(The following is an excerpt from the book, “How Odd of God-An Introduction to the Jews”, by Dr. Browne, to be brought out soon by MacMillan. Other excerpts from Dr. Browne’s fascinating new work will appear in this space from time to time.)
One hears great clamor today because Nazi Germany refuses to consider a converted Jew as anything but a Jew. Clergymen throughout the world have decried this is the greatest crime of the Hitlerites, and even the Pontifex Maximus himself has fulminated against it. Yet the # and is by no means novel. In the very heart of the Roman world there exists today thousands of men and women who, though they belong to a stock which has been devoutedly Catholic for centuries, are nevertheless still segregated and despised as Jews. I refer to the Chuetas of Majorca.
All the Jews dwelling on the Spanish island of Majorca were forcibly baptized in 1435. They were, however, merely baptized then, not really converted. As on the mainland, they and many of their descendants continued for years to practice their ancestral faith in secret. But in so small a place as Majorca it was less easy to keep the secret, and the local Inquisition was able to slake its thirst for heretical blood to the point (almost) of satiety. During two hundred and fifty years there were periodic raids and public executions, and finally in 1691 the Holy Office, after having confiscated almost the entire wealth of the Marrano colony, treated itself to an orgy which literally burnt out every vestige of heresy. Thereafter only one case of suspected “Judaizing” was ever discovered on the island, and in that instance the accused was an immigrant Marrano from Italy. Apparently the native “New Christians” became impeccable in their orthodoxy, accepting the Catholic faith and practicing its works without reservation or stint.
Yet they were still not accepted by the other Christians. They were called Chuetas, the local word for “swine”, or else Individuos de la Calle, which might be translated “ghetto folk.” For a ghetto folk they did remain. They were forced to live in a segregated quarter in the city of Palma, and allowed to marry only among themselves. “In vain”, writes Vicente Blasco Ibanez, “did they recite their prayers in loud voices in their homes so that the passersby might hear; in vain did they cook their food in the windows so that all should see that they ate pork. The traditional barriers could not be overcome. The Catholic Church was cruel and harsh, repaying their picty with disdain and repulsion.” The sons of the Chuetas who desired to become priests found no room in the seminary. The convents closed their doors against every novice coming from “the street.” They were all scated apart like “untouchables” at public worship, and even buried in a special corner of the cemeteries. They were excluded from all public office and from all honored professions. They could not even join the artisan guilds.
And this (stracism, instituted at the time of the forced conversion in 1435, was enforced by legal enactments for three hundred and fifty years! Not until 1782 were these people permitted even by law to dwell outside their wretched calle, and even then they were not able to do so because of local prejudice. The Old Christians refused to rent them houses in any other part of the city, or elsewhere on the island; nor would they permit them to engage in any occupation save that of goldsmithing. And this condition continues in great measure to this day!
One of Ibanez’s novels, The Dead Command, deals at length with this monstrous situation. When I first read the book-it appeared in English in 1919-I thought it a work of cheaply conceived melodrama. It was impossible for me to believe that the situation Ibanez described could be even remotely real. But I have since been to Majorca and seen for myself. I have sat with those Chuetas in their little jewelry shops on the dark and narrow Calle de la Plateria, and I have tried to draw them out in conversation. Sustained inbreeding during all these centuries has endowed them with traits which are “Jewish” to the point of caricature. Yet so far as I could discover, and so far as I have been able to learn from any other traveller who has been in their midst, they are all blankly ignorant of Judaism. For five hundred years now they have been professing Christians, and during at least the last two hundred and fifty years they have been devout ones. Yet there they are, several thousand in all, as distinct from the rest of the population as though they were recent immigrants. They are still the butt of ridicule in Palma, and even the clerics, whose most pious supporters they are, continue to treat them with contempt. After fifteen generations of going to mass and invoking the saints, they are still what their ancestors were-a pariah folk.
“When will it all end?” I asked an old Chueta who had been telling me of the slights his people are still made to endure.
“Ail” he sighed, shrugging his shoulder and extending his hands: “Solo la virgen # sabel-only the Virgin knows that!”…
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.