Crypto-Jews Gather to Recall a Forgotten Jewish Hero
Nearly 100 descendants of Spanish and Portuguese crypto-Jews will gather this weekend in northern Portugal for a special 3-day seminar being organized by the Jerusalem-based Shavei Israel organization, which reaches out and assists “lost Jews” seeking to return to the Jewish people. The seminar, entitled “The Challenges of Jewish Belief in a Post-Modern World”, will be held in the coastal city of Oporto, and will include rabbis, professors and authors from Israel, Spain and Portugal. The gathering will be dedicated to the memory of Portuguese Captain Arthur Barros Basto, a decorated World War I hero from a crypto-Jewish family who returned to Judaism and then launched an outreach movement to encourage other “hidden Jews” to do the same.
In addition to starting a Jewish newspaper and a yeshiva, Capt. Barros Basto opened the synagogue in Oporto, which is where the Shavei Israel seminar in his memory is being held. Eventually, however, his activities ran afoul of Portuguese government and church authorities, and he was driven out of the military on trumped-up charges in the early 1940s. Historians have dubbed him the “Portuguese Dreyfus”, after French General Staff officer Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew who was wrongly accused and convicted of treason in 1894 due to anti-Semitism. “Captain Barros Basto was a Jewish hero whose only transgression was that he sought to restore the Bnei Anousim [Hebrew for people whose ancestors were forcibly converted to Catholicism during the time of the Inquisition] to Judaism,” said Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund. “He was a man of action and vision, and it is only fitting that we pay homage to his memory by convening a seminar for Bnei Anousim in the very same synagogue that he was responsible for having built.”
Freund noted that for the past two years, Shavei Israel has been waging a public campaign to get the government of Portugal to posthumously clear Capt. Barros Basto’s name as well as issue a formal apology for what was done to him. As a result of these efforts, letters have been sent by US Congressmen and various Jewish organizations to Portuguese officials, but they have thus far refused to reopen his case.