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SPAIN: Sephardic Jews under Franco

Tim Brown says: "In 1966, I was transferred from Tel Aviv to Madrid, and friends in the Israeli Foreign Ministry arranged for me to meet the honorary Israel Consul to Spain after I arrived. He became a close contact and friend and told me a number of things that contradicted the written history of Jews in Spain I had read. This was in the later years of Franco. What he told me was, of course, second hand, as I had no way to check it one way or the other, nor reason to do so at the time. But I set it out below for what it may be worth.

His name, Hans Meyer Morgenthau (I am spelling it phonetically, but I can't find his card so it may have been Mayer), was hardly Spanish. But he said his family on his father's side had lived in Spain for decades and on his mother's side had been there for centuries. He was a member of a synagogue that had been active in Madrid since the 1700s and said there were a few other active synagogues in Spain, two of which predated the Reconquest in 1492, one in Barcelona and one in Vasconia, although I don't remember the city (since my wife's family is of Navarrese Basque origin from the 1200s, I tend to pick up on that region more than its cities). That was certainly not what I had heard or read about the expulsion of the Jews, and I said so during several conversations, to which he would reply, things are often not as they seem, and explain: While almost all Spanish Jews were expelled and others publicly converted, in a number of cases where they were providing important services to the Crown as advisors or financiers a few were allowed to remain without converting providing they kept their religion secret. Meyer gave me the names of, as I recall, three senior advisors to Franco who were members of his synagogue and descendents from these pre-Expulsion Jewish families.

As I was then a Vice Consul, we also discussed what happened during the Holocaust. As he told it, Franco gave orders to Spanish Consuls in Germany and elsewhere in Europe to issue Spanish passports to anyone who came to them and claimed they had Spanish ancestors, not matter how man generations removed. They were instructed not to investigation further but to take such declarations at face value. As a consequence, several thousand German Jews were able to obtain Spanish passports, which the Germans reluctantly honored as Franco's Spain was considered an ally, and escape to Spain, and then go to other countries if they wished. Many went to Argentina and some to Cuba, among other places. He said it was this and support for their struggle to capture the Holy Land that gave Israel considerable willingness to trust Franco Spain and this, in turn, allowed Spain to act as the intermediary on occasional sensitive issues between Israel and several Muslim countries with which Spain also had excellent relations. Of course, his was just one version, but I see no reason to believe it less that other versions".

RH: As for Jews who remained in Spain after 1492, most were conversos, converts to Christianiiy and the object of suspicion. One of the tasks of the Inquisition was to root out judaizantes, Travelers to 18th-century Spain have left fascinating accounts of conversos who were ostentatious in their Catholic practices but who at night practised Jewish rituals in secret.

Ronald Hilton - 11/23/02