Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk




The Spanish word “Marrano” means swine and was applied to Jews who converted to Christianity in the 16th century. These Spanish and Portuguese Jews were pressured to convert because the Catholic Inquisition gave them the choice of leaving their homes or becoming Christians.

Many of those who converted on demand and in fear of their lives cooked pork on their porches at all times so as to indicate to the general population that they had indeed adopted non-Jewish customs and given up the Jewish food laws. This led to the designation of marrano. Others were called “swine” because they retained important positions in Spanish life by formal conversion which neither they nor their born-Christian contemporaries took seriously.

There is a considerable possibility that Christopher Columbus descended from a marrano family. According to the book by Simon Wiesenthal, Sails of Hope, Columbus was a converso whose “very survival depended upon the total suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background.”

The evidence Wiesenthal presents consists of Columbus’ considerable education, which was unlikely among the humble Italians from whom he claimed descent. Columbus also spoke several languages, owned a large library, and wrote notes on the edge of books reflecting a knowledge of Hebrew stories.

In addition, Columbus was an expert cartographer, a profession at that time practiced almost only by Jews.

Finally, Wiesenthal claims that Columbus was financed in part by Jews who needed a new home so as to escape the persecution so long endured in Europe. He was evidently most amenable to that charge as he himself belonged to the “crypto-Jews” of his own day (crypto or kriptein is a Greek word meaning “hidden”).

Hidden Jews came to the New World as the Spanish and Portuguese explored South America, Mexico and the North American South. Jews had come to Brazil from Portugal after it was discovered in 1500. When the Inquisition followed them there they moved to the Dutch colony of Recife. There was no Inquisition among the Dutch, who were Protestants. However, Dutch rule ended in 1654 when the Portuguese overran Recife. Therefore, the Jews and the Protestants of Recife came to the nearest Dutch colony in the New World. That colony was New Amsterdam.

Ten years later, in 1664, the Duke of York and his English army drove the Dutch from New Amsterdam and renamed the town The Big Apple. (Didn’t he?)

In addition to the Jews who came to New Amsterdam a number of hidden Jews also followed the Spanish into New Mexico, Texas, Arizona and California. These state names did not apply at that time as all of that territory was called New Spain.

Cuba also had a number of crypto Jews among whom were the ancestors of the dictator Fidel Castro (so he says).

Today there are Catholics in the U.S. Southwest who seek out their Jewish ancestry and who want to return to Judaism because they believe that they are Jews by ancestry and inheritance.  All that after 500 years.

As you can see, we Jews do not only survive, we are even resurrected.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Stigma:  How We Treat Outsiders.

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