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Portugal’s “Hidden” Jews

  • After Jews were expelled from Portugal in 1497, those remaining practiced their faith underground.
    After Jews were expelled from Portugal in 1497, those remaining practiced their faith underground.
March 29, 2016
Gary Schiff, an adjunct professor in history, on April 13 will share his research on the largely unknown story of how Jews in Portugal were forced to practice in secret to avoid the Inquisition.

The long, fascinating—and largely secret—history of the Jews of picturesque Portugal will be the subject of a slide/lecture titled “In Search of Jewish Roots in Portugal,” presented by Washington College historian Gary Schiff. The event on Wednesday, April 13 at 5:30 p.m. in Hynson Lounge is free and open to the public.

Schiff spent the summer in Portugal, searching through remote mountain villages to track down locations where conversos or marranos, externally Catholic crypto-Jews, practiced in secret to avoid the Inquisition. Before this persecution starting in 1496, the Jewish population of Portugal reached as high as 20 percent, and they contributed to the country’s commercial, naval, and colonial prominence. Portugal also played a unique role in saving Jews during the Holocaust, allowing some 100,000 refugees to pass through en route to safety, despite being ruled by its own fascist dictator.

“In Search of Jewish Roots in Portugal” is Schiff’s eighth annual slide/lecture on a historic Jewish community in in a European country. Other countries that Schiff has explored include Spain, Germany, Poland (which led to the publication of his 2012 book, In Search of Polin: Chasing Jewish Ghosts in Today’s Poland), the Netherlands, and others. To view his 2015 lecture, “In Search of Dutch Jewry,” look here.

Schiff, an adjunct professor of history at the College, has taught courses on Jewish and Middle East history since 1998 and is the cantor and religious leader of the Chestertown Havurah. He holds a Ph.D. from Columbia University and is a former president of Gratz College in Philadelphia.  

The Institute of Religion, Politics and Culture and the Department of History sponsored this event.

Last modified on Apr. 1st, 2016 at 2:42pm by .