The Quincentennial of Columbus' arrival in the Western hemisphere has resulted in an enormous outpouring of literature. No account of the Columbus venture can do justice to it or cope with the issues involved, unless the author is intimately familiar with the history, sociology and demography of Spanish and Portuguese Jewry during the era of their persecution and expulsion. Especially imperative is a thorough knowledge of the nature and methods of the Inquisition, in all of its ghastliness. Equally essential is an awareness and analysis of the falsification and censorship of literary and public records as practiced and enforced by Crown and Church. Another element complicating research of this period of history is the survival technique employed by the endangered community of potential victims - so-called New Christians, converts, Marranos. This involved ethnic and religious self-concealment of various types.
Thus, the disqualifying unfamiliarity with persecuted Iberian Jewry colored the writings of otherwise distinguished historians and, above all, numerous recent publications on the subject of Columbus. Additionally, substantial basic research, published in the Spanish and Portuguese languages, has remained untranslated and, thus, unknown in the English-speaking world.
Here are typical instances : Samuel E. Morison is regarded as the foremost biographer of Columbus. (Morison, Samuel E. :? Admiral of the Ocean Sea.? Boston, Mass., 1942 : Little, Brown). Naively, he asserted that "there is no mystery about the birth, family or race of Christopher Columbus". Nonetheless, he also stated cryptically that "the Discoverer's remote ancestors doubtless belonged to other races than the Italian". On the other hand, Salvador de Madariaga, the most eminent historian of the Spanish-speaking world in our age, wrote as follows of Columbus' persistent effort to conceal his origin and past : "Like the squid, he oozes out a cloud of ink round every hard square fact of his life. This ink, muliplied by the industry of his historians, has made but blacker and thicker the mystery with attaches to him". (Madariaga's "Christopher Columbus, Being the Life of the Very Magnificent Lord Don Cristobal Colon", New York 1940 : Mac Millan).
The writings of John Noble Wilford are another case of this sort. In
the New York Times Magazine of August, 11, 1991, he said of Columbus that
"some of his ancestors may have been Jewish, though
this has never been established". Pointedly, he added that Columbus' "family was Christian and so was Columbus - demonstrably so".
To begin with, Colon is a well established Jewish name, numerous Colons having perished at the stakes of the Inquisition. Columbus' gentile contemporaries in the West Indies clearly regarded him as a Jew. This became obvious when they staged a rebellion against the rule of Columbus and his associates, referring to them as Pharaohs, Biscayans, Genovese and Portuguese. These appelations were used to identify Jews as Jews, with anti-Jewish intent.
As to Wilford's reference to Columbus' "demonstrable Christianity",
he failed to grasp the thrust of Madariaga's writings which he quotes.
Worse than that, he is intellectually and emotionally incapable of understanding
or imagining the double life which Columbus and other New Christians-converts-Marranos
were forced to live in order to survive (John Noble Wilford, The Mysterious
History of Columbus, New York 1991, Knopf). The Argentinian author Alberto
described this very aspect of the Columbus record brilliantly in an essay entitled "?Marginality and Jewishness in the Personality of Cristobal Colon?", published in 1976 in Buenos Aires by the Latin-American Jewish Congress.
Kirkpatrick Sale is the chieftain of the new cult ofColumbus-bashers. His book, published by Knopf in 1990 (?) isentitled "?The Conquest of Paradise - Christopher Columbus and theColumbian Legacy?". He bemoans the subjugation of America'snative Indian tribes by the Europeans, remaining oblivious to thefact that these tribes conquered and subdued one another most mercilessly way before the Europeans came. As to the Jewish angle of the Columbus record, it's non-existent in Sale's presentation.
Dan Carlinsky is the writer of an essay, entitled "Christopher Confusion - Much of What We Know about the Legendary Explorer Isn't True". It was published in the February/March 1992 issue of "Modern Maturity", organ of the American Association of Retired Persons.
Carlinsky deserves credit for mentioning that "a string of scholars
and Columbus buffs have pointed to evidence variously labeling him (Columbus)
a Portuguese, a Spanish Jew, a Greek, even a Norwegian". This, however,
is as far as it goes. Carlinsky stated Luis de Santangel (Sr) "came
through with a loan" to finance the Columbus expedition. Significantly,
Carlinsky failed to reveal that Santangel was one of the forced converts
whose original Jewish name was Azarias Ginillo and he
was later burned at the stake by the Inquisition. In describing and commenting on Columbus' "mysterious" signature, Carlinsky refers to those "who contend Colon was secretly one of many
Spanish Jews in hiding from the Inquisition" who found "Hebraic meaning in the arrangement" of the signature. An authoritative interpretation of this signature was provided as early as 1927 by the renowned Portuguese sage Moses Bensabat Amzalak in his book "Uma Interpretacao de Assinatura de Cristovam Columbo", published in Lisbon By Museu Comercial.
Carlinsky made casual references to the Jewish aspect of the Columbus record. It is obvious, though, that the Jewish historical angle is fundamentally alien to him, even if he himself turns out to be ethnically Jewish. The teltale of this effect is Carlinsky's mention of August 3, 1492, the date of departure of the Columbus expedition. This happens to be the day after Tishu b'Av, the Ninth Day of the Hebrew month of Av or August 2, 1492. This day was not only the deadline under the Spanish expulsion edict but the Jewish Day of Mourning, commemorating the Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. On this day, traditional Jews refrain from celebrations, commencing on ventures and travel. In view of Columbus' other acts of Jewishness, this was no mere coincidence. Carlinsky, obviously, is woefully unaware of it. Nevertheless, Carlinsky's repeated allusions to the Jewish Columbus angle are meritorious.
Cambridge University Press has now brought out nother Columbus work. Its authors are William D. Phillips Jr and his wife, Carla Rahn Phillips, Minnesota historians. They fail to link Columbus to Jewry or the Inquisition. Implicitly, they alude to the discredited version of Columbus' alleged Italo-Genovese origin (Phillips, Jr, William D. & Carla, The Worlds of Chrisopher Columbus, New York, N.Y. 1992 : Cambridge University Press).
The Columbus frenzy precipitated by the imminent Quincentennial has led to the contention that he was a Norwegian. This theory was expounded by the distinguished Norwegian maritime author Borch Sannes in his book "Christopher Columbus - En Europeer fra Norge?" (Translation : Christopher Columbus - a European from Norway?). It was published in Oslo in 1991 by Norsk Maritim Forlag (Norwegian Maritime Publishers). The author asserts but fails to prove that Columbus was born in Hyen, a small community in Western Norway's beautiful Nordfjord area, under the name Christopher Bonde. Bonde, in Norwegian, means farmer andtranslates into the Latin Colonus. According to Sannes,Swedish-Norwegian friction caused Bonde to flee to ... Genoa,Liguria, Italy. An English translation of the book reportedly was being completed by a lady in Connecticut, according to the October, 4, 1990 issue of Brooklyn-based "Nordisk Tidende", a well established weekly. The book's bibliography disclosed that Sannes had read both, an American edition of Madariaga's Columbus biography and the German language original of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal's "Sails of Hope - The Secret Mission of Christopher Columbus". However, the Jewish angle, exhaustingly propounded in both of these watershed works, has failed to make any impact whatsoever on Sannes, incredible as this seems to be.
What will be published next on the much misrepresented Columbus?
The coast is clear for a portrayal of The Real Columbus and His Record of Irrepressible Jewishness, evident from massive, convincing and authenticated findings by established historians of various nationalities and denominations.
Franz J. Katz is a member of Leo Baeck Institute, the American Jewish Historical Society and the Travel and Tourism Research Association.
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