A Dialog about Portuguese History

From: rufina bernardetti silva mausenbaum
To: [Identity Withheld]
Subject: Re:
Date: Tuesday, January 27, 1998 9:27 PM

Dear [], Hope I did not upset you with that statement. I consider myself HEART and SOUL Portuguese. Your knowledge is admirable. Nice to interrelate with someone with historical research. I do stick to my view though, and will give you references to substantiate my view. NOT to change your mind, but to give authenticity to what I said.

Last year, Brazil hosted the FIRST international Congress at the University of Sao Paulo. Participants from 15 Countries around the world participated. Many well known and published Historians delivered papers and discussions. This was sponsored by the Portuguese and Brazilian Societies for Eighteenth Century Studies, the Academic conference marked the 450th anniversary of the establishment in Portugal of the Tribunal of The Holy Office of the Inquisition.

Professor Anita Novinsky, conference coordinator, said the sessions “filled a void in which even the history books are silent. Never after this will the history of Portugal or Brazil be written without a chapter on the Inquisition. This powerful institution during more than three centuries intefered in all aspects of life. The Inquisition looked for ‘heretics’ in the kingdoms AND the colonies and persecuted men and women of all social classes and ages who believed, thought or acted differently from the religious patterns imposed by the Church.”

Professor Francisco Marques-Villanueva of Harvard University said that “almost no one knows inquisitors were appointed directly by the crown, Rome had only nominal control. In simple terms, we can say the Inquisition acted as political police, often functioning as a politized tribunal. The medieval Inquisition was controlled by the bishops’ authority, but the Inquisition under the Catholic Kings was a state apparatus.” He continued… ” the Catholic Kings preoccupied almost exclusively with converted Jews. …It was convenient for the kings to have a police instrument to control this new class, through an institution that practically reduced them to hostages.”

In 1492 Spain expelled the Jews and only the converts remained. By contrast, in 1497 the ENTIRE Jewish community of Portugal was FORCED to convert. These new Christians were a distinct class, and were considered by Catholic contemporaries as Jews for centuries after their ancestors had converted.

Here, I would like to interrupt the ‘congress’, and for a second revert to my own experience. Walking in the street in Lisbon last year 1997, I passed a business with a VERY distinctive Chatholic name. The person with me said “Oh, they are Judeo’s”…!!!???

Back to the congress: The term ‘Portuguese’ became synonymous with ‘Jewish’ …and when Spain and Portugal was annexed in 1580 it became obvious that the ‘Portuguese’ were being hounded in all the European Countries controlled by Spain. “Regarding the cruelty of the Inquisition, it could be described as almost worse mentally than physically. The manipulation to destroy the defendant psychologically was set by ‘theatricalization’ that influenced the masses. Scenarios were carefully planned as a spectacle that was attended by everyone, from the king to the most humble, polarizing the life of the whole country. People were publically tortured and murdered. …More important even than the Autos-da-Fe, was the capacity to manipulate.”

Most people know about the Spanish Inquisition, but the Portuguese Inquisition details are relatively unknown. This Congress was bringing light on the impact of the Inquisition on Portugal and its Colonies. Professor Angel Alcana of Brooklyn College presented a paper on intellectual repression, comparing and contrasting the Spanish and the Portuguese Inquisitions. Portugal, unlike Spain took ritual burning to its limits. At each auto-da-fe, Portugal “being more intolerant than Spain, carried to THE EXTREME …writers were tried and burnt not because of their writing, but because of their secret Jewish religious practises…the general situation created a general ‘fear of books’ and ‘fear of ideas’. People were afraid even to let anyone know they could read, as this could make them suspect. We know that the Inquisition was the most important factor of social control…in all aspects of life — religious, political, literary and social. It contributed to this historical retardation still until recently being felt in some areas having started out by persecuting Judeo converts.”

Besides discussing and focusing MOSTLY on the Jewish aspect of this period and the results thereof…the economy and literature, it also dealt with genocide. Professor Kamen of the University of Warwick, London, whose book Inquisition and Society in Spain is considered definitive by many Inquisition scholars, said “The persecution of ‘new’ Christians was the most major component of the Inquisition.” He also cited, like Professor Alcala, that the censorship was extremely critical to the situation after the Inquisition. Stating also that it was a current theme…dealing with oppression of the human being, political instrumentalization of religion and the relationship between state power and individual freedom.

The 20th century has witnessed ideological, political persecution, of which the Nazis’ “final solution” towards the Jewish people is the most obvious example. The main difference between three centuries of the Inquisition and oppression in our time is that today’s technology is capable of making torture and genocide more efficient!!!

Professor Gerald Nahon of the Sorbonne in Paris discussed how the Portuguese Inquisition was STILL felt today in relation to the many groups of Crypto Jews in Brazil and elsewhere, Portugal included…to deduct from this one can only conclude that the effects still found…are among PORTUGUESE (not Spanish) asking the question why?… (I leave the answer for you to find within yourself.) The Inquisition was a conditioning factor for the emotional life of the Portuguese people. “People hid their emotions (repression does weird things over centuries) and lied…living secret lives giving rise to an identity problem.”

Needless to say, it was a VERY exciting congress…for the first time a subject lost to history and not even written about or correctly taught…was aired. The time has come to accept our flaws. To face them, and to look towards the future together towards a new era, a new beginning…ALL of Portugal’s children, irrespective of religion colour or creed…

You are correct, [Name Withheld], the Portuguese are very tolerant of mixed races etc… (not that it helped them in Angola or Moçambique)…but the mistake that the Portuguese were tolerant of the Jewish Portuguese…that is a totally different matter. They were (a few still are) Jewish, NOT a different ‘race’. THEY WERE/ARE PORTUGUESE, but of a different religion…that was the ONLY difference. In those days, again you are correct, the Kings mostly were very supportive and did not want to ‘lose’ them…so he made them his slaves as hostages instead. I say this without bitterness nor hate…I’m not BLAMING anyone…after all, the kings, the nobility as well as the peasants…all had some Jewish blood…In fact, the chief Inquisitor was of a converso family.

That was then. Today, this is what the SAUDADES…the NEXT 500 years is all about. Looking towards the future. To HAVE a future, we cannot be fooled about our past any longer. We need to accept what happened in the context of time, and move FORWARD…together. All of us. All Portuguese. As one.

To end I want to quote Bishop Coutinho, who more than 30 years after he witnessed the cruelty of the forced baptisms, wrote: “I saw many persons dragged by the hair to the font, sometimes, I saw a father, his head covered in sign of grief and pain, lead his son to the font, protesting and calling God to witness that they wished to die together in the law of Moses. Yet more terrible things that were done with them did I witness with my own eyes.” The children of the Moslems, who were included in the edict of expulsion, were untouched. The authorities cynically confessed the reason. It was that there were lands in which the Crescent was supreme, and in which reprisals might be carried out!. From: Cecil Roth; A History of the Marranos 5th Ed. Sepher-Hermon Press, Inc New York, 1992.

Hope you take the above as it was intended. To give weight to my argument or viewpoint. In fact, when President Mario Soares apologized to the Jewish people in 1989, 19th March, he directly blamed the degradation of Portugal (his words) to what happened and the persecution of the Jewish Portuguese. Let’s hear from you soon, [Name Withheld]. It hurts me as much, if not more to know what I was ‘taught’ was incorrect regarding the benevolence of the Portuguese towards the Jewish Portuguese. It was that dreadful period in history. It is time we look towards the future…together.

With warm and kind regards,
As always, Rufina.

PS, another word to describe the Israelites who moved around, crossing borders and rivers, is ‘IVRI’…the border crosser…

From: [Name Withheld]
To: rufina @ netactive.co.za
Date: Tuesday, January 27, 1998 5:54 PM

Dear Rufina:

Thanks for your very informative reply. I usually make reference to 500 years ago because that is when the great oppresion against the Jews in Iberia culminated (“The Spanish Inquisition”). I am aware of the fact that of the twelve tribes of Israel and Judah, only two are known to exist. One is the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe; the other, the tribe of Judah, the rulers. Both came from Judah. These tribes were scattered to the furthest edges of the Roman empire. That’s how they came to Iberia. The hebrew word for far away is sefard. It is also the word given to the Jewish population of Iberia.

As much as I respect and admire your insight and knowledge relating to the Jewish presence in Iberia, I do not agree with you entirely on one point. You said that, “the Portuguese Inquisition, lasting 300 years, was far more intense and vicious than the Spanish”, and, “that is also the reason why Portugal became so poor and backward.” I beg to differ. Historically, the Portuguese have been more tolerant of other races than the Spaniards, who by comparison are far more temperamental in character — one only has to look back in history to the way in which they obliterated the indigenous indians of South and Central America through mass genocide and unspeakable cruelties.

Even in India, to the credit of the Portuguese, the Indians were never discriminated against on the basis of skin colour or race. In fact, Portuguese men were rather fond of dark skinned women and the miscegenation that took place there, Brazil and the Africas is undeniable proof of that. The intellectual level of Spain was also a little more highly developed than that of Portugal because the Moorish presence there was more deeply entrenched and lasted approximately 200 years longer. The Moors were culturally advanced in the areas of Art, Architecture, Mathematics, Astronomy and the Sciences. Actually, during the mass expulsion of the Jews from Portugal, the King — his name escapes me now — was rather reluctant to force them to leave since he was fully aware of the many significant contributions that the Jews had made in Portuguese society. Yes, it is true that the Portuguese nobility made concerted efforts to suppress knowledge and learning, but one must bear in mind that people, in a sense, were still living in the ‘dark age’, so to speak. Besides, in those days, it was beneficial for the royals and nobles to discourage the peasants and commoners from acquiring knowledge since it allowed their corruption, crookery and deceit to go unchecked. This was not peculiar to Portugal and Spain only, it existed in many other European countries as well — France is one example.

Well, this is my point of view Rufina. Please send me your reply as I am always interested in your feedback.

[Name Withheld]