Secret Jews (Anusim) today

In her final lecture on the Secret Jews (Anusim) Gloria Mound summarized the status of their communities today. Stanley Hordes in the 1980s did pioneering work on the Anusim living in New Mexico. He had first researched the activities of the Inquisition in New Mexico and from there came to realize that there were many Secret Jews still living there. His book “To the end of the earth” is a classic of its kind. He also founded the American Society of Crypto-Jews

In St. Augustine, Florida there are many indications that the ca. 2,000 Minorcans who fled there from the Inquisition in the 1640s were also crypto-Jews and their descendents are still a large proportion of the population there. In New Orleans there is a center and museum of an organization called Los Islenos, which is a code name used by some Secret Jews to describe themselves. It refers to their origin from Spain and the Balaeric Islands thru the Canary Islands to Florida and to other parts of the Americas from Brazil to Quebec and Newfoundland. They are very cautious about contacts with outsiders, and unfortunately all their papers and exhibits were destroyed during hurricane Katrina. A wooden sign-post was saved that indicates the hundreds of secret Jews who were passengers on specific ships that sailed from Cuba to Louisiana.

In Puerto Rico there are Secret Jews who had moved up into the hills to escape the scrutiny of the Church. Some of them are now re-discovering their roots. Ruth Reyes is an example, one of her Grandmothers initially denied that they were Jews, but her aunt had a cupboard full of old Jewish artifacts. Ruth came to Israel after research by Gloria traced her family back 300 years. Many Caribbean Islands have residual communities of Secret Jews, including Jamaica, Barbados and Curacao. Curacao was a magnet for Anusim because it was governed by the Dutch who were much more tolerant to Jews, and it was apopular place for secret Jews to go to for circumcision. There are ancient Sephardic synagogues in most of these Islands and I have visited the one on Barbados. They characteristically have a sandy floor, and one was transferred to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem from Surinam.

There is renewed interest in the descendents of the Secret Jews of Europe, not including those that were hidden during the Holocaust and did not find out that they were Jewish after the war ended. There are large communties of Secret Jews in Italy, particularly southern Italy where they are mainly poor farmers and fishermen. There are also residual groups in places as far apart as Ireland and Hungary. In Ireland, there was an influx of Huguenots from France, but from their names on tombstones it is clear that some of them weren’t normal Protestants they were descendents of converso Jews.

Some of the largest Anusim communities are in former Portuguese and Spanish colonies. Many Jewish orphans were forcibly converted and sent to Sao Tome. The Ambassador of the Cape Verde Islands to Israel broke down when he presented his credentials to the Israeli President and admitted that he was from a family of Secret Jews. The former President Sampao of Portugal was from the Azores and likewise admitted that he was of Jewish origin.

Gerona and Majorca in Spain and Belmonte in Portugal are not the only places where Jewish culture still persists in the Iberian pensinsula. There are whole obscure villages in the borderland between Spain and Portugal that consist of Secret Jews, whose ancestors would cross the border to avoid danger and then return later. They are even today very suspicious of strangers and do not readily admit their practices. Even in the Portuguese colonies in India, particularly Goa, there are indications of Secret Jews.

The existence of Secret Jews is a world-wide phenomenon that one can only guess consists of possibly millions of people. One of the main reasons for their persistance is not only their practise is not to inter-marry with other Catholcs, but also the aversion of other Catholics to inter-marry with them, for example with the Chuetas in Majorca. There is a great need to study this amazing subject and help to bring education and information about their history and Judaism to those who are interested in returning to their roots. For this reason the International Institute for the Study of Secret Jews that was based on the Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies (Casa Shalom) was established in Netanya Academic College and it now has a new web-site providing information about the expansion plans to establish a Columbus Center (see

About the Author
Jack Cohen was born in London and has a PhD in Chemistry from Cambridge University. He moved to the US and worked at the National Cancer Inst. and then Georgetown Medical School. In 1996, he Moved to Israel and became Chief Scientist of the Sheba Medical Center. He retired in 2001 and worked as a Visiting Professor at Hebrew University Medical School for 5 years.