Spain: The Return of Sephardic Jews

Carmen Negrín says: From my "oral tradition", the laws allowing the Sefarads to return to Spain (and therefore to be protected from the various European pogroms) were voted during the Republic. RH: Can any of our specialists on that period give us the facts?.

On the subject of Sephardic Jews being allowed to return to Spain, Derek Davis says: Jews were permitted to return to Spain only following the establishment of the republic in 1868.  The new Spanish constitution of 1869 broadly endorsed religious freedom to "all foreigners resident in Spain."  Jews were considered to fall within the "foreigners" definition.  Jewish resentment against Spain persisted, however, and by 1900 there were still only a handful of declared Jews in Spain.  During the 1930's, however, many Jews fled Germany and about 6,000 found their way to Spain.  The present day Jewish community in Spain is still rather small, about 20,000 as I understand it.  Jane Gerber's The Jews of Spain (Free Press, 1994) elaborates on some of these points. 

Hank Levin writes: The best source on this subject prior to the early twentieth century is: Espanoles Sin Patria y La Raza Sefardi.     This book is no longer in print, but it can be found in some scholarly libraries.  The University of Granada reproduced it in facsimile in 1993, so copies are available in that form.  This is a book with amazing detail and good scholarly sources.

RH: Carmen Negrín was referring to the Spanish republic of 1931-39.  She did not want Franco to get exclusive credit for welcoming the Sephardic Jews. In Spain during that period I was a a friend of many Jewish refugees from Germany, etc., but none of them was Sephardic. I am not informed about the legislation under which these Jews were allowed to settle in Spain, but it must have been general, with Sephardic Jews coming in with the rest.  I recall that Franco made a great show of welcoming Sephardic Jews, but I have the impression that the response was not great.

Adriana Pena correctlly said it was Primo de Riovera who allowed Sephardic Jews to return to Spain. This is conformed by Max Manuel Rodriguez-Navarro of the European Central Bank, who calls our attention to
Declaraciones del presidente de la Federaciуn Sefardн Mundial, Nessim Gaon,
By a 1924 law,  Primo de Rivera granted Spanish citizenship to all the Se`hatdic Jews scattered through the world.

To show that they were not antisemitic, many Spanish leaders showed benevolence toward Sephardic Jews.  Christopher Jones writes: One of the major concerns of José Antonio was to bring the Sephardim home.  To this end he dispatched one of his close associates to Yugoslavia to explain the Falange's message and encourage them to return to Spain.

Paul Preston writes:There was a Royal Decree promulgated on 20 December 1924 during the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera. It granted full citizenship to individuals of Spanish origin who had applied for it before 31 December 1931.  Very few Sephardic Jews did.  Some thought, erroneously, that they already had Spanish citizenship.  Others, especially in Turkey, were afraid that to be seen to be seeking a change of nationality would bring down trouble upon them.  Others were just too poor to do anything about it, if indeed they even heard about it.  During the Second Republic, several thousand Jews emigrated to Spain with the encouragement of the Republican-Socialist coalition.  This gave rise to an anti-semitic campaign by the right, the publication of several editions of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and was taken to be proof that the Republic was the tool of a Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy.  The idea that Franco welcomed Sephardic Jews needs some nuance.  An operation was mounted after the fall of Mussolini to ingratiate Spain with American Jews.  It was masterminded by the Conde de Jordana (Franco’s foreign ministry) and implemented by Javier Martínez de Bedoya, in Lisbon.  The reasoning was utterly cynical.   Franco believed (vide the myth of the Jewish-Masonic-Bolshevik conspiracy) that the Jews controlled America and that he needed their good will.  There were lots of examples of humanitarian gestures by individual Spanish functionaries – most notably the Spanish consul in Budapest, Sanz Briz, who seems to have saved thousands of Jewish lives – and also of those who accepted bribes to let Jews across the frontier or to provide papers for them.

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 8, 2005