
the sanctuary, erected by
the Portuguese Mar-
ranos Committee of Lon-
don, "in honor of Captain
Arthur Carlos Barros
Basto, as a tribute for the
historic services he ren-
dered as leader of the
Jewish Redemption in
Portugal, and in the es-
tablishment of this
synagogue, with which
his name will be associ-
ated for all time."
That evening we had
dinner at the Paulos'. In the
basement of the apartment
building Amilcar Paulo has
an extraordinary library of
at least 5,000 books and
hundreds of pamphlets,
many rare and no longer in
existence, on the Marranos,
the Inquisition, Portuguese
history, as well as the pap-
ers, letters and books of
Captain Basto of which he
has been designated custo-
We met 68-year-old
Rudolf Lemchen, vice
president and one of the
"three families" attached to
the Kadoorie synagogue.
Lemchen came to Oporto
from Germany with his par-
ents in the late 1930s and
runs a successful import-
export business. He has no
delusions about the Oporto
Jewish community and the
future of its synagogue:
"The Jewish commu-
nity is merely one of
memories. Paulo, al-
though not Jewish, has
more regard for the
synagogue and Marranos
than any of us. He wants
to turn the unused
Kadoorie synagogue into
a Marrano museum. I am
in favor of such a project,
but the other two officers
want to keep the building
as a synagogue."

The other two officers (or
"families") are Hyman
Pressman, the 85-year-old
president, originally from
Poland, who operates a hat
factory about 40 miles from
Oporto, and the 80-year-old
Nathan Beigel, the trea-
surer, who with his son,
Eliezer, owns Oporto's lead-
ing fur shop.
Our meeting with Leah
Azancot Basto the next af-
ternoon was at her
tastefully decorated apart-
ment in a suburban section
of Oporto. We found a
charming, alert woman who
greatly enjoyed talking
about her late husband.
Their daughter, a hand-
some woman in her 50s,
lives with her.
Leah Basto spoke of her
life with Capt. Basto with
reverence and joy. She
blamed the failure of the
Marrano Renaissance and
her husband's problems on
the dictator Salazar.
Daughter Miriam's
memories were less san-
"My father was the
Portuguese Dreyfus. He
was dismissed from the
army because of his sup-
port of Judaism. He had
no Zola to defend him.
The charges against him
were false and everyone
knew that a miscarriage
of justice had been done.
All were silent. I, alone,
have worked to clear his
name. I petitioned the
revolutionary govern-
ment which came to
power in 1974 to reopen
his case, but they replied
that they had more press-
ing matters."
Her last statement to us
was that we promise to help
clear her father's name. In
our correspondence with
her, she continues to stress
that theme.
Leah and Miriam still
consider themselves
Jewish. Basto's grandson is
neither Catholic nor
Jewish, but is "interested in
Jewish things." A grand-
daughter is a practicing
Catholic and the family was
looking forward to the bap-
tism of Captain Basto's
great-granddaughter the
following week.

Nathan Beigel, Oporto's
leading fur merchant came
to Portugal from Poland by
way of France in the early
1920s. His son Eliezer, who
in 1946 was one of the last
men to be Bar Mitzva at the
Kadoorie synagogue, told us
he was prepared for the
ceremony by Prof. Capt.
Basto, "a kindly and patient
As for the failure of the
Marrano Renaissance,
the Beigels attributed the
rise of Nazism as playing
a major part:
"The German school in
Oporto was, and still is,
near the Kadoorie
synagogue. Its students
were not only pro-German,
but some were Nazis. All
this encouraged the Mar-
ranos to continue practicing
their secret form of Judaism

in isolation from the
synagogue and also caused
the thousands of refugees
who passed through Por-
tugal to seek a permanent
refuge elsewhere.
"The economic decline
after the war completed the
job. Thousands of Por-
tuguese in the small com-
munities were forced to
migrate to seek work, Mar-
ranos as well as others. To-
day, only in Belmonte is
there a sizeable Marrano
The Beigels still consider
themselves Jewish. Eliezer
proudly showed us the
Magen David he was wear-
ing on a gold chain around
his neck. They told us that
the synagogue is rarely
used. The last full service in
recent memory took place
during the High Holidays in
1976 when an Israeli ship
docked in Oporto and the
crew together with Oporto's
few foreign-born Jews held
services there.
When we asked Eliezer
about the education and up-
bringing of his children, his
mood changed:
"I can not expect my
children to build their
lives around the
synagogue. There is noth-
ing there. They are
entitled to their own lives

Four generations of the Basto family are shown in
this photograph: daughter Miriam, wife Leah holding
great-granddaughter : Mariana, and granddaughter
Isabel Maria.
and circle of friends. I cease to be a synagogue and,
agree with Amilcar Paulo hopefully, a person with the
and Rudolf Lemcherlhat knowledge and dedication
the Kadoorie synagogue of Amilcar Paulo will be
should become a Mar- available to help plan and
rano museum and a cen- administer the project.
The building will be a
ter for Portuguese, -
monument not only to the
Jewish history."
of martyrs who
We are convinced that
Eliezer Beigel and Rudolf were victims of the Inquisi-
Lemchen will have their tion, but also to the one
museum. The well- modern Marrano, Capt.
maintained, unused Barros Basto, who publicly
synagogue will undoub- embraced the Jewish tradi-
tedly within the next decade tion.

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