Residents in a tiny Spanish town voted Sunday to ditch its unfortunate, centuries-old name, Castrillo Matajudios, which literally means “Camp Kill Jews.”
They voted 29-19 in favor of scrapping the northern Spanish town’s name, in existence since at least 1623, said the mayor, Lorenzo Rodriguez.
Residents decided instead to take on a less offensive, older name for the town, Mota de Judios, or “Hill of the Jews,” he told AFP.
The town hall will review the vote on June 3 before launching the paperwork for a new name, a process that could take from six months to a year, he said.
“When the change is approved I think it will be a turning point,” said the mayor, who led the movement to change names and had threatened to resign if residents disagreed.
The decision should bring an end to the embarrassment of locals, who frequently found themselves trapped into giving awkward explanations to outraged outsiders.
“When you travel elsewhere, you always have to explain, because people say, ‘You kill Jews in Castrillo’,” Rodriguez, told AFP.
“It makes no sense because we are descended from a Jewish community. We have a star of David on our coat of arms.”
He said the town, which lies near the city of Burgos, was born in 1035 as a safe haven to a persecuted Jewish community, which settled on a hill, or Mota, in the area.
They remained there until 1492 when Jews were mostly expelled by a brutal religious tribunal known as the Spanish Inquisition.
Only Jews who converted to the Roman Catholic faith were allowed to stay in Spain. The alternative was expulsion or death.
Archaeologist Angel Palomino said it was thought descendants of Jews who had converted to Roman Catholicism decided to change the town’s name during the Counter-Reformation so as to prove the purity of their faith.
Up to 1,500 people likely lived in the Jewish settlement that later became known as Castrillo Matajudios, he said.
Although estimates vary, historians believe at least 200,000 Jews lived in Spain before the 1492 expulsion. Many who refused to convert or leave were burned at the stake.
Spain now offers citizenship to Sephardic Jews — those originating from the Iberian peninsula — who can prove they are descended from those who were expelled.
The vote on the town’s name-change coincides with a recent spate of racist incidents, which have sparked a backlash internationally.
On Thursday, a mayor in the northern Basque Country town of Sestao, Josu Bergara, offered his apology for a foul-mouthed tirade against thieves.
He had been recorded in a meeting last year boasting that he had made sure “the scum no longer come” to his town in what was taken as a dig at Romanians.
Five Romanian families lodged a complaint against him in court, accusing him of illegally refusing to register them as residents.
In the football world, a supporter threw a banana on the pitch near Barcelona’s Brazilian defender Dani Alves in a league football match against Villareal on April 27.
Alves defiantly picked up the banana and took a bite before getting on with the game, drawing a global spotlight to racism in Spanish football.
Just a week later, Levante’s Senegalese midfielder Pape Diop condemned Atletico Madrid fans for making monkey chants at him.
Jewish groups last week said that Twitter users in Spain posted 17,500 messages of anti-Semitic abuse after Israeli basketball team Maccabi Tel Aviv beat Real Madrid.
The Spanish government has vowed to strengthen penalties for inciting hatred or violence.