Spanish protectors of the Jews
The night of August 2, 1492 is a crucial date in history. It is precisely the moment when the two paths that will forever mark the history of Spain converge: the decree of expulsion of the Jews and the Discovery of America.
Both events would change the view of the known world. From that year on, the Sephardic diaspora began for those forced to leave and live in other territories. But despite that black historical reality of Spain, we would like in this post to focus on those who, being Spanish, always tried to protect Sephardic Jews in particular and even Jews in general, against the threat of slavery or extermination.
Mrs. Gracia Mendes Nasi
Doña Gracia Mendes Nasí, “the Lady”, is one of the most significant and transcendent women for the Jewish people in the Iberian Peninsula. She was a businesswoman. She was born in Portugal in 1510, into a family of Jewish-convert merchants originally from Aragon.
In 1528 she married Don Francisco Mendes, a businessman, until she became widowed. She lived in exile first in Holland, then in Italy, and finally in Constantinople. She promoted the art and supported rabbis and Torah scholars financially. Not only that, but she also stood out for her charity when it came to paying the ransoms of hundreds of Sephardim who had been sold as slaves after the expulsions of the 15th century.
General Serrano and General Prim
Starting in the 19th century, an antisemitic narrative became popular, identifying the Jewish community as an enemy guilty of all problems. The Sephardim, for example, were persecuted by the Ottoman Empire. Jews from France, London and the Ottoman Empire asked Spain to repeal the expulsion decree of 1492 in order to enter, but it would not be until 1868 once the queen was overthrowed when this reality was possible. The liberal party led by Sagasta and Generals Prim and Serrano, considered that the Sephardic communities could serve as a vehicle for economic and commercial expansion through the Mediterranean, and made the first attempts to approach the exiled Spanish Jews.
Don Juan Prim y Prats, stood out for his unwavering sense of discipline and intrepid character. He supported many Jews so that they could enter Spain. To him belongs the phrase: “Jews are free to enter our country and freely exercise their beliefs“, pronounced once they were victorious in the revolution of 1868
His commitment to progressive ideas, coupled with his personal magnetism and his good relations with the wealthy bourgeoisie of Catalonia, opened the doors to politics and, consequently, to popular admiration.
Don Francisco Serrano Domínguez was born in 1810. From a family of Andalusian descent, he was the youngest of three brothers. This man had what in Andalusia they call “angel.” He owed his successes to his candor, compatible with his military bravery and heroism.
He exercised great political influence and was a lover of Queen Elizabeth II. He also participated actively in the Revolution of 1868, winning the Battle of Alcolea, which would finally dethrone the queen. A great defender of the Sephardic community, he would later corroborate the words of General Prim, allowing the entry of Jews fleeing from other territories in Spain.
At the end of the 19th century, there was a wave of modern anti-Semitism – pogroms in Russia – that provoked the first real rapprochement of Spain to the Jewish problem.
He supported Sephardic Jews who fled to Turkey, in the face of the intense looting and massacres perpetrated in the Russian Empire. They considered that the Sephardim could favor the commercial activity of Spain with countries of Eastern Europe and the Turkish Empire. He got 51 Turkish Jews to return to Spain.
Benito Pérez Galdós and Manuel Azaña
Also, writers of the stature of Benito Pérez Galdós and politicians such as Manuel Azaña raised their voices and to strongly oppose the anti-Semitic persecution by the Ottoman Empire and pressured so that the Jews could return to Spain.
Galdós was a master of interpellation when discussing matters that were prohibited in Spain, from fanaticism to love. He fervently believed in a developable religion, in harmony with all human beings
Dr. Ángel Pulido Fernández
This exalted senator carried out an intense campaign to bring Sephardic Jews closer to Spain, with the intention of laying the foundations for the economic recovery of his country. Notable physician and politician. He tried to sensitize public opinion that the approach to Sephardic Jews was highly recommended in order to promote the Spanish language. As a consequence of Pulido’s campaigns, a cultural movement of rapprochement with the Sephardim took place.
Miguel Primo de Rivera
He ruled as dictator between 1923 and 1930. During his mandate, he decreed in 1924 the granting of Spanish nationality to the Sephardim, similar to the norm approved more recently by the Government of Mariano Rajoy. This law was extended until 1930. Under this legal cover, the Spanish ambassadors and consuls would help the Jews escape from the Nazis.
Diplomats and Spanish Ambassadors during the 2nd World War
The Franco dictatorship was aware of the genocide committed by the Nazis, but they only ordered to save those Jews of Spanish nationality.
It is the order that they sent to all the consuls and ambassadors of Europe. However, a large number of them used the decree-law of December 20, 1924 to extend passports not only to Sephardic Jews, but to any Jew, so that they could flee protected by Spain, saving them from certain death.
Among these diplomats and ambassadors, Julio Palencia Álvarez from Bulgaria and Ángel Sanz Briz from Hungary stand out.