Portugal sets aside a day to remember Inquisition victims
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Portugal sets aside a day to remember Inquisition victims

Remembrance will be held on or around March 31, the official end of the campaign in 1821

The first Cemetery of the first Spanish and Portuguese community Synagogue (Shearith Israel, active 1656-1833), Manhattan, New York City. Source: WIkimedia Commons. Author: DavidPina
The first Cemetery of the first Spanish and Portuguese community Synagogue (Shearith Israel, active 1656-1833), Manhattan, New York City. Source: WIkimedia Commons. Author: DavidPina

A Portugal government committee has approved the creation of a Memorial Day for the Victims of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition was formally established in Portugal in 1536 after starting in Spain decades earlier. The date of the memorial day will be held on or around March 31, the official end of the campaign in 1821.

Reconectar, the movement to reconnect the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities with the Jewish world, welcomed the decision by the parliament’s Commission for Culture, Communication, Youth and Sports.

“This is an extremely important step by the Portuguese Parliament and one that clearly demonstrates the Portuguese authorities’ intention to look critically at its past and show the Jewish world that it is seeking atonement for this reign of terror against our people,” Ashley Perry (Perez), president of Reconectar and the director of the Knesset Caucus for the Reconnection with the Descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jewish Communities, said in a statement issued Wednesday.

The Catholic Church and Spain’s royal house initiated the campaign persecuting Jews, conversos and others. Hundreds of thousands were forced into exile, and thousands were converted under duress. Thousands more were murdered.

Nearly 1,800 descendants of Sephardic Jews acquired Portuguese nationality in 2017 under a law enacted two years earlier, with another 12,000 still in the application process. That’s six times higher than the total for 2016, during which the application of the law hit bureaucratic snags amid political changes.

The increase in naturalisation under the law, which Portugal passed in 2013 and enacted in 2015 as a form of making amends for the persecution of Jews during the Inquisition, comes amid a host of initiatives by the government to strengthen the country’s ties to Jewish audiences and recognition of its Jewish heritage.

Reconectar is assisting in the reconnection of the tens of millions of people in North and Latin America, Europe and elsewhere who are discovering their Jewish ancestry.

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