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May 15: Jewish Slaves of Malta

May 16, 2013

Napoleon-BonaparteA community of up to 1,000 Jewish slaves on the archipelago of Malta, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, established over the course of two centuries by the Knights of St. John, a Catholic order of pirates left over from the Crusades, was officially abolished on this date in 1800. The Knights would raid vessels and coastal communities in the region, and favored Jewish victims for the ransom their communities would pay. “Most of the Jewish slaves,” writes Abraham P. Bloch (in a Jewdayo-like book, One a Day: An Anthology of Jewish Anniversaries for Every Day), “were ransomed with funds provided by the Society for the Redemption of Captives,” headquartered in Venice, in amounts that varied according to the physical condition and status of the captives, but many were “bought by speculators” who resorted to torture in order to extract exorbitant ransoms. Malta had hosted Jews for many centuries until the 1492 expulsion order by the Spanish monarchs emptied the islands of Jews. Under the sway of the Knights of St. John, it became the last European refuge of slave trading and slavery until Napoleon conquered it en route to Egypt in 1798.

“During World War II, Malta was the only country that did not require Jews fleeing Nazi Europe to have a visa. Consequently, Malta rescued thousands of Jews from persecution. Since the 1950s, Israel and Malta have had friendly political and economic relations.” —Jewish Virtual Library