The history of Jews in Spain is long and complex, fraught with periods of persecution. However, thanks to a more welcoming government and an influx of Argentine Jews, Jewish communities are growing once again in Spain.
In February, the Spanish government offered up a bill that, if passed, could grant Spanish citizenship to all Sephardic Jews able to prove their lineage. This is not the first time Spain has offered to aid Sephardic Jews and grant them Spanish citizenship.
In the early 1930s, after the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic, Spain attempted to grow its Jewish population, which had been very small since the Inquisition and Expulsion of the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1931, Indalecio Prieto, the minister of finance, explained why:
The Sephardim have been termed Spaniards without a country. Many of the Jews who live today in Ceuta and Melilla are naturalised Spanish subjects, but there are many more who are anxious to acquire Spanish nationality…
It is a necessary, urgent and patriotic duty to grant the maximum of facilities in this regard.
The Jewish element in Morocco is extremely important to Spain. For one thing, there is the sentimental side, they speak our language and are full of yearning for our country. At the same time, there are their connections with the natives, and their financial importance.
In 1934, the Spanish government looked into granting citizenship to Sephardic Jews.
But two years later, the Spanish Civil War — in which the fascist Francisco Franco rose to power with the help of Nazi Germany — put an end to that. Although Franco allowed some Jews to migrate to Spain to escape Nazi persecution, conditions soon became unsafe for them. In April 1940, JTA called the situation for Jews in Spain “hopeless” and reported that “No special anti-Jewish legislation is expected, but police measures against the Jews have been taken secretly along lines indicated to the police by the Minister of Interior, who is an open advocate of the Nazi racial doctrine.”
Still, Jews continued to flock to Spain in large numbers to escape Nazi-occupied countries. JTA reported in 1943 that the German authorities in occupied France issued an order barring Jews from living in towns on the French-Spanish border.
After the war, the rhetoric of acceptance gradually made its way back into the Spanish government’s policies. On Dec. 16, 1968, Spain officially rescinded the 1492 Alhambra Decree, which had expelled all Jews from the country. And in 1982, the country facilitated the process for Sephardic Jews living in Spain to become citizens.
The connection that some Sephardic Jews have felt to Spain throughout history should not be underestimated. One JTA report from 1931, during the first optimistic surge of support for Jews in Spain, describes one Jewish official’s opinion:
I am myself, Senor Abravenel proceeds, a direct descendant of Don Isaac Abravenel, who was Treasurer, or Minister of Finance in Spain from 1484 till the expulsion in 1492, and thus belong to one of the oldest and most distinguished of Spanish families, tracing its descent back to King David.
Eighteen years ago, in 1913, Senor Abravenel goes on, I entered the service of Spain, as a Secretary to the Spanish Consulate in Salonica, finally becoming Secretary of the Chancellory…
I was happy to be able to serve. Spain in these capacities and in other offices which I held subsequently, because both to myself and to my fellow-Jews of Spanish origin (Sephardim), Spain has always been the mother country, the beautiful land which we all love, Senor Abravenel says. There is not one single Sephardic Jew who does not feel proud to call himself Spanish. With unbounded joy, with burning desire, with overwhelming love, and with all the strength of our soul, all we Sephardic Jews respond to the movement for our return to the country of our origin, to our beloved Spain, the land of our great grandsires.