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Oporto Jewish community promotes film on 1506 Lisbon massacre

The trailer for a movie about the pogrom will be released on Dec. 30.

A scene from the film"1506: The Lisbon Genocide." Credit: Courtesy.
A scene from the film"1506: The Lisbon Genocide." Credit: Courtesy.

Jewish communities don’t ordinarily double as film production companies, but the community of Oporto, Portugal, has shown itself to be anything but ordinary. It has begun promotion for its third film, “1506: The Lisbon Genocide.”

The movie chronicles the massacre of Lisbon’s Jews in the 16th century. The trailer drops on Saturday.

The film will premiere on April 19 and will be available for free in multiple languages ​​and online platforms.

Judging from the trailer, it will meet the same high production standards as the community’s earlier films, “Sefarad,” which recounts the last century of the Oporto community, and “1618,” a story of the Inquisition in Oporto.

The film “1618” won the most international awards of any in Portuguese history.

The tagline for this film’s promotion: “The Oct. 7 slaughter didn’t happen in a vacuum.” It’s a palpable hit against U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres.

Guterres, who is himself Portuguese, said during a U.N. Security Council meeting on Oct. 24, “It is important to also recognize the attacks by Hamas did not happen in a vacuum,” attempting to justify the terrorist massacre.

His comment outraged Israeli officials and pro-Israel supporters worldwide.

Gabriel Senderowicz, president of the Jewish Community of Oporto and a member of the board of the European Jewish Association, said, “To know the 1506 massacre in Lisbon is to know the 7 October 2023 massacre in Israel and the historic genocides of Jews all over Europe. The only change has been in the weapons.

“António Guterres is right. Oct. 7 did not happen in a vacuum,” he said.

Similar to Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists murdered mainly civilians, the Portuguese who murdered Lisbon’s Jews made no distinction between men and women, young and old.

Large bonfires were lit along the banks of the Tagus River to which hundreds of mutilated bodies were transported.

Jewish children were thrown into the bonfires alive. Even babies were flung into the flames as butchered bodies filled the city. Heads were borne aloft on the tips of lances.

There were so many victims the pogromists wanted to burn that there wasn’t enough firewood to fuel the city’s pyres.

Just as with Oct. 7, where Islam drove the Hamas terrorists, so religion played a key role in the 1506 massacre as two Dominican friars whipped up the crowds, promising them absolution of all sins.

The event that ignited the pogrom took place on Sunday, April 19, 1506, at the Church of São Domingos, when the congregation was praying for an end to plague and drought.

During the mass, a light appeared to fix on a crucifix. Catholic believers interpreted it as a miracle, a supernatural revelation. News spread throughout Lisbon and people from across the city rushed to the church.

But when a young Jew tried to explain that the light was just the reflection of a candle, the Christians were outraged. He was set upon and beaten, then dragged to a square, mutilated and killed.

The massacre had begun.

A scene from the film “1506: The Lisbon Genocide” depicting the young Jew who explained the origin of the light on the crucifix. Courtesy.

More than 3,000 Jews of all ages would be killed on April 19-21.

The authorities tried to stop the butchery, but when the municipal magistrate, invested with royal authority, arrived to prevent more bloodshed, he was himself pursued and almost killed.

There were acts of individual heroism by Christians. Some attempted to hide their Jewish neighbors. D. João Mascarenhas, the king’s squire and holder of customs rights in Lisbon and Oporto, courageously faced the murderous mob, warning them of Portugal’s decline as a global power if its Jewish community was destroyed.

He was killed by the mob for his bravery.

In the city of Avis, hours from Lisbon by horse, King Manuel I was informed of the massacre. He sent a military force to quell the rioting.

The Royal Guard put down the uprising with such brutality that Manuel became known as “El-Rei Judio”—”The Jewish King.”

In truth, Manuel contributed to his people’s anger against Jews. In 1496, he banned the practice of Judaism in Portugal and gave the Jewish community a deadline to leave the country.

However, he then realized that he needed Jews, who were productive, well-educated and key to the economy. So he changed his order and forced the Jews to convert to Catholicism. He prevented them leaving the country.

Called “New Christians,” these Jews remained in prominent social positions, including holding unpopular positions in customs and tax collection. They were viewed as privileged by the public.

The 1500s also saw a new, virulent strain of the Black Death, which impacted Jews less due to better hygiene. This led to conspiracy theories and Jews were blamed for causing the disease. Jews were also held responsible for a drought.

Oporto’s Jewish community notes that the Lisbon massacre is not included in Portugal’s school curricula and so is not part of the country’s collective memory.

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