update deskJewish Diaspora

New film to chronicle the 1493 exile of 2,000 Jewish children from Portugal

“This dark episode demonstrates the depths that many went to destroy our people,” says Michael Rothwell, the director of the Oporto Jewish Museum.

Oporto Jewish Community members meet with Portuguese schoolchildren near the city's Kadoorie Makor Haim synagogue. Credit: Oporto Jewish Community.
Oporto Jewish Community members meet with Portuguese schoolchildren near the city's Kadoorie Makor Haim synagogue. Credit: Oporto Jewish Community.

With 1,000 Portuguese schoolchildren in attendance on Thursday, the Oporto Jewish Community announced its newest project, “The 2,000 Exiled Jewish Children.”

The film will chronicle the largely unknown story of how 2,000 Jewish children up to the age of 8 years old were yanked from their families in Portugal by King João II of Portugal in 1493 and exiled to the African island of São Tomé, 7,500 kilometers (4,660 miles) away.

A year after being deported to the islands, only 600 children had survived the unhealthy conditions and depredations of wild animals.

The community’s announcement took place at the Oporto Jewish Museum and fell on the anniversary of the establishment of the Portuguese Inquisition (May 23, 1536).

“This dark episode demonstrates the depths that many went to in order to try and defeat and destroy our people,” said Michael Rothwell, the director of the museum.

Noting that Jews are again facing dark times, he said education is critical, especially when reaching the young. “They must be taught tolerance and acceptance, and how to identify and combat antisemitism, because it is a sad but true part of our history here in Portugal and around Europe,” Rothwell said.

Schoolchildren were also given a tour of the Oporto Jewish Museum and the city’s Holocaust Museum.

The event is part of the community’s ongoing effort to fight antisemitism in Portugal by hosting school visits to synagogues, creating curricula and producing historical films. The community also sponsors charity missions in partnership with the Catholic Diocese of Porto.

The new film follows on the heels of the project’s latest success, “1506: The Lisbon Genocide,” which premiered worldwide on April 19.

It tells the story of the massacre of Lisbon’s Jews, who endured a frightful slaughter at the hands of their non-Jewish neighbors. As many as 3,000 men, women and children lost their lives in the course of three days.

The film, available on YouTube, has racked up more than two million views in various languages and aims to show that the Holocaust was not a singular event, but that Jews were victims of pogroms, massacres and genocides throughout the Diaspora, especially in Europe and Eurasia.

“Today, children react more to visual media, so it is vital to create tools that depict with historical accuracy the pain and suffering Jews went through in the past so they can recognize it in the present,” said Gabriel Senderowicz, president of the Oporto Jewish Community.

“We have found these children very receptive to these films, and that is why we are now embarking on our latest film which shows one of the most brutal and heartbreaking chapters in Jewish history,” he said.

“It is important to show the context of current antisemitism as a continuation of what has gone before. Sadly, there is nothing new under the sun, and even today, Jewish children were hunted and kidnapped as we saw in the south of Israel on October 7,” Senderowicz added.

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