Revealed: Rare Documentation of the Portuguese Inquisition

A recently discovered manuscript documents the first 130 years of the Portuguese Inquisition’s tribunals, mainly in Lisbon. Recorded on the pages are trials conducted by inquisitors and others against newly converted Christians accused of continuing to practice Judaism in secret…

The Portuguese Inquisition

In 2020, the Portuguese Parliament declared March 31 to be the official Memorial Day for the Victims of the Inquisition. This unprecedented initiative by the parliament in Lisbon is indicative of the government of Portugal’s desire to acknowledge the historical trauma of the many that were tortured or punished over the years by the monarchy and the Inquisition.

In 1536, at the request of King John (João) III of Portugal, the Catholic Church initiated the Inquisition following a mass influx into the country of anusim (Jews who had been forced to convert) who had fled the Spanish Inquisition. The forced conversions and persecution by the Inquisition tribunals brutally cut off hundreds of thousands of Jews from their religion, although the exact number of Jewish victims is unknown. The Portuguese Inquisition included particularly cruel punishments often carried out before large crowds that gathered to watch autos-da-fé (public penance rituals for heretics and non-believers). Trials ceased after about 250 years, although Portugal’s Inquisition was only officially abolished in 1821.

A page from the manuscript describing auto-da-fé trials in Lisbon. The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, the National Library of Israel

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People at the National Library of Israel have revealed a manuscript from the 18th century comprising about 60 pages documenting the first 130 years of the Inquisition tribunal’s activity, mainly in Lisbon. These pages document the trials conducted by inquisitors and others, who often questioned whole families of converts accused of continuing to practice Judaism in secret.

Evidence of the tribunals in Lisbon leaps from the pages of the bound manuscript discovered by the Central Archives. Entitled Memoria de todos os autos da fé que setem feito em Lisboa (“An Accounting of All the Autos-da-Fé that Took Place in Lisbon”), it includes dozens of pages in Portuguese succinctly documenting the autos-da-fé held in the Portuguese capital between the years 1540–1669, with a brief mention of trials that took place in the city of Tomar. Next to the exact dates and locations of the trials the manuscript cites the names of the priests who delivered the sermons. The sermons served as a means of encouraging religious discipline among the Christian masses and were a significant part of the trial, so much so that they were later printed and disseminated separately as a further form of commemoration.

Title page of the auto-da-fé sermon of the priest Phillippe Moreira, printed in 1646, the Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People, the National Library of Israel

The manuscript also contains the numbers of men and women accused of heresy and cites the amount of people burned at the stake. Among those prosecuted were “New Christians” accused of “Judaizing.” Yet, it appears from the recently discovered pages that religious practice was not the only reason for the persecutions. “Old Christians”’ (defendants who came from families without any Jewish background) were convicted of sodomy, bigamy, possession of forbidden books, and sacrilege. The punishment mentioned in the pages is exile aboard “a galley ship”, essentially meaning slave labor.

It should be noted that over the centuries, most of the anusim in Portugal abandoned any sign of their Jewish roots that might betray them—circumcision, immersion in the mikvah, and the observance of Jewish holidays. Some, however, continued to observe Jewish rituals in their homes in secret, or commemorate holidays, often a number of days after the actual date. For example, to confuse the inquisitors, some would secretly celebrate Yom Kippur and Passover belatedly, or light Shabbat candles inside pottery vessels to conceal the flames. Children under the age of 12 were not permitted to attend these clandestine religious ceremonies in order to keep them from revealing secrets that might betray their families.

These discoveries shed light on the realities of a complex chapter of Jewish history as well as on the devotion of Iberian Jewry to the observance of religious precepts, even in the direst of times.

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Judith Montefiore on How to Cook Like a Proper Jewish Lady

The name Judith Montefiore is probably not famous enough in Israel. A brief search of the National Library archives revealed that not only was she an equal partner in her husband’s charitable endeavors, but she was also likely the anonymous editor of the first Jewish cookbook published in England…


A portrait of Judith Montefiore alongside the book she most likely edited...

It would be difficult to imagine a more chauvinist cliché than “behind every successful man is a woman.” However, in the case of Sir Moses Montefiore, it is entirely true. Sir Moses and Lady Judith Montefiore’s joint charitable work preceded Prince Harry and Meghan Markle by some 200 years. And even though Sir Moses generally received most of the glory, Lady Judith was a full and equal partner in all his activities and decisions. In the mid-19th century, during her own lifetime, she received much more credit, not only from the Jewish community in the Land of Israel, but throughout the world.

The Montefiore family crest, from the book Mizmor Shir Hanukat Bayit, the National Library of Israel

The recent renaming of the footbridge crossing the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv from Gesher Yehudit (“Judith Bridge”) to Gesher Yitzhak Navon (“Yitzhak Navon Bridge”) was a good reason to dig through the Library archives in search of one of Jewish history’s most important women. Judith Montefiore was not only the figure behind the most significant financial contributions to the Old Yishuv in the Land of Israel, but she also worked to promote Jewish life everywhere while even engaging in diplomatic missions.

Portrait of Sir Moses Montefiore sitting opposite a portrait of Judith. This image is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and has been made accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Yad Ben Zvi Archive, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel

Among the National Library of Israel’s holdings is a copy of the first-ever Jewish cookbook and housekeeping guide published in England. Released in 1846, The Jewish Manual: Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery (With a Collection of Valuable Recipes & Hints Relating to the Toilette) lists only “A Lady” as its editor. Since its publication, the book has been attributed to Lady Judith Montefiore, although there is no documentation or concrete proof to support this hypothesis. Not many Jewish women in Victorian England held the title of Lady, but there were a few possible candidates.

“Edited by A Lady.” Front page of the book The Jewish Manual: Practical Information in Jewish and Modern Cookery. From a digital copy held at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC

Beyond being a Jewish cookbook that—as the editor states in the introduction—instructs its readers on the art of preparing quality, delicious meals while following strict Jewish dietary laws, it is also a guide for the middle-class Jewish homemaker. The reader, of course, must have at least one maidservant to assist her in the management of the kitchen, household, and personal care—nothing out of the ordinary for any proper Jewish Lady. In the introduction, the anonymous editor notes that the book is written for young women as a guide to managing a rich and diverse table, the foundation for a happy family as well as successful social interactions.

The first part of the book is devoted to various Jewish recipes, or perhaps more correctly, the preparation of dishes in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. The book also includes recipes for specifically Jewish dishes, mainly of Spanish, Dutch and German origin, places that happened to characterize the food served at the Montefiore home. Anyone looking for recipes for Eastern European delicacies, such as gefilte fish, chopped liver, latkes or borscht, will be disappointed, as the massive Jewish migration from Eastern Europe to the West only began in the 1880s.

No soy sauce and ketchup. The Jewish Manual, from a digital copy held at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC

In this section of the book, the editor not only includes recipes but also a few tips for the sophisticated hostess. For example, the anonymous editor recommends not cooking with soy sauce or ketchup, which “inferior cooks” tend to add to their stews. Rather, these sauces should be placed on the table, and each guest may add them to their own taste.

The last part of the book is devoted to personal hygiene. According to the editor, while a woman’s intelligence is the true source of her beauty, she should also nurture her body. Toward this end, the book includes quite a few recipes and tips for facial, lip and skin care, including advice on keeping hands white and smooth.

Renewed interest in the book led some amateur historians to connect The Jewish Manual to Judith Montefiore. More thorough research revealed that the book’s recipes correspond to the type of cuisine served in the Montefiore home, but the connection did not end there. Careful perusal of the book reveals that the “Lady” who edited it was a member of the upper class, in addition to being a world traveler who also visited Palestine, from where she brought a recipe for soup. Judith Montefiore visited the Land of Israel in the mid-nineteenth century no less than five times while accompanying her husband. She was captivated by the charm of the Holy Land and even learned Arabic, in addition to Hebrew and four or five other languages ​​she already knew.




Here is the recipe for “Palestine Soup”, a classic local dish featuring Jerusalem artichokes, from Lady Judith Montefiore’s cookbook:

Recipe for Palestine Soup. The Jewish Manual, from a digital copy held at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC


There is no conclusive proof that Judith Montefiore is the mysterious “Lady” behind the book, but we believe her to be. The Montefiores donated the funds to renovate Rachel’s Tomb on the outskirts of Bethlehem, and after his beloved wife’s death in 1862, Sir Moses Montefiore built a tomb on their estate in Ramsgate, Kent, modeled on that very edifice. Upon his death, he was buried there alongside her.

Antisemitic Nationalists Killed Germany’s Jewish FM. His Mom Forgave Them

Walther Rathenau, one of Germany's wealthiest and most powerful men, was gunned down by radicals in 1922 and mourned by millions. A moving and timeless letter from his mother was read at the murderer's trial.

After her son's murder, Mathilde Rathenau championed forgiveness and reconciliation within German society, and worked to ensure that his legacy would be remembered (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-L40010/102-00093 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

In the first days of summer 1922, Germany’s only ever Jewish foreign minister was murdered. Millions mourned him and his mother soon found it in her heart to forgive the murderer, an antisemitic, nationalist radical.

The social and political atmosphere in the Weimar Republic of the early 1920s was both fragile and explosive as republicans, monarchists, socialists, communists, anarchists and other groups worked to implement their respective agendas… sometimes through the auspices of the still novel democratic process, sometimes by force.

Electioneering in Berlin, 1919 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1972-033-15 / Gebrüder Haeckel / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Antisemitism often went hand-in-hand with political movements and ideologies, particularly those of the more nationalist persuasion. One such group, the Organization Consul (OC), was an avowedly nationalist and antisemitic organization, which aimed to destabilize Weimar democracy in order to establish a military dictatorship. Assassination was the OC’s method of choice and Walther Rathenau, the wealthy, powerful and Jewish foreign minister was perhaps the most obvious target in the Republic.

Walther Rathenau. From the Abraham Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel

Months before the murder, there were explicit news reports that he was being targeted. According to Count Harry Kessler’s biography of the slain leader, just the day before Rathenau’s murder, the chief of police had warned him “that if he persisted in driving to his office from his residence on the outskirts of Berlin in a slow open car, no police in the world could guarantee his safety.”

Yet Rathenau did not heed the chief’s warning and around 10:45 in the morning on June 24, 1922, a Mercedes edged up next to his on the city’s Koenigsallee Road.  Rathenau was shot with a submachine gun, virtually at point blank range. A grenade was tossed into his car for good measure.

A young nurse named Helene Kaiser, who bravely attended to the slain foreign minister immediately following the attack, later recalled that “Rathenau, who was bleeding hard, was still alive and looked up at me. But he seemed to be already unconscious.”

He died shortly after.

Within hours, millions of Germans were mourning Rathenau, even if many disagreed with his politics or philosophy. The trade unions declared a general holiday early the following week. Massive marches took place across the country. A million marched in Berlin, hundreds of thousands in numerous other cities. His body was laid in state in the Reichstag, as the German leadership, alongside domestic and international dignitaries mourned his murder.

Rathenau lying in state in the Reichstag, June 27, 1922 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-Z1117-502 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

The level and type of national mourning was unprecedented in German history and widely compared to the aftermath of Abraham’s Lincoln’s assassination at the end of the American Civil War.

Rathenau was memorialized in various ways, though his official memory was all but erased upon the Nazis’ rise to power a decade after the assassination, when the murderers were celebrated as national heroes in his place.

Unveiling a memorial plaque at the site of the murder, June 1929 (Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-07961 / CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Unfortunately, even in the direct aftermath of the attack, two of the three direct assailants escaped justice, as one was killed in a shootout with police and another took his own life rather than be captured. The third perpetrator, Ernst Werner Techow, who had driven the attack car, was later sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

At the trial, the defense read aloud a letter written by Rathenau’s mother to Techow’s. One contemporary writer beautifully described how Mathilde Rathenau’s words, “revealed the bleeding, agonized yet forgiving Jewish heart to a touched world”:

“In grief unspeakable, I give you my hand. You, of all women, the most pitiable. Say to your son that in the name and spirit of him who was murdered, I forgive, even as God may forgive, if before an earthly judge he makes a full and frank confession of his guilt, and before a heavenly one repent. Had he known my son, the noblest man earth bore, he had rather turned the weapon on himself than on him. May these words give peace to your soul.”


This article has been published as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

“The Jews were in shock…” – A Nazi View of Kristallnacht

Reports and books written by senior members of the Nazi regime deposited in the National Library of Israel reveal chilling texts describing "The Night of Broken Glass" from the Nazi perspective...

The Frankfurt Borneplatz Synagogue in flames on Kristallnacht

On November 7, 1938, a young Jew carrying a pistol entered the German embassy in Paris. There, at 9:30 a.m., he shot German diplomat Ernst vom Rath, gravely wounding him. He said it was in revenge for the suffering the Nazis had inflicted on his family.

The shooter, Herschel Grynszpan, was only 17 years old. His family lived in Germany, but they were Polish citizens. Herschel had been sent to live with his uncle and aunt in Paris, but he kept in touch with his parents, brother and sister. After the Nazi regime expelled the family along with thousands of other Jews who were citizens of Poland, they found themselves without food, clothing or money in the no-man’s land that was the German-Polish border region.

Herschel Grynszpan
Ernst vom Rath

Adolf Hitler and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels were told of the assassination within half an hour of the incident. They realized that this event represented a valuable opportunity. Adolf Eichmann, then head of the Jewish Department of the SS in Austria, had already identified the most effective way of ridding Germany of its Jews while keeping their money and assets in the country. In his view, antisemitic laws were not enough to achieve the goal because many Jews were willing to tolerate them and to remain in Germany. Only a severe and extreme act of state-organized terrorism could cause them to flee while they were still able.

As propaganda minister, Goebbels was the right man to handle the fallout of the assassination incident in Paris. However, that morning he was hurrying to the train to Munich, as the Nazi movement’s memorial day celebrations were to take place two day later, on the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch.

In his absence, Goebbels appointed Wolfgang Diewerge, an expert on antisemitic propaganda and a great believer in Jewish conspiracies, to run the campaign. Diewerge had extensive experience in the field of propaganda. In 1936, he led the propaganda campaign against the young Jew David Frankfurter, who had assassinated Wilhelm Gustloff, the founder of the Nazi movement’s Swiss branch. Diewerge wrote two books about Frankfurter, published in 1936 and 1937 (Frankfurter would eventually make his way to Mandatory Palestine. He passed away in 1982 in Ramat-Gan, Israel, at the age of 73).

Ein Jude hat geschossen (“A Jew Fired”), Wolfgang Dierwerge’s 1937 pamphlet about the assassination perpetrated by David Frankfurter, the National Library of Israel collections

Goebbels expected Diewerge to market the story of the assassination of Vom Rath as a global Jewish conspiracy with the aim of undermining the peace between Germany and France, in which Grynszpan was only a pawn, Diewerge was called to serve as the Ministry of Propaganda’s media spokesperson and to ensure prominent newspaper headlines to that effect. Moreover, Goebbels wanted Diewerge to make sure that the media reported that if the injured Vom Rath should die, the German people would seek harsh retaliation. This paved the way for Goebbels to stir the flames and “suggest” a pogrom without calling for one explicitly.

Wolfgang Diewerge

On the night of that bitter day, November 7, the German News Agency (DNB) sent Diewerge’s detailed instructions to the German media. Among other things, news outlets were instructed not to criticize the authorities in France, and they were even advised to use Diewerge’s pamphlets as an effective source of propaganda.

Vom Rath died two days after the shooting. Within hours of his death, on the night of November 9, 1938, pogroms broke out, targeting the Jews of Germany and Austria, and continuing into the next day, November 10. Allegedly, these were spontaneous riots by the masses in response to the assassination, but in fact, the violence was a result of the well-oiled Nazi propaganda system, which inflamed the masses, inciting and encouraging the brutal riots.

The Nazis called the event “Kristallnacht”—a phrase that describes the shattered glass windows of thousands of Jewish shops and synagogues, but completely ignores the murder of 400 Jews (according to one estimate), and the 30,000 Jewish men who were captured and sent to concentration camps. More Jews were murdered or committed suicide in the days that followed.

Diewerge’s robust propaganda activity, however, did not end with his incitement of the crowds in the lead up to Kristallnacht. This was just the beginning. He became an “expert” on Grynszpan and the effects of Vom Rath’s assassination. A year after the event, Diewerge published a new book, Anschlag gegen den frieden: ein gelbbuch über Grünspan und seine helfershelfer (“The War Against Peace: A Yellow Book on Grynszpan and His Accomplices”). Diewerge enlisted the help of foreign representatives of the Nazi movement and the Gestapo in preparing the book, which was intended to emphasize the connection between Vom Rath’s assassination and world Jewry’s supposed desire to incite war. The book was translated into French by the German Foreign Office and disseminated in France with the aim of balancing public opinion in the face of the many anti-Nazi publications that were being issued by Jewish organizations.

Diewerge’s book Aschlag gegen den frieden: ein gelbbuch uber Grünspan und sein helfershelfer, the National Library of Israel collections

Diewerge’s book contains chapters on Jewish life in Germany, Jewish reactions to the assassination, and Kristallnacht. Much of the book is devoted to preparations for Grynszpan’s trial (which ultimately did not take place), the French legal system, as well as German claims of a Jewish conspiracy. Diewerge attempted to highlight the connection of world Jewry to the assassination, even writing of the price that, in his view, should have been extracted in retribution.

The National Library of Israel possesses several copies of the book. One of them is stamped with the seal of the SS-Verfügungstruppe, the military arm of the Nazi movement, which later became the Waffen-SS. In addition to the seal, there is a dedication to SS officer Gustav Adolf Pogalschnigg from Christmas, 1940.

Diewerge’s book, featuring the Nazi seal and a dedication to an SS officer, the National Library of Israel collections

The book itself has been uploaded to Wiki Commons and is accessible here.

Another fascinating glimpse into the events of Kristallnacht from a Nazi perspective, comes from the archive of the well-known Nazi hunter Tuvia Friedman (1922–2011). Friedman, who survived the Holocaust, joined the Polish police in 1945, where he served as a detective tasked with locating, capturing and interrogating Nazis. Later on he continued his work in Vienna, where he was instrumental in the arrest of many war criminals, and along the way, collected a great deal of archival material that helped in the location and prosecution of others.

Tuvia Friedman, 1950

One of the documents that Friedman donated to the National Library of Israel is a Stimmungsberichte, a report written in Vienna on November 10, 1938—that is, during or immediately after the events of Kristallnacht. The Gestapo and the SD composed these fairly objective reports, which described the feelings of the people and the atmosphere in the streets around events or government decisions, with the goal of allowing the Nazi authorities a realistic view of the actual situation on the ground. Herman Goering, one of the leaders of the Nazi regime, did not care for this approach and as early as 1936 ordered the Gestapo to stop writing them. Nevertheless, throughout World War II, the SD continued to research and publish reports on public sentiment.

The Stimmungsberichte in the Library’s collection describes what happened in Vienna on Kristallnacht. In the report, the district SD officer writes that the Jews were removed from their homes, with some also arrested. The goods of the Jewish-owned shops were collected. The Jews were in complete shock and did not even try to assert their rights. It is likely they were also angry with Grynszpan for what he had done. Members of the Nazi movement took part in the riots but did not wear Nazi uniforms or symbols to cover up the fact that they were indeed behind it. Surprisingly, most of the population opposed the riots against the Jews, and some raised their voices against the pogrom. The condemnation did not stem from the Viennese citizens’ love for the Jews, but from fear of violence and anarchy, and from respect for the law. According to the author of the report, the Viennese were softhearted and not fond of surprises of this kind. The officer also noted some conclusions from Kristallnacht—that more advance preparations should have been made, and that better propaganda could have improved the Viennese people’s willingness to participate in the riots against the Jews.

Detail of the Stimmungberichte written on Kristallnacht, the National Library of Israel collections

Grynszpan himself was imprisoned in France. With the outbreak of the war, he was transferred to the south of France, and was even given the opportunity to flee from the approaching German forces. He insisted, however, on remaining in French custody until in July 1940 he was transferred to the Gestapo by the Vichy regime.

Grynszpan was not executed. Hitler and Goebbels wanted to use the card that had fallen into their laps, planning a show trial for Grynszpan that would prove to the world the destructive intentions of world Jewry. Diewerge and a Nazi jurist named Friedrich Grimm were in charge of the preparations and propaganda for the trial. After many delays, the proceedings were postponed indefinitely in May 1942. Despite rumors to the contrary, Herschel Grynszpan was apparently murdered in the summer or fall of 1942.

Grynszpan regretted that his actions had led to the murder of hundreds as well as mass destruction of property on Kristallnacht. And yet, some consider him responsible for the rescue of some 80,000 Jews who, because of these events, realized that they were no longer safe in Germany and made heroic efforts to flee, while they still could.