Jan Meisels Allen
The interior of the Holocaust Museum of Porto, Portugal, in January 2021. (Courtesy of the Jewish Community of Porto)
On January 20, Portugal is opening its first Holocaust Museum in the City of Porto by members of its Jewish community founded by descendants of victims of the Inquisition.
The museum features a reproduction of Auschwitz prisoner barracks, a memorial room with walls carrying the names of Holocaust victims and a study center.
The Inquisition, a campaign of religious persecution on the Iberian Peninsula that began in Spain in 1492, was applied also in Portugal in 1536. It ended Jewish life in Porto and across the region as hundreds of thousands of Sephardic Jews fled both countries. Those who remained practiced Judaism in secret. Their descendants are known as bnei anusim.
Artur Carlos de Barros Basto and army captain who helped promote Jewish life around Porto helped organize Jewish life in Porto in the 1920s. He was thrown out of the Army an labeled a pedophile on false charges in an anti-Semitic conspiracy. His life is depicted in the video Sefarad.
Many Eastern European Jewish refugees in the 1940s passed through Portugal.
The community has members descended from Ashkenazi Jews who lost their relatives in the Holocaust. Today, Portugal has about 3,100 people who self-identify as Jews. The Jewish Community of Porto says it now has about 400 members.
The influx is connected to immigration from elsewhere in Europe and Latin America, as well as Portugal’s 2015 law guaranteeing citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews that was passed to atone for the Inquisition.
The Jewish communities of Porto and Lisbon vet citizenship applications for the government, charging hundreds of dollars per application. There have been more than 76,000 applications, and about 30% have been approved.
Jan Meisels Allen
Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee