WHAT I HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE JEWS OF IBIZA AND FORMENTERA IN SPAIN
@ Jonathon Lipsin
I not only enjoy the hedonistic lifestyle of the islands of Ibiza and Formentera .In between bites of paella and yoga on the beach and dancing in a flamenco bar and swimming in the sea i sleuth out my passion and that is anything relating to my Jewish roots and history.This is what i have discovered so far..
It may surprise you to learn that the islands of Ibiza and Formentera where i have been living during the summer months the past four years have been the homes of Jews since thousands of years ago .
As it is i am one of a few Jews that live on the island of Formentera as far as i know.
Ibiza and Formentera are the third and fourth largest of the Balearic Islands. They are situated south to south-east of Majorca, equidistant to North Africa and mainland Spain, the islands provided a strong commercial attraction to Jewish traders from the periods of Phoenician and Roman occupation, particularly for their bountiful salt beds.and the dyeing industries. During the Roman time salt was considered “white gold ”
The Jewish history of the Pitiuses Islands spans twenty-seven centuries, with the first recorded Jews coming as traders with the Phoenicians. The commercially-minded Phoenicians were the first developers of the two main islands — Ibiza and Formentera — in 654 B.C.E., just 160 years after the building of Carthage. The Romans were the succeeding conquerors,
For 2,000 years the Ibicencos have been a perfect example of a multi-communal society, living together in peace. Descended from Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, Carthaginians and many others, the islanders collectively protected their Jews from all comers.
Even today i have seen how the locals have a let it be attitude and respect someones privacy and customs. I was a young hippie here washed ashore in 1973 and the Islanders let me be unlike the Guardia Civil on the Mainland who threw me in prison for being a hippie.
For generations, historians have assumed that the Jews at the southern end of the Balearics had suffered a fate similar to that of those on the larger island of Majorca, just 80 miles away, which for so long was the scene of terrible anti-Jewish outrages. Yet the Jews of Ibiza and Formentera survived the Inquisition and remained on these two small islands until modern times. It is a further facet of the special attitude of minding one’s own business pervading in the area that it is only in recent years that the facts began to come to light of how the Jews lived, traded and were protected on these islands.
The inhabitants of Ibiza and Formentera (Ibicencos) to this day greatly prize personal freedom. Local piracy, smuggling, and the proximity and affinity to Islamic Barbary all contributed to a hatred of prying eyes and the facility to hide Jews from the Inquisition.
It is a fact that 5 of the dreaded Barbary Coast pirate Barbarossa’s captains were Jewish and flew under the flag of Solomon’s Seal and their ships were named with Hebrew names. My theory is that they were Jews from Spain who were either forced to convert or fled and whose families probably suffered greatly under the Inquisition.They seemed to attack Spanish ships with zeal.
Sixth-century church documents mention the considerable size of the Jewish population and, contrary to other Iberian centers of that period, their lack of interest in conversion to Christianity. The Jewish population increased with the annexation by James I, the “Conquistador,” in 1235. With James came his Jewish administrators ….
In the terrible year for the Jews of Spain, 1391, when all the Jews in Barcelona suffered a great pogrom that decimated the Jewish “Cal” or ghetto under the pretext of the Black Plague there is no mention of outrages in Ibiza or Formentera, or of an exodus in the fateful year of 1492. All documents relating to visits by the officers of the Inquisition from 1423 onwards state that nobody was found practicing the Laws of Moses, yet research indicates that Jews continued to reside in the Islands and assisted many from elsewhere to escape the clutches of the Inquisition. Members of the Matutes family, descendants of the Motot family, that left for Italy in 1492, returned to Ibiza where they became one of the most important families in the island, playing a major role in the economic and social life there.
The Judería (ghetto) call (Jewish quarter) in Ibiza was in use as such until the 19th century and efforts are now being made for its restoration. Part of the nearby Convent of San Christobel (built in 1600) was used as a synagogue. It seems that one synagogue was in use in Formentera until 1936. I had located it’s whereabouts and it has been destroyed and a large house has been rebuilt over it. During the War this served seemingly a s a pension but was really a safe house for Jews escaping from Nazi Germany.The head of the police on the island actually facilitated this and i have learned he was a secret Jew.So late at night boats would come in and it’s occupants would be secreted to this large house where it was discovered in the basement was a secret synagogue. The house which was built by a Christian religious order from Ibiza in the 1600’s where also ironically a secret synagogue was also found was in the traditional area where Jews lived called Can Marroig and dates to 1630 .I have explored this area which is a nature park now but there is no remnant of the Jewish community that lived here for centuries . I have talked to people on the island that remember the Jews from the 30’s .
This once-opulent home had been built at the time of the terrible anti-Jewish outrages of the Inquisition in Majorca. The secret Jews first built the Convent in Ibiza in 1600, followed twenty years later by Can Marroig. It was lived in by families connected with the salt trade in the Balearics.
In 1936 the Torah scrolls and other religious items were removed to the Barcelona synagogue’s custody, where, they remain today.
In 1867 a clearly defined Jewish community was described by Prinz Luis Salvador of Hamburg in German in his first book on the Balearic Islands but was deleted in all subsequent editions until 1979.
The survival of Jewish customs was described by visitors to the Islands as late as the 1930s. The Spanish Civil War (1936–39) and the influence of the German SS in Majorca brought fear and conversions to Catholicism. Yet the islanders protected Jewish arrivals fleeing the Nazis.
During the Civil War bombers would take off from Formentera accompanied by Hitler’s Luftwaffe to conduct bombing raids on the civilian population of Valencia on the Mainland.
There is a concentration camp i discovered on the island of Formentera where 1500 prisoners were detained mostly from the Mainland but there were also locals who were killed there and people were known to turn other people in to the fascists under Franco,A number of people from Formentera ended up in Nazi concentration camps.Whether they were Jews i don’t know.I went to the camp and said Hebrew prayers in case there were .It is barely discernible just a mile or so out from the port La Salinas where the Jews would work the salt beds …Among the broken down walls and roofless buildings i dug and found remnants of barbed wire.
On interesting fact on the islands is the farmers do not work on Saturday in their fields .When asked they will answer ,”It is considered unlucky to work on Saturday.I feel this is a clue.
After the establishment of the Inquisition in 1410, the Vicars General of the Inquisition who came to the islands on inspection tours were given comfortable country homes and all who came left highly satisfied that within the islands until the final suppression of the dreaded Inquisition on July 15, 1834, “no one practiced the Laws of Moses .”
Yet if one looks in the archives of Ibiza, there are a number of transfers of Jewish properties to other Jews of the community during the years 1394-1423, and again in 1577 and 1685. All the sites were located along the “Street of the Jews” and the documents clearly state that the obligatory religious oath was a Jewish oath. The locals pulled the wool over the eyes of the Inquisitors and that permitted them to continue with the business that interested them most — piracy and smuggling within the ‘no-man’s-seas’ between the Barbary Coast .
Jews have had a long history of piracy and today in Jamaica and the Caribbean one can see Jewish graves decorated with the skull and bones of the pirates.
For hundreds of years the islands were almost unknown to the outside world. It was thought to be a a dangerous place to visit Yet the Jewis on the island had regular means of contact with communities elsewhere when they so desired. In the days before refrigeration, salt was a vital commodity and the salt for the whole of Europe was manufactured in Spain and the southern Balearic Islands. , The tax collectors were local Jews and salt exports were carried in Jewish-owned ships. In transporting this salt all over Europe, the Jews of Ibiza and Formentera were able to keep their lines of communication open with Jewish communities elsewhere.
According to what i have read in various investigations , those Jews from elsewhere captured by Ibiza and Formentera pirates were usually excused from ransom, hidden from the Inquisition, and helped on numerous occasions to reach a safe haven.
” In The Chuetas of Majorca, Dr. Baruch Braunstein has chronicled how in 1718 Jacob Carlos Nunez and his two cousins, Samuel and Solomon Nahon were taken captive by Ibicenco privateers. These family names were well-known to the Inquisition and the Palma section demanded that they be turned over to them. Eventually the three Jews were able to prove that they were not Spanish born and were released. After three and a half years, they reached safety.
In the archives of Ibiza there is fascinating sequel to this story in a short business letter with a long postscript. It seems that in addition to the three cousins there were two other Jews on the captured boat, two young boys whose name was also Nunez. For four years they were hidden from the authorities by the islanders. When word came that their family was safe, they were sent home in the care of a trusted sea captain. The letter was signed by Jacinto Rimbaud, Royal Tax Collector for the area. But to the Ibicencos, the Rimbauds were known for generations not only as the administrators of the islands, but as leaders of the Jewish community.
there was a been a find of great importance in Ibiza — a fragmented Megillah Esther (scroll of the Book of Esther) has been discovered dating from the 14th century, as verified by Professor Nadav of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The scroll had been cut and used for covers of each end of the property transaction document in the official land registry at the Ibiza town hall. The fragments were cut very carefully so as not to cut through any letters, and it was probably done to hide the scroll from inspectors of the Inquisition. ”
Another clue of the existence of Jews on the islands .
Prince Luis Salvador of Hapsburg, in Die Balearn, mentions the Jewish community of Ibiza in 1868, which proves that a definite Jewish community continued up through the 19th century ,
The Prince specifically locates their area near the San Christobel Convent which is in the Old City of Ibiza on a street called the Street of Jews. I have tried to get in but it has been blocked and deemed as dangerous to enter for many years. I still have a desire through to somehow break in and see what i can find. Maybe this time i will be successful..
He wrote about the way that they lived on their own as a community, although to the outside world they were Catholic. They were clearly distinctive, only married among themselves and, he noted, the majority among them had red hair I too have e are tinge in my beard and my great great grandfather had a long red beard.
Another story i has read is of the origin of Christopher Columbus almost certainly a Jew and possibly of Ibiza origin but born in Palma of a family who covered to Catholicism. For one thing 28% of the places he discovered in the Caribbean were named with names from places on the islands. Also he had a Ibicenco dialect in his writings.It has been revealed that Columbus was a member of the Catalan nation, a citizen of Mallorca ,born in 1436 to an Ibicencan family called Colom, who were , first Jews and then converted to Catholicism. Columbus was a relative of the French admiral Guillaume de Casenove, alias Coullon, known in Barcelona as Colom.
According to the writings of Benjamin de Tudela and Marco Polo , Columbus and his converted followers knew of the exhistence of Jewish communities in India with whom the hoped to get in contact in order to organise the emigration of the Spanish Jews. This explains why, in a time of fanatically intense Catholicism Columbus did not take a priest or a friar aboard but instead took a Hebrew translator.
He did not leave on the appointed day because that day was the 9th of Av a very unlucky day in Judaism .That was they that the two holy Temples of Jerusalem 70 years apart were destroyed by the enemies of Israel .When i lived in Jerusalem some 30 years ago i lived in an old Sephardic neighborhood an don the 9th of Av you could hear the lamentations from the 5 or 6 synagogues on my street until the early hours. I did not mind lying awake listening to them.It seemed such a strong connection for me to my collective ancient past.
There are reports of refugees fleeing the Nazi’s being helped by the old Jewish families of Ibiza and Formentera. For example, the locally-born chief of the secret police was a Marrano and frequently ignored orders to deport those without proper papers. He helped to shelter refugees and saw that they were issued vitally-needed baptism papers which were required to obtain food rations.
The Gestapo opened up an office in Palma to gather information on local Jews and Ibicenco city officials arranged boats for those who needed to escape. During this period many Jewish Ibicencos converted to Catholicism
After the war there were reports i have read of Nazis who were allowed to live on the islands and who were hiding out with the approval of Madrid .It has been said that a few of them met untimely deaths but this is just rumors… I have asked old timers about this but i am met with a shrug.Even to this day they keep their mouths shut.
So i will return to the islands for another three months and in that time i will continue to ask questions and try to break into the Convent in the Old City and look for Jewish graves.I entered one locked churchyard in the hope of finding Jewish graves but alas i didn’t. Yet when i am on the islands i hear their voices call to me and i light the Shabbat candles probably the only Jew to do this for 80 years or more.