Saturday, February 14, 2015

Spanish Inquisition: Scattered Jews from Spain and Portugal to South America

Nadene Goldfoot                                                              

Synagogue in Santiago, Chile

At one time Chile had the 4th largest Jewish community in all of South America.  By 1990 there were 17,000 Jews living here.  90% of them lived in Santiago.  They even have 3 Jewish weeklies, which is 3 more than we have in Portland, Oregon.

The Spanish Inquisition took a major step against Jews in 1492, the year Columbus sailed for India but eventually wound up near North America.  Christians had taken the step to force Jews to convert to their religion or leave their lands.  Many went underground and became hidden Jews or Anusim, the term used today, but in the past were called Marranos.

It was no easy feat in those days to board a ship with sails and expect it to land in known chartered waters unharmed.  Many Jews moved next door to Portugal which did not involve sailing ships.  However, the same decree soon reached Portugal and the Jews who wanted to remain Jewish had to move again.  These Jews who were facing death if not converting often were called "New Christians."  "New Christians began to leave Spain in the wake of the mass conversions of 1391, and Portugal after the forced conversions in 1497."
Jews in Chile

Jews wound up in South America via ships.  Anusim settled in Chile, which is the seashore of Argentina in the early period of Spanish rule.  The Inquisition finally  reached this land in 1570, 78 years after starting in Spain.  The Inquisition brought with it untold cruelties and torture machines, used to force people into admitting that they were Jews.  With this event, no Jews here could admit they were Jewish or do anything that would identify them as being Jews.

Independence came to Chile in 1810, so Jews were finally freed from the chains of being Anusim.  They began to immigrate to better places. By 1914 there were only 3,000 Jews in Chile.  Today there are 12 synagogues in Chile, 6 of them being in Santiago.

After 1933 Jews were immigrating from Europe, mainly Germany and grew from 1939 to 1952.  Only 200 to 300 Jews were allowed  immigrate each year.  .

My brother and his wife took a vacation to Argentina which included visiting Chile as a package deal.  Argentina had been the country where Nazis at the end of WWII hung out.  Being Chile makes up the whole seacoast of Argentina, they  lived,  visited and had holidays here as well.
Walter Rauff (pictured being driven away from Chilean police in 1962) was one of Hitler's heroes: the creator of the mobile gas vans - forerunners of the gas chambers - which were used to slaughter 100,000 people
"Thousands of Nazis and wartime collaborators from France, Croatia, Belgium and other parts of Europe were looking for a new home: preferably as far away from the Nuremberg Trials as possible. Argentina welcomed hundreds if not thousands of them: the Juan Domingo Perón regime went to great lengths to get them there, sending agents to Europe to ease their passage, providing travel documents and in many cases covering expenses."

 " Nazism in Chile has a long history dating back to the 1930s. Nazist cells are currently active in many Chilean cities, specially the capital, Santiago, and the southern cities with German heritage."  "It is widely known that albeit there were discrepancies most German Chileans were passive supporters of Nazi Germany. Nazism was widespread among the German Lutheran Church hierarchy in Chile. A local chapter of the Nazi Party was started in Chile."  As for the racial qualities of of people of Chile, "Nicolás Palacios considered the "Chilean race" to be a mix of two bellicose master races: the Visigoths of Spain and the Mapuche (Araucanians) of Chile.

Resource:  The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia


  1. such good and timely posts nadene. i send friends here who need some history lessons like i do. keep on keepin' on ;)