Genie Milgrom has a historic achievement with the Pope
Writer, researcher and dear friend of Shavei Israel, Genie Milgrom met with Pope Francis at the Vatican’s private library this week. The private audience was organized by Rabbi Avi and Nehama Tawil, leaders of the European Jewish Community Center in Brussels. She was accompanied by her husband Michael Milgrom and several members of the EJCC.
For more than 8 years, Milgrom has worked tirelessly to digitize the Inquisition Archives worldwide. These archives contain the pre-Inquisition genealogies of the descendants of the Crypto-Jews, as well as the Sephardim who left Spain in the Expulsion of 1492. Within each archive, there are detailed genealogies given by the detainees practicing Judaism clandestinely. The reason is that the Inquisitors could follow the genealogies and at the same time also take their relatives prisoner even though they lived in other cities or countries.
Many doors have been closed in Milgrom’s face and brick walls have been erected around repeated requests from her in person, by phone, and by email. The countries that have closed its doors are Spain, the Canary Islands, Mexico, Colombia and Peru. Each of these countries had courts of the Inquisition. It has been successful in other countries, but Spain and Mexico are considered very important in following the diaspora of the many Jewish families that lived in Spain before the Inquisition. She has been relentless, but governments and archive directors have blocked her at every turn.
There are many historians who agree that the approximate number of Jews present in Spain before 1492 was around 300,000, but there is no exact and accurate figure that historians themselves can provide. Of these, the consensus seems to be that 100,000 left in 1492 for the Ottoman Empire and other lands, 100,000 stayed behind and went underground to practice their religion pretending to be Catholics, and 100,000 assimilated and lost themselves as part of the Jewish people.
Genie Milgrom belongs to the group whose family stayed behind and went into hiding in 1391. For centuries they pretended to be Catholic. Milgrom returned to the Jewish people and was able to trace her own lineage, eventually finding an unbroken maternal line going back 22 grandmothers. This took her over 12 years and she clearly understood that if these Inquisition records were not digitized for uploading to the Internet, the labor and cost would be prohibitive for most people and so began her mission for the massive global digitization of these archive records. This historic initiative will allow the Sephardim who left during the Expulsion to also connect with their identities and stories.
During Genie’s audiences with Pope Francis, she was able to clearly explain the historical significance of digitization as well as the current struggles in each country. The Pope was enthusiastic about helping her and, amazingly, assigned a papal emissary to work hand in hand with her and obtain positive results. A truly significant and historic moment to recover the identity of those whose lineage was lost during the Spanish-Portuguese Inquisition.