The Jewish Community of Porto in northern Portugal has decried the Portuguese government’s refusal to posthumously reinstate to the army its founder who was persecuted for promoting Judaism, because he is not alive to make the request himself, according to a statement on Tuesday.
The Porto community has referred to Arthur Carlos de Barros Basto, a former army captain who died in 1961, as “the Portuguese Alfred Dreyfus” – a reference to the French army captain whose wrongful conviction for treason served as a catalyst for modern Zionism.
“It is incredible, but the state is now claiming that my grandfather needs to be alive, aged 136, and can only receive the posthumous reinstatement if he requests it personally,” said Isabel Barros Lopes, Barros Basto’s granddaughter and vice president of the community.
In 1930s Portugal, where Antonio de Oliveira Salazar’s dictatorship promoted Catholic conservatism and nationalism, Barros Basto made powerful enemies for his efforts to establish a Jewish community made up of descendants of Anusim – Jews who had been forced to renounce their faith to escape religious persecution during the 16th-century Portuguese Inquisition and after.
Wrongfully accused of sexually abusing men he circumcised, Barros Basto was dishonorably discharged from the army in 1937, where he had served with distinction.
The Portuguese Defense Ministry refused to reinstate Barros Basto along with other persecuted personnel in 1974 when Salazar’s dictatorship was overthrown. But in 2012, the National Assembly passed a resolution stating that his army career was terminated “due to a generic climate of animosity” motivated by “the fact that he was Jewish.”
The following year, the army declared that he may be reinstated retroactively to the rank of colonel — the rank he would have been promoted to in 1945 had he not been expelled.
But the Portuguese Defense Ministry never implemented the move, despite the regulations. The move would have afforded his family financial compensation for salaries and stipends not received because of the injustice done to him.
Barros Lopez said Tuesday the reinstatement was “postponed indefinitely by the government.”
“Words and declarations are not enough. We demand that this chapter ends with a full and official posthumous reinstatement of my grandfather into the Portuguese Army, with no more excuses,” she said.
David Garret, a member of the Board of the Jewish Community of Porto in charge of legal affairs, also pointed the finger at the government.
“If we do not receive an answer within the next few weeks we will lodge a complaint with the Portuguese Administrative Court, and if necessary, afterward also to the European Court of Human Rights,” he said.
Barros Basto converted to Judaism after discovering he had Jewish ancestors in 1920. He worked to establish a Jewish community in Porto — including the construction of the Kadoorie Mekor Haim Synagogue, the largest in the Iberian Peninsula, in 1938.
“To help them return to Judaism, my grandfather opened a yeshiva, a Jewish school, created a newspaper, and asked Sephardic Jews around the world to pay for the construction of a large synagogue in Oporto, still considered the largest synagogue on the Iberian Peninsula,” said Barros Lopes.
Barros Basto also made outreach efforts to fellow crypto-Jews in northern Portugal, but they resisted his efforts to join an organized community.
Though he was heartbroken after being kicked out of the military, Barros Basto’s daughter Miriam recalled that he never lost faith that he would have his name cleared and rank restored.
“Before he died, he was still saying: ‘One day, I will get justice,'” said Miriam, according to the statement.
His story was the subject of the 2019 film “Sefarad.”
According to Tuesday’s statement, around a thousand Jews from 30 countries live in Porto’s community. The city boasts three synagogues, a Holocaust museum, and kosher restaurants.