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August 24: The Jews of Majorca

August 24, 2015

sancta-sanctorum-1The Jews of Majorca, a Mediterranean island under Spanish control that had hosted a Jewish community possibly as early as the 2nd century, were massacred on this date in 1391 (some sources say August 2nd), with some 300 killed and many others forced to undergo baptism. Jewish habitation on Majorca ebbed and flowed with the whims of the island’s rulers, who were caught up in the intrigues of the Spanish crown, but among the Jews were influential merchants, money-lenders, and slave-traffickers, whose value to the ruling class of Spain often led to their protection. The massacre on Majorca, however, was matched by persecutions on the Spanish mainland, and would resume with further violence in 1413 and 1435. Ultimately, Jews were either driven from Majorca or driven into life as “New Christians” and secret Jews. In 2011, Francesc Antich, the regional president of the Balearic Islands, issued an official condemnation and apology for the killings — the first of its kind in Spain — and Rabbi Nissim Karlewitz, chair of the rabbinical court in Bnei Brak, recognized the Chuetas of Majorca, descendants of these persecuted Jews (who number close to 15,000), as Jewish.

“We, the Jewish people, have a responsibility to the Chuetas. Their ancestors were kidnapped from us and taken against their will six centuries ago. The Inquisition sought to quash their Jewish identity down through the ages and we are coming here today to say that the Inquisition did not succeed. Jews are still here and the Chuetas are still here, and the best revenge on the Inquisition would be to bring as many of these people as possible back to their roots and back to their people.” —Michael Freund