‘Into the Melting Pot’ brings to life the fears of Spanish Jews in 1492

Posted: 1 June, 2024 | Category: Uncategorized

The painting above shows The Procession of Flagellants (detail) by Francisco Goya. The Inquisition’s targets were lapsed converos– Jews who renounced and then returned to their original religious beliefs and rituals.


By Trevor Grundy


BEVERLEY, YORKSHIRE  – – – Rudyard Kipling said that prostitution is the world’s  oldest profession.

The 19th century German Lutheran Wilhelm Marr, who first coined the word anti-Semitism – was delighted to know loathing Jews is the world’s oldest hatred.

Both phrases have something in common – a belief that the strong have the right to make the weak bend their knees, lick toes and conform to the dictates of the good and the great.

The life of Jews under Christian kings and queens  during the end-days of Medieval Europe is something we all should know about.

Few of us do.

When it comes to the disease of anti-Semitism – spreading fast because of Israel’s military action against Palestinian civilians since the start of the Hamas-inspired Gaza War on October 7, 2023 – a lack of knowledge about its origins is alarming.

On this  explosive and ever-with-us subject, not bothering to find out is unforgivable.

The absurd belief that it was invented by Hitler is strong if your only guide to the past are Hollywood films and cheap novels covered in Swastikas to whet appetites and increase sales.

But, and as Bette Davis said about growing old,  finding things out for yourself ‘aint for sissies.

So, three cheers for author and musician Clare Norburn and the theatre/musical group The Telling for staging an amazing two-hour play called Into the Melting Plot across different parts of the UK, including Newbury, Manchester and Otley.

I was fortunate to attend its final performance at the East Riding Theatre in Beverley on the night of Sunday May 28.

I watched enthralled and left  the theatre with my wife delighted that we had, in a cheap, sensation-riddled age where pushing the envelope to see how far you can go is not only a silly but also a dangerous game, experienced something of value.

Thankfully, The Telling comes from a deeper,  more meaningful theatrical tradition.

The Telling’s Clare Norburn


In an interview last year, Clare Norburn explained that she wrote Into the Melting Pot in 2017.

She said that 15th century Spain was an extraordinary mixture of  rich but very different cultures and religious beliefs – Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

But little was left for the Jews after the publication of the Alhambra Decree in March 1492.

Tens of thousands of Jews and Muslims were forced out of the land of their birth.

One of the few positives for the Jewish people after their expulsion was the Sephardic song tradition.

And it is against the backdrop of soul-inspiring Sephardic song and dance that the story unfolds – the story of a young Jewish widow forced to leave Spain while believing, until the last moment, that a terrifying wave of ant-Semitism that led to the Inquisition “couldn’t happen here.”

Clare Norbund reminds us that it did and that it could happen again.

“There’s the old adage that history repeats itself and certainly the thing that has struck me since writing Into the Melting Pot is how it has only become more relevant in the six years since. Over the past six years, we’ve experienced black lives matter, the Windrush scandal and the rise of anti-Semitism., as well as stories of refugees forced to leave their homes from Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. My central characters, Blanc’s experience is so relevant to many peoples life experience today. Because the human condition hasn’t changed down the centuries – and sometimes we can see the present more clearly through the lens of the past.”


The story is moving and easy to understand because it is well acted by professionals of a very high order -actors, singers and musicians playing instruments that would have been popular in the 15th century, many of them traditional Sephardic songs and also poem/songs from the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a compilation of poems to be sung which  Spanish scholars and curators believe to be part of the most anti-Jewish repertoire in 13th century European literature.

In this play, the audience also had a role. Our job was to sit still, listen and learn and thunderous applause right at the end showed the players what they had done, what they had achieved.


Into the Melting Pot is set in Seville in July 1492 at the home of the Jewess, Blanca who is hard at work spinning.

Time is running out in the fact of Ferdinand and Isabella’s edict that Jews must convert to their brand of Christianity – Catholicism -or leave Spain.

Earlier – long before the arrival of Frey Tomas de Torquemada and the Spanish Inquisition – Jews, Muslims and Christians lived alongside one another on the Iberian Peninsula. Most Jews and most Moors had a strong loyalty to Spain.

The most chilling moment of the night came with the off-stage voice of Queen Isabella telling the Jews to convert or leave.

In 1492 the memory of the 1391 Pogrom was still in the brains of rabbis and many other older Jewish men and women. Apparently, it was something young Blanca knew nothing about.

In 1391 (the Jewish year was 5151) attacks against Jews first broke out in Seville.  At the end , thousands of Jews were killed and as many as one million Jews  converted to Christianity.

The 1391 Pogrom was  instigated by a Jew-baiting priest Ferrand Martinez who started a relentless campaign against them  as early as 1378.

In public sermons, filled with hatred of the Jews, he called on all good Christians to destroy the twenty three beautiful synagogues of the Jewish community of Seville, to lock up all Jews in a  ghetto, to have no dealings with Jews who were forced to wear huge yellow stars  and to use every means to force them into accepting Christianity. He preached that it was no crime for Christians to murder and pillage “unbelievers” or steal their property. He concentrated, especially on the peasants and lower classes of Andalusia while urging them not to give peace to their Jewish neighbours.

So in 1492, most Jews knew what was coming their way.

Ferdinand and Isabella

Catholic bigots who ended a Golden Age in Spain


As a result of the Alhambra Decree issued by the royal fanatics, over 200,000 Jews converted to Catholic. Anything between 100,000 and 175,000 were forced top flee.

Jews were expelled and a mass migration to Italy, Greece, Turkey and the Mediterranean Basis began and Spain was deprioved of the skills and talents of tens of  thousands of clever, loyal, imaginative and innovative Jews. Prominent Jewish intellectual centres, including Toledo, were extinguished . Jewish doctors, artisans, scientists, astrologers, mathematicians fled,  enriching the cultures of the economies of countries hostile to the Catholic monarchs in Madrid.

King Bayazet, then the ruler of the Ottoman Empire, remarked:” Do they call this Ferdinand a politic prince who can thus impoverish his own kingdom and enrich ours?”

The sycophants around Ferdinand and Isabella grovelled and said the two Catholics had done the work of God.

And while worshipping, many grew fabulously rich on what the Jews were forced to leave behind.

One is reminded of what the historian Arnold Toynbee wrote in his Introduction to Christopher Dawson’s great book “The Gods of  Revolution.”

Toynbee said: “While the ideologues and the terrorists occupied the foreground of the stage, the background of the stage  gave ample room for people whose main concern was not either theories or massacres but the sly acquisition of real estate on advantageous terms.”


Let us leave with the words of Suzanne Ahmet, (pictured below) the talented actor who played the part of Blanca.

In an interview, she said: ”How painful it is then that in her life, she (Blanca) must watch her beloved Seville be stripped, divided and violated due to the destructive forces of The Inquisition. It is startling to acknowledge that we are still living with different shades of the same situation today. We could be talking about Nations all over the world that suffer and struggle in similar ways 600 years on.”


Trevor Grundy says: Into the Melting Plot is a great play and one that should be seen not just by audiences in fairly small theatres in different parts of rural England but also in schools, colleges and universities where so much unpalatable “religious” history is left un-examined by anyone other than academics who guard their work so carefully as if it is for them and no-one else.



March 31, 1492


The Alhambra Decree

In 1492, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castille issued the Alhambra Decree mandating that all Jews be expelled from the country. This came not long after they had conquered the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, finally freeing Spain from Muslim rule after nearly 800 years.

In 1478, Ferdinand and Isabella, whose marriage and conquests cemented Spain as a unified kingdom, had instituted the Inquisition in an effort by Spanish clergy to rid the country of heretics. Pogroms, individual acts of violence against Jews and anti-Semitic laws had been features of Catholic Spain for over a century before the Alhambra Order, causing deaths and conversions that greatly reduced Spain’s Jewish population. Having already forced much of Spain’s Jewish population to convert, the Church now set about rooting out those who suspected of practicing Judaism in secret, oftentimes by extremely violent methods. Tomas de Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, is said to have petitioned the monarchs to expel all Jews for years before they finally issued the order on March 31, 1492.

The results were catastrophic. Jews were given until the end of July to leave the country, resulting in the hasty selling of much of their land and possessions to Catholics at artificially low prices. Many converted in order to remain in Spain, with some continuing to practice their religion in secret and others assimilating into Catholicism. Estimation is difficult, but modern historians now believe around 40,000 Jews emigrated, with older estimates putting the number at several hundred thousand. Many died trying to reach safety, and in some cases it is believed that refugees paid for passage to other countries only to be thrown overboard by Spanish captains. While the Ottoman Empire welcomed the influx of Spanish Jews, many other nations in Europe treated them as cruelly as the Spaniards—though Portugal was a popular destination, its rulers issued a similar decree five years later.

Communities established by Spanish Jews, known as Sephardim in Hebrew, formed the foundation of the Sephardic communities that now make up a significant percentage of the world’s Jewish population. The year of the Alhambra Decree was also the year that Christopher Columbus, sailing for Spain, “discovered” the Americas, and thus it marks the beginning of two centuries of Spanish efforts to force its Catholicism on its substantial colonial holdings. Spain has never had a significant Jewish population since; current estimates put the Jewish population of Spain at lower than .2 percent.

Spain formally revoked the Alhambra decree in 1968, and in the early 2000s both Spain and Portugal granted Sephardic Jews the right to claim citizenship of the countries that expelled their ancestors 500 years before.


November 9-10, 1938



On the night of November 9–10, 1938, the Nazi regime coordinated a wave of anti-Semitic violence in Nazi Germany. This nationwide riot became known as Kristallnacht or the “Night of Broken Glass.”

The violence was supposed to look like an unplanned outburst of popular anger against Jews. In reality, Kristallnacht was state-sponsored vandalism and arson. Nazi leaders actively coordinated it with Adolf Hitler’s support. On the night of November 9, Nazi leaders ordered members of the Nazi Party’s paramilitaries (the SS, the SA, and the Hitler Youth) to attack Jewish communities.

The 1938 attack on Jewish businesses, synagogues and homes was approved by Hitler

A year later, only a relative handful of German Jews were living in the Third Reich

In the hours and days that followed, organized groups of Nazis wreaked havoc on Jewish life in Nazi Germany. During the riot, local Nazis set hundreds of synagogues on fire. They vandalized thousands of Jewish-owned businesses. They desecrated Jewish cemeteries. They broke into homes, smashed furniture, and terrorized Jewish families. Following orders given by Nazi leaders, police forces and fire brigades did not intervene to stop the destruction. Policemen did not protect Jews or their property. Firemen did not put out fires in synagogues.

The rioters also attacked and beat individual Jewish people. As a result, hundreds of Jews died during Kristallnacht and its aftermath. Some died of injuries inflicted during the riots. Others were deliberately killed.

During Kristallnacht, the Nazi regime ordered the police to arrest about 30,000 German Jewish men. These men had not committed any crime. The police arrested them simply for being Jewish. They were sent to concentration camps such as Dachau and Buchenwald. In the concentration camps, the men were humiliated and violently attacked. Some even died. The arrests shocked and terrified Jewish families and communities. In the following months, the Nazi authorities released many of these men if families could prove they had plans to leave Germany.

Kristallnacht was an important turning point for Germany’s Jews. Afterwards, many Jews concluded that there was no future for them in Nazi Germany.