Unlike in Spain, where the secret practice of Judaism by converts to Catholicism and their descendants was thoroughly repressed by the Inquisition, some Portuguese crypto-Jews succeeded in preserving religious rituals for centuries. Artur Carlos de Barros Basto (1887-1961), a captain in the Portuguese army, did not grow up with any such rituals, but learned of his Jewish ancestry in a death-bed confession by his grandfather. Thereafter, Barros Basto formally converted to Judaism and worked to establish Jewish communal institutions. A new film, Sefarad, dramatizes his story. Rich Tenorio writes:
Sefarad tells the sweeping story of Jews in Portugal across 500 years—from the Middle Ages to the Inquisition to the modern era. The script was written by the Center for Historical Research of the Jewish community of Oporto (Porto), a large northern port city that witnessed pivotal moments in Portuguese Jewish history in the 20th century. . . .
Portrayed by actor Rodrigo Santos, Barros Basto 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. Barros Basto also made outreach efforts to fellow crypto-Jews in northern Portugal, but they resisted his [attempt to convince them] to join an organized community. Adding insult to injury, he was expelled from the army after a tribunal convicted him of conduct unbecoming an officer. . . .
“When he created the community there were only seventeen Jews in the city, all of them Ashkenazi,” [explains] the Israel-based journalist, translator, and researcher Inacio Steinhardt. “They opened the first prayer quorum in a rented flat and were surprised when a few crypto-Jews from the villages, living in the city, came to this place and introduced themselves. Those crypto-Jews were no less surprised to learn that they were not the sole remnant of Jews in the world.”
During World War II, Barros Basto worked tirelessly to bring Jewish refugees to Portugal.