After 500 Years, Portugal Says Jews Can Return
Descendents to be offered citizenship
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 30, 2015 12:18 PM CST
Jose Oulman Bensaude Carp, President of the Jewish community in Lisbon, waits to be interviewed by The Associated Press at the main synagogue in the city.   (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
camera-icon View 2 more images

(Newser) – Portugal is trying to make amends with the descendants of the Jews who were ordered to convert to Christianity or get out of the country more than 500 years ago. The country's lawmakers have approved a plan to grant citizenship to Sephardic Jews who can prove a strong connection to the country through surname, language, or direct descent from the heavily persecuted population of Portuguese Jews that once numbered in the tens of thousands, the BBC reports. "We wish it had never happened," says a lawmaker involved in drafting the legislation, describing the country's treatment of Jews as a stain on its history. "Given that it did happen, and that it can be put right, we thought we ought to do so."

The citizenship plan follows earlier moves to try to right the historical wrong, the AP reports. In 1988, then-president Mario Soares apologized for the Portuguese Inquisition, during which tens of thousands of forced converts from Judaism were burnt at the stake. In 2008, a monument was erected in Lisbon outside a church where the massacre of around 2,000 Jews began in 1506. In Spain, where Jews were just as heavily persecuted, a similar plan was approved in 2013. Jewish leaders in Portugal, who will be involved in vetting applicants, say the Portuguese plan is simpler than the Spanish one and it will take around four months for candidates to be approved.